From time to time I hear men refer to spending time with their children while their wife is out of the house as “babysitting.” Remember, we are not talking about them watching someone else’s children. They keep their kids by themselves for a few hours and call it “babysitting.” While it is easy to criticize men who say such foolish things, it serves to remind us how often men struggle to know the right thing to do in parenting. We know we should lead our families and care for our kids, but we often don’t know what to do.
We could blame our parenting difficulties on the complexities of raising kids in the digital age. We can point out how much the world has changed and the ubiquitous presence of devices and social media, but this would be placing the blame in the wrong place. Men must face the brutal truth that our greatest parenting obstacle stares back at us in the mirror every morning. Our sin, obliviousness, and foolishness stand in the way of parenting our children in a way that brings glory to God and joy to us.
In this post, I want to deal with five common obstacles that dads face in their parenting.
The Obstacle of Distraction
We tend to love our distractions, hobbies, and projects to the detriment of what is best for our children. This takes many forms, but one of the most common today is our phones and digital devices. Too often, dads spend hours staring at our phones while ignoring our children who are in the room with us. We listen to them half-heartedly or tune them out completely in the name of “connecting” with other people or keeping up with what is going on. We do this while being completely oblivious to our lack of connection with our kids who are in the same room as us. And we do this for what? I doubt we can name anything on our phones that warrants more attention than the children God has given us.
We run up against the same temptation with hobbies and sports. I’ll use myself as a negative example here. I have a lifelong love of the Auburn Tigers. They play twelve regular season games and hopefully as many as three postseason games. This is the only sport I watch, so in my mind, I use the scarcity of these games to justify telling everyone to be completely silent and leave me alone for “just” three and a half hours, twelve times a year.
This past Saturday night, I sent my older kids upstairs to straighten up their room during halftime of the Auburn/Mississippi State game and told them to do it quickly so we could have family devotion before the second half started. Their chores took longer than usual and they came back to the living room as the third quarter began. We turned off the TV and had our full devotion, but the few seconds I spent debating what we should do told me that I had allowed my hobby to become too important.
Hobbies can be good things. It is healthy to work on projects, spend appropriate amounts of time on recreation, and hang out with other men. However, when we allow these things to send our children mixed messages about what we truly value, our hobbies have gone astray.
Dads must recover a real sense of what it is that God wants from us. He called us to love, discipline, and teach our children. This calling trumps our hobbies. Plus, our kids are blessings. Don’t we want to spend time laughing, making memories, teaching them new skills, and cultivating their character? We cannot allow the things we enjoy to get in the way of the responsibility to which we have been called and the blessing of being a dad.
The Obstacle of Personal Sin
It does not take long for men to discover that their sin will work its way into their parenting. It starts in the hospital when they are born and does not let up until we meet Jesus face to face. Sin, in general, harms our parenting, but there are some specific sins that trip us up.
One sin many men wrestle with is anger. Children try our patience like almost nothing else. While we are tired and juggling many responsibilities, they can devote all of their energy into doing what we have told them not to, protesting against what we told them, or throwing a fit until they get what they want. In those tense moments, your temptation will be to let them get under your skin until you lose your cool, raise the volume, and say things you will regret later.
Brothers, we must war against our sin with all we can muster. This begins with a strong and growing relationship with Jesus. Daily time in God’s word, depending on God’s strength through prayer, and striving to grow as believers all play a role in our parenting. When we grow as believers, we grow as fathers. Just as sin left no area of our lives untouched, the newness of life we experience through faith in Christ permeates every part of our being.
In addition, when we deal with specific sins like anger, we must adopt strategies that help us overcome them. If you frequently give in to anger, start thinking and praying about how you will defeat it. What passages of Scripture do you need to commit to memory so that they will come to your mind when you are tempted? Upon what truths do you need to meditate and get down deep into your heart? What do you need to do when you are about to lose your cool? How are you going to calm down or remove yourself from the situation? How will you get your wife and Christian friends involved to help you?
The Obstacle of Marriage Neglect
“Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” does not stop being true because kids have entered the picture. Bills and children find ways to scream for your attention in a way that the health of your marriage does not. In many cases, we don’t hear the alarm bells going off to tell us we have been neglecting our marriages until things get bad.
Brothers, our only choice is to make time to spend with our wives. Do not delude yourself with the idea that you will “find” time. Instead, you must intentionally carve out the time. Many of you read this and start thinking about date night. I believe date night is important, but I am finding that daily time together plays the most important role in the health of our marriage. It may be breakfast, lunch, or after the kids go to bed, but make time to spend together. Talk, play a game, read a book together, or watch a movie, but make the time to be together. Whatever form it takes, connect with each other every single day if possible.
The health of your marriage has an impact on the way that you parent. You need to be able to work together and depend on each other to raise your children. When you are at odds with each other or growing apart, your kids pick up on the tension as they sense that there is something different in the house. They start walking on eggshells for fear they will set one of you off or they will see an opportunity for disobedience because you and your wife aren’t on the same page.
The Obstacle of Ignorance
When a baby is on the way, our wives often become scholars on caring for babies and raising children. We often just go along for the ride and let our wives show us what to do. Our wives usually set the schedule around the house and know where everything is. They know who needs what at bedtime and who won’t eat what for dinner. Unfortunately, dads often don’t know these things. When we need to know something, we just ask our wives and then forget the information as soon as we act on it.
Men, let’s take the initiative in learning how to care for our children and pitch in around the house. Know where things are and what you need to do so that you don’t have to call her every five minutes when she is away from the house and you are parenting. (Again, not babysitting.)
Abandoning our aloofness and being all-in around the house is a great way to show love to our families. When you know more about how to care for your kids, what they will and won’t eat, and what book they like to read before bed than you do your fantasy football team, they see a living demonstration of the love of Jesus for them. This also shows love to your wife because you are willing to lay aside your selfishness for her sake.
The Obstacle of Self-Sufficiency
Does everything I have talked about in this post sound tiring, difficult, and like it’s more than you can handle? Good. What God calls you to do in your family is impossible in your own strength. You cannot do it, but through Christ and the power of the Spirit, you will be strengthened to love, teach, discipline, and serve for the glory of God and the good of your family.
I once heard Matt Chandler say that men get up in the morning, work hard at their jobs, come home fully invested in their children, make the time to connect with our wives, and then fall in bed exhausted so we can get up and do it again tomorrow. When we don’t walk with Jesus and think we can do this ourselves, we either neglect important things or get frustrated and exhausted. So, let us learn to walk with Jesus in the power of his Spirit. This won’t make things effortless or simple, but he will give you the grace and strength you need each and every day.
“Five Areas in Which Husbands Must Grow“
For Further Reading:
Parenting by Paul David Tripp