This sponsored post was prepared by Nicholas McDonald.
I’ve been in youth ministry for nearly 7 years, and I’ve ministered to droves of parents and students. I could tell you all kinds of stories - good, bad, redemptive, hilarious, and heart-breaking. As I’ve surveyed these interactions, however, a single summarizing word comes to mind: “shocked”.
“MY kid is looking at porn? NO!”
“My girl would NEVER do that to someone else. She’s such a sweetheart!”
“My boy using drugs? I don’t think so…”
And then I show them the website. I give them tangible evidence of what she did. I pull out the bag of weed. And then I watch the world melt before the parent’s eyes. “I just never thought my _______ was capable of something like that.”
I’m left shocked as well - not because parents are foolish, or because students are sinful. I’m shocked that parents are shocked. “How could they have missed that? Wasn’t it obvious? How many context clues does it take? How many comments and raised eyebrows from others? How many obvious lies?”
It’s a frustrating and disheartening experience for all involved.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
The #1 Difference Maker
Over the years, I’ve also been blessed to see students who are real with their parents. Despite the pull of Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat to create multiple well-crafted identities, these students are real. They confess their flaws and grow closer to God and their families through them.
What’s the difference?
The #1 difference is this: ”real” students come from safe homes. Put simply, a safe home is a place where it’s okay to fail. In fact, it’s expected, and embraced. Rather than excusing their children’s sin or “fixing” it, these parents resolve to love their children through imperfection. And that’s the #1 way to keep our children real.
Are You a Safe Parent?
You can find out by answering these questions:
1. Do you expect your child to fail? The gospel tells us that our kids are sinful from birth (Psalm 51:5). We do our kids a disservice when we anesthetize ourselves to their failure. If students are afraid they’ll disappoint their parents’ naive expectations, home might be a nice place, but it’s not a safe place. So:
When others are critical of your child, are you defensive or (cautiously) receptive?
Do you constantly find yourself excusing your child’s behavior? Do you “cover up” your child’s failures (read: homework), or keep them from situations where they will fail?
Or do you encourage your student to share their failure, and help walk them through it?
2. Do you respond with grace to your child’s failure? In my new book Faker*, I talk about two ways to deal with sin: “fix it” or “forget it.” As parents, we’re often tempted to “fix” our child’s sin through emotional manipulation. But this is a band-aid solution. The right response to our children’s failure is found in the good news of the gospel: grace. So:
Do you blow up at your child when they fail, or clam up in silence (both bad!)?
Do you appeal to self-pity when your children fail (Look what I’ve done for you, and you…)?
Or do you insist on showing your child a foolish, grace-infused love smack in the middle of their failure?
3. Are you “real” with your kids about your failures? We parents aren’t recruited by God to be professional Pharisees for our children. It’s no good pretending to be perfect in front of our kids - they’ll either feel discouraged for not measuring up, or see through it and feel duped. So:
Do you regularly share with your children how Jesus is growing and stretching you?
Do you ask your kids for forgiveness?
Do you pray with and for your kids, showing your dependence on God?
Parents who expect failure, respond with grace, and set an example of repentance are “safe” parents. But they’re not super-hero parents. They’ve simply embraced the gospel for themselves: they know they are sinners, and they know Jesus is their safe-place. Jesus isn’t waiting for us parents to succeed - he loves us in our failure. Our justification doesn’t depend on our children’s success. It depends on His - and He’s already succeeded, at the cross. As we embrace this truth, we become sanctuaries for our children. And as we allow them to be real in their failure, we become instruments of grace in His hands.
I’d love to hear more ideas - what are some ways you’ve made your home a “safe” place for your kids – to fail?
Nicholas McDonald has been ministering to youth for nearly 7 years, and is completing his M.Div at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. He blogs at scribblepreach.com. For more on encouraging your students to be real, check out his new book, “Faker”*.
*Faker is published today by those awfully nice people at The Good Book Company. Order online here.