Written by Paul J Bucknell on January, 12, 2019
The Two Stages of Parenting: Revealing the Greater Purposes of Parenting
Parenting forms unwanted stretch marks upon our lives and sometimes our bodies. These marks trace the tests parents endure while raising their children. The signs of struggle result from many long days and nights of parenting, shaped by tense relationships, the lack of sleep, and frustrated hopes, but hopefully like the birth of a new child, they are interwoven with grand memories from shared times with our children.
The Early Stage of Parenting
The parenting testings stemming from early and later parenting differ greatly. When children are very young, parents are concerned about having children, too many children, not enough money to care for their children, not having a big enough place for their children, or “Did I just use the last diaper?” The list goes on and on.
As our children get a bit older, our concerns shift in focus to whether they can walk and talk properly, the things they shouldn’t be touching, and dangerous places they might visit.
As they get yet older, parental concerns increase as our little ones attend school, visit a friend’s houses, or we become concerned about their whereabouts. Our minds race to what extracurricular class they should attend, the amount of money needed for school, faulty character traits, what they are learning from their peers, etc. Parents typically are busy struggling for the right answers, insights, and decisions. Perhaps, like in my situation, raising eight children, had so many issues arise that there is little time, if any, to reflect on this process. We do well to survive!
A Sprinkle of Advice
Make sure when going through this first stage of parenting not to forget to include God in your life as you face and endure these tests. They are demanding and shaping times. God alone has the love and wisdom you need to be the parent you ought to be which you only can get from relying on the master Parent. Our children similarly need the Lord for direction, comfort, character, and hope.
Parenting marks, similar to a mom’s stretch marks, occur due to many life’s challenges and sacrifices. They don’t usually notice them until their children have aged a bit. We look in the mirror and suddenly realize we are now parents! Is it possible to retell all that has happened and how those things have affected you? Probably not. For us with lots of children, there were not many pauses to look in the mirror of life, but it is something parents are forced to do as their children get older and move out of the home.
The Later Stage of Parenting
This later stage of parenting concerns me more due to where I am in this life. As grandparents with five grandchildren, we still have those stretching times derived from the youngest four children who haven’t fully entered into their adult lives. Our advantage as grandparents is that we can also step into the homes of those who have grown up and relax. I often hear people tell me that grand-parenting is easier than raising one’s children. I know what they mean. The immediate concerns for the welfare of our children as they grow through puberty and enter the world’s scene, however, remain with us until our children are well-settled.
Good parents are concerned for their children even into their older years. The challenges of caring for older children differ quite radically from the early stages of parenting. For example, when children get older, we wonder about their life skill set and how they might get their final education, scholarships, and awards for direction in life. Parents care about who their children might meet or how the bad decisions they make could mess up their lives. As our children get ready to leave home, find a spouse, settle into their new lives, they take a lot of excitement into the many new demanding situations. Parents often have difficulties transferring the decision-making authority over to their grown-up children knowing great pain and trouble can quickly enter their lives. We hope that they are spared from experiencing these uncertain times since we want the very best for our children, but life in this sinful world is and will be filled with all sorts of unexpected and unwanted events.
Just as it pains a mother for her child to exit her womb, so it pains her again to see her child leave her home.
We don’t want ill health for our children nor for them to experience tough financial days. Even though we weathered through such times and found some benefit from the exercise, we don’t want it for our children. Parenting tasks change much when our children grow, but their problems will always burden our hearts.
A Sprinkle of Advice
The Christian parent must remember that this world is not one’s final home. We need to look beyond the edges of the earth’s horizon into God’s eternal kingdom not just for our weary lives but also for us to experience the full joy God wants us to have with our children if indeed they follow Jesus. I could not do many things for my children here, but our great Heavenly Father has a wonderful party planned. Heaven is also a place, we as parents, can rest our concern for our children, finding assurance that no more suffering will come to them.
In the early stages of parenting, we try to discover the identities and mission of these new lives lying on our laps, but in the latter stage of parenting, we must learn to trust God with their decisions. Just as it pains a mother for her child to exit her womb, so it pains her again to see her child leave her home. In the early part of parenting, we are welcoming them, look forward to sharing our lives, and discover who they are. In the later stages, however, we need to part and learn to say goodbye without an excessive amount of tears. The two stages are very different. Some parents never let their children grow up while others mope about the unfairness of life, trying to live in the past.
For good or bad, older parents often have more time to reflect and get depressed when children leave home. Others will form their chief companions. They will have their spouses, friends, churches, and responsibilities. Their welfare will depend not on you but themselves. As a result, parents can easily feel a loss of purpose. After investing so much time in their children, they suddenly feel that they are not needed.
When taking a glance into life’s mirror, parents see what they never saw before—parenting stretch marks across their lives. A number of our friends have beat us to the empty-nest. We, right now, are down to three and it looks like it will drop again soon. That’s an advantage to having a lot of children, of course, delaying the empty nest syndrome until we intermix that time with the caring of grandchildren. But the goodbyes are still so hard to face!
Parenting means we welcomed them into our lives and got heavily involved in providing for their needs. Now, good parenting means we release them. Of course, we will pray for them and counsel them as they seek our advice, but that doesn’t help us much. It appears that we need to lean on God for strength for our own “new” lives. We’ve done what we can, and now we need to stand back and pray for our adult children.
The Hidden Purpose of Parenting
If we stopped here, we would be missing the grand view of parenting. This is one of the greatest reasons God created parenting, and if we are not careful, we will miss this deeper meaning hidden behind parenting. As parents, we get so intense on training that we forget that God is training us! He wants us to grow up and be mature men and women, trusting and loving Him through all of life’s difficulties so that we can thoroughly enjoy the depth of His love for us. In a sense, He raises us through our responsibilities to parent.
Our parenting scars, embedded in our lives over time, hold a deeper purpose than reminding us of our past experiences with our children. As parents, we are often like flustered students, wondering why there have to be such things as tests. We struggle with the whole meaning of life at times. Being busy parents, we go through life’s parenting challenges often unaware of how they truly affect us. Even when we go through the many kinds of parenting troubles, we are oblivious to their greater purpose. I’m not focusing just on empty nesting here, but the plethora of issues that parents face.
But let me get to my main point. The testings of parenthood lead us to two huge lessons.
The first hidden purpose, largely connected to the early stage of parenting, leads to further development of our character. While the parents are consumed with the child’s behavior, God is training the parents! A teen might not consider standards as important, but a parent sure does. The parent, sometimes with little willingness, needs to set the rules and affirm the good standards. Parents are trained on a daily basis on how to prioritize the needs of others over their own lives—the root quality of character. Their lives are further tested by how consistently they pass these important lessons on to their children.
Character comes from making important decisions that guide and shape the lives of others. God passes the task of caring for and training His creatures to us so that we can share His wisdom and ways of caring for us. Without being like Him, we can’t get close to Him (Hebrews 12:14).
The second hidden purpose, largely related to the second stage of parenting, trains us in the area of purpose or missions. While character focuses on our individual development, missions force us to adopt a higher purpose for our lives than to please ourselves—even at a sacrifice. The Lord wants us to bring children into this world, train them up, and send them out. God shares this work with us. A country, reluctantly but bravely, sends out its men to fight to preserve peace. They come back with a lifetime of memories and many scars. Life is more about how we fit into God’s greater purposes than the sum total of our experiences.
He’s the perfect caring Father, but also—and this is even more difficult to grasp—the perfect Father who sent His only Son, Jesus, into the world to complete a most difficult mission. Salvation, after all, displays the heart of parenting when one allows, permits, and even sends one’s loved ones to complete the missions God has planned for them.
A Sprinkle of Advice
Recognize and welcome God’s greater work in your life through the stages of parenting. Yes, God points out our sins and our need for Jesus the Savior, but He is calling us to join Him in His work. Don’t fight the process, or if you don’t like it, still come out and tell Him that you want to admire His wisdom and love through the process. Our job goes beyond caring for children; He is shaping us as His faithful ambassadors.
God has shared the caretaker role with us so that we could more deeply treasure His wisdom, love, and sacrifice in taking care of us by sending His only Son, Jesus, to die for us. We endure the tough times discerning and implementing standards even as we struggle to maintain our love for our teens—even when they act foolishly. And perhaps, the most pointed: we send out our children to complete the task God the Father has for them. They might die on the way or get hurt on the way back, but we join God to send them out. We catch God’s vision and wish our children well as they step out into the wild world to do God’s will. God has been through all of this by sending His only Son, and by our parenting, we are not only trained to be like Him but to understand the deep levels of God’s love, wisdom, care, and sacrifice that He has exercised to reach our stubborn, willful lives.
It is almost impossible to pause in the early parenting stage to consider the deeper implications of parenting. But by the later stages, hopefully parents have, to some degree, learned some of the deeper lessons of parenting so that when we send our children off, we are not left forlorn. Instead, we can recognize the awesome privilege to join God by making the needed sacrifices with those we love to complete our Father’s goodwill.
Discussion Questions on Two Stages of Parenting
- What are the two stages of raising children? How are they different?
- List at least ten challenges for the early stages of parenting.
- What are some of the rewards of early parenting?
- If you are a parent, share about your most significant challenge and reward of raising young children.
- List at least ten challenges for the later stage of parenting.
- What are some of the rewards of later parenting?
- If you are a parent of older children, share your greatest challenges and rewards.
- Why does the author say that birthing marks are, in some ways, similar to “parenting marks?”
- What are the two grand purposes of parenting?
- Early parenting:
- Later parenting:
- 10. Why does God enable us to join Him in His strategies of training and sending out?