Recently we were on a family vacation. My wife’s family is all from Ontario, so she and the kids normally spend a few weeks out there with her family. It had been a few years since I had been and decided that we’d spend the extra money for me to go this year. While I’ve heard of people driving across the country with their young children, that’s not me, and I don’t think we’d all make it there alive if we drove! So, we fly. We had an excellent time away and it was very relaxing. I spent my time reading, eating, and hanging with family. I couldn’t have asked for a more restful time away. I loved it. My wife and the kids were staying a week longer than I was, so I said my goodbyes and headed for the airport.

As we’re backing away from the terminal, the flight attendants are doing their safety speech. You probably know this well. They get to the part with the emergency mask, they put it on and tell you where to pull the strings, then they say, “if you are traveling with children or other persons requiring assistance, please fit your own mask first before helping others.” As a parent, I thought, there is not a chance that in the event of an anxiety inducing event, like a plane going down, that I would do what the flight attendant said and fit my own mask first.

I think a similar reaction is present in today’s child-focused culture. Why? Because many of us are living at a frantic pace. The more frantic life becomes, the more anxiety grows. The more anxiety grows, the more uncertainty there is about the future. The more uncertain the future is, the more society focuses on its children. The more focused society is on children, the less room children have to think and solve problems for themselves. Society is putting on our children’s masks first.

The best parents, I think, and in keeping with the analogy, are the ones who put on their own masks first. By this I simply mean that they are putting the majority of their energy into working on themselves. I don’t mean that these kind of parents neglect their children by being selfish. But, they are abandoning any notions of being perfect parents, producing perfect kids, or worrying about how happy or comfortable their kids are. These kinds of parents are working on their own character and defining/living out their values because parenting is not about good technique, it is about developing character.

Many of us are busy with full schedules, ours and our kids! I don’t want you to look at this as one more thing to add to your list of things to get done, and to be honest, I think we know the areas that we want to work on in ourselves. Here are my brief thoughts on developing character:

  1. Self-awareness. Self-awareness is a key leadership skill whether you’re a CEO or a parent. Learn about yourself and use what you learn to create change.

  2. Rhythms. You need the time to work on yourself. Does your current rhythm in life create space for you to do that? Rhythm is biblical. God lays out the plan for a weekly rhythm of rest and several other examples of daily rhythms. The thing about rhythm in the Bible is that God is the initiator of these rhythms. God sets the pattern of weekly rest known as the Sabbath. God feeds the Israelites in wilderness daily with Manna, and Jesus taught the disciples, and us, to pray, “give us today our daily bread”. This is all rhythms are, repeated patterns. Are there patterns you need to change or lean into to work on yourself? What is God saying to you about your current rhythm and/or pace of life?

  3. Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5). These are the characteristics that God wants to develop in you. I think this is two-fold. First, for you and your family. I think if you are primarily inviting God to work in these areas of your life, they will influence the emotional and spiritual development of your children. Second, as God develops these things in you, it is a witness to the world around you of who God is and what He’s like.

I want to be careful here, because I don’t want to create this sense that you just need to work harder, do more, or be more. There is nothing in life that exposes our weaknesses and our failures like parenting. There is nothing else that can leave us feeling like we’re the best in one moment and the worst in the next. It’s natural to want to be the perfect parent so as not draw attention to ourselves where others can see where we’re weak, it’s natural to want perfect kids for that same reason, it’s also natural to want to compare yourself to others that if only you were like that parent it would be better.

It’s Thursday – this guy, Bob Goff, he has this thing where he quits things on Thursday’s, so today, let’s quit those things. Instead, let’s chase after Jesus. Let’s model for our kids what it looks to be a follower of Jesus, mistakes and all. Let’s put on our masks first.

Do you think that one of the primary roles of parenting is working on ourselves, why or why not?

 

Jared Patterson joined the MTC Staff as Pastor of Children’s Ministry in July 2014. Jared oversees our busy children’s programs, including MTCKids (Sunday mornings), AWANA (mid-week kids club), VBS (summer camp), and the many other family ministries at MTC.