by Philip Gulley
M y wife and I waited eight years to have children. I was in college, then graduate school, and I thought I was too busy. My mother had five children in seven years, was principal of a school, and attended college all at the same time. And she did a good job, which I point out to her every Saturday when I visit her at the Home for the Mentally Distraught. Despite our childless state, my wife and I were willing, indeed eager, to share our perspective on child‐rearing with anyone who would listen. Now that we have children, we seldom offer advice. The moment you tell other parents how to raise their kid, the odds increase that your own child will turn up on America’s Most Wanted.
So we don’t give advice anymore, because we’ve realized we don’t know anything about children. Before we had children, we knew everything. Now we have children, and the only parent we feel superior to is Ma Barker.
It’s been hard to admit my ignorance about child‐rearing. It’s easy to be smug when you’re driving home from someone else’s house saying, “When I have children, they will never act like that.” Now when our childless friends visit, I tell them when they leave, “Don’t talk about us on your way home.” They know what I mean.
Most experiences don’t turn out the way we’d planned. Parenting is one of them.
Take Spencer’s second Christmas. Someone in the church gave him a nativity set as a gift. He was particularly taken with the wise men, one of whom he used as tableware. He dipped Balthasar up to his ears in ketchup and licked him clean. My wife said, “Honey, don’t dip the wise man in the ketchup.”
There are many things we anticipated telling our children—things like, “Because I said so, that’s why!” and “Not in this house you won’t!” and even “Don’t put that in the toilet!” But we never imagined ourselves saying, “Don’t dip the wise man in the ketchup.”
That’s the kick about life. We think we have it figured out, but then we wade in and discover otherwise. Kind of like Gomer Pyle used to say, “Surprise, surprise, surprise!”
All in all, this is a good thing. For when our future is sure and certain, when all the corners are tucked in nice and neat, there is no need for faith.
Consider King David. He grew up a shepherd, which was nothing to write home about. If a dog can do your job, it’s time to worry. So David grew up a shepherd, but he died a king. Goes to show we never know what direction life will take.
This is especially true of being a parent. We never know everything there is to know. The only solution is to do your best and trust God for the rest. At least that’s what my sainted mother used to tell me, back in my younger days when I knew it all.
Is there any endeavor that husbands and wives are less adequately prepared for than parenting? The task of raising a child is daunting, exhausting, frustrating, discouraging, humbling—and just to keep it interesting, it comes with an unexpected twist around every corner. Yet when guided by dedication and prayer, parenting is also the most fulfilling and wonderful experience in living. And it doesn’t have to be as chaotic as Phil Gulley’s tongue‐in‐cheek description makes it out to be.
Those of you who are parents already realize that you will make mistakes and that you’ll never know it all. But nothing worth accomplishing comes easy anyway, and it’s the very challenge of child rearing that makes success so satisfying. This week we’re going to talk about how to make the most of the experience.
- James C Dobson