BLOG POST

Whatever It Takes

Raising Older Kids

July 15, 2022
/
Stefanie Caterer

My best friend and I both have kids spanning high school age through college. We’ve known each other for over 20 years and have shared all the joys and heartaches along the way. We’ve known and prayed and loved each other’s children in those 20 years, and are still doing so today. We’ve been there through ER visits, birthday celebrations, graduations, and utter disappointments. The bad times. The ones where you found out your kid lied to you for the first time and you are completely destroyed. When the grades are failing, or the choices are indefensibly stupid, or the attitude is incredibly hurtful. We’ve been through it together. 

One of our favorite mama mantras that we like to recite to each other, a truth that we cling to is: Whatever it takes. Whatever it takes to get them to know Christ. Whatever it takes to bring them to their knees. To knock themselves and their idols off the throne and place Jesus there. Whatever it takes for me to persevere in faithfully raising my kids. So many times, when one of our kids disappointed one of us, the other would inevitably say: whatever it takes. We know from experience that what it may take is making countless mistakes, it may take sinning and lying about it, it probably takes experiencing consequences for actions and decisions. It takes the Lord using all of those ugly things in order to prepare a heart that is humble enough to allow His molding and shaping into a person after God’s own heart. 

According to a recent Barna study, among parents who are practicing Christians, 86 percent are concerned that their children will walk away from the faith, with 58 percent “very” concerned and 28 percent “somewhat” concerned.

“Are parents worried their children may leave the faith they were raised in as they grow older and prepare to leave home? Amid a growing trend of ‘church dropouts,’ the answer is yes,” Barna said in an analysis.

Concern. Worry. Anxiety. This is the upward trend of emotion felt by Christian parents regarding their older children. Is it the church? Is it the culture? Is it the family? Whatever the combination of those factors, parents are, by their own admission, totally freaked out. 

3 John 1:4 says, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” I would add, conversely, that there is no greater distress than to hear that my children are walking in darkness. When we see indicators that this might be happening: catching them vaping or doing drugs, maybe watching pornography, lying to family members, or anything that grieves the Lord, three responses tend to rise above the others: shock, doubt, and shame.


  • Shock. Parents cannot believe their little Andrew or Sadie would lie to them, let alone do the terrible things they were caught doing. How could they?! It’s impossible! They wouldn’t do that! They know better! They’re too innocent! They love me too much! Dear, sweet, naive mamas… you heard it here: our children are sinners and they will definitely sin. And the older they get, the worse their sin seems. Sin itself is ugly enough, and is almost always accompanied by lying and deceit (more sin). For parents, watching this cycle unfold is absolutely devastating. Although inherent sin is a fact of humanity and the basis of our need for the gospel, we simply don’t expect it in those we love the most. 

But the Lord sent out His disciples as sheep among wolves, to be shrewd as snakes yet innocent as doves (Matt. 10:16). We must, especially as parents of older children, adopt those characteristics as well. We must remember that the enemy wants our children. There are proverbial wild animals all around waiting to devour them (1 Pet. 5:8). Let this not be a surprise and let it spur you on in prayer. 

Because while this truth is very real, we must be reminded and comforted by the fact that God has overcome the power of sin (and death), even when that may take longer than we are comfortable with. If this power and His purposes remain our focus, and we keep our eyes up high enough to see the long game, the individual sins and setbacks will shrink in the light of His amazing grace. 

  • Doubt. When trouble comes and our kids fall short, if you’re like me or my bestie, you will fall into the trap of questioning every parenting decision you’ve ever made. Were we too strict? Too lenient? Did we not do enough family devotionals? We shouldn’t have grounded him that time. I should have taken her phone away earlier. The retrospective doubts can be overwhelming. This is wholly unhelpful, and—though understandable—demonstrates a lack of faith. 

"Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things." (Phil 3:13-15a)

Paul is telling us, as mature believers, to let it go. We can’t change the past. Instead, we choose to strain and press toward Jesus more and more. For He is our ultimate goal. 


  • Shame. This, my dear mamas, is the response least admitted, least addressed, least shared. We compare our family, a little bit broken by the sin of a child, with other “perfect families” around us. We retreat, we pretend, we become jealous. Yep, been there. My answer to this may seem overly simplistic, but I’m here to tell you: no one’s family is perfect. We just don’t hear about older children’s sin from the people around us because of this shame. Also, our older children are more aware of our words and can be very touchy about who we share their lives with. So, we don’t see it or hear about it as much as it is there. But it is. Which is why so many parents are worried their older kids will walk away from the faith. They see the tendency. Do you know what shock + doubt + shame equals? Worry. We worry about our older children and the state of their eternal souls. We worry because we don’t know what’s going to happen.

Anxiety: a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. 

Fear: a feeling of anxiety concerning the outcome of something or the safety and well-being of someone.

Worry: a state of anxiety and uncertainty over actual or potential problems.

You mamas with older children… do any of these emotions hit home? Same, sister. Let’s see what the Lord tells us.

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:6-7).

In carving this verse into pieces, we can see that the Lord has separated for us the two sides of the human psyche: thought life and emotional life (a.k.a. minds and hearts). Our minds are to act as leaders, inspiring our emotions to follow. How do we train our minds? We practice these disciplines:

1. Relinquish Control. On a minute-by-minute basis, give your child over to God, who loves them infinitely more than you do. Remember that God is Sovereign, on His throne, and that He is wholly good. Recite Scripture. Worship in song. Pray the Psalms. In all of these ways, we are to grab onto the power of the Spirit of self-control by giving God what is His: the soul of our child. 

2. Praise His Past Faithfulness. In this verse it says “by prayer and supplication WITH THANKSGIVING”. Okay, we’ve all heard this so many times that it may have become meaningless. Yes, we’re supposed to “count our blessings.” But the triteness of that detracts from the absolute power of what happens when we we truly add thankfulness into our prayer life. Pre-prayer thanksgiving combats emotional anxiety by forcing us to mentally remember all the ways God has already helped, provided, sustained, strengthened, and upheld us in the past, bolstering our current level of faith as it pertains to our children and projecting it onto our present and future circumstances, thereby calming our hearts and giving us peace. 

3. Pray His Will. Not for the situation to change, but for what the Lord promises: strength, help, confidence, His presence, peace. Searching Scriptures for these promises and praying them back to Him will increasingly guard your heart and mind from the enemy of worry. 

Mamas, let me be honest. Parenting older kids is so very hard. Aside from remembering that I have told the Lord “Whatever it takes,” I also have a few favorite Scriptures that I pray back to God throughout my days as a mother of older children. 

"Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart." (2 Tim. 2:22)

"Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?" (Rom. 2:4)

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34a) And though I realize this is certainly not the context of when Jesus said these powerful words, I believe my children do not understand the gravity of their sin, and I plead for the Lord’s mercy for them.

It’s a little scary to say “Whatever it takes” about our kids. We don’t actually want it to take that much. We want it to be easy, lovely, a smooth road. But sometimes, the Lord allows things to happen that they may be shown their own sin, that they may be brought low, that their hearts may finally soften toward Christ. Let that be so, Lord. Whatever it takes.



TAGS:
Encouragement
Parenting
Older Children
Wisdom

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