The Real Reason Parenting Is So Insanely Hard (That the Parenting Books Won’t Tell You)


I had a rough day as a parent earlier this week. It wasn’t the first time and I’m sure that it won’t be the last.

My wife and I have 5 kids and we have fostered 16 other children for varying lengths of time. If I have learned anything over the 20 + years of my marriage, it is that parenting is incredibly hard.

I’m sure there are many reasons for that, but these 6 come immediately to mind. Parenting is incredibly hard, first of all:

Because Kids Are Terribly Sinful

Our culture thinks of children as innocent and impressionable; blank slates awaiting the external influences of education and culture. The Bible says something very different: “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15 ESV).

The Bible says that children come into the world already leaning in the direction of sin and rebellion. A fair bit of bad stuff comes preinstalled and the job of parents is to find it and drive it out.

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Therefore wise parents find themselves dealing primarily with issues of the heart. The King and Queen in Proverbs build all of their subsequent parental instruction upon this essential principle: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7 ESV).

Derek Kidner comments on this verse saying:

The beginning … is not merely a right method of thought but a right relation: a worshipping submission (fear) to the God of the covenant, who has revealed himself by name.

Parenting is not ultimately about teaching right behaviors, it is about facilitating a right relationship. Your first job as a parent is to help your child relate to the God of the covenant through faith in Jesus Christ.

You are an evangelist and God has sent you a sinner.

That’s why parenting is so incredibly hard.

It is also incredibly hard:

Because Change Is Remarkably Slow

I feel like parenting would be easier if kids were better listeners and faster learners. I explain things – I think quite brilliantly – and yet very little of what I say tends to result in positive action. I make a case – a MARVELOUS CASE – for the wisdom of starting each day with a clean room and a made bed. I tell stories about how professional athletes and military heroes learned this discipline at an early age. I wax poetic about great journeys that begin with a single step. I illustrate, amplify and exhort and then I wake up the next morning to a full on circus of sloth and stupid.

Was I not clear?

Why are we not getting this?

And the answer, of course, is that change is remarkably slow.

Parenting is the fine art of saying the same thing 10,000 times over the course of 20 years without losing your mind.


Slowly but surely.

Inch by inch.

Change happens.

As with our children so with the children of God. The Apostle Paul said:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV)

The Lord is patient with our pace and progress. How much more must we be patient with the children he has entrusted to our care?

Children will grow by one degree of glory to the next. This is a call for endurance.

Thirdly, parenting is also incredibly hard:

Because I Am Breathtakingly Selfish

I find myself getting angry as a parent, more often than not, because the sinfulness of my children or the slowness of their growth and development interferes with my desire for rest, respect and recreation.

I want to nap on Sunday afternoon. My children want to poke each other in the eye. I have to referee that so that no one actually loses an eye. This makes Daddy angry, even though Daddy remembers knocking his brother unconscious with a glass peanut butter jar.

Oh the hypocrisy!

I know that my expectations are unreasonable but I really, really, really want to nap.

I also want to be well thought of. I want people to think I’m a good parent. I can’t help but feel like the behavior of my children is somehow a reflection on my character as a person. And so I become unreasonable in my expectations. I want them to do the right thing because I want to be thought of as a good person.

And I want to watch the hockey game. Is that so much to ask? It doesn’t come on until 7:30 pm; the time when all good children should be asleep in their beds. But inevitably, just before puck drop, someone comes downstairs for a glass of water, or another story, or for some other mind-numbingly nonsensical excuse or reason. And Daddy gets upset because Daddy really, really, really wants to watch his game.

Of course I know that I won’t remember the score of this game on Tuesday, and I know that when I’m 75 I will care more about that glass of water or story than the fate of my beloved team, but still, selfish Daddy wants what he wants.

And that’s why parenting is really hard.

It’s also incredibly hard:

Because the Culture Is Tragically Confused

We send our kids out into a world where people are confused about the most obvious and elemental aspects of reality. The people in our culture don’t even know which bathroom to use anymore or whether to call someone ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘ze’ or ‘it’. The culture is seemingly engaged in a self-destructive nihilistic spiral from which there will likely be no escape.

Sending your child out into that world is like tossing a sparrow into a tornado. Disorientation and destruction is now assumed.

Jesus warned the disciples about the corrosive and contagious effect of unbelief in the culture. He said: “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees” (Mark 8.15″ data-version=”esv” data-purpose=”bible-reference”>Mark 8:15 ESV).

‘Leaven’ is another word for yeast. Jesus is saying that unbelief spreads and saturates and changes. It affects everything it comes into contact with. Including, of course, our children.

Charles Taylor, the famous Canadian philosopher says in his book A Secular Age that over the last several generations the conditions for faith have changed dramatically in this culture. 500 years ago it was impossible not to believe. 200 years ago it was possible not to believe. Today, in most of the Western world it is virtually impossible to believe.

Our children are dealing with cultural and ideological headwinds the likes of which have never been seen.

That is a major reason why parenting is incredibly hard in this generation.

Parenting is also incredibly hard:

Because the Devil Is Damnably Dishonest

Jesus said that the devil: “is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8.44″ data-version=”esv” data-purpose=”bible-reference”>John 8:44 ESV).

In the Garden of Eden he attacked the Word of God and seduced the man and woman into ruin. His gameplan has not been adjusted. He continues to stir up pride, lust and rebellion by whispering sin and stupid into the minds and hearts of human beings.

And the devil is no gentleman. He goes after the weak, the vulnerable and the young. He does not go on vacation. He never goes on strike. He never takes a day off. 24/7 he is whispering lies into the minds of our sons and daughters.

A recent study said that 63% of Canadian young people are now considered “high risk” for mental health disorders. Our children are dealing with depression and anxiety in never before seen numbers. Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones, the author of Spiritual Depression says:

Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?

The devil gets inside our head and whispers lies and uncertainty. As parents, our job is to put as much of the Word of God as we can inside little hearts and minds. “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word” (Psalms 119:9 ESV).

Our job is to fill the headspace of our children with the life-giving Word of God. But our efforts are not uncontested. The devil wants to get his damnable word in there too.

That’s why parenting is so incredibly hard. The devil lies and he enjoys around-the-clock access to our kids.

Lastly, I think parenting is incredibly hard:

Because Prayer Is Entirely Foreign

Prayer tends to be the thing we do after trying everything else. It has ever been thus. In Mark 9, Jesus has been away on a field trip up the mountain with 3 of his disciples. The other disciples have been left behind down in the valley to carry on as best they can. Apart from Jesus, they fare very poorly.

A desperate father brought his sick child to see if the disciples could help.

Apparently, they tried.

We don’t know what they tried, we just know that they tried really hard and they failed. The father becomes desperate and the disciples can barely contain him. Finally, Jesus comes back down the mountain. The father rushes up to him and says:

“Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” (Mark 9.17–18″ data-version=”esv” data-purpose=”bible-reference”>Mark 9:17–18 ESV)

The disciples of Jesus are often a great disappointment.

Thankfully this man pressed through his disappointment and was able to bring the needs of his child before the Lord.

Jesus of course, did what Jesus does. He had compassion and he brought mercy and help to the point of need. The boy was healed, restored and returned to a grateful father.

Later the disciples asked Jesus why they had failed so spectacularly in their efforts to help the child. Jesus said simply: “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9.29″ data-version=”esv” data-purpose=”bible-reference”>Mark 9:29 ESV).

The disciples, apparently, didn’t have superpowers. What they had was access to the Father because of their relationship with Jesus Christ. When they neglected that access, they found themselves operating without power in a hostile and unbelieving world.

Why is that lesson so very hard for us to learn?

I don’t have superpowers.

I cannot save or sanctify my kids.

I cannot teach them out of their sin.

I cannot discipline them out of their sin.

I cannot scold them out of their sin or shame them out of their sin.

I need grace and help from God!

I need to get my children before Jesus!

That is where every miracle begins and that is where every believing parent eventually ends up.

Because parenting is desperately hard – and we need Jesus!

I’m not sure why we always come to this last. After all, Jesus said: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11.28″ data-version=”esv” data-purpose=”bible-reference”>Matthew 11:28 ESV).

That sounds really good. That sounds like the perfect verse for parents. Because parenting is incredibly hard, but thanks be to God, Jesus is remarkably kind. He is large and in charge and he cares for little children.

For he said: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matt 19.14″ data-version=”niv” data-purpose=”bible-reference”>Matthew 19:14 NIVMatthew 19.11″ data-version=”esv” data-purpose=”bible-reference”>11).

Thanks be to God!

Paul Carter
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Paul is the happy husband of Shauna Lee and the proud papa of 5 beautiful children, Madison, Max, Mikayla, Peyton and Noa. He blogs over at The Gospel Coalition Canada and hosts a devotional podcast called Into The Word.