The Sort of Thing Good Parents Do

Dear Will:

My daughter is standing beside me—right over there—waiting for me to make a difficult decision so that she doesn’t have to. It’s the sort of thing I do too often: I tell my kids what to do instead of letting them figure it out on their own. It’s one of the things that makes me an ineffective dad.

But tonight—ever so briefly—I actually exercised some restraint. It was an imperfect effort at best inasmuch as I started to tell her what to do before catching myself, but at least this time I showed a little more forbearance than usual. For once it occurred to me (as no doubt it occurs to most parents on a regular basis) to ask her to lay out for me her various options, even while knowing that none of them was any good. Then I asked her which solution sounded like the best one to her.

I know what you’re thinking: Duh. This is the sort of thing that good parents do. They guide their children and help them learn to make decisions for themselves. But what I too often do is swoop in to solve the problem for them, depriving them in the process of an opportunity to grow and learn. I read somewhere that we males have a strong tendency to do that in relationships. We’re always trying to fix things, even when no one has asked us for a fix. We come up with solutions at times when maybe we should just shut up and listen.

It occurs to me that this little family vignette—of absolutely no consequence in the eternal scheme of things—is really not all that different from the way God oversees the activities of his children in this world of ours. The cynic or the agnostic wonders why He doesn’t simply intervene in the affairs of men and women on earth, eliminating the suffering, counteracting evil, solving our problems for us. “If He’s all powerful,” the thinking goes, “then why does He allow so much bad stuff to happen?” The flaw to that reasoning, of course, is that it fails to recognize that life has much more purpose than to get us from birth to death without too much misery. In fact, we are here upon this earth to learn for ourselves, to grow and become, to face tests and challenges and (one hopes) come out the other side better people for the experience. Were God always to intervene—to solve our problems for us in the same way I tend to for my children—there wouldn’t be much point to our earthly existence at all.

Meanwhile, my daughter has picked up on some subtle behavioral clues (namely, that I’m typing and not talking to her any more) and she’s headed off down the hall, perhaps to mull over her options (or more likely to see if she can get my wife to make the decision for her instead). I think ultimately I know which way this is going to go—as God pretty much knows ahead of time what our next move will be as well. Hmmm. Perhaps there’s food for thought in that as well.


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