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The Fear of Parenting


The Fear of Parenting 

(Genesis 34:6-7)

 Sermon Series Title:  Fear Not:  Living Fearlessly in a Fear-full World


This morning, we’re continuing on in a sermon series entitled “Fear Not: Faithful Living in a Fear-full world.”  Last Sunday, we looked at “the fear of terrorism.”  This morning we’re looking at “the fear of parenting”.


While those of us who are parents may have had different reasons for bringing children into the world, I would like to suggest that for most of you it was ultimately an act of faith.


Today, inWestern Europethere’s an interesting phenomena taking place.  The birth rate in many Western European Nations is now less than their mortality rate.  There is the growing fear among some Western Europeans that their culture, which was founded upon Christendom, is dying.


There are a few reasons given for this phenomenon.


In Italythey are called Mimones, or “Mama’s boys.”  Half of Italian men between the ages of 25 and 35 still live with their parents and have little intention of leaving.  A good thing:  having the freedom to live rent free, have their laundry done and meals cooked.  My mom kicked me out when I was 28…. I’m kidding, kind of.


At the current birth rate, while the rest of the world will grow 50% by 2050,Italy’s population will decline by 10 %.  Because of this the government ofItalyis considering offering a monetary incentive for men to marry and have children.  Another reasons given for the low birth rate in Europe is a concern which many couples inAmericashare as well…the fear of bringing children into the world.


Citing the ever looming threat of nuclear holocaust, the degradation of the environment, diminishing resources, struggling economies, ethnic tensions and the threats of terrorism, along with growing corruption and crime, and addictions, there is a fear and hopelessness among many couples that things can only get worse so they are choosing to remain childless.


The fear we have of bringing children into the world is a real cause for concern not to mention the fear of childbirth itself, vaccinations and potty training, being smart enough to help our children with their fourth grade math homework, navigate puberty and adolescence, peer pressure getting them through high school before launching them off to college or a trade school or into a full-time job


There are a lot of things for parents to be fearful of.


But what I would like to talk to you about this morning is another kind of fear that I feel a lot of us parents consider when deciding whether or not to marry and have children and that is the fear of being able to keep them safe from our ourselves and our own unfinished business with our own families of origin.


I remember after Hannah was born the realization that I was now responsible for this new life.  Feeling a little bit overwhelmed, I remember praying something like “Lord, help me not to mess this up.”  I believe in every parent there is at least some fear that we are not up for the task.  For some because we are still too immature or have not worked through all of our own insecurities.


This morning we read from the book of Exodus that “the sins of parents are visited upon their children and their children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.”


Sin in the Bible always pertains to relationships.  The first four of the Ten Commandments have to do with our relationship with God.  The last six have to do with our relationship with one another.


The Bible teaches that our sins can be passed down from one generation to the next.


Charlene, an eighteen year old girl, had been hospitalized for substance abuse.  She had performed poorly in school and had been using drugs for over five years.  Her mother, Frances, was an attorney and her father, a successful businessman.


In a counseling session, the mother and daughter got into an argument.  Francis, the mother, said angrily, “Damn it Charlene why don’t you change? “Why don’t you perform?”  Charlene replied, with tears in her eyes, “I can never be in your league.  Why don’t you give up?  I can never please you.  I quit!”


At this point they were both tearful.  The counselor asked Charlene “What is it that you’re quitting?  What’s the contest all about?” Charlene answered, “I can never get my mother’s approval no matter what I do.”  Then he turned and askedFrances, “tell me about your relationship with your mother.” Francesshared with him that her mother had always felt trapped in her house and had always complained about being an unfulfilled woman. She was angry with her father and unhappy in her marriage.  “It felt like Mom was always critical of me always dreamed if I could become a professional, I would do it for her and she would be happy.  But you know what?  She’s still critical of me, no matter what I do.  I still can’t get her approval.”


“The sins of the parents are visited upon their children and their children’s children to the third and fourth generation.”

John’s father had climbed the corporate ladder experiencing financial success, but at home he was often angry, overbearing and at times physically abusive.  If dinner wasn’t ready when he came in the door or he felt John or his brothers were showing disrespect, he could quickly fly off into a rage.  Small in physical stature John was always fearful and intimidated by his father feeling he could never live up to his expectations.


Secretly hating him in high school he rebelled.  When he grew up and married, he worked a blue collar job which he knew didn’t measure up to his father’s standards.  So he began to drink to ease his feelings of shame.  Feeling powerless like his father, he took out his anger on his wife and children flying off into an angry rage just like his father if dinner wasn’t on the table or if he felt disrespected by his children.


“And the sins of the parents are visited upon their children and their children’s children to the third and fourth generations.”


A woman I am close to was unable to have children.  Having suffered through an abusive childhood, she once said to me that the reason she was childless was because God knew of her past and that she would be an unfit mother.  I remember feeling sad that she believed God would do such a thing and for the childhood she had endured.


Rather than our fear of having to protect our children from the things that are going on in the world, I believe our greatest concern should be of making sure that we do not pass on to them the burden of our own unfinished work from our own families of origin.


If we are going to be able then to give our children the roots and wings there are at least four things we need to do.


The first thing we need to do is to listen to them.

In his book, “Voices in the Family”, Dr. Dan Gottlieb recalls the story when his 8 year old daughter Ali was getting into battles with the kids at her bus stop.  She was being teased every morning. The more she tried to defend herself, the worse it got.  When she told him what was going on he couldn’t stand it.  They were picking on his precious little girl.  She was scared and in pain, all he wanted to do was make sure it never happened again.


So he told her what to do about it, how to make the kids stop picking on her but nothing he said seemed comforting.  The more he told her how she could fix it, the more miserable and scared she felt until he came to the realization that she really didn’t want his advice.  What she really wanted was to be heard.  Her message to him was “Please, Dad, just listen to what I’m going through” “I was so anxious and protective,” he writes, “that I couldn’t give her what she needed.”


One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is to listen to them without trying to fix them.  When we see our children hurting, we find it difficult to tolerate their pain.  But often, it is our own pain and not theirs that we are really struggling with.


Listening to our children helps them to feel valued, safe, and capable, of handling their own problems when problems arise.


The second thing we can do to give our children roots and wings is to provide them with healthy boundaries.  Boundaries are the way of giving children a clear sense of who’s in charge in the family.  But, at the same time, children need to know that the people who are in charge are not so insecure that they have to be rigid about those boundaries.


The anger, rage and abuse John’s father and later John wielded to keep family members in their place is an example of an unhealthy rigid Erected out of their own insecurities and shame, both men robbed themselves and their family of any real closeness or emotional security.


Both a lack of boundaries and rigid boundaries can allow the sins of one generation to be passed on to the next.  Having said this, the roles we play and the boundaries we set as parents with our children are sometimes difficult to negotiate.


Dr. Gottlieb tells the story of when his daughter Debbie was going into the hospital for a tonsillectomy.  He writes that he was trying hard to hide his anxiety as they waited in the hospital hallway.  Pacing the hallway, his 9 year old daughter asked if he was nervous about her operation.  Being the honest family therapist who knows he can’t fool his child, He said, “Yes, Debbie, I’m nervous.”  “What are you nervous about, she asked?”  “Well, a number of things.  I’m nervous that they might hurt you.  Or that you might have a cold when the operation is over.  And I’m nervous you might be mad at mommy and me.”  And then she looked at him with her big brown eyes and said, “no, you’re not, daddy..That’s not what you’re nervous about.”  Expecting the cutest little answer, He said, “Okay, what do you think I’m nervous about sweetie?”  She said, “You’re afraid I’m going to die in there.” Aren’t you?”


When living our roles and setting boundaries as parents, we need to be sure not to cut ourselves off emotionally from our children.  In calling her father to task and discussing his fears, Debbie was free to carry her own fears and not the fears of her father into the operating room.


The third thing we can do for our children, to give them roots and wings is to trust them.


This may be the hardest thing for us to do.  When our children are very young and do not have the emotional resources to handle some of life’s challenges, it may be appropriate for us to intervene, to protect them.  But as they mature, there comes the time when we as parents need to take a step back containing our own fears and insecurity and allow our children to develop their own inner resources for facing adversity


I remember several years ago talking with my cousin who now has two full grown sons.  One is married, the other still single both holding down responsible jobs and owning their own homes.  I remember my cousin telling me that when his sons were getting ready to graduate from high school that they had two choices:  they could go to college

and he would help to pay for their schooling or they could leave home and find a job.  That was their only two options.  I remember thinking it sounded pretty cold but, seeing his sons who are now both successful and well-adjusted, it makes sense.


If anything, I find most of us as parents hold on too tightly to our children and most of the time it is not because of their own neediness, but our own,… our own unfinished business from our past.


If this is the case, we are doing our children a disservice.  We are passing down to them our sins from one generation to the next.  If they are ever going to fly we need to set them free from our own fears.  In doing so we will be giving to them an immeasurable gift to become themselves.


Are you with me?


The last thing we can do to do to give our children roots and wings that I’ll mention is to pray for them.  Prayer really isn’t for God because God is already aware of what our children need and is trying to give it to them.

Prayer becomes the opportunity to heal ourselves and to free our children from our own expectations.  To trust and surrender them into God’s hands.  To break the cycle.


Having made Adam and Eve, God said, “For this reason a man shall leave His father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.”


Then God gave Adam and Eve roots and wings saying “Go, be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…”


As parents, Adam and Eve certainly had their challenges but God promised, “Fear not, I am with you always.”


Parenting is ultimately an act of faith.  It is the willingness to live fearlessly in a fear-full world.”



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