Raising Cain

Every parent has been raising Cain from the very start

Earlier this week, my teenage son decided, on his own, not to move out and live in another town.

By the way, if you have perfect kids, this is where you should stop reading this article and splash some cold water on your face. Because you need to wake up, quickly.

We talked until 1 am that night. I didn’t lecture him, just listened. He came to it all on his own…though he has no idea how hard his mom and I have been praying. He’ll probably be around at least another year.

Happy (early) Father’s Day to me. Seriously.

Honestly, it was hard as parents not to try and rip the steering wheel from his hands…literally. Singing “Jesus take the wheel” is a lot easier when it’s your own car that’s about to crash. But for parents, it’s hard for us to remember it’s not really “our car” we’re trying to drive anyway. It’s theirs.

It’s probably especially tough for my son having a dad like me. He’s a typical son, who likes sports and fishing. I’m the dad who likes to write, read a lot, and do creative things like plays. Since I was a sickly child and had a strained relationship with my own dad, I never really learned to throw a football properly or play competitive sports.

So it was other kid’s dads coaching the football teams who taught him all those things. Sure, I cheered from the stands, but I’ve always felt inadequate in trying to relate to him. He still cringes when we tell the story of how I got him to do a dance routine with me in a play when he was too young to know better.

Transitioning through his teenage years has been tougher and tougher. Even when I’m not lecturing him, simple conversation is somehow taxing for him. Getting him to respond to me seems about as inconvenient as donating a kidney would be for anyone else. 

If eye-rolls were dollar bills, I’d be a millionaire.

I know you’ve seen FINDING NEMO by now, with the story of a parent who can’t let their child face the normal risks of the world. The father’s reasoning is all-too-familiar: there’s been tragedy in the past, his son is already wounded. So the father must step in to protect…and control.

It’s that control our kids begin to despise as they make the transition to adulthood. We call it “protection”. They call it “suffocation”.

God calls it “idolatry”.

Why is it so difficult for us to let our kids make their own decisions?

Because they’ll make mistakes, of course…just like we did.

So tell me this…why would God would choose to work any differently in their lives?

I think the nasty truth is we may be afraid we’ll have trouble loving the icky people they might become. That’s because we have this little “idol” of them we’ve been bowing down to for years now, and they’re starting to bear no resemblance to it whatsoever. We worshiped our idol by surrounding it with the “perfect environments” – church, home, school. Also by inputting the perfect information – morals, ethics, goals.

Then we watched and waiting around for the perfect child to appear.

That idol is the one we won’t have to wait up nights worrying about. The one we can take credit for without cringing over a few sketchy life-choices. The one we never have to forgive, explain, or apologize for.

Idols don’t get tattoos, or get pregnant before marriage, or develop substance abuse problems, or flunk out of college. Those are the kids were know we can easily love.

What we forgot was the sin we kept trying to quarantine them from was germinating inside them from “day one”. No matter how well we parented, every one of us has been raising Cain from the very start. 

Sometimes, in a fit of desperation, parents try to shove their kids back into their original “idol” plaster cast. They pray for some trick that will change them back into “who they were before”. They rarely realize that “who they were before” wasn’t real. It was only a “graven image” the parent had worshiped, and that now their child has rejected.

So what do you do when they won’t fit back into the mold? When they’ve already got scars too deep to paint over?

You toss your idol in the trash and embrace your real child, warts and all. You don’t affirm wrong choices, but you affirm their right to own those choices. And you stop trying to manipulate them and wait for God to do the work His way.

The good news is that this time, if you butt out, the God they eventually end up following will be their own and not just a faded copy of yours.

I’ve realized my perfect idol was never really what God had in mind in the first place. He knew before He formed them how badly they’d mess up, go the wrong way, get damaged…and eventually, learn. That was not my plan, but it was His.

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It’s Monday now, and I just now got my Father’s Day card. That’s OK, though. Sunday’s are tough for pastor’s families anyway, but yesterday was a bear. A new foster child had been dropped off with us for the weekend, and then my daughter started throwing up Sunday morning. By Sunday evening, my wife was sick. That plus two babies had us in survival mode.

But it’s all good. I got my Father’s Day present when my son decided not to move out.

After all, the best gifts are the ones you can’t wrap…like a car (couldn’t resist that joke…I sounded so spiritual up till then).

I guess watching your kids grow up is like getting a late Father’s Day card. It’s not always what you expected, and the timing is often way off. But the gift is never really about the card. It’s all about the present.

Or in this case, who is still “present” with me. And no matter who he turns out to be, I’ll always wish for the days he was just in the next room, with headphones because he wants to watch his own show on the computer.

Even if that’s as good as it gets, I love my son so I’ll take it gladly. I just keep reminding myself: every eye-roll is the gift that keeps on giving. So I’m really a rich man.

Happy Father’s Day to me!

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