Myth #1: Children Make You Happy
About the Guest
Does parenting make you feel guilty? Join the club! According to today’s guest, author Leslie Leyland Fields, 80% of parents feel guilty. Most parents, Fields explains, come to parenting unprepared and filled with unrealistic expectations. One false belief she exposes today is the myth that “children make you happy.”
Leslie Leyland FieldsLeslie Fields writes for Christianity Today as a feature writer and columnist and writes freelance for a number of other magazines and journals. She is also a speaker, and between speaking and writing, she also runs a professional writing business, The Northern Pen, performing manuscript critique. She earned a Bachelor’s degree from Cedarville University, a Master’s in English and Journalism from University of Oregon. Leslie lives on Kodiak Island, Alaska, in a house on a cliff over the...more
Author Leslie Leyland Fields exposes the myth that “children make you happy.”
Myth #1: Children Make You Happy
Leslie: I went into the woods—I went on a walk in the woods, and I just cried out to God. I said, “God where are You in this parenting? I can’t find You”; and I said, “God, what do You know about being a parent?” I stopped; and this is like this epiphany. “What does God know about being a parent?” God knows everything—He is not only my Father, but then I remembered He was the Father of Israel. As I am thinking about that, I just felt this enormous relief. God knows what I am experiencing. God has been there Himself.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, March 17th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. If you have ever found yourself frustrated as a parent, and who hasn’t, I think today’s program is going to help.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today; thanks for joining us. I just think you need to come clean right here at the beginning and tell folks the truth. You came to me not long ago and said, “That lady salmon fisherman—has she written any books lately? Could we get her back down here and see if she would bring some salmon with her?”
Dennis: Now, Bob!
Tell our listeners the truth! I did not say that.
I did appreciate a load of salmon that she sent us, though.
Yeah! But that has nothing to do with why she is on the broadcast.
Bob: Alright. I’ll fess up. That has nothing to do with it, but you did wonder about the salmon when you heard she was coming didn’t you?
Dennis: I did wonder what kind of run they had, whether it was a prosperous run this year.
Leslie: And wondering if there might be a little box flying your way?
Dennis: No, I actually, as I read her latest book, I thought, “This is a book I want to share with our listening audience. I know of so many moms and dads who are in the throes of raising children who need all the encouragement, help, and biblical guidance we can give them. Leslie Leyland Fields has done that again in her book Parenting Is Your Highest Calling. Leslie, welcome back.
Leslie: Well, I am really glad to be here. Thanks.
Dennis: I am going to divert from our normal way we introduce our guests, Bob; and I am going to read a piece from her book. It begins with the chapter title “Parenting Doesn’t Have to Be This Hard.” To which I would say, “Really, Leslie?”
I want to read what you wrote here because as I was reading this, I just fell into it. I go, “She’s got it. She’s captured where all of us as parents live and go from time to time.”
Leslie writes, “I am going to bed happy tonight. We just had a family meeting on our bed—all five boys and our daughter sprawled, folded, draped, limb-to-limb across the bedspread. We talked about our upcoming plans for travel for the year, about schoolwork, about the church service the day before. Our oldest will be going off to college soon. The boys were cooperative, listening, and contributing to the conversation. Our eldest son was showing increasing maturity. The two sons in the middle were getting along better than usual…”
Bob: Oh, wait. This is starting to sound like the Waltons, you know.
Leslie: Don’t worry. Don’t worry.
Dennis: She concludes. I’ll keep going here. You want me to read it again don’t you because it is one of those moments? She said, “We ended our time reading a few verses from Acts with my husband, Duncan; and everyone trotted off to bed cheerfully.”
Then she writes, “I want the cameras rolling, recording these moments against all of my self-accusations and guilt. I want evidence, proving what great parents we are.
I feel affirmed, ready to broadcast all my love for all my children to the world, ready to write a book on how to parent well.” Then there is a “but; but if I am honest, I can’t end here.” Then she goes on; and you go on, Leslie, to talk about the No. 1 emotion that parents feel—Is?
Leslie: It is a sense of failure and guilt. If I had to choose one word, I think I would say, “Guilt.” Guilt and failure are very closely tied together. I can assure you in the heart of hearts of many, if not most parents, is they struggle with a sense of guilt and a sense of deep failure as parents.
Bob: This is a huge stewardship we are given—to raise the next generation. We are talking about a human life. We love these kids. We want things to turn out well, but we live in a fallen world. They are fallen creatures, and it is not turning out as well as we wish it would, or should, or could.
Leslie: You know, Bob, I think the reason is that most of us come to parenthood not very well prepared. We carry with us, a set of expectations about parenting. I think we live in this culture, and we absorb messages from our culture that are just wrong about parenting.
So we create. I had this moment. I know the moment that this book started. I had a horrible morning with my kids. I had to get everybody up and dressed and out the door to school. My husband had been traveling for two weeks, and it was the middle of winter. It was cold and dark. Everyone was crabby. I dropped my kids off at the Christian school.
Bob: Hoping they would “fix them.”
Leslie: Yes, please! Please, somebody be kind to them.
Leslie: You know, I went into the woods—I went on a walk in the woods, and I just cried out to God. I said, “God where are You in this parenting? I can’t find You.” I am having this conversation with God; and I said, “God, what do You know about being a parent?” I stopped; and this is like this epiphany.
“What does God know about being a parent?” God knows everything—He is not only my Father, but then I remembered He was the Father of Israel. He calls Israel, “My first-born son.” The entire Old Testament then is this record of what God’s life as a father was like. As I am thinking about that, I just felt this enormous relief. God knows what I am experiencing. God has been there Himself.
Dennis: Yes, because He was the Father and the children of Israel were not very good children.
Leslie: They were not good children. God says, “I’ve held My arms out to you all day long, and you would not come.” I see that God, as the parent, is so loving and completely in love with His children; but at the same time, His children did not always respond well. There was a lot of frustration; there was a lot of heartache and a lot of sorrow.
I thought, “That is the true picture of parenting. That is the real picture of parenting. That is real-life parenting.” God has experienced that Himself. That was when I was challenged to look deeply into God’s Word and to find out, “What was God’s life as a parent? What did that look like? What does God really tell us about parenting?”
Dennis: Not that you need my affirmation, but what you just described, I think, is the place where every parent must come. I really do believe, “If you are going to raise the next generation according to the biblical blueprints, you have to come to the end of yourself.”
Dennis: If you don’t, you are going to think you can do it.
Dennis: In fact, what I think actually happens is—you come to the end of yourself multiple times…
Leslie: Oh, yeah!
Dennis: As a father, as a mother. It is in that emptiness and in that feeling of weakness and helplessness that we turn to Jesus Christ and say on a walk in the woods, “Help!”
Dennis: I coined a phrase, Bob. “God loves the prayer of a helpless parent.” If you go there, He will answer that prayer. Now that doesn’t mean your kids are going to turn out right because the nation of Israel had the perfect father, and it is still working out the process of turning out right.
Bob: Let me read the title of your book. It is called Parenting Is Your Highest Calling: And Eight Other Myths That Trap Us in Worry and Guilt. You list a number of myths here. As I read through this list, I thought, “Some of these, there is a grain of truth in each one of these.” It is not a myth on its face; it is a myth when we hold it too tight or when we think it is inviolable. There really is a kernel in each one of these that is true, isn’t there?
Leslie: Oh there is, absolutely. People have asked me, “How did you come up with these myths?” The first thing I say is, “Well, I believed every one of them.” I did. I absolutely believed every one of them because there is some truth in these myths; but we have to look beyond the surface—deeper—and when we look at them more theologically, more biblically, we have to give them over.
Bob: Well, for example, you start off the book by talking about the myth that having children makes you happy. We have five. Having them did make us happy. I mean, we are happy to have our five kids. We haven’t been happy all the time…
Dennis: Biblically, Bob…
Dennis: I mean, it says children are a reward.
Bob: A blessing.
Dennis: The heritage from the Lord. They are satisfying. They do bring fulfillment.
Bob: So where is the myth?
Leslie: Okay. Do I get a “but” in here? Okay. Here is another “but.” Dennis, that verse is the only verse I could find in the Scriptures that equate children with happiness because I think God’s purpose for children is not for our happiness and fulfillment.
I think that is where we are going wrong, even as a church culture. I think we sort of promise or create this expectation toward couples and newly-married couples that, “Children will complete you. Children will make you happy and fulfilled.” I think women in particular get this message that, “Children will fulfill you.”
Some really negative things are happening because of that message. When your two-year-old shakes her fist and says, “I hate you!” or when your teenage son is going through rebellion, you know what, you are not feeling really happy and you are not feeling really fulfilled. Women end up questioning the value of parenting because, “I am not feeling happy. I am not feeling fulfilled.”
I had to look deeper at that question and really the question we are getting at is, “What are children here for?” They are not here to meet our need for happiness and fulfillment. That is not what they are here for. They are here for God’s purposes—not for my purposes.
Dennis: You tell a story about God’s purpose for children by reminding us of Samson and his birth. It was interesting as I was reading your rendition of the story. You didn’t make it up—you were just telling it. I sort of a sudden realized, “You know what, Samson’s parents must have started out with some high expectations.”
Leslie: Oh, my goodness. They are infertile—childless—no children. You know what that means. You know they are longing for a child. That is the one thing they are longing for, and an angel comes. An angel of God comes and tells them, “You are going to have a baby.” That is how their parenting journey begins…
Dennis: You would think at that point, “Wow!”
Leslie: Of course.
Dennis: Think about this gift.
Leslie: Yes—this gift. Not only that, but the angel tells them, “This child is to be a Nazarite. He is going to be set apart from birth. He is going to deliver Israel from the Philistines.” So they are thinking; they have got to be thinking, “Wow! This is going to be a man filled with the Spirit of God. He is going to be obedient to God. He is going to have this incredible Spirit-filled life.” and…
Dennis: They watch him grow up and select a spouse.
Leslie: The first words that Samson says after we have all this expectation—you know on the parents’ part—of course I read this through the eyes of a parent. The first words that Samson says to his parents are: “I’ve seen a Philistine woman down in Timnah now get her for me as my wife.”
Bob: “Because she looks good to me.”
Dennis: “She looks good to me,” is right.
Bob: I have that highlighted in my Bible.
I’ve got a life verse for me. (laughter)
Dennis: I mean he is speaking, it feels like, disrespectfully.
Leslie: Absolutely because the father is to be the honored patriarch. He is making a demand of his father. He is demanding something that violates one of God’s laws, which is not to marry a foreigner. Right here, immediately, we begin to see something about the character of Samson and begin to see a glimpse of what kind of heartache this must have brought to his parents.
Bob: So there is truth that there is joy in being a parent, having kids; but we have to balance that reality with the fact that there is going to be hardship, and pain, and suffering, and that our happiness is not the primary reason why God gives us children in the first place.
Leslie: Absolutely. That becomes the anchor for us. I love the Samson story so much because of the way it ends. Most of us know the story of Samson—it is a tragic story. There is no comic relief along the way. He dies at the end. His eyes are gouged out, and he is set to grinding meal like an ox. One last time he calls on God’s strength. The temple comes crashing down, and he kills all of God’s enemies.
The story of Samson, which by the way, is four entire chapters of the Old Testament. So it is a very long story—which tells us that it is probably kind of important.
The end of Samson’s life story is summed up with six words. “And he led Israel for 20 years.” That returns us immediately to the prophecy of the angel which was, “He shall deliver Israel from the Philistines.” Here is the thing—that is exactly what Samson did. Samson accomplished just what God said he would accomplish.
So Samson’s parents, I assume, there was some joy in their lives as parents. I know there were a lot of heartache, and heartbreak, and hurt; but in the end, they can feel joy in the fact that God accomplished exactly what He said He would accomplish through the life of their son, in spite of all the sin, in spite of all the failure.
So we can hang on that as a truth for our own kids. No matter what happens, God has a purpose for every one of our kids. God’s purposes cannot fail. That can be our source of joy and fulfillment.
Dennis: I am so glad you said that, Leslie, because as parents, we watch the story emerge. Samson’s mom and dad, as they watched him have his eyes gouged out, as they watched him in public humiliation, had to die a thousand deaths of shame. They were looking at a parenthesis in his life. I think as parents, at points, we know our children all too well. We need to be reminded of the big picture.
Dennis: The big story that is taking place.
Leslie: Yes. The big story.
Dennis: That God is working His plan out. We don’t know what the beginning and end will ultimately be.
Leslie: No. The wonderful thing about Samson’s story is we do get a glimpse of the rest of the story. In Hebrews 11, in the “Hall of Faith” chapter, when the mighty men and women of God who accomplished much for the Kingdom are listed—Samson is in that list. Samson is one of the heroes of the faith.
Dennis: Even though, as we think about him here. We are thinking about his failures. What a tragedy, but he was a man who lived by faith.
Bob: I was talking just last night with a dad. We were talking; and he said, “It has not been a good week at our house--a lot of late nights. Our oldest, who is about 12, is starting to get a little mouthy—sassing back to his mom, being disrespectful. He is pushing back, and he is not taking correction well.” He said, “We’ve got to fix this. We have to nip this thing in the bud.”
I smiled; and I said, “He’s 12?” I said, “Just strap in because it is going to be a roller coaster ride of repetition, disappointment. I’m not trying to be a prophet of doom; I’ve just been down this road.”
Dennis: You kind of sound like it though, Bob.
Bob: I’ve had this ticket before.
Dennis: Did you have to give him a couple of aspirin after that? What did you do?
Bob: You know, he smiled kind of like he knows, “Yes.” He is going to have some bumps ahead as they raise this son who is emerging into his own sense of adulthood, and who wants to do things his own way. We were talking about strategies related to that. I sat with him thinking, “I know there are times that as a dad, as a mom, you go, ‘I’d just like this to be over. I would love to ship you off to boarding school, and we’ll hit the empty-nest years early. I’ll be okay with that.’”
Dennis: “We’ll see you when you are grown up.”
Bob: Let’s just all admit we have all felt like that. We are going to have seasons like that. It doesn’t mean that you have messed up as a parent—now, you might have messed up as a parent.
Dennis: No, you can almost assume—there will be mess-ups.
Bob: Oh yes.
Dennis: You are not going to do it perfectly. You know, as we are talking here, Leslie, I am looking over your shoulder to a teammate who is in the studio, helping with the broadcast, Todd Nagel. Todd and I have worked together for a number of years. He is on the front-end of this deal. Todd is expecting their fourth child. What are the ages, Todd?
Todd: Six, four, three, and new-born.
Dennis: My conclusion of this broadcast is for you and Sarah. Here is what we have said today, “Parenting is worth it.” No matter how hard it is at a point in time, it really is worth it. It is not nearly as much for you as you think it is, but it is worth it. There is a myth that says it is going to make you happy. That is a myth.
Secondly, children have a divine purpose. God is at work crafting that purpose for them. Todd, He is going to use you and Sarah to help craft that divine purpose; but at a point, just like it says in Psalm 128, you will let go of the “arrow.” There will be what is called string-slap against the forearm, except the string-slap occurs in the heart.
It will be very difficult to let go; but you’ll let them go, and you’ll let them emerge as adults. You’ll sit back; and you must remind yourself about what we have talked about here because if you don’t, you are going to be where we talked about at the beginning of this broadcast which is you are going to be filled with guilt, and shame, and rehearsing all your mistakes you made as a parent. I want you to know, “God is bigger than all your mistakes.”
Bob: In the meantime, keep in mind that your kids are there as chisels in your life, too. God is using your children to…
Dennis: You had to get a word in on this, too, didn’t you?
Bob: It’s just—I’ve been here. I think it would be helpful for you and Sarah to get a copy of Leslie’s book and read through a chapter together. Sit down at night, after the kids are in bed when you just want to go to sleep—even if it is just a couple of pages. Get your perspective right on the assignment that God has given you.
The book is called Parenting Is Your Highest Calling: And Eight Other Myths That Trap Us in Worry and Guilt by Leslie Leyland Fields. We have it in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com and get information about how you can order a copy of the book.
Again, it is FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY; 1-800-358-6329. That is 1-800- F as in “family” L as in “life” and then the word TODAY. We can let you know how you can get a copy of Leslie’s book sent out to you. I think a lot of families, a lot of parents, are going to find this helpful, and encouraging, and just the right adjustment for their parenting perspective.
We are really grateful here at FamilyLife for the many folks who, not only listen to our daily program, but for those of you who from time to time will make a donation to help support this ministry. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to do that or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and make your donation over the phone. It is those donations that keep us on this radio station, keep FamilyLifeToday.com on the web, and enable us to make resources available to listeners all across the country and around the world. We do appreciate your financial partnership with us.
This month, if you make a donation of any amount to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today, we have a thank-you gift we would like to send you. It is a DVD, a film put together by the JESUS film project called Magdalena. It tells the story of Jesus through the eyes of Mary Magdalene. It is powerfully done.
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Now tomorrow we are going to be back to talk more with Leslie Fields about parenting myths and what we can do to adjust our thinking so that we can be the kind of parents God wants us to be. Hope you can be back with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today Keith Lynch and our entire broadcast production team on behalf of our host Dennis Rainey; I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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