Once, I thought we’d be perfect parents.
Then we actually had children.
As if to put an exclamation point on our inadequacy, our twin daughters were born almost three months early. Our “big girl” weighed a whopping 2 lbs., 3 oz. Our little one weighed just under 2 lbs. For perspective, that’s about the heft of a standard bag of brown sugar. Their heads were no bigger than my fist, and my husband’s wedding band fit like a bracelet. They couldn’t eat or keep warm or even breathe on their own. They were completely helpless.
I felt just as helpless. I couldn’t do any of the things perfect parents—or even normal parents—are supposed to do, like hold them or protect them. We stood by their beds in the Intensive Care Nursery (ICN) and watched them struggle to find the basic rhythm of inhale, exhale. How could I be a perfect parent like this?
For almost three months in the ICN, I did all I could: love them, pray, wait. I was forced to trust God with my children. Slowly, my view of perfect parenthood began to change. I began to understand that parents are stewards, entrusted with God’s precious creations. Now, over two decades later, I am still learning what it means to steward our children.
Jesus gives a good example of stewardship in Matthew 25 in the parable of the talents. While the parable is commonly taught to address how we steward our possessions, the basic principles of stewardship shown here can apply to parenthood as well.
Parent-stewards know their children belong to God first. The parable begins with the master entrusting his property to his servants (Matthew 25:14). If we treat parenthood as stewardship, we recognize that our children are God’s treasures.
This was clear in the ICN as we watched God literally finish his creating work in our daughters. They had my husband’s and my DNA, our features, even our personality traits, but only God had the power to make them whole people. We watched, like awestruck voyeurs in a holy workshop, as flesh and soul came together and as they learned to eat, breathe, live. They were certainly God’s masterpieces.
As they grew up, we watched them develop gifts and passions completely unlike ours. Where did that athletic ability or that compassionate heart come from? Clearly, from God. Now, as then, they are God’s masterpieces, not our property.
If we take to heart that our children are God’s masterpieces, we will make sure they know that we love them, and God loves them. We convey our love through our words, time, attention, touch. When our girls were young, this meant a hug after a hard day. It meant I dropped my chores for a few minutes after school to simply listen. Now it means frequent text messages to keep in touch. And the words “I love you” can never be said too often.
We convey God’s love through our example and through actively teaching the Scriptures. The Bible is clear that parents are to teach scriptural truths to their children (Deuteronomy 6:7). For our family that looked less like formal family devotions and more like teachable moments woven through each day. It also meant that our church community was a priority, and they were surrounded by godly adults who modeled Christ-like living. Now, it’s conversation after conversation. And more conversation.
Parent-stewards must know the Master. In the parable of the talents, the servant described as worthless misused what had been entrusted to him, because of what he knew about the master—“I knew you were a hard man,” he says (Matthew 25:24)—but did not truly understand what was required of him. By contrast, to be godly parents, we must know God—not from a distance but in an intimate, personal way.
In the ICN, we came to know God in fresh ways. We saw firsthand his creative power. We understood his sovereignty in ways only the helpless can. Prayer became as essential as breathing.
In the everyday world, apart from such dramatic experiences, we come to know God through reading and study of Scripture and through prayer. These disciplines must be as essential to daily life as they were to us in the ICN. Perhaps more so.
Parenting doesn’t reach a certain plateau of ease after which we can relax and coast—say, once they’re potty trained or pass algebra or leave for college. If anything, the stakes are ever higher, the need for wisdom ever greater. We must follow hard after the Master, the source of wisdom, and we must continually bring our children before him in prayer.
Parent-stewards will be held accountable by a merciful Master. When the master in the parable returned from his trip, he settled accounts with his servants (Matthew 25:19). The stewards who had handled the responsibility well were rewarded; the ones who didn’t were punished. Stewardship means that we, too, will be held accountable.
In the ICN, everything we did had serious consequences. Our daughters were fragile, and for many days they hung in precarious balance between life and death. If we simply neglected to wash properly before handling them, for example, we could transmit a life-threatening infection.
The parental choices we make now are every bit as serious, because they have eternal significance. While this is surely sobering, it should not be heard as condemnation if our children decide poorly. (Ezekiel 18:4: “The soul who sins is the one who will die.”) Our children will be held accountable for their own choices.
I am far, far from perfect. The more years go by, the more I wish I had a stash of do-overs. I find myself apologizing often to our daughters for gaps in our parenting—from failing to take them camping, to not being as transparent about our finances as I wish we’d have been, and so much in between.
So, I am grateful that the Master judges mercifully. I take heart from the fact that the master in the parable didn’t seem to judge on results: the servant who gained two bags of gold received the same reward as the servant who had gained five. When I do fail—which is often—I confess my weakness to the Master and ask for his guidance and help. He has never failed to forgive and provide needed strength.
Parent-stewards must let go. Just as the servants in the parable presented the results of their stewardship back to the master, we, too, must be willing to let go. For me, this has been one of the hardest parts of stewardship.
In the ICN, letting go meant knowing that each breath might be the last we got to share with our daughters. That reality taught me to be thankful for whatever time God gave us, to love my children wholly for as long as I was able and to trust God, no matter the outcome. Thankfully, God blessed them with health and healing, and they have suffered no lasting effects of their early birth.
Many days since, I’ve been tempted to grab hold tightly and call them mine, like the first day back at kindergarten after the Columbine school shootings. The time a so-called friend left my school-aged daughter in tears. The summer our college student wanted to go to the mission field rather than come home. When our independent young adult made a decision contrary to our advice.
It never seems to get easier for me, so I must deliberately and daily choose to let go. I give them back to the Master and give thanks for the blessing they are in my life.
We will never be perfect parents. But what I began learning in the ICN continues to serve me well, even into our daughters’ young adulthood. Now, as then, parenting means stewarding, and I hope one day to hear that we stewarded them as good and faithful servants. Now, as then, it is agonizing to step aside but beautiful and amazing to watch God develop his masterpieces.