Chap Bettis recently wrote about a phenomenon he has observed in today’s young parents—one Aileen and I have often discussed as well. “Many parents are reluctant and even resistant to asking advice about their parenting. While others can see blind spots, the parents themselves remain… blind to them.” That is one side of the equation—young parents aren’t asking seasoned parents for input or assistance.
The other side of the equation is that seasoned parents are reluctant to address concerns or offer assistance, even when they see those significant blind spots. This must not be a new phenomenon since many years ago J.C. Ryle said, “I would rather correct a man about anything than his parenting.” Older parents who have experience to draw upon and counsel to offer are loathe to speak up without invitation. And the invitations rarely come.
Bettis and a friend offer a number of possible explanations, especially as they pertain to parents failing to seek counsel in the area of corrective discipline. But I’ve got some conjecture of my own. I would like to offer an explanation related to the fact that today’s parents are the first generation to have grown up and then begun to raise their children in a fully digital world.
The Decline of the Expert
Today many people across many fields are lamenting the decline of the expert and the demise of expertise. It’s increasingly true that authority has little connection to accomplishment. Tom Nichols says rightly that we are seeing “a Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between professionals and laymen, students and teachers, knowers and wonderers—in other words, between those of any achievement in an area and those with none at all.” Today’s young parents have been raised to have a different view of expertise—a view that has been fostered by the egalitarian nature of the Internet. And it is inevitably working its way out in their parenting.
This connects to young parents in a couple of ways.
First, young parents are more likely to ask Google their questions than to ask people in their community. It’s easier and more normal for them to bang those questions into their phone or computer than to take them to church and to ask them there. And then when they find answers to their questions, it’s often in the context of online “communities” of other people who are going through similar issues. This gives them a connection to other people encountering the same ordeals and going through the same stage of life.
Second, young parents are more likely to seek and find answers from “peer experts” than from older “non-experts.” In today’s mindset, experts are not those who have successfully raised children to adulthood, but those who have successfully published blogs, books, and podcasts, even if they themselves have not yet successfully raised children to adulthood. Thus a young mom is more likely to seek the counsel of another young mom who has an online following than the counsel of an older mom who does not.
Here’s how this works out. A young mom who is struggling with potty training or a toddler’s temper tantrums is likely to take her questions online. When she does that, she is likely to find a blog or podcast begun by other young moms who are also dealing with potty training or toddler temper tantrums. The bloggers or podcasters have gained a following because of the questions they are asking, suggestions they are making, and vulnerability they are showing. This gives them a kind of authority that causes the young mom to trust and follow them. She joins into their form of social media community and they attempt to solve these problems together. And while this scenario may be particularly true of young moms, it’s also true of young dads struggling with fathering and of young couples struggling with marriage.
And while gladly acknowledging there is value in many of those blogs, books, and podcasts, I think there is a better way. I think every young family would do well to implement two habits.
Here is the first habit: find families who have successfully raised children to adulthood, then ask them to tell you how they did it. It’s simple. Just say, “We want our children to be like your children some day. Can we come over so you can tell us how we can have that?” The problem with “peer experts” is that while they have proven they can successfully gain a following as they talk about parenting, they haven’t proven any substantial success in actual parenting. It’s not that hard to raise a child to five or ten years old and to have that child appear happy and healthy and obedient. But we don’t really get a substantial assessment of our parenting until our children are well into their teens or twenties—until they’ve pretty much been launched into life. Many of the most successful parents have never launched a blog or podcast or otherwise spoken publicly about their parenting. Find those people, especially in your local church, and learn from them. It’s as simple as finding kids who you’d be proud to call your own, then inviting yourself into the lives of their parents.
Here’s the second habit: find families who have successfully raised children to adulthood, then invite them to tell you what they observe in your children and in your parenting. Invite them to observe you and invite them to speak freely of both your strengths and weaknesses. This will be a display of the trait of humility. An even bigger display of the trait of humility will be to listen patiently and without defensiveness when they point out a concern in your children or a flaw in the way you are raising them. But if they have raised children to become well-grounded and godly adults, why wouldn’t you want to seek, welcome, and consider their counsel? Why would you prefer the counsel of people whom you don’t really know and people who don’t have nearly the track-record of success?
There are few tasks you will undertake in life that are more important than raising children. It is an incredible honor that God allows us to create, birth, and raise other human beings made in his image. With this incredible honor comes great responsibility. You’re unlikely to fulfill this task well, or as well as you could have, without the input of the community God has given you. So take advantage of it! Learn to implement these basic habits of successful parents.