No-Formula Parenting


To all the parents desperately trying to do everything just right so your kids will be guaranteed to grow up to love God and be well balanced adults know this: Your parenting formulas do not ensure the results you desire. They are not guaranteed to work.

In math, if you do x plus y, you will get z. Guaranteed formula. 2+3=5. Not so in parenting. We forget this at the peril of both our sanity and our understanding of grace.

The perfect parenting formula might look something like: Send child to x school + go to church y times per month + attend z camp + read b books + adhere to c parenting philosophy = a child guaranteed to walk with Jesus for life. I’m sure you can think of other things to add.

But parenting doesn’t work that way. This reality used to periodically make me angry at God. Why did he set up parenting the way he did? Why did he put ignorant young adults/adults in charge of WHOLE PERSONS??!! Not just pets or plants, but HUMANS. It seemed like a very bad system to me, even mean.

But slowly I began to ask different questions. What if the reality is that God loves us and our kids too much to let our parenting formulas work? What if we were supposed to see that we don’t need formulas but God Himself? I realize these words will be a relief to some and terrifying to others.

I now believe I am better off as a parent and person when I HAVE to depend on God. I don’t always like it in the moment, but I do believe it is better for my soul and for my kids, too. God knows that I am quick to not depend on Him when things are going well, when my systems are working.

It is true that the Bible says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov 22:6). And it is also true that God often works in families to bring generations to know Him (Jn 4:53, Acts 16:31). However, I believe the reason God doesn’t ALWAYS work that way is so that we will not presume rather than depend.

This doesn’t mean what we do doesn’t matter. The pieces of our parenting formula aren’t in themselves bad. After all, we have to do something. We do well to learn from those who have gone before us in parenting. But these things should not make us leave out the Holy Spirit in our parenting practice. They should not be the things on which we depend.

God knows what our children actually need. And that isn’t complete with x camp and y friends and z extracurriculars. He knows they need to feel their need of him, which likely will require some pain. I can’t replace that. And in my saner moments I don’t want to. I am learning to take a long view.

Believe that God cares for your kids far more and far better than you do. Believe that God will work all things for their and your good, to know and love Him more.

Julie profile pic Julie Serven craves shalom for people and places. She enjoys writing for nonprofits, editing, helping people with literacy skills, hearing people’s stories, exploring all things OKC, yoga, NPR, and spending time with her ultracool family.