How to Take the Pressure Out of Christian Parenting

Pressure \ pres sure \ noun: A series of urgent claims or demands exerting a strong force on someone, causing a burdensome condition under which it is hard to hold up.

Feeling some pressure as a parent? Do I even need to ask?

I recently did a Google search on the phrase “how to parent,” and about 590,000,000 sites showed up. Then I googled “how to raise children,” and 385,000,000 sites appeared. I hope you’re a speed-reader—I mean, really!

When does an actual parent have time to look at all those sites and then consider the whirlwind of contradictory advice from other parents, siblings, Bible study members, and the lady who scowls at you when your child has a fit in the candy aisle at the supermarket?

Let’s be real here.

Information is a good thing when it comes to raising children. Still, too much is too much, especially when there isn’t enough time in the day to do it all . . . and do it “perfectly.”

Parenting doesn’t have to be that way . . . truly.

The “Secret Parenting Sauce”

Here’s the key to reducing the stress and pressure you feel as a parent. Come to grips with your true job description: What it is . . . and what it isn’t.

Seriously, that’s the key.

Not Your Job

I need to clarify what your job is not. Maybe this will come as a surprise to you.

First, it’s not your job to make sure your child turns out right. That’s impossible. Besides, what do we mean by “right,” anyway?

Do a reality check with me here. The first human home was the Garden of Eden. It was perfect. This perfect home was run by a perfect parent figure—God. In this perfect home with a perfect parent were two perfectly created children—Adam and Eve. So far, so good.

In this perfect environment there was a rule: “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). That’s as clear a rule as any parent can state.

You probably know the rest of the story. Adam and Eve chose to disobey God; they foolishly defied Him and ate the fruit. You and I live with the effects of that wrong choice to this day. Bad things happen all around us and to us. All of these things are sober reminders of that first wrong choice—made by a perfectly created person in a perfect world with a perfect Father.

So what did God do wrong? If He had brought Adam and Eve up “in the way they should go” (Proverbs 22:6), then they would have turned out right, right? If it’s the parent’s job to make sure children turn out “right,” and God is the parent figure in this home, and His children did not turn out “right” . . . then God failed at His parenting job, right?

If Proverbs 22:6 is a guarantee for us parents, why wasn’t it a guarantee for the Author of the Book?

You won’t admit it was God’s fault, will you? You’re right, it wasn’t God’s fault. And since it wasn’t His fault as the parental figure, it’s not your fault if/when your child makes an unwise choice, either.

Let this settle in for a moment.

Like Adam and Eve, your child has free will. You can’t control their free will. You can shape and mold it, but you can’t guarantee compliance. It’s not your job to make them turn out right.

Yes, you want your child to turn out right, but it’s not your job to guarantee that. It’s your prayer and desire, but it’s not your job.

Second, it’s not your job to make sure you do everything perfectly. If you’re trying to do everything perfectly (whatever that means), good luck with that. This isn’t possible either. The only perfect human being ever was Jesus, and you’re not Him. Yes, you want to do things with excellence, but that’s not the same as trying to do everything and do it all perfectly. Give yourself a break and join the human ranks of parents. Stop expecting the impossible from yourself. ​

So start with a clean piece of paper, and let’s write a real job description for you.

1. A Parent’s Job Is to Validate

Validate \ val uh date \ verb: To confirm, approve of, give official sanction to, or establish as legitimate.

In parenting terms, that means letting your child know over and over and over, through words and actions . . .

  • ​“You’re good enough!”
  • “You belong in this family.”
  • “I love you.”
  • “You’re an okay kid!”

Children get their earliest, most lasting impressions of who they are from what’s reflected back to them by their parents. It’s called the looking-glass-self principle. These impressions become the statements they believe about themselves.

2. A Parent’s Job Is to Nurture

Nurture \ ner chur \ verb: To nourishing, support, encourage, and train. To pour life into and help grow.

Nurturing is filling your child up with aliveness. It’s entering into the child’s world to see things from his or her perspective, even if it means the carpets don’t get vacuumed for a while. A parent provides empathetic understanding from a position of strength and support.

Before you feel burdened with a mile-long list you can never follow through on—especially if you’re a working parent—let me be quick to say that validating and nurturing is not about “doing it all.” And it’s definitely not about doing it perfectly. It’s about doing what you can without losing yourself or driving yourself crazy because your own needs aren’t taken care of.

3. Things That Both Validate and Nurture

1. Physically hold and play with your child.

Healthy physical connectedness is critical during a child’s growing-up years. When my girls were toddlers, there was an activity they (we) absolutely loved and engaged in regularly called Bucking Bronco. You guessed it: I was the bronco, down on my hands and knees. Either taking turns or simultaneously, they would ride the horse around the living room floor only to be bucked off every so often. This would go on until my knees got sore. Then the bronco would fall over and go to sleep. It was lots and lots of healthy physical interaction, all in the name of playing.

2. Keep your voice gentle and playful as much as you can. ​

Even though children understand words, they understand inflection, volume, and tone better. Work to make your normal way of communicating lighthearted, upbeat, and pleasant. When correction is needed, see if you can turn the situation around by keeping that unthreatening tone of voice. Move to a lower tone, slower cadence, and sterner voice only when your lighthearted tone hasn’t garnered the positive response needed. Even in correcting a negative behavior, you can often do so in a non-attacking way—and still get your point across.

3. Keep your child safe.

Convey a sense of “You are safe” by attending to their needs. Purposefully look out for their physical, emotional, and mental safety. Monitor their play with others to stop name-calling or bullying. Monitor their electronics (every other day or so) for the same reasons.

When you validate and nurture, everything else becomes “gravy,” as they say—good gravy, mind you, but gravy all the same.

Mission Accomplished

Parenting is hard work, yet it doesn’t have to be burdensome, leaving you feeling pressured all the time. Relax, for real. Shrug the pressure off your shoulders and know you’re still parenting well.

Validate and nurture equals “job well done” parenting!

From there, go ahead and add the other things people say and write about doing to be a good parent . . . as long as you can do so without stretching yourself too thin and getting stressed out over it.

Taken from The Low-Pressure Guide to Parenting Your Preschooler by Tim Sanford. Copyright © 2016. Used by permission of Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Tim Sanford

Tim Sanford, M.A. is a licensed professional counselor with Focus on the Family. An author, speaker, ordained minister, and former youth worker, he has more than 30 years of experience working with teenagers. Tim and his wife, Becky, have two adult daughters and reside in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Tim Sanford

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