Children Are Complex

Published on April 23, 2021

One of our daughters has such a sweet, tender heart, and for a while that’s all we saw in her. She served others, prayed for others, and read her Bible without being told to do so. It was just in her heart to do it. 

Then we found out that she was lying about almost everything. 

She would lie about things that didn’t even matter. One time we even had to take her to apologize to someone, which is super embarrassing as parents. We thought, “Wait a minute, she’s a fake.” It rocked our world. How can she be over here praying and reading her Bible and then go over there to tell lies and talk bad about people?

This is when we realized that our daughter isn’t fake; she’s complex. She does love the Lord. She does pray. She does read her Bible. She does care deeply about spiritual things and about others. Her heart is to be a missionary! But in that season of life, she was struggling. She was experiencing brokenness in that area of her life. Over time, God has delivered her out of that sinful pattern. He exposed the sin and is helping her recover and pursue his design.

It hasn’t just happened with our girls; it’s happened with our boys too. As boys grow up, one of the big battles they face is what they look at on their devices. Technology is so powerful, and the internet is always available. They have phones, tablets, and computers. If they don’t, then their friends do. It’s really hard to control every aspect of all of that. So, from time to time, we’ve found out that our boys have looked at some things that they shouldn’t look at on the internet. At the same time, they are serving the Lord. They are singing songs about God and to God when they come to church. They are bringing friends to church. Their friends are getting saved. So how can they do both? How can they be looking at trash on the internet and then do all of these amazing things for the Lord? Are they fakes? We say, “No, they are complex.” They are experiencing brokenness in that area of their lives. 

As parents we’re often dealing with situations like these. We wonder which one is the real kid. Is it the good kid doing the good things that we like? Or is it the kid who has done some things that we’re not too happy about? We see this complexity when it comes to working through issues surrounding sexuality, dating, technology, and so many more.

We have found this concept of complexity to be extremely helpful in our own parenting and to other parents who ask us for counsel. Just because a kid is rebellious in one moment does not mean he is insincere when he is kind and respectful in another moment. His rebellion doesn’t necessarily negate his respectfulness, nor does a respectful attitude cancel out sinful behavior. The child is complex. The process we’re talking about—God’s design, sin, brokenness, repentance, belief, the gospel, recovery, and pursuit of God’s design—is a complex process. What can we do when we encounter this kind of complexity in our children?

Remind Kids They Are Made on Purpose, for a Purpose

Our kids are made in God’s image, and his grace is on them. They are all different, but they are all made by him and for him. They all have challenges, but they are all made by God. He has created them uniquely with different gifts and talents. He has special purposes for each of them. It is part of our job as parents to help them see that God has specific things for them to do. We always look for ways to point out the goodness of God in our kids’ lives. God has a design for their lives, and he wants to use them in great ways.

Our kids need to know that their anatomy, their sexuality, and their gender all have a purpose. Dating has a purpose. Their personalities and their physical characteristics have a purpose. Family and church and friendships all have purpose. Technology, art, athletics—all of these things can be used by God in the lives of our children. Let’s help steer them in the right direction. It isn’t about what feels good or what everybody else is doing. We want to ask ourselves if the activities our kids engage in help them get on the right trajectory to fulfill God’s purposes in their lives.

This conversation about God’s purposes starts when they are little and keeps going even when they’re married (if they will let you). When they are little you want to point out their uniqueness. You want to point out where you see the goodness of God in their lives. Our daughter who lied also had a missionary heart. So we point that out in her. We tell her that God has given her a gift of being able to do hard things and to have compassion for others. We tell her that we can’t wait to see how God is going to use that in her life. We have another one that struggles with some learning issues, but he’s the hardest worker and has the most tenacious spirit. So we talk about that. We tell him how we see God using his struggles to give him an amazing drive and ability to be determined and push through things. We know that God is going to use that in his life. 

We have to show our kids how God actually made them, and that he made them on purpose, for a purpose.

Our Sin Nature Is the Root of Complexity 

Human complexity is a theological issue. It relates to what we believe about sin and our human nature.

Parents get frustrated at their kids because they don’t have a solid theology of sin. The whole world tells us that our kids are born good and then corrupted by some combination of bad parenting, worldly influences, peer pressure, and the internet. This is not what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches that our children are born sinners. You don’t have to teach your kids to sin.

Even a kid growing up in the best environment as the biological child of two married, Jesus-loving, church-attending parents will start lying as soon as she figures out how to talk. A two-year-old will take a cookie off the counter and lie about it. It didn’t happen because someone else dared him to take the cookie or he watched a kid take a cookie on TV. The sinful idea came from inside himself. Every child has sinful ideas that come from his or her own sinful heart.

All kids are sinners who need the gospel. Jimmy is a sinner. Kristin is a sinner. We got together and made more sinners. So in our home we have a bunch of sinners who are giving us grandsinners. We all have sin in our lives. If we don’t understand this, we’re going to be very frustrated.

When your two-year-old goes to stick his finger in the electrical outlet even though you told him not to, he doesn’t have a problem with electricity; he has a problem with sin. When your teenager comes home later than you said, she doesn’t have a problem with time; she has a problem with sin.

If you understand this concept, it will change the way you parent your kids. Some people associate this kind of theology with anger, as if understanding your children are sinners will make you more angry at them. We have experienced the exact opposite. When you know your own sinful nature and your children’s, it helps you understand what’s going on! Now, you won’t get so mad. You won’t get so frustrated. You won’t feel like such a failure. You will just say, “My kid is a sinner.” And when other people come down too hard on your kids, you’ll step in and say, “Hey listen, we’re parenting them. We’re training them, but they’re sinners. They need the gospel. They need grace. They need to be forgiven. They need to be restored just like you do.”

We need to treat our kids the way that God treats them: as sinners in need of the gospel to transform their hearts. We see this in Psalm 103:14, where the psalmist praises God for remembering that we are dust. God is gentle and merciful with us, remembering our weakness. We should do the same for our children. 

When we repent and believe the story of the gospel – that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, he was buried, and God raised him from the dead – then God restores us and makes us new. He brings order from the chaos that’s in our lives. He helps us recover and pursue his design. This is what we want to replicate in our homes. It’s not just so our children can be blessings, or so we can have peace and quiet, it’s really about putting the gospel on display in our homes.

Parents who fail to recognize the reality, depth, and ugliness of sin in the heart of their children will be very disappointed. Their kids are going to sin over and over again. They will continue to sin for the rest of their lives. When a two-year-old steals a cookie and lies about it, the stakes aren’t very high. As kids get older, the consequences get bigger, and the heartache to parents can be devastating. If you understand that kids are sinners, then you have a framework with which to think about and speak to the complexity of your children.

The whole process of discipline, correction, and restoration is designed to bring the sinful will of the child under control. When the child is young, the sinful will has to be controlled externally by the parents. One day the child will be old enough to experience genuine repentance and faith in Jesus. From that point on the sinful will can be controlled by the Holy Spirit (of course, during the growing up years parents still have to help). The goal is that the child will become an adult who is willfully submitted to the Holy Spirit, the authority of God’s Word, the encouragement of their church family, and the friendship of their parents, siblings, and other believers. But this process takes time, and it includes disappointment and pain along the way. The process involves the recognition of complexity.

This article was taken from Full Circle Parenting: A Guide for Crucial Conversations. It’s not just the routines, schedules, discipline, and heartaches—it’s the hard conversations. One of the greatest challenges of parenting is navigating the crucial conversations that we must have with our kids. 

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Kristin & Jimmy Scroggins

Jimmy and Kristin Scroggins have been married for twenty-six years and have eight children: James (Reilly), Daniel (Mary-Madison), Jeremiah, Isaac, Stephen, Anna Kate, Mary Claire, and Caleb. They have served at Family Church since Jimmy became the lead pastor in July 2008. Under Jimmy’s leadership, Family Church has grown to a network of neighborhood churches in South Florida. The Scroggins family is passionate about Family Church’s mission to build families by helping them discover and pursue God’s design. 

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