A young teenage boy died recently, in a hotel room after an overdose of drugs. The partiers around him didn’t even know he was in trouble until it was too late. Sadly, that story is all too common. This story is different, though, because the partiers weren’t peers or friends. They were his mother and grandmother. This man’s mother, who didn’t have full custody, told police she had provided them with drugs because she wanted to be the “fun weekend mom.”
I have to admit that my first instinct is to judge this woman. After all, what kind of person would be this selfish to give her child what would destroy him, just so that he would view her the way he would his buddies? At the root here, though, is a temptation that every parent faces, though usually not to the extreme of dealing illicit drugs. We want our children to love us, and to like us, and many of us do this by asking what our children want and seeking to conform to that.
At one level, the desire to be a “fun” parent is to be commended. We are, after all, to model the Fatherhood of God in our own parenting. His household is not dour and withholding, but full of joy. Some parents interact with their children so much in rebuke and correction that they mimic the older brother of Jesus’ parable—not the joy-filled father who plans a party for his returning son (Lk. 15:11-32). Some families believe they are holy, when they instead are signaling to their children that the kingdom of Christ is a tedious seminar of Pharisees, not a household of those who bask in the favor and liberation of their God (Lk. 4:18-19). If laughter and joy aren’t part of your family, something is wrong.
That said, the overriding desire to be a “fun parent” is overwhelmingly selfish and counter-gospel. Contemporary popular culture prizes youth as the source of wisdom and authenticity, but the Bible sees the matter differently. Parents are to cultivate the kind of wisdom that sees what a child will need, long before the child himself sees the relevance of these things. The Proverbs are filled then with instruction from a father to a child. The Apostle Paul speaks similarly to his son in the ministry, directing him away from youthful lusts toward maturity (2 Tim. 2:22).
This is because that’s what the Fatherhood of God is like. God disciplines and trains us up for life in the future he has waiting for us. This isn’t a sign that we are out of his favor, but a sign that he loves us and has a plan for our lives (Heb. 12:3-11). God does not give us everything we want in our immaturity. That’s not because he is hostile to us, though it may seem so at the time. It’s because God is training us up to be heirs (Gal. 4:1-7). He knows what is best for us, and he prepares us for the Wedding Feast, not for the kind of Esau-meal we clamor for at the moment but will regret later (Heb. 12:16-17).
As parents, we will never get this completely right. Unlike the Father, we are not all-holy, and we are not all-knowing. We will stumble in many ways, and we will not see often what is long-term best for our children. But that should be our goal.
The desire to be a “fun parent” is not only wrong-headed but short-sighted. You might be able to keep your children from rebelling against you momentarily, as long as your concede to their desires or to what everyone else is doing. Your children, though, will soon recognize that you don’t have a longer term view for them than they have for themselves. If you train them to see you as a means to the end of indulging their appetites, they will ultimately choose their appetites over you. See the sad example of the priest Eli, whose sons took from the fat of the offerings (1 Sam. 2:12-21). Fully matured, their rebellion was their father’s great grief (1 Sam. 4:16-18).
Disciplining our children is not just about correcting misbehavior, but about training them in what’s to be loved and prioritized. That means disciplining ourselves to care about our children’s best interest more than our own. And it means seeing our children not just in terms of how they view us in the moment, but how they will view us as elders on their own deathbeds, and, beyond that, as subjects before the Judgment Seat of Christ. That sort of self-sacrificial parenting requires wisdom, patience, and a willingness to be unpopular. That sort of parenting will often be joyous but it will often be far less than “fun.”