Though I’ve only been a parent for two years, and I realize that every day my daughter gets older I know less and less, I’ve found this one nugget of truth a guiding light: I need an end goal. By no means is this an original thought. In fact, ‘end goals’ are a fundamental way we orient all of life.
The idea of an end goal, or telos, is one of my favorite theological rabbit trails, and it relates deeply to parenting, so forgive me, while we follow it out for a moment.
God created humanity with this desire for him as their end goal. This embedding is an aspect of being created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27-28). Humanity was created by God to find in God their end goal. This is what Jesus was getting at when prayed, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
The true end goal of life is eternal life, communion, joy, and bliss with God in the New Heavens and Earth. This end goal is supposed to focus and orient all of life. Often, though, we have competing goals in our lives. This is one way we can think about salvation: God reorients our end goals, which are only leading to death, to him, our savior and source of eternal life. Much of the Christian life is about allowing Christ in the Holy Spirit to order our lives to God; ordering our loves as Augustine and Aquinas said (see Aquinas, Summa, II.II. Q26).
God created us and redeemed us so that we could find our end goal in him, and this frames how we raise our children. Our vocation as parents are to foster, nurture, and orient our children towards this end goal.
Philip Mamalakis, a Christian family therapist, really helped me articulating this whole idea of end goal in parenting. Most parents, he notes, want their children to succeed, but how does this look for Christians? Consider what Mamalakis says:
“As parents, we want our children to be successful in life. As Christian parents, we need to be clear about what we mean by successful. That’s where God’s perspective on success become important… God’s desire is for us to raise children who know Him, who love him, and who walk in His ways. God wants our children to know who He is and grow up near Him, to become saints. That is success.”
Now, we all think about our parenting in terms of end goals, some immediate goals, and some long-term. For many of us, some of our immediate end goals include getting our children to be quiet, behave, listen, share. Perhaps some of our longer-term end goals include independence, a good job, a successful marriage, etc. Now, none of these are lousy end goals in and of themselves. But they must be submitted to the end goal of becoming Citizens of the Kingdom.
We must order all our end goals to the end goal of our children knowing and serving Christ. “Our Long-term goal is to raise up children who understand themselves as children of God, who live their lives according to his commandment. We should think less in terms of stopping bad behavior and more in terms of disciplining — nurturing disciples, raising children who understand that they are citizens of heaven.”
When we frame parenting in terms of this end goal, every interaction is colored by the end goal of helping our children grow up in the way of Christ. What does this look like on the ground? In short, it looks like thinking about every parenting situation as an opportunity to instill in our children the character and habits of citizens of the Kingdom of God. Every mundane moment of your child wanting connection, struggling to share, even whining is a sacred opportunity. It is a moment to practice our end goal with our children, to walk with them into the virtues and values of God’s life.
Framing parenting in terms of our end goal also means something changing about how we think and live as parents: We must be submissive and humble disciples of Christ as we disciple our children. We cannot live by the motto: do what I say not what I do. Of course, we won’t be perfect; we are sinners just like our children. And if there is one thing I’ve learned thus far in parenting is that I’m usually more wrong than I am right, I have plenty to confess, and in doing this, I show my daughter, how to orient her life to the way of Christ and his Kingdom.
Being like Jesus Christ is every Christian’s end goal, and it is the end goal of raising children in Christ. If you are interested in the ‘how’ of this, I highly recommend Mamalakis’s book Parenting towards the Kingdom.