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A Parenting Challenge for Lockdown

The following article is a guest post by Rebecca VanDoodewaard, author of Uprooted: A Guide for Homesick Christians, Your Future ‘Other Half’: It Matters Whom You Marry, and Reformation Women: Sixteenth-Century Figures Who Shaped Christianity's Rebirth.

“You know,” my grandmother told me, “we laughed a lot during the war.” The first time I heard that, I was surprised. “The war” was World War Two; “we” were my great grandparents and their eight children living in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands. The German invasion destroyed his business, and the family went from comfortably middle class to near starvation. The government shipped children, my grandmother included, away from their parents to the country to keep them alive. I hadn’t thought that laughter would be something that stood out from this time.

“You laughed?” I asked. “Yes! My parents were always finding something to laugh at—when the little ones said something funny, or telling funny stories, or just seeing the funny side of things. We laughed a lot during the war.”

Over the years, I’ve mulled that over, convicted when I allow busyness or uncertainty steal my family’s joy. But my grandmother took it to a new level when I called her last week.

“How are you doing?” I asked her. “We are fine. We’ve done this all before you know, except last time it was with empty bellies and no heat. We are fine.” She started talking about her church, and how hard lockdown is for families with active kids. “Do you know what people need to do with their kids in times like this?” I was all ears.

“First, you tell them that the Lord will take care of us, God is in control. Then you go on living life in a way that children can trust you. Children have to be able to trust their parents.” I asked for clarification. Her thought was that if parents and children are always on the run, with work, school, extra-curricular activities, church programs, etc., there’s little time for trust to build up at deep levels. “This is a time for parents to earn their children’s trust. During the war, we kids weren’t scared—well, we were when there were the bombs at first, but that’s normal. We weren’t worried about what would happen or what we would eat. We knew our parents would take care of us. We were just kids! This is a time when parents can show kids that they’re trustworthy.”

As a millennial, I wondered if that was a veiled way of saying that in a crisis, her parents acted like responsible adults, in contrast to my generation. But the words sank in just the same. Am I living through this crisis in a way that earns or deepens my children’s trust? Is my behavior responsible and trustworthy? Or is it eroding trust? Are my fears and insecurities stealing a happy childhood from my own kids?

But the two things my grandmother said fit together. Telling our children that God will take care of us if the first step to building trust. If we tell our children to trust God, but we’re stressed and worried, they won’t believe us. Why would they? If we can’t trust an all-powerful God, why would they trust little us? Are our fears and insecurities actually damaging our children’s view of God? Our children may not know enough to see when our example is a distortion.

Like most conversations with my grandmother, this one drove me to some self-examination. What is my trust of God doing to my children? If I am anxious and fearful about God’s perfect care for me, how can my kids rest in my imperfect care? If I am not walking in trust myself, I cannot expect my children to trust me. Just as a dad’s love for mommy shows children how Jesus loved His Bride, so parents’ child-like trust in the Father shows our kids how to live in peace and contentment. Our job is to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which God has called us, confessing to our children where we have failed, pointing out where God is faithful when we are not.

So building children’s trust is fairly straightforward: walk in trust ourselves. We need to live as though God is worthy of our trust, not just say so. We must do the good works that are in front of us in this lockdown, believing that if God cares for the sparrows, we have nothing to worry about. Does that mean that this is easy? No: we are naturally bent to fret and stress when we lose our perceived control and autonomy. But perhaps the Spirit will use this chaos to create beautiful trust in parents and children: a contentment for both generations, flowing from the conviction that if God spared not his own Son, will he not freely give us all good things? He knows our frame, remembers that we are dust, and gently leads those that are with young. Maybe this lockdown is a chance to pray for a childlike faith that will grow for a lifetime.

First, we need to trust. Then, we need to live that trust. There may be more at stake than we think.