The Pressures of 21st Century Parenting

From the first time I became a parent eight-and-a-half years ago, with three more little ones to follow, one thing has remained the same: There is immense pressure to keep up with the unrealistic and often unhealthy expectations that we, as parents, put on ourselves and feel from others. Some of these pressures have always been a part of the parenting journey, but there continues to be more and more pressure bombarding parents today.

Nine Parenting Pressures

Here are a few of the pressures I have seen in my own parenting experience, as well as those that I have observed:

1. My child must be in structured activities, early childhood education, and sports by the earliest age possible if they are going to be successful and able to keep up with other kids their age.

2. My child must be entertained at all times, especially if I need them to be quiet or want them to be happy. Entertainment might include going to the toddler movie and popcorn time at the movie theater, needing creative crafts and activities at their immediate disposal, having the latest gadget that all the kids are talking about, and being technologically savvy and entertained by the computer, TV, iPad, phone, and video games.

3. My child must be well-mannered, self-controlled, and obedient at all times in public (especially in church), or I must be doing something wrong as a parent.

4. My child must excel at something to keep up with all the other baby geniuses. Otherwise I might just have an “average” child.

5. My child will be disadvantaged if my husband and I both don’t work, in order to provide the best for them.

6. If my child isn’t reading by the age of four, I must have done something wrong (I didn’t play them music in the womb, show them Baby Einstein videos through infancy, or provide an intellectually stimulating environment for them).

7. If I have no choice but to work, I am not as good of a mom as those who stay home. Or, if I have the blessing of staying home with my children, I am not contributing or helping the family and am wasting my gifts and talents.

8. My child must begin a sport or cultural arts activity by the earliest age possible or they won’t be able to compete with their peers. He or she needs to play on a traveling team, even if requires all of our time, energy, and money, in order that we provide the best opportunities for them.

9. My child must be ________: homeschooled, in private education, or in the public school system; vaccinated or not vaccinated; fed organic food or not; the list goes on.

I think it’s safe to say that many parents today can relate to many, if not all, of these pressures. Of course, not all of these are bad within themselves (a little TV time, a library story time, a sports camp, crafts to do at home, etc.), but they can subtly plant lies in our heads and create overwhelming expectations that are not in line with what God desires for us as parents. Unfortunately, these pressures can suck the joy, contentment, simplicity, and sweetness out of raising the children we have been blessed to raise.

Serving God through Parenting

So how do we, as Christian parents, fight against all that bombards, distracts, and deceives us from honoring Christ as the central focus of our family?

But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15)

First, we need to ask ourselves, “Who or what am I serving?”

Am I serving Christ by the way I spend my time, money, and abilities, or am I striving to please and live up to what is acceptable and seemingly necessary in the eyes of the world? If the gospel is the central focus of our home, it will help us evaluate and bring clarity to the pressures we face with truth, rather than the cultural standard.

Second, we need to ask the Holy Spirit to help us recognize pressures we are putting on ourselves out of pride.

The reality is, if my child excels in some area, I will feel proud — partly because I am proud of them and excited for them but partly because I feel pretty good about the fact that I must have passed on some good genes or done something right to bring about such success. That’s never easy to admit but, for anyone who recognizes the sin that lurks within them, it’s not hard to see the pride that is often hiding beneath the surface.

Many pressures we face as parents have more to do with us than they do with our kids. Of course we love our children and want what is best for them, but underneath some of the choices we make, and the pressures we give into without really putting any thought into them, are driven somewhat by how it will reflect on us.

Pride, of course, is not something we deal with once and for all. It’s a battle we will wage until we are free from these fallen bodies. However, it’s critical that we recognize where we are tempted to be driven by pride in our parenting.

Are we screaming at our kids on the way to church but then smiling and speaking tenderly to them as soon as we reach the church doors? (I’ve been guilty of this!) Do you find yourself bribing your child in the grocery store, pleading with them to stop screaming so you don’t feel the shameful looks of others? (Yep, guilty of this one too!).

If I kept listing examples, I would probably be guilty of every single one of them at some point. But this is the beauty of the gospel. You and I are not perfect parents, and we never will be. But Jesus Christ lived the life we never will be able to and covered all our nasty pride with his shed blood on the cross. When we bring these things to him, in humility and repentance, he promises to forgive us, while shaping us more into his image.

As we face the inevitable pressures of parenting, the best place to start is prayer. We can ask Christ to help us see the pressures we face through his eyes, to discern what he values and, to give us wisdom and strength to make each decision for our family in a way that most honors him.

Third, we need to spend time in God’s Word everyday to know him and learn how to apply the gospel to every area of our life, including our parenting.

These truths can help us recognize ways that we are feeling pressured to live up to the world’s standards and values, rather than the Lord’s.

It can be so life-giving to be freed from the weight of these unnecessary pressures. The grace of the gospel brings healing and hope to the weary and discouraged parent who feels like they just can’t provide their child or family with what the culture deems necessary for success. It takes pressure off the family whose life choices have been limited by illness, death, an unavailable spouse, a child or parent’s disability, or poverty. But when we try to keep up with the ways of the world rather than ways of God, we will be sucked down into a never ending spiral of defeat and stress.

So let’s bring these burdens to the Word of God and be filled with his truth so that we can more easily recognize the unrealistic and unhealthy expectations that we may placing on ourselves, which God never asked us to carry.

Fourth, evaluate your priorities as a family, making a list of the goals and values that are worth pursuing.

After making a list of short and long-term family priorities, break them down into practical applications to see what areas of your parenting (as well as your own time) are currently reflecting the pursuit of those goals and values. If you find areas that are sucking time and energy out of your family or your child, then evaluate if that’s an activity worth continuing. This can be a great list to come back to and reevaluate as your children grow and family dynamics change.

Lastly, remember that each family is unique, with a different set of circumstances, challenges, and personal convictions.

There will always be a family that looks like they have it more together than yours. If your standard of success as a parent is measured by those around you, you will become either prideful, or envious, or both.

One area we will find ourselves different from other families is in our personal convictions. While biblical convictions (God’s commands that apply to all, without exception) should be unwavering in every Christian family, personal convictions will look different within each family.

A few examples would be:

  • Choosing to celebrate Halloween or not
  • How the topic of Santa Claus is handled
  • Vaccinating your child 
  • The type of schooling you decide is best

If you prayerfully ask the Lord’s direction and seek wisdom from the Scriptures and other godly men and women in the process of forming the personal convictions of your family, then you can humbly be confident in those convictions, while not judging families who have chosen otherwise. This will protect you from feeling insecure and defensive when you hear someone who disagrees with you, or from pridefully assuming that you are godlier than those who hold different convictions than you. In all things, Christ should be center, not us or our children.

The second way that we will look different from other families is in the circumstances and family dynamics that we have been uniquely given.

In my family, we have been given the challenge of raising a child with special needs which has affected nearly every area of our family life. Therefore, if I take my eyes off the truth that God has ordained the specific children, dynamics, and circumstances that surround my family for his purposes, then I will be prone to self-pity, disappointment, guilt, anxiety, jealousy, fear, and discontentment.

So remember: God knows your circumstances, your children, and your unique challenges. He ordained them for his loving purposes, and he will use them in his time and way for your good and his glory. He will equip you for what he has called you to and will lead you in wisdom, truth, and grace as you grow in humility and learn to view your role as a parent through the lens of the gospel and an eternal perspective.

God Is Our Faithful Parent

Christ will be faithful to strengthen you in the fight against the unnecessary pressures of the world as you pray, grow in the truth of his Word, and rest in the confidence that you have no one to please but the One who is Lord over every parent’s decisions, failures, and successes.

But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children. (Psalm 103:17)

Praise God that he can use sinful parents to raise sinful kids in a sinful world, all the while turning sinners into saints, using us for his purposes, and bringing glory to himself.

How else does the gospel apply to parenting? Leave a comment with your thoughts.


21st Century Parenting

Sarah Walton is a stay-at-home mom with four kids under eight years of age. She is the author, along with Kristen Wetherell, of Hope When It Hurts: Biblical Reflections to Help You Grasp God’s Purpose in Your Suffering (The Good Book Company, April 2017). She writes at Set Apart: Hope on the Road Less Traveled.

Date Posted: Dec 21st, 2015

  • Nicole Elliott

    Thank you for this–it was encouraging to me, today!! <3

  • Great thoughts but man throwing in the vaccinating issue in it, just opens up a real can of worms. Was going to pass it along but that point just felt like a clog in the wheel.

  • Tim Johnson

    I appreciated this very much. I’m working on a sermon on Biblical Parenting: breaking through cultural influences. Your thoughts are helpful. I even appreciate you throwing in the vaccinating or not vaccinating issue. As a pastor, I hear all the conflicting expectations and you are keeping it relevant and real. Thank you!