Have you heard the news? Helicopter parenting is out. “Snowplow parenting” is all the rage. According to a recent New York Times article, snowplow parents clear every obstacle out of their kids’ paths so they don’t have to experience uncomfortable things like failure or disappointment. Snowplowing can be as simple as driving in a forgotten homework assignment, or as extreme as bribing a college admissions official.
I hate to admit how easily “snowplowing” comes to me. I’m constantly tempted to make my kids’ lives as easy as possible. Is that bad? According to the New York Times article: Yes. Snowplow parenting doesn’t give your kids opportunities to learn from their failures so they can become independent, productive citizens.
That’s very true. But there’s a deeper reason snowplowing is bad for our children. As Christian parents, our objective goes beyond worldly success. Sure, we want kids who can “adult” well. But we’re equipping them for more than adulthood; we’re equipping them to live the Christian life. The Christian life involves suffering.
As we teach our kids the gospel, we must give them a biblical lens for suffering. Our ultimate goal is not a comfortable, pain-free life. Our goal is to use up our lives for God’s glory. We don’t want to reach the finish line unscathed, perfectly preserved. We want to reach the finish line with battle scars and hear the precious words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23)
It’s not easy to teach kids how to embrace suffering in a world that says suffering should be avoided at all costs. Snowplowing teaches our kids, “If you see difficulties coming your way, run. Find the back door. Do whatever you can to get out of it. Shift the blame, make excuses. Don’t sacrifice for anyone unless it directly benefits you. Look out for number one.”
The Bible doesn’t tell us to snowplow. It’s tells us to equip. We teach our kids to expect suffering so they will not be, “Surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” 1 Peter 4:12-13
It’s okay to let our kids experience difficult things. Romans 5:3-4 tells us that suffering, “Produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”
Can you imagine anything better for your kids?
A few years ago my son had his first encounter with a bully in an extracurricular class. My “snowplowing” instincts told me to jump in. I could talk to the teacher or the boy’s parents. I could talk to the bully myself and tell him not to mess with my kid (give him my best “mom look”). I could even remove my son from the class and avoid the situation altogether. But what would that teach my future adult son? There will always be difficult people in his life. Should he constantly avoid them and depend on other people to stand up for him? How would that help him be a light for the gospel? Instead, my husband and I coached him on how to talk to the bully. We encouraged him to be kind and confident and stand firm for the truth. We reminded him his worth was in God, not in what someone else said about him. We told him to look for ways to reach out to other kids in the class who might also feel bullied.
This bully won’t always be there. But there will always be a “bully” in my son’s life – a trial, a temptation, a disappointment. As he gets older, the stakes get higher. Suffering is more costly. It’s more tempting to run away. The training we give him now will prepare him to stand firm later. The question we should be asking ourselves is not, “How much suffering should I let in or not let in to my child’s life?” The question we should be asking is, “How can I teach my child to suffer well?”
The most effective way to teach our kids to suffer well is by setting the example ourselves. Our kids will respond to suffering the way we respond to suffering. Do they see us deal with difficulties head on, or do they see us run away? Do they hear us complain our way through trials, or find things to be thankful for? Do they see us stand up for the truth at the cost of our own comfort? Do they see us sacrifice for others who cannot pay us back?
Every opportunity we take to teach our kids to suffer well now strengthens their hands for a future battle. We teach them to look beyond worldly success and instead, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” (Matthew 6:33). Let’s not just raise productive adults. Let’s raise up ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), strangers and aliens (1 Peter 2:11), witnesses to the world (Acts 1:8), and warriors for the truth (Ephesians 6:13).
Books by Sara Wallace
“The culmination of 30 years of evangelical thinking about parenting. Clear guidelines, great illustrations, and very practical. – Pastor Steve, Atlanta
“I highlighted so many of the pages, and started implementing some of her ideas right away!” – Ashley Hughes, mother of three
“By far the best parenting book I have ever read. Wallace writes as a relatable mom and offers helpful tips while always bringing everything back to the Gospel. This is a short, easy-to-read devotional, with life-changing nuggets in every chapter.” – Amazon reviewer