A big picture worldview excerpt from Paul Tripp’s book Parenting really blew my mind this morning. It really helps to put into perspective how we should approach parenting and what our responsibilities truly are and what we can and should turn over to God.
Too many parents saddle themselves with unnecessary and unrealistic burdens about their role in raising their children, which can lead to fractious relationships and sinking self-worth (for both parties).
The passage below is in the introduction of Paul Tripp’s book and it was so overwhelmingly insightful, I wanted to share this with everyone who has children, especially if you are struggling. The contrast of ownership parenting vs. ambassador parenting is succinct yet powerful.
I believe this information is helpful for all families, but in particular if you are a Christ follower, these parenting principles can help redefine your relationship with your children and allow you to properly understand your identity, work, success, and reputation as a mother or father.
Parenting by Paul David Tripp
Ownership parenting is motivated and shaped by what parents want for their children and from their children. It is driven by a vision of what we want our children to be and what we want our children to give us in return. It seems right, it feels right, and it does many good things, but it is foundationally misguided and misdirected and will not produce what God intends in the lives that he has entrusted to our care.
There, I’ve said it! Good parenting, which does what God intends it to do, begins with this radical and humbling recognition that our children don’t actually belong to us. Rather, every child in every home, everywhere on the globe, belongs to the One who created him or her. Children are God’s possession (see Ps. 127:3) for his purpose.
That means that his plan for parents is that we would be his agents in the lives of these ones that have been formed into his image and entrusted to our care. The word that the Bible uses for this intermediary position is ambassador. It really is the perfect word for what God has called parents to be and to do.
The only thing an ambassador does, if he’s interested in keeping his job, is to faithfully represent the message, methods, and character of the leader who has sent him. He is not free to think, speak, or act independently. Everything he does, every decision he makes, and every interaction he has must be shaped by this one question: “What is the will and plan of the one who sent me?”
The ambassador does not represent his own interest, his own perspective, or his own power. He does everything as an ambassador, or he has forgotten who he is and he will not be in his position for long. Parenting is ambassadorial work from beginning to end. It is not to be shaped and directed by personal interest, personal need, or cultural perspectives.
Every parent everywhere is called to recognize that they have been put on earth at a particular time and in a particular location to do one thing in the lives of their children. What is that one thing? It is God’s will. Here’s what this means at street level: parenting is not first about what we want for our children or from our children, but about what God in grace has planned to do through us in our children.
To lose sight of this is to end up with a relationship with our children that at the foundational level is neither Christian nor true parenting because it has become more about our will and our way than about the will and way of our Sovereign Savior King.
Owner or Ambassador?
I therefore distinguish between these two models of parenting in four areas that every parent somehow, in some way, deals with: identity, work, success, and reputation.
The way you think about and interact with these four things will expose and define who you think you are as a parent and what you think your job is in raising your children.
1. Identity: Where you look to find your sense of who you are.
Owner: Owner parents tend to look to get their identity, meaning, purpose, and inner sense of well-being from their children. Their children tend to be saddled with the unbearable burden of their parents’ sense of self-worth.
I have to say this: parenting is a miserable place to look for your identity, if for no other reason than the fact that every parent parents sinners. Children come into the world with significant brokenness inside of them that causes them to push against the authority, wisdom, and guidance of their parents.
Parents who are looking to their children for identity tend to take their children’s failures personally, as if they were done against them intentionally, and respond to their children with personal hurt and anger. But the reality is that God simply does not give you children in order for you to feel that your life is worthwhile.
Ambassador: Parents who approach parenting as representatives come to it with a deep sense of identity and are motivated by meaning and purpose. They don’t need to get that from their children because they have gotten it from the One whom they represent: the Lord Jesus Christ.
Because of this they are freed from coming to their children hoping that they will get from them what no child is able to give. They are freed from asking family life to give them life because they have found life and their hearts are at rest. Because of this, they are now freed to forget themselves and parent with the selflessness and sacrifice that ambassadorial parenting requires.
2. Work: What you define as the work you have been called to do.
Owner: Owner parents think that their job is to turn their children into something. They have a vision of what they want their children to be, and they think that their work as parents is to use their authority, time, money, and energy to form their children into what they have conceived that they should be.
I have counseled many children who were breaking under the burden of the constant pressure of parents who had a concrete vision and were determined that these children would be what these parents had decided they would be.
Owner parents tend to think that they have the power and personal resources to mold their children into the children they envision.
Ambassador: Parents who really do understand that they are never anything more than representatives of someone greater, wiser, more powerful, and more gracious than they are know that their daily work is not to turn their children into anything.
They have come to understand that they have no power whatsoever to change their children and that without God’s wisdom they wouldn’t even know what is best for their children.
They know that what they have been called to be are instruments in the hands of One who is gloriously wise and is the giver of the grace that has the power to rescue and transform the children who have been entrusted to their care. They are not motivated by a vision of what they want their children to be, but by the potential of what grace could cause their children to be.
3. Success: What you define success to be.
Owner: These parents tend to be working toward a specific catalog of indicators in the lives of their children that would tell them that they have been successful parents. Things like academic performance, athletic achievement, musical ability, and social likability become the horizontal markers of how well they have done their jobs.
Now these things are not unimportant, but they simply are unable to measure successful parenting. Good parents don’t always produce good kids, and parents should constantly be asking themselves where they get the set of values that tell them whether they have “good” kids or not. I am afraid that many good parents live with long-term feelings of failure because their children have not turned out the way they hoped.
Ambassador: These parents have faced the scary truth that they have no power at all to produce anything in their children. Because of this they haven’t attached their definition of successful parenting to a catalog of horizontal outcomes.
Successful parenting is not first about what you’ve produced; rather, it’s first about what you have done. Let me say it this way: successful parenting is not about achieving goals (that you have no power to produce) but about being a usable and faithful tool in the hands of the One who alone is able to produce good things in your children.
4. Reputation: What tells people who you are and what you’re about.
Owner: Owner parents unwittingly turn their children into their trophies. They tend to want to be able to parade their children in public to the applause of the people around them. This is why so many parents struggle with the crazy, zany phases that their children go through as they are growing up.
They’re not so much concerned about what that craziness says about their children, but what it say about them. Children in these homes feel both the burden of carrying their parents’ reputation and the sting of their disappointment and embarrassment.
Owner parents tend to be angry and disappointed with their children, not first because they’ve broken God’s law, but because whatever they have done has brought hassle and embarrassment to them.
Ambassador: These parents have come to understand that parenting sinners will expose them to public misunderstanding and embarrassment somehow, someway. They have come to accept the humbling messiness of the job God has called them to do. And they understand that if their children grow and mature in life and godliness, they become not so much their trophies, but trophies of the Savior that they have sought to serve.
For them, it’s God who does the work and God who gets the glory; they are just gratified that they were able to be the tools that God used.
If you found this information as powerful as I did, I encourage you to read the rest of the book. Paul Tripp is one of my favorite Christian authors and his insight into parenting is both biblical and practical.