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A Letter to Young Parents from Someone Who's Been There

Gina Smith

Published Jan 24, 2024
A Letter to Young Parents from Someone Who's Been There

We enter our parenting journey with fear, desires, and goals. The ever-present thoughts of all we want to accomplish or don't want to do – things our parents may have done or not done – can sometimes overwhelm us. What I've learned is if we really want to be the parents God wants us to be, we must come to a point where we see the following truths.

As I look back over the years I was raising my children, many things come to mind. I see things I did well and things I wish I'd done better. I see a mix of weakness, resolve, hard work, immaturity, a sinful heart, and a person who was growing and evolving into the person she is now.

When I look at pictures of myself holding my babies, little resembles the person I am now. Of course, there are the physical differences: I now have gray hair, wrinkles, and a few extra pounds I didn't have in my 20s and 30s. But there is something else that is different. When I see pictures of myself from my younger years, I remember the way I thought and the attitudes I had, and I don't really like being reminded of what was present in my heart at times. I also see a young woman who was very sincere, yet who was sincerely wrong in some ways. I am thankful that He decided to use my husband and me in the lives of our children in spite of our weakness, but mostly, I am thankful for all He has taught me over the years, for how He has changed me, and for His patience and grace that has been poured out every day.

We enter our parenting journey with fear, desires, and goals. The ever-present thoughts of all we want to accomplish or don't want to do – things our parents may have done or not done – can sometimes overwhelm us. What I've learned is if we really want to be the parents God wants us to be, we must come to a point where we see the following truths:

We have our parent's DNA.

Not just their physical DNA but their spiritual DNA. Our culture encourages us to blame our parents for any weakness that pops up in our lives. That means that if we find ourselves yelling at our kids, losing our temper, or reacting sinfully, we can blame our responses on our parents. After all, they weren't great examples, right? While they may not have always set a good example, we need to see that we have the same sinful impulse within us that our parents had. It traces back even further than their existence. It traces back to the moments when man decided to disobey God and sin entered the world.

"So, when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate." Genesis 3:6

"Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned." Romans 5:12

"Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." Psalm 51:5

Our parents' temper or lack of patience came from a sinful heart that did not rely on God to respond in a grace-filled way, and that is where ours comes from as well. If we are followers of Jesus, we have been given everything we need for life and godliness. We have been given everything we need to help us control our anger and impatience - but we must choose to access it. And when we fail, we fail because we have chosen to give in to our sinful reactions rather than to respond in a Christ-like way.

 "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness." 2 Peter 1:3

Family parents with newborn baby relaxing on bed

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Mladen Zivkovic

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Our parents were not "extreme."

When we evaluate our parents' parenting, we might conclude that they were extreme in some way – either too lenient or too rigid. We think, "I will be different! I will be balanced."

Our parents entered their parenting journey with their own desires and goals. They had their own issues, history, and experiences they were sifting through. They were learning and growing as they raised their children, the same way we are learning and growing as we raise ours. They were who they were with the personalities God has given them and the weaknesses they were battling in the same way we are who we are with the personalities God has given us and the weaknesses we are battling. Our measuring stick for what we do or do not do should always be God and His Word, not an imperfect person who is in a lifelong process of growth themselves. We are not called to be balanced; we are called to be like Christ.

"Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." Ephesians 5:12

"To put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." Ephesians 4:22-24

"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." Romans 12:2

We need to learn to see our parents through eyes of grace.

intergenernational family, how long is a generation

Photo credit: © Getty Images/Lee Edwards

We need to learn to see our parents through the eyes of grace in the same way we will want our children to see us through the eyes of grace. It's easy to focus on our parents' imperfections, isn't it? The truth is that we will not be perfect parents, no matter how hard we try. I would venture to say that, in time, we will see much of our parents' personalities and traits show up in our own lives in one way or another. How can we not see their traits? We are their children. In the same way we watch our little ones grow and can see similar traits that we have, our parents saw that in us while we were growing up.

Can we choose to see the good in them and thank God for it? Can we remember the sinful and remind ourselves that we are sinful, too?

Yes, we may parent differently than they did, but that will only happen if we rely on God to grow and mature us. Then we will be able to see that it's not about how good WE are, but how good and gracious GOD is because He is helping us to fight the sin that is present in all of us.

"If you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live." Romans 8:12-13

"You were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." 1 Corinthians 6:11

"In moments of temptation, the Holy Spirit graciously provides a way of escape." 1 Corinthians 10:13

"The Holy Spirit has to work in our heart to cause us to want to repent and to bring us to Christ." Colossians 2:13, John 6:44

When our kids are grown…

grandparents and adult children and grandkids walking

Photo credit: GettyImages/imtmphoto

When our children are grown, we will look back and see how we have let them down and how our weaknesses affected them. We will be tempted to feel like we've failed as parents. Let me encourage you! God uses us and works through us despite our weaknesses, and God will continue to do work in us and in our children. We can help our children take responsibility for their inadequacies and failures by taking responsibility for our own. They can learn to see us as human beings who are in a process of growth and learning if we tell them we are in a process of growth and learning and apologize for where we have missed the mark. We partner with God when we raise our children. He uses broken vessels – but ultimately, He is the one who does the work and accomplishes His purposes. We are not capable of doing that.

"But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us." 2 Corinthians 4:7

"For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." Philippians 2:13

We're all messed up, people! Being able to see this is what will help us to parent with a heart of humility rather than with a heart filled with pride. The heart that knows the sin it is capable of is the heart that can see others through eyes of grace. The heart that blames its weaknesses and sin on its parents is the heart that will parent with the motivation of fear or pride because it will always be focused on a person.

Satan wants us to focus on our parents' weaknesses.

Satan wants us to focus on our parents' weaknesses and to view them as unredeemable. He wants to take advantage of all he can dig up and bring to our mind anything that might cause us to focus on another person's imperfections in order to get our eyes off the only One who can truly make a difference in our lives and the lives of our children. He wants us to be so brainwashed by our culture's lies that tell us that our parents are responsible for everything wrong in our lives, and he wants to drown out the truth that is found in God's Word. He wants to fracture families in any way he can.

Of course, there are situations where abuse has been experienced in some way. The impact is far-reaching and can continue to echo through the years as we parent our own children. If this is your experience, it does not have to be your children's experience. You know how it has impacted you; you know the pain you carry because of it, and God is bigger than anything you've experienced. He can take even your worst experiences and redeem them. As you immerse yourself in God's Word, get to know your heavenly Father, and cry out for His help, you can experience slow healing and learn to emulate the one and only perfect parent: God our Father.

God is faithful!

As I reflect on the years when I was raising my children, I remember the moments I was focused on my parent's imperfections and the pride and fear that overwhelmed me in those moments. But, praise God, I also remember that turning point when God opened my eyes, put His hand on my chin, and gently directed my face up to Him. That is when I was finally able to get to know Him better, allowing His character to flow through me. That is what broke the chains of pride and fear, putting into focus the distorted view I had of my parents, allowing me to see them through eyes of grace. God patiently helped me see what was in my own heart and continues the lifelong work of conforming me into the image of His Son.

And He can do the same for you.

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/AleksandarNakic

Gina Smith is a writer and author. She has been married for 35 years to Brian, a college professor and athletic trainer. For 25+ years, she and her husband served on a Christian college campus as the on-campus parents, where Brian was a professor and dean of students. They reside right outside of Washington, DC, and are the parents of two grown children, one daughter-in-law, one son-in-law, and one granddaughter. She recently authored her first traditionally published book, Everyday Prayers for Joy, which is available everywhere books are sold. You can find Gina at the following: Website: ginalsmith.com, Instagram, and at Million Praying Moms, where she is a writer.