“Create all of the happiness you are able to create; remove all the misery you are able to remove.” Jeremy Bentham
Unless you had a college philosophy class, you may have never heard of Utilitarianism, yet you see it demonstrated every day. Utilitarianism simply believes that “the end justifies the means.”
Many are aghast at what’s been dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues,” where rich parents paid megabucks to get a child into an elite college like Yale, Stanford and Georgetown…to name a few. Some big name celebrities like Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman were netted in the conspiracy.
While I don’t want to make light of this, it’s obviously unethical and, in this case, criminal. Yet, other than the large financial sums, it’s not unusual. All of the handwringing borders on hypocritical hysteria. For example, expressing outrage over the scandal, Senator Elizabeth Warren, said, “This is just stunning. To me this is just one more example of how the rich and powerful know how to take care of their own.”
Other than the financial ingredient, over the top parental involvement happens all of the time. Personally, I don’t see how it’s different from some of these same colleges giving athletes a free pass on academics, not requiring class attendance or academia application as long as the athlete enables the school to win games. Is it all that different from parents pressuring a coach to give their child more playing time? Do we really believe that who starts on a team or gets the part in a drama production has nothing to do with who the family is? Is it different from manipulating a teacher to give a child better grades or asking the school to put their kid in another class if their child isn’t doing well or doesn’t like the teacher?
It even happens in churches where parents pressure a church to promote their child to another program because they don’t like it or to even design a program that meets the specific needs of their child. Many parents have left a church because it doesn’t have the programs they want for their child…or have threatened to leave. Employers are pressured to hang on to an indolent employee because of who their parents are. Law enforcement or the D.A. receive requests to lessen a charge or to drop it altogether because the parent of the criminal is connected. So, while there may not be a financial bribe, it’s not unusual to observe emotional or social ones.
But let me ask some questions: Are these parents really doing their child any favors? Are they helping them prepare for adulthood? Or, for a life when the parent is no longer in the picture. Absolutely not!
Most are familiar with the term helicopter parent. Yet, we’ve degenerated culturally to a new phenomenon – lawnmower or snowplow parents.
Helicopter parenting is the practice of hovering anxiously near one’s children, monitoring every activity. Yet, many are more like snowplows: chugging ahead, clearing any obstacles in their child’s path to success, so they won’t have to encounter failure, frustration or lost opportunities. What’s missed is that pain brings about growth. A mighty oak tree has withstood years of storms; a squash just gets squashed. And over the years I’ve met many of these coddled adults. It’s not pretty, particularly when the parent is no longer available.
God’s Word teaches that children are a gift from God (Psalms 127:3). As believers then, we honor the Lord and do what’s best for our child when we raise them in a way that pleases our Heavenly Father. How do we do that? We give them roots and wings. We raise them to stand alone depending on God alone. All of the heroes in Scripture were individuals of character able to stand alone: Joseph, Ruth, David, Esther, John the Baptist and Jesus. Are you preparing your child to stand alone for God?
Most coddling is motivated by parental love, yet it’s a misdirected love. It does more for the parent’s happiness than the child’s adulthood and future. Two core problems with a utilitarian approach to parenting are:
It focuses on feeling good as opposed to what is truly good. Pleasure is very subjective. Yet, according the Bible, God is the definition of good (Psalm 86:5). Since God does not change (James 1:17), the definition of good is objective and also does not change. It doesn’t fluctuate with culture or human desire. Yet, by equating good with pleasure, we define good as little more than the satisfaction of our own desires, often sinful ones. Mature adults do what’s right because it’s right. Childishness is driven by feelings. If you don’t feel like going to work, don’t. If you don’t feel like being kind, you’re not. Pleasure is like a drug. The more one indulges it, the less satisfying it becomes, and then more indulging is needed to achieve the same level of pleasure. It’s the law of diminishing returns.
It focuses on the avoidance of pain. Is all pain bad? No. While pain may not be good in and of itself, pain often results in good. Spiritual growth comes from learning from mistakes. Failure can be one of our best teachers. I’m not suggesting that we should actively seek pain. You don’t have to. Pain is innocuous. We’re not demonstrating love to our children though when we seek to make their lives pain free. Scripture is clear – God is more interested in our holiness than our happiness. His continual exhortation to us is that we are to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16).
Scripture says something that’s radical in today’s pleasure seeking culture, “count it all joy when we face trials of all kinds” (James 1:2-4). It’s not because trials are joyful, but that they have a maturing effect. They lead us to greater perseverance, faithfulness and fruitfulness.
As a parent, I’d encourage you to prayerfully seek wisdom and ask the Lord, “Is the trajectory I’m directing my child toward going to bring glory to You?” Ask a wise godly friend for an outside perspective. Be willing to let the Lord turn the heat up in your child’s life without you trying to grab the controls. Gold only becomes valuable once the dross is burned away.
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