Kids Need Parents to Show Them They Matter


In spite of the fact that most of us enjoy a vast array of modern conveniences, it feels like we are busier than ever. Our lives are full or work and church and school and chores, all of which are important and necessary. Our kids are busy as well, attending school and Sunday School to receive academic and spiritual instruction, and most play sports or participate in other extra-curricular activities.

Over time, we may find ourselves delegating more and more parental responsibility to schools, churches, health care professionals, counselors, psychiatrists—and since we place quite a bit of faith in specialists and experts, we may forget just how much our children need us in their lives.

It’s tempting to imagine that if we just had more money, more convenience, more resources, and more time, we could do better as parents. To think we must meet our child’s physical need for food, clothing, and shelter, but to also meet their spiritual, emotional, mental, and intellectual needs—why not just admit we feel inadequate, and sometimes downright terrified!

Regardless of how unqualified we may feel, there is no one more important to the overall well-being of a child than caring and involved parents. I believe our guilt over not spending enough time with our kids is evidence that we understand the essential nature of parenting. The Mommy Wars will probably rage on forever because our instincts are screaming at us to prioritize home and family, while society tells us to focus on ourselves and our careers.

National debates about school choice and Common Core Standards shed light on our cultural views of the role of governments and schools in the lives of American children. Many people believe parents are not qualified to make important decisions about their own children, suggesting that kids really are better off in daycare and in school, in spite of evidence to the contrary. A recent article in the Business Insider, Science says parents of successful kids have these 16 things in common, describes study after study revealing the far-reaching impact of good parenting.

As Christians, we embrace family as a God-ordained structure, and those relationships as sacred. Which means we must wholeheartedly reject any notion of institutions playing a more important or influential role than parents in the lives of children.

And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. (Deut. 6:6-7)

Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127:35)

And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. (Eph. 6:4)

These verses are quoted, shared, and cross-stitched on pillows in many Christian homes. And yet we may still feel conflicted, excusing ourselves from the necessary sacrifices required the minute we decided to bring children into the world. We’re busy. We’re tired. We don’t have answers. We’re embarrassed. With every small rejection, every time we think, “It doesn’t matter, they don’t understand, they’re just kids,” we neglect the most vulnerable people in our lives.

Does God treat us this way? Does He give us a snake when we ask for a fish? Or a stone when we need bread? Is He too busy to listen to our sorrows, fears, and expressions of inadequacy? Our children learn about the love of God from us, and part of that is giving them visible, tangible examples from which to form their understanding.

Yes, sometimes parenting is exhausting and scary. But it’s also an honor—not a burden, misfortune, hardship, or encumbrance. We may have to gird up our loins to persevere regardless of our weaknesses or distractions. After all, we’ve been assured that God will give us grace (2 Cor. 12:9) to finish whatever He has chosen for us (Philip. 1:6), and that includes being a parent.

Of course, some children have lost one or both parents through death or divorce, or some other tragedy that broke the natural bonds of parent and child. These young ones need others to step in and provide the care and structure their parents would have provided. This does not disprove the necessity of parents, but further emphasizes that this role must be filled when biological parents are not available. Foster parenting, adoption, and mentoring are ways we can fill this gap.

In his blog post Our young people need parents, not drill instructors, Michael Ungar, Ph. D. states,

As simple as it sounds, kids change when they find a parent, or parent-like substitute who can remind them, “You matter!”

That’s the core of parenting. After all, that’s we cling to when we are discouraged—that we matter to our Heavenly Father. It’s great to receive support, assistance, and advice from family, friends, church, and sometimes we do need expert help, but children need our love, our time, our attention, our energy, and our presence to know just how much they matter.


Thanks for the reminder, Susan.

Also, many parents seem to think the way you show kids they matter is by giving them lots of gadgets. But they might be surprised how much kids feel they matter when what you give them is responsibility and correction (correction is not “scolding”). I’m not sure which came first though. With both students and my own kids, did I somehow show them they mattered before I gave them work to do, or do they respond well to responsibility because it makes them understand they matter? …Chicken-egg.

As a kid growing up I’m not sure which came first either.

Either way, I know for a fact plenty of kids buried in piles of electronics and other nice stuff do not feel that they matter. Maybe what I’m trying to say is that one important way kids feel they matter is if we communicate that what they do matters.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

I agree, Aaron, that we show our children by giving of ourselves, not giving them stuff.

Writing this post reminded me of all our little rituals, like our nightly bedtime readings of Calvin & Hobbes, and Saturdays nights were “Fingers, Ears, and Toes”; nail clipping and ear checking. My kids are older now, and when I ask them about the things they remember and love from their childhood, those are the first things they mention. How weird is that? They don’t talk about the things we bought them, they talk about singing in the car (which was a mix of Patch the Pirate and what we call ‘gross out’ songs), or the time Ken brought a skylift home from work so we could do the egg experiment (where you build a contraption to protect an egg and then drop it from various heights). Emma talks about helping me make dinner, and us going to the store so she could pick our her own chopping knife when she was only 6 (because she wanted to grow up to be Rachael Ray at the time). They also talk alot about the books we read together, especially the ones that made us cry like blubbering idiots.

So yeah—showing kids they matter, IMO, is about treating them like real human beings, having high expectations of them, and listening to them like they have thoughts and feelings that are important.

Thanks for this article, Susan.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.