If, I as said yesterday, the goal of parenting isn’t to produce adults in a sort of factory way – where each new adult meets the required minimum specifications if the right parenting techniques are employed – and if in fact it is impossible to control the outcome of parenting since our children have wills of their own – then what is the ultimate goal?
At this (admittedly very early) stage of my parenting experience I would submit that the ultimate goal of parenting is to multiply and model love. By meeting the needs of our babies when they cry in the night, or cluster feed all day, or panic when we leave the room, we show them that love can be trusted. By playing with our toddlers instead of sending them off to play alone and stay our of way, by reading them the same books over and over again to their delight, by listening and responding to their obsessive, repetitive, conversations and story lines, we show them that love values their unique personal significance. By giving them space to try, grace to fail, encouragement to try again, and a helping hand when they’re overwhelmed, we show them that love will not shame them or make them afraid. By involving them in household chores, teaching them how to care for their rooms and toys and help with the family and home, we show them that love cares for the community and the environment. By coaching them through sibling rivalries, we show them that love works hard for harmony and understanding. By instilling the habits of virtue – hard work, self-control, patience, and courage – we show them that love is not a weak and tolerant niceness, but an agent for goodness.
(Babies have a way of emotionally evoking our love, which is good, since they demand a lot of it. They seem to need it most when they’re least cute and endearing, though… that is why our love needs to be strong, built on conviction and on the love of Christ for us, so that we can give it unconditionally and in abundant measure.)
My highest calling as a Christian, and thus as a parent, is to love. Remember the classic verse that says it is even greater than faith and hope, those crucial virtues of the Christian life? That same passage also gives us some guidelines about what love looks like in action. If I take that love into my parenting and make it my key principle – a love that holds fast, that sacrifices, that labors for redemption, that suffers joyfully, that unites my heart to Christ – then, I think, it will be hard to go very wrong. The most nefarious danger would be in replacing love with a weak sort of kindness that neglects the long-term needs of the child (the deep soul-needs of virtue and character and purpose, as well as the very practical need of care for the self, others, and ones environment) in an effort to maintain superficial “happiness” and satisfaction. Love requires us to pour ourselves out, sometimes with great effort, pain, and sacrifice, for the genuine needs of the other person as a human person with inherent dignity and value, not a pet or a project. There aren’t scripts to follow or techniques to use; it is as far from mechanistic as it is possible to be, I think. It is not easy, because it is being like Christ, and our hearts are full of all sorts of tendencies that pull us away from Him and from the difficult path of love. But it is the goal – to love our God, to love our spouse, to love our children, and to teach them how to love in return, so that the love in our homes is multiplied in each heart, reflected in each member of the family, springing up in beauty and fullness and mutual self-sacrifice, filling up and surrounding us all.