Article  Marriage and Family  Family  Parenting

Why parenting is about more than the pursuit of happiness

“Your friends may tell you having kids has made them happier. They’re probably lying.”

That’s the opening line in a recent article written by Yoni Blumberg at CNBC’s website. After rolling that grenade into the room, he goes on to describe the financial burden of children. His point is simple: “You will save money if you don’t have children.” In essence, children weigh us down, hold us back, and pilfer our future. If you want to be happy, don’t have children.

Blumberg is right that children are expensive. Healthcare, housing, food, clothing, ballet fees, and all the rest add up. When my wife and I were in the throws of parenting young children, I remember complaining to an older friend about the cost of diapers and formula. He looked at me with a smile and predicted that diapers and formula would be the cheapest things I would ever buy for my kids. He was right.

In addition to financial responsibilities, parenting requires time, attention, and emotional energy that challenges even the most eager parent. Parenting is hard. And I would love to say that all of the sacrifices parents make for their children’s development produces positive outcomes. But that is not necessarily the case.

Sometimes kids don’t respond well to their parents’ best efforts. Sometimes maturity lags behind the growth chart benchmarks. Sometimes adult children walk away from their family heritage. Sometimes kids make parents unhappy.  

Parenting as a privilege

So let’s go beyond simply falling on the “happiness isn’t everything” sword and instead ask parents and potential parents to consider bigger questions. Conventional wisdom asks, “What will this cost us?” But what if we viewed parenting as an opportunity to give? What if our decisions about parenting were motivated by love of God and love of neighbor? What if we viewed child rearing primarily as a God-ordained privilege to demonstrate God’s grace to our children and to others?

If our fundamental motivation for parenting is a self-centered version of happiness, is it any wonder that we rear self-consumed children that sabotage any hope for our happiness?

When God promised Abraham and Sarah a child, for example, it was with the intent that they would be a blessing to the nations. God gifted them with a child so that they could, in turn, show God’s grace to others, most of whom they would never know personally. Much later, King David wrote, “Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; they will not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate” (Psa. 127:3-50).

David described children as arrows in the hand of a warrior who is protecting the city. Children are a blessing from God, but not just because of how they serve their parents’ interests. Children are a gift to parents as we love our neighbors and serve the larger community. Through our children, we extend God’s grace to others.

One of the privileges of serving with a local church, for example, is to see Jesus-loving parents rear their children to follow Jesus and live for his kingdom. Watching those children advance into young adulthood with their identity rooted in Christ and their hearts set on doing his will encourages everyone around them. Their parents have labored and sacrificed through many dangers, toils, and snares in order to prepare their children to show God’s grace to people beyond themselves and to make disciples of all the nations.

Sure there is often profound happiness along the way, but the goal of parenting is not simply personal comfort. Instead, our parenting privilege is raising up a generation who loves God, loves neighbor, and takes the life-giving gospel of Jesus to the ends of the earth.

That kind of parenting costs us. It means we lay our lives down. It means we sacrifice smaller dreams for a better gospel. It means we look to Jesus, rather than to our children, for our self-worth. It means we value people over possessions. It means we spend the best years of our lives wiping snotty noses, picking up crushed Cheerios, and chasing down fly balls. And yes, it means less disposable income, fewer vacations, and out-of-date light fixtures in the bathroom.

In light of Blumberg’s claim, I’m sure parenting will not always make you happy. But by God’s grace, I’m excited to tell you that having kids for the glory of God is certain to give you a joy beyond comprehension.

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