Train up a child in the way he should go, And even when he is old he will not depart from it.
What does that verse mean? Sometimes we read it totally in a moral framework: if we train him in the way he SHOULD go, then he will learn right and wrong, and he’ll obey that when he’s old.
But what if you can read it an alternate way, too? What if you could also read it like this:
Train up a child in the way HE (or SHE) should go.
In other words, what if it means that one of the purposes of parenting is to help a child discover his or her gifts and callings? What if one of our jobs as parents is not to dictate to a child what we think the best route for them to take is, but to see how God is calling and equipping them?
I’ve always known this, and yet I made a huge mistake with my oldest child this year. She’s been taking some post-secondary courses online, and as we all sat down and looked at what program she could go into, we steered her towards a balanced program which had an emphasis on Science.
For the last few months, she has struggled in a variety of areas. I have wondered at the cause, and have prayed quite a bit, yelled at her a little too much, and gotten very frustrated with her.
But in a heart to heart with her last week, the truth was revealed. She simply hates what she’s doing. It’s not that she CAN’T do it; she’s actually getting good marks. But she hates it with every fibre of her being.
And so we have switched her major. Five minutes after we made that decision she sat down at the piano and began to play a really complicated piece she hasn’t touched in six months. It’s as if life came back to her again.
I had depressed and exasperated my daughter by pushing her in a direction she should not go. It was good advice; what my husband and I were saying made sense. But it only made sense in general; it did not make sense for her specifically. And each child is an individual.
My mother, who is a career counselor, made the observation that it is better to be the best, even in a very large and overpopulated field, than to be just mediocre in a smaller and more in-demand field. The best will always be in demand.
My younger daughter spends a lot of time at skating, and shares ice with some competitive figure skaters. Katie skates for the pure love of the sport, though she doesn’t compete. She just loves to learn. But she is often flabbergasted by how many skaters she talks to on the ice who absolutely hate being there. They may skate well, but they are only skating because their parents want them to. They would rather be anywhere else.
I never thought I would be a parent like that, and yet I became one without noticing. I am very glad that we were only off course for about six months, and we have since corrected. I have now encouraged my daughter to pursue the things that she genuinely loves and is gifted at.
This whole episode is a reminder to me that our dreams for our kids are often rooted too much in this earth–this makes sense for him, and he’ll be successful!–rather than in the next, looking at how God has equipped them for service. And it’s a reminder that we should never take pride in thinking we have it all together, because quite often we don’t.
Be careful about dreaming big dreams for your kids, and then pressuring them to fulfill them. Let God dream the dreams for your children, and let Him impress them upon your kids. Yes, kids need to be responsible, and they need to support themselves. But ultimately God has a plan for them, and it may not be to be the richest or the most successful. And as parents, we need to be okay with that.