Discover more from Dominion Press
How Today's Parental Negligence Leads to Tomorrow's Prodigal Sons: Part 1
I was recently reading an account in the Old Testament that — as is often the case these days — struck me with particular relevance. It concerns a certain king named Hezekiah who had become sick to the point of death (Isaiah 38). In his final moments, he prays for God to have mercy and heal him, which he does:
I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city. Isaiah 38:4-6
Thanks for reading The Dominion Dispatch ! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Two for the price of one. Not bad. But if you know anything about Israel’s kings, your spidey sense should be tingling right about now.
After his recovery, a number of Baylonian envoys arrive, bearing gifts on behalf of their king, Marduk-Baladan, who had heard of Hezekiah’s recovery and wanted to congratulate him. In the giddy afterglow of everything finally going right for once, Hezekiah proceeds to take his visitors on a guided tour of everything — right down to the last raisin cupboard. Now, it’s never a bad thing to be hospitable. What is a bad thing is to put the nation you’re responsible for at risk because of a sudden need to show off.
Not long after this, Isaiah shows up to declare that Hezekiah’s pride will result in dire consequences not only for his future children but for the entire nation of Israel. These consequences would materialize in the Babylonian captivity of 597 BC.
Hezekiah’s response to this news is equal parts selfish and uncanny:
“The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,” Hezekiah replied. For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my lifetime.” Isaiah 39:8
No regret. No repentance. Not even a plea for the future deliverance of his sons. Just a deep sigh of relief that at least none of it will happen until after his death.
The reason I remark on the uncanny . . . ness of Hezekiah’s response is that a similar attitude seems to have taken hold in our own day. No, we haven’t resigned our national treasures to hostile foreign powers (Sudbury’s giant nickel is still propped next to the earth science museum). We are, however, in the midst of resigning the next generation to hostile domestic ideas. But because the consequences of those ideas lie somewhere beyond the horizon — hopefully after we’re dead — the urgency of the situation seems lost on us.
If the foundations of the earth are going to shake, at least it won’t be in our day.
As parents, I believe it’s time we faced our negligence in this regard. We can’t let our preoccupation with some other goal (safety, comfort, being instagram famous, home ownership, etc.) prevent us from this all-important duty — to “train up our children in the way they should go.”
Because the road back to recovery always begins with figuring out where we went wrong in the first place, we should start by acknowledging that:
Kids who are insulated from failure grow up proud and stunted
Part of what helps keep my sanity intact these days is the on-and-off study of horticulture. I was recently reading an essay entitled The Myth of Tree-Staking and found the following paragraph:
Tree staking is another example of what I’ve come to label as “enabling” behavior. Like planting hole amendment, tree staking is done with the best of intentions but without regard to long-term tree health. Rather than helping a tree develop root and trunk growth that allow it to stand independently, improper tree staking replaces a supportive trunk and root system. This artificial support causes the tree to put its resources into growing taller but not growing wider. When the stakes are removed (if they ever are), the lack of trunk and root development makes these trees prime candidates for breakage or blow-down.
The sheer applicability of the above quote is so freakishly relevant to parenting, I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t slowly break off each piece and force it into a parenting analogy.
First, notice the impulse to stake trees in the first place often comes about from “the best of intentions.” In other words, those who stake trees really think what they’re doing is going to help the tree. They actually want to see it thrive and succeed.
Similarly, we can grant that many parents who have made it their life goal to protect their kids from ever having to “feel bad” about anything may be doing so with good intentions. But you’ve heard the one about the road to ruin, right? The problem is that these good intentions fail to take into account the long-term health of the tree. “Enabling behavior” feels good in the moment because it makes our kids feel massively successful, which in turn makes us feel massively successful.
Yes, you read that right. Parents, dazed from the glory cloud of their constant sacrifices, can forget that their own identity is often tied to that of their kids. When we isolate them from competition or are over-generous with praise in response to mediocre effort, we tell ourselves we’re protecting our kids. But really, we’re often just protecting ourselves.
Second, notice what staking does. “It replaces a supportive trunk and root system. This artificial support causes the tree to put its resources into growing taller but not growing wider.”
When we fail to expose our kids to challenges, we run the risk of their growing physically and mentally “taller” without the corresponding character to support it. They haven’t been humbled so they don’t know how to learn. They haven’t been rejected so they don’t know how to recover. They haven’t sinned against others so they don’t know how to repent. They haven’t been sinned against so they don’t know how to forgive. They’ve already been told they’re excellent so they don’t know what it is to strive.
Our children grow up, but they haven’t learned to stand.
Third, “When the stakes are removed (if they ever are), the lack of trunk and root development makes these trees prime candidates for breakage or blow-down.”
Constant affirmation, especially in the context of isolated families, leads to a kind of fish-in-pond syndrome where small fish stay small and weasly because they’ve never had to fight for anything. The cure for it is exposing our kids, early and often, to situations in which they will fail. The bad news, of course, is that they will probably fail — at least if you’re doing it right. This will hurt your pride. The good news is that it will also hurt your kid’s pride, which Jesus says is the main obstacle preventing them from the kingdom of God.
If your kids grow up thinking they’re pretty good people that are pretty good at everything, what you’re really helping them do is build their lives on an unsteady foundation — because “No other foundation can any man lay than that which is in Christ Jesus.” Teaching them to build their identity around anything else is a surefire way to create self-righteous, flabby adults that easily blow over in a storm.
The world is not a backyard pond. It’s a raging sea. The sooner our kids learn not to be afraid because Jesus is with them — rather than trying to insulate them from everything fearful — the sooner they will learn to stand in glorious, unstaked freedom.
Kids that are insulated from suffering grow up afraid of everything
In 2022, the US army fell short of its recruitment goal by 25%. When asked to give a reason for the decline, the army’s marketing head said, “The top three reasons young people cite for rejecting military enlistment are the same across all the services: fear of death, worries about post-traumatic stress disorder and leaving friends and family — in that order.”
I don’t imagine this dog’s breakfast of a recruitment ad helped either, but that’s a story for another day.
In short, our generation — its parents and its kids — is afraid of suffering. The reasons for this are many, but one of the main ones is that many of us have been suckled on affluence from a young age. We’ve been raised to assume that comfort is the norm and suffering is the anomaly. This should be a problematic worldview for Christians because it directly contradicts Jesus, who told us that following him will mean suffering at some point.
It is our job as parents to teach our kids that a large part of maturity is learning how to suffer well. And that the reason we can suffer well is because Christ has suffered well, and that through him all suffering is redeemed. The reason no one wants to join the US army is that — surprise, surprise — expressive individualism doesn’t produce adults who want to sacrifice anything. It produces adults who are shallow, insecure, self-protective, and spend the entirety of their lives running away.
As parents, we are helping our kids toward flight or faithfulness. Ask yourself — do you trust God enough to give him your kids? Do you trust him enough to give him YOURSELF? If you don’t believe he’s trustworthy, why should your kids?
Don’t settle for being one of those paranoid parents who never let their kids do anything unless they’re firmly manacled to your hip. You can’t protect your kids from suffering. You can either train them how to deal with it — or run the risk of being the cause of it yourself.
Kids that are constantly insulated from nature grow up delusional
Kids that aren’t regularly exposed to real environments in the real world can start to assume the world is an infinitely malleable place. One in which every molecule must bend to the will of its handlers. This isolation from reality results in the kind of mental disease that engages in non-satirical discussions on womb transplants for men.
Parents need to be aware of the dangers of living in totalizing urban/digital environments. Kids who’ve grown up immersed in technology can start to adopt an almost gnostic view of the world; where working with your hands is viewed as an almost vulgar occupation and the prospect of getting up before dawn is about as compelling as swallowing a handful of finishing nails.
Kids who’ve never actually seen a hurricane may actually start to believe their not driving a car will help stop them. Kids who’ve never seen a night sky free of light pollution may start to imagine the girth of the cosmos can be boiled and reduced to a small sample in a test tube. Kids who’ve never seen the dance of Ebony Jewelwings against the backdrop of a forest canopy may more easily be beguiled by the wonderless gruel of materialism. Kids who grow up surrounded by skip the dishes, online grocery orders, and Amazon Prime may start to imagine the necessaries of life just magically spring up like mushrooms after a damp spring.
We must constantly be assessing the holy grail of modern man (digital, laborless hedonism) against the straight rule of the Scriptures. We must teach our kids that though technology can be a useful tool, it is always a bad master.
Hezekiah, flush with good health and goods, abandoned wisdom and confidence in his God — to the decades-long ruin of his offspring.
May God help us avoid a similar fate.
Stay tuned for Part 2, where we’ll address:
Kids that are never told “No” grow up viewing boundaries as hateful
Kids that aren’t exposed to biblical masculinity and femininity grow up not buying either
Kids that haven’t been taught truth grow up believing lies
Thanks for reading The Dominion Dispatch ! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.