Myth #2: Good Parenting Leads to Happy
About the Guest
Good parenting is hard work, and not always appreciated by your kids. That’s the message of Leslie Leyland Fields, a mother of six, who talks about the adventures of being a parent and the myths that often lead us to frustration, like the myth that “good parenting leads to happy children." Hear Leslie reveal what’s more important than happy kids.
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
Good parenting is hard work, and not always appreciated by your kids.
Myth #2: Good Parenting Leads to Happy
Bob: Is it possible to be a more conscientious parent than you really ought to be? Or put another way; is it possible that your kids have become an idol? Leslie Fields thinks so.
Leslie: Please don’t throw anything at me Ok? I’ve sort of been expecting people to throw things at me or to just say, “What? You’re saying that parenting is not your highest calling? This is heretical.” You know, the reason I can say this is because Jesus said it. Our temptation as parents is to love our children and serve them, and find our significance in them, rather than in Christ.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday March 18. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey and I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll spend some time today putting parenting and your children in proper perspective.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today thanks for joining us. So, are you just trying to discourage moms and dads with what we’re talking about? I…
Dennis: Wait a second, I was not the one who, earlier this week, told a friend as he was expressing some dismay over his 12-year-old having a little push-back and expressing some anger…
Bob: I’m not sure that’s exactly how he did it.
Dennis: You gave him a pretty sober analysis of the next six years.
Bob: I just said, “Just strap it in, because the ride is going to last for a while.” I’m just wondering…
Dennis: I’m just trying to smooth out the bumps by giving folks a great shock absorber…
Bob: Reality check, is what this is?
Dennis: This book that we’re talking about this week could be packaged as a shock absorber for a mom and a dad’s heart, as you raise the next generation. Leslie Leyland Fields joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Leslie welcome back.
Leslie: Thanks, I’m glad to be here.
Dennis: She has written a book called, Parenting is Your Highest Calling and Eight Other Myths that Trap Us in Worry and Guilt. I wish our listeners could really get to know Leslie. She’s one of the more fascinating guests we’ve had here. She lives in Alaska, and not just in Alaska, but an island off an island in Alaska. She lives near Kodiak Island.
Bob: And three months a year you live at fish camp with the family and you bathe once a week right?
Leslie: Pretty much.
Bob: I’m just wanting a reality check for our listeners.
Leslie: You know it’s like we were saying earlier…
Dennis: Bob, you’re creating a smell to the broadcast.
Leslie: I’m clean today, all right, just to let you know.
Dennis: Leslie I’m sorry. We’ve found some fresh ways to…
Bob: To insult guests? Yes.
Dennis: But Leslie lives near Kodiak Island some of our listeners know that’s a famous island for Grizzly bears.
Leslie: Kodiak bear actually is what we call them.
Dennis: Oh, yes. I’m sorry that I demeaned the Kodiak bear by calling him a grizzly.
Leslie: Thank you.
Dennis: But, you also spent some time traveling across Africa, sometimes in the jungles? Right?
Leslie: Oh yes.
Dennis: So you’ve got this varied life. But it took you eight years to come to grips with this idea of becoming a parent.
Leslie: It really did. We got married at a pretty young age, I was 20. My husband was 21. We were in college. We had a list of all the things we wanted to do together before we had a family. We knew we were going to have a family. We were committed to that, and we looked forward to that. But we wanted to go to graduate school, we wanted to travel around the world, and see the world that God had made, we felt that was important to our education.
We also wanted to live out in the bush. So we spent eight years doing all those things, and experiencing all kinds of adventures. From trekking up to Mount Everest base camp, to swimming with sharks in the Red Sea, which I didn’t intend to do that. That was an accident. All kinds of amazing adventures and brushes with death and all of that.
But, yes. In Africa, in the middle of Africa, in the heart of Africa in the back of an expedition truck, suddenly at age 28 I felt really empty. I felt kind of weary with my own life and the emptiness of my own life, I had a very deep sense that I was ready to take on another kind of adventure. Not an adventure that takes you around the world, but an adventure of the heart. An adventure of the soul, and that was the adventure of parenting.
Dennis: You actually, at that point, had the thought that your own desires could enslave you, and you felt like God was speaking into your life calling you to give your life up for another. And that’s how you embarked on the parenting journey.
Leslie: Yes, that’s right, exactly. I saw the emptiness of living for yourself.
Dennis: Compare parenting with climbing to base camp. Which is the biggest adventure? Being a parent or crawling through the jungles, fighting the elements on Kodiak Island…
Bob: Swimming with the sharks…
Leslie: Ok, they’re both really great. I don’t want to denigrate the adventure, the outward adventure, because that is important. But that’s not it. God can meet you there, and He did meet us there in those things.
But, the real adventure, I think, is to pour your life into other people, into other human beings. To die to self, and that’s the source of life. That is the source of new life. Not going to the next country, not having that next adventure. As wonderful as those things are—and God can direct you to do those things—but the deeper journey really has been raising children.
Bob: Just so our listeners know, your daughter Naftali, you had your first child at 29 right?
Bob: Thirty years old, then a couple of years later you had your son, then another boy, and another boy and that was kind of it. Right?
Leslie: That was it, we were done. Four kids, a girl and three boys, and our quiver was overflowing.
Bob: Then what happened?
Leslie: Then, five years later when I was 43, and I was a professor teaching full-time, my life was very full, God said, “You’re not done. You need another child.” And I was pregnant again with another son. After going through that experience, a very humbling experience, it was very much about obedience and obeying God and bringing this child to life; dying to self, dying to my plans, dying to my idea of my life.
So great, I learned all those things. Then at age 45, I was pregnant again with another son. It was almost a breaking point for me. I felt like, “God, I already learned those things! I’ve done those things, what are you making me do this again for?” So again, it was just an incredible relinquishment and submission and obedience and giving over my desires to pursue and be obedient to God’s desires for me, which I didn’t understand. I didn’t know why God was doing that to me at the time.
Now, my youngest is six years old and my other one is eight, and I can’t tell you what they’ve done for our family, and how they’ve changed all of us in wonderful ways. But again, it goes back to the dying to self.
Dennis: Leslie we’re very close to one of the myths that you write about in your book. Earlier this week we talked about the first myth that is that “Children are there to help us become happy.” That, that’s the purpose of them.
Leslie: Yes, happy and fulfilled.
Dennis: They do bring us great pleasure and delight, but there are some larger purposes at stake here. This third myth in your book though, that “parenting is your highest calling.”
Bob: That’s the title of the book, right?
Dennis: We’re on it right now, you’re saying you gave up this life of high adventure, literally from an altitude standpoint, and going through the jungle and Alaska and all these things, you gave it up for the high calling of being a parent. But you’re saying that that alone is a myth, and there’s something higher that parents need to be called to?
Leslie: There is indeed. Please don’t throw anything at me Ok? I’ve sort of been expecting people to throw things at me or to just say “What? You’re saying that parenting is not your highest calling? This is heretical.” The reason I can say this is because Jesus said it. If I had to go straight to the clearest expression of this it would be to Matthew 10:37, when Jesus says, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.”
We’re OK at that point, “father and mother” but the next line “Anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” This morning I was just reading in Luke 14. Jesus says it again in a way that’s even stronger. He says, “Anyone that does not hate his mother or father, his wife and his children, anyone who does not hate them cannot be my disciple.”
Now, we understand that that’s hyperbole. We understand that Jesus is not calling us to literally hate our children and our family. But he’s trying to make that point ever so strongly that our first love, our first call is to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, our soul and our strength.
We have the temptation, because we’re human beings, and because we can’t see God and we can’t touch him we can’t hug him. We can’t sing him songs at night, our temptation as parents is to love our children whom we can sing to at night, and hug and carry in our arms to love them and serve them and find our significance in them, rather than in Christ. Rather than, in the Father.
Dennis: You’re not going to be stoned by Bob or me…
Leslie: Thank you.
Dennis: Because one of the things Bob and I have talked about over the years as we’ve been broadcasting now for, I guess going on our 18th year right, Bob?
Dennis: We don’t want people to make an idol of the Christian family. Or, become idol worshippers of their children. I’ll tell you what, when things are going well with the family, and when you get a brood of children around you, I’m telling you they take your heart. They demand your heart, but what I hear you saying is what I hope our listeners hear us saying here every day on FamilyLife Today. The ultimate devotion is to Jesus Christ, and a surrender to Him on a daily basis. If anyone or anything takes His place, you’ve got the wrong purpose. You’re settling for a lesser calling in life.
Leslie: Here’s the thing. When we love God first, that doesn’t mean we love our children any less. Loving God first enables us to love our children, not less, but to love them rightly.
Bob: This may be—I don’t want to say that only moms feel this way, because that’s not the case, but moms have more of a natural predisposition to make parenting into an idol than maybe dads do. Do you think?
Leslie: I would agree with that. That’s what I have observed and saw.
Bob: Part of it is the nurturing, caretaking role that God gives to moms, again dads aren’t excluded from that, but moms are typically there day-in and day-out. I think there is some hardwiring in the heart of a mom to really pour herself into the life of her children. It’s almost like the kids are baiting you throughout their life to say, “Make me number one, make me your highest calling.”
Leslie: Well, the children, of course, I think they want that.
Bob: They want to be the center of the universe.
Leslie: They want to be the center of the universe. They want to be the center of your universe, and they may get the mistaken idea that that is your purpose in life, is to serve them. That’s a very dangerous thing when our kids only see us as a mother or father whose purpose is to make them happy and serve them.
Bob: Was this a gradual shift for you, or did you come into parenting recognizing “My relationship with God needs to be primary and my kids are going to be secondary.” Or was there a wakening over time in your own life, as a parent where you said, “I’ve just been too emotionally invested, I’ve made this too much of a priority.” Was there a wakeup call?
Leslie: I did not think this through before I had children. I was too busy climbing Mount Everest.
Bob: That would give you plenty of time to think.
Leslie: It was a gradual process as I went through some of the heartache and heartbreak of parenting, I realized, “Wait a minute, there’s more here.” I began to recognize my own failures, my own limitations, and to know that, there’s a lot more going on here than I appreciated. I began to recognize that unless I was setting my heart and my mind and my strength on God Himself, I had nothing to give to my children.
Dennis: This is a difficult dance that we’re talking about here—holding your children close but not too close and keeping God as the center point, the person of affection of your life. I would just have to say, now with six adult children, it’s not over even after you raise them.
As you let them go, you still have hopes and dreams for your kids, and I think God is in the process of weaning you away from living your life through those kids, and living your life through Him and being obedient to Him.
Bob: I think back to Genesis, I don’t know if it’s 22 I think, where God calls Abraham to take “Your son, your only son to Mount Mariah,” and of course, the primary thing that God is communicating to us in the midst of that is the message of the Gospel. But there is a side where we look at that and say, God’s asking Abraham, “Is there anything between you and me, even your son, even the son of promise who I’ve given you, are you ready to give it all up for me?”
Dennis: Even to the point of raising the knife in the air.
Leslie: I think that God calls us to that same test in our hearts. That each one of us has to walk up Mount Mariah with our child beside us and that we have to lay our child on the altar and say, “He is yours, do with him as you will,” so that our hope and our trust and our faith is not in our daughters and sons. But it’s in the Son who is already come.
Dennis: It’s so easy to sit here in a studio and say this, children are addictive. They’re just delightful, and it goes against the heart of a parent, a mom or a dad as we’ve said, to not have those aspirations and dreams and affection for them. Oh, I so look forward to Heaven when there will be no more of this struggle. Where we will love perfectly and will love him perfectly, and no longer be in this earthly shell that really has difficulty keeping the right affections.
Bob: Well, and you know what it’s like when something is not well with your child. As a parent it grieves your heart in a way that nothing else grieves your heart. And yet, at the same time that’s the Mount Mariah we have to be on at that point, and say, “Lord this is your child. I can’t control what’s going on here.”
Dennis: To that point, that leads us to another myth that you write about in your book, the myth that: “Good parenting leads to happy kids.” “Good parenting leads to happy children.”
Leslie: Yes. You know, our culture is all about happiness, the pursuit of happiness, it’s written into the very charter of our nations.
Bob: “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Leslie: Yes, the pursuit of happiness. This is a real guiding light for us because we are so emotionally tuned into our children. When they’re unhappy, that’s just like fingernails on the chalkboard of our heart. So we experience the same tension, when our children aren’t happy, we do want them to be happy.
But we look toward this light, what is the higher call? What is the higher goal? Not their happiness right now, but their long-term good. So we have to distinguish between the short-term happy, and the long-term good. So that was the guiding light again. One thing that’s important about that though is that we don’t shut our kids off from voicing their concerns. I think that’s really important.
Bob: Right, we want to hear their heart and what you’re troubled by. We want to give you the freedom to express your emotions.
Leslie: But at the end of the day…
Bob: We know best.
Leslie: At the end of the day this is what we’re doing.
Dennis: You’ve just modeled something for our listeners that is important today. There are a lot of parents who are becoming very child-centric and letting the children dictate the values, the priorities, and what they do. I think it’s why God gives children parents. He places them in authority and under His authority as God, and that’s what you’ve called people do to in your book.
You said, their highest calling is not to be parents; their highest calling is allegiance to Jesus Christ. If he puts it in your heart to build certain values and strengths and qualities in your children, then you have to be obedient to Him. No matter how they whine or complain or try to get out of it. Just be a parent.
I know if you are, you’re going to need coaching and encouragement, and I said before we came on the air to Leslie, I really like her book, Bob because it is not only practical, but it is anchored in scripture. Calling parents back to the biblical basics and the foundation of how we’re going to build the next generation. That’s really why FamilyLife Today and FamilyLife were founded back in1976 to equip husbands and wives, moms and dads in the most fundamental commitments in life. I’m promising you, being a parent is one of them. We need to do it in the right way.
Bob: You think about most of the books you see for parents and it’s about child raising techniques, things you can do to grow a happy healthy child. Those are not unimportant things. This is a book that challenges your own thinking about your assignment as a parent and pulls you back to thinking rightly so that everything else can flow from a proper understanding of the assignment God has given you.
Leslie: That is what I intended. I have a lot of parenting books on my shelf, but I felt a great need to understand the theology of parenting. What is a theology of parenting? It has been transformational for me as I worked through this.
Dennis: One of the things that is important to me, Leslie, and Bob as well, is a radio broadcast like ours can just heap out the guilt in a 25 minute program day-after-day-after-day and make everybody feel inferior by bringing on a guest like you who have got life all wired together. This is not a book that presents a life that’s all wired together. In fact, some of your best teaching points in here are from your failures and some of your feelings of inadequacy so it really is a guilt reducer.
Bob: Yes, it does not come with rose colored glasses. We’ve removed those so you can read this with a clear head and with clear eyes. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com to get a copy of Leslie’s book. Again, it’s called “Parenting Is Your Highest Calling” and Eight Other Myths that Trap Us in Worry and Guilt. You’ll find copies online at FamilyLifeToday.com or you can call to order at 1-800-FL-TODAY, 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800 F as in “family” L as in “life” and then the word TODAY.
A couple of weeks ago I was out east speaking at one of our FamilyLife Weekend to Remember® Marriage Conferences and we had a big crowd out for the conference. It was great to spend time with a lot of listeners, folks who listen regularly to the program. But I particularly enjoyed those folks who came up and said we want you to know, we support the ministry. Obviously we’re thrilled that anyone would listen. We appreciate you tuning in and telling others about our program. But it’s particularly meaningful when folks say, “We went online recently and made a donation,” or “We called and made a contribution to your ministry.”
You stop and think about that, that’s humbling. It really is encouraging to us to know that we’re connecting and that this ministry is important enough that folks would make a donation to help support it. So we appreciate those of you who do from time to time, either go online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and make a donation.
In fact, this month, if you make a donation of any amount, we have a way we’d like to say thank you. It’s a beautiful film that’s been put together called Magdalena. This is available on DVD it tells the story of the life of Jesus through the eyes of Mary Magdalene. It’s very well done.
One of the cool things about the DVD is that it comes with different audio tracks. So if you know someone for whom Spanish is a first language or someone who speaks French of Portuguese or Mandarin or Korean or Arabic or Russian. You can get a copy of this and pass it on to them as an Easter gift and just as a way to reach out to them and share your faith.
Again, the Magdalena DVD is our gift to you this month when you make a donation of any amount to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. If you donate online at FamilyLifeToday.com, and you want the DVD, type “MAGDVD” into the key code box on the online donation form. Again, it’s “MAGDVD.”
Or call 1-800-FLTODAY and just mention that you’d like the DVD we were talking about and, again we’re happy to send it to you, and we do appreciate your partnership with us in the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
Tomorrow we want to invite you back when we’re going to continue to tackle some of the myths related to parenting and to adjust our thinking when it comes to our assignment as moms and dads. 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 tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of Familylife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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