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Getting clear on the parenting goal

Excerpt fromIt’s Not Too Lateby Dan Dupee. 

Dan Dupee
Courtesy of Dan Dupee

There seems to be something mildly inappropriate if not downright unspiritual about defining “success” for the Christian life at any age. Here is why it matters for the young people under your roof: you already have a definition for a successful result of the eighteen- to twenty-three-year-old transition. It may not be explicit, and you might have a hard time writing it down. You might never have reflected on it, but it is there somewhere below the surface: a set of expectations of what life would ideally be like for your post-college child if “things work out.” 

We parents find a way to express our deepest convictions about things to our kids, even (and especially) when these convictions are never spoken aloud. Parents usually have some hopes about the adult version of their son or daughter. Why not get clear about those hopes and make sure they are the ones you want to influence how you raise your child, whether he or she is twenty-one and starting to look for a job or fifteen and not even considering college? 

The world around us is loud and persistent in declaring what success for twenty-three-year-olds is (material prosperity, good looks, sexual prowess). It is time that we dream together with our children about a different kind of future for them, one that reflects God’s best for their lives. 

Let’s make Scripture our starting point for the conversation. Like many Christians, our sons and daughters come under the authority of the whole counsel of God from Genesis to Revelation. And so, the admonitions we experience as we encounter God’s Word apply as much to them as to us. See, for example, “Love one another. As I have loved you” (John 13:34), “Avoid sexual immorality,” (1 Thess. 4:3), “Work . . . as for the Lord” (Col. 3:23 ESV), and “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). But a definition of success that says, “Obey the whole New Testament in every way,” is not only a burden greater than we ourselves can bear; it doesn’t fit the particular time and place in life God has called our kids. 

The quest for a successful faith transition in our kids necessarily raises the question, “Transition to what?” This “what,” target, or destination point cannot explicitly include every commandment and admonition from all of Scripture and is one we will not all agree on. The “target” or “destination point” should do following: 

  • Reflect the great commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;” and “Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Luke 10:27). 
  • Be undergirded by the gospel: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8–9). 
  • Be congruent with the practices of the earliest church: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). 

There is always more to learn about conforming our lives to the image of Jesus. The items listed above importantly provide a lifelong framework for continued growth as his children and his ambassadors to the world. 

Dan Dupee is the former Chairman of the Board for the Coalition for Christian Outreach, a Pittsburgh-based campus ministry working annually with over 32,000 students on over 115 campuses. He brings together biblical truth, sociological research, college transition findings, and focus group work with parents of adolescents to develop principles that are fresh, clarifying additions to a growing body of research on teen faith development. Dan and his wife, Carol, are the parents of four children. They live in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. More information about his book “It’s Not Too Late” can be found online here.

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