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{Originally Published September 2019}

My family doesn’t have pets. We also don’t have any plans to get any, unless perhaps the kids get old enough to care for one and beg a little. My husband is allergic and has no desire for a pet. But if someone ever breeds a dog that remains a puppy its entire life, even he might be convinced that we need one. Even people who don’t like dogs usually fall for a puppy–if only it would stay little forever. 

Sometimes, we think of our kids in the same way. We want a baby, but not a toddler. Or maybe a toddler, but definitely not a teenager! It’s clear from the way we speak that we resist our kids growing up.

Have you found yourself making statements like these? As moms, we delight in the sweetness of our little baby or the adorable mistakes of our toddler. You may have your personal favorite stage, but most of us struggle at various points to let our kids grow up–or at least we struggle to be happy about it.

A chubby, flailing newborn, a toddler who can’t pronounce I’s, a preteen who still likes to snuggle–all of these are good things that God has blessed us with. God does not despise the day of small beginnings, but He created the world to be one of growth, not infancy.

In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul says,

“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it.”

Drinking only milk is good for a three-month-old, but it is not good for a two-year-old. Throughout Scripture, we are encouraged to seek maturity. If we want to be faithful, we must continue to grow. Jesus compares faith to a tree. A tree that doesn’t bear fruit is cut down, he says. A tree that doesn’t grow and produce fruit is dying. The goal of a tree is to bear mature fruit.

What is our goal in raising children?  In Malachi chapter 2 God tells us His desire when He made husband and wife one.

“And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring.” (Mal. 2:15)

So, all that we do with our children should have godly offspring in mind. This means we are seeking to raise adults. Like Paul says, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But when I became a man, I put away childish things.” It’s not wrong to act as a child when you are a child, but childhood is a process of slowly, gradually learning not to be a child anymore. Not only should we let our kids grow up, we must encourage them to. Since we want them to be hardworking, wise, and discerning, we should seek their growth and should not willfully keep them ignorant.

Helping your kids grow could mean different things for each of your kids.  You know your kids, so don’t be afraid to tailor your approach to how they specifically need to grow.  In our case, we thought it was important to not avoid dealing with death. We took our toddler to a funeral and explained things to her along the way. Yes, you don’t want to give your kids too much, but kids can handle and understand more than we usually think. How much better it is for them to learn to deal with the reality of sin and death while they are young!  Tell them that death is an enemy, but Jesus defeats it.

Maybe growth is teaching them how to deal with a difficult person in their life in a loving way – that may even include a bully at school.  Maybe it looks like not protecting them from taking some risks or doing hard things. 

These things often go against our protective instincts as moms. That’s one reason that we need to encourage the influence of dads, the church, good youth groups, and others outside ourselves. They can stand in the gap when it’s hard for us as moms to let go or encourage growth.

If you find yourself saddened by the idea of your baby growing up, rather than excited (and what mom doesn’t, at least at times?), then discipline yourself to help them grow up. When your shy teen is hesitant to go on that youth group trip, push her to go–even though it’s the first time she’s been gone for that long and you think the other kids might leave her out. Be excited when your child learns a new skill and lavish on the praise. Enjoy every stage of growth your children go through. Growth is good because we want our children to be “arrows in the hands of a mighty man” (Psalm 127:4), and arrows are no good unless they are sent out.

Think of how Jesus trained his disciples. He exposed them to hard things, He warned them, He taught them. Then He left them.

I am not saying to be harsh, nor to expect your fifteen-year-old to move out. Jesus left His disciples–but He did not leave them orphans. He sent the Holy Spirit to them. You should never stop guiding your children. You should not exasperate them by expecting too much for their age. Let your kids know they have your support–but supporting them does not mean insulating them from learning to face hard things.

In God’s love for us, He guides us to mature by putting us through hard things. You can’t love better than God, can you? Love your kids enough to seek their maturity as you do your own.

Love, Jeannette