The danger of parenting with tunnel vision

Written by Judy McCarver
Published on August 21, 2020

How often do you get stuck in parenting? 

Maybe your toddler is refusing to go to bed night after night and you’re at a loss for what to do. 

Maybe your tween is struggling with anxiety and you just don’t know how to alleviate her stress or the poor attitude that accompanies it. 

Perhaps your son is disengaged from his family and the only answers you get from him are “fine.” 

Maybe your college student has decided that she doesn’t want to go to church now that she has started college. You’ve taken her to church her whole life—Sunday School, youth group, the whole thing. And now this disconnect? 

You are devastated. 

How in the world is she going to be fed spiritually if, amidst all the challenges and temptations that accompanies college life, she refuses to go to church anywhere? 

Hmm. 

Focusing on one option

During my years in law enforcement, there was this thing called tunnel vision. This phenomenon was so dangerous that we attended mandatory trainings to help define, assess, and avoid it. 

Tunnel vision can happen like this: An officer makes a traffic stop or perhaps executes an arrest warrant. Because of the chaos of the ensuing moments, they get tunnel vision. They become laser focused on one thing and one thing only, completely unaware of what else is going on around them or what else is impacting their situation. Their peripheral vision is closed off. It’s as if they are in a tunnel. 

You can imagine how dangerous that could be for an officer and their partner. The end result could be frustration, loss of life, or, in the very least-case scenario, failure to execute the task at hand and achieve the desired outcome. 

So often in life we get tunnel vision in parenting. 

We freeze up. We focus on only one option, which clearly is not working to reach our goal. We get tunnel vision because we are so zeroed in on what we want but nevertheless cannot accomplish. We keep doing that thing which does not produce the outcome we desire. Creativity is stalled and our vision is blurry. 

Can’t vs. can

It is in that very moment when we need to realize that we have Jesus pulling for us. 

Indeed, Hebrews 7:25 says, “Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf” (NLT). Romans 8:26 reminds us that, even when we don’t know what to pray for (ever been there?), there is One who does: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (NIV). 

With that powerful truth in mind, whenever we become paralyzed in our thought life, we need to exercise the courage to walk away from what we can’t do and move toward what we can do. What is in our realm of influence and control? 

And then, when you regain your peripheral vision, you regain perspective. Now, suddenly, you are able to move to that place of can. The “can’ts” suddenly become less intimidating, less threatening, and the fog starts clearing. The can becomes that brightly lit path in Psalm 16:11, a reminder from our faithful God that he is not confined the way we are. 

He is a can God, always. 

So, what is the can when you have been barreling through the tunnel of can’t? 

What can you do?

Well, let’s revisit that example of the withdrawn and disengaged teenager! 

You want him to talk, right? But he won’t. 

How about inviting him to play “Around the Table” during dinner? 

The rules are easy: Everyone says something simple that they appreciate about the person sitting next to them. (Note: This is contingent upon actually having family dinner around the table.) And/or you can leave a note in his backpack for him to find at lunchtime with a Scripture on it or a sweet handwritten note of encouragement. 

What else can you do? What else is within your grasp? You are only limited by your imagination. Take action with the can-dos. Quit losing precious time on everything else. 

And how about that college student who made no effort to find a church upon arriving at the doorstep of her college? 

I think you know you can’t make her go to church. Yet, tunnel vision draws us into that unproductive role of nagging. But what can you do? 

Well, first you can reframe. Yeap, that’s right. There is more than one way to be spiritually fed. You can take a breath and not go zero to sixty in your thoughts. Your daughter’s eternal security is not at stake here. 

The second thing you can do is take another breath and imagine the possibilities. Maybe the two of you can do a private Bible study together online. Check out the YouVersion Bible App. Maybe you could encourage her to attend a weekly small group with a couple of friends. You can always email or text her a favorite encouraging Scripture and remind her of your love for her. 

Maybe you could even visit on parents weekend and the two of you could attend a church-related event together. Have coffee together. Mail her a care package. Just don’t drive her away by insisting on focusing only on what you can’t make happen—as if that is the singular route to her spiritual maturity. 

‘You feed them’

Perfection in parenting is elusive and will always be that way until Jesus takes us home. What makes us good at this job is understanding our position with our Savior. He is our perfecter. This truth, this precious knowledge, unleashes our ability to help, encourage, and love people where they are, not just where we want them to be. 

When we realize we don’t have to know all of it, or understand all of it, we are free to just be present and helpful. The solution for getting what we want isn’t always obvious. Sometimes it’s just, “What easy steps can we take right now to get there?” We just have to think and act outside of the tunnel. Sometimes that is what we have at our immediate disposal to offer our kids. And it’s a lot. 

In Matthew 14, we read that timeless story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. As soon as the challenge presented itself, the disciples wanted to send the crowd away. They were focused only on what they saw as an insurmountable problem. They had tunnel vision. 

Jesus looked at the disciples and said to them, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat” (NIV). Jesus is looking at parents in the same exact way and saying to us with regard to our children, “Don’t send them away. You feed them.” 

As soon as Jesus said this, the disciples began to inventory what they had at their disposal, albeit meager in their human estimation. We know the rest of the story: Jesus took what they had to offer and multiplied it exponentially. 

Don’t send your kids away by focusing on the one and only thing you believe will solve the whole problem. Take inventory of what you have at your disposal, all the fun things you get to do, and do those things. Jesus will bless it mightily.  

How can we shift our focus from what is not working to what resources we actually have within our grasp? 

How can we shift our focus from the impossible to the possible?

In order to get unstuck in parenting, we need to move from that place of “I can’t” to that place of “I can.” 

In the words of Dr. Seuss, “From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere.”

Just get moving!

Live perfectly imperfect

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Judy McCarver

Judy McCarver is the author of “Parenting with Gumption and Grit: 52 Must Have Parenting Tips for Anyone who has Ever Loved a Child Enough to Want to Influence Their Future.” She has been married to Paul for 25 years. Together they have parented three confident and compassionate daughters, Shelby (23), Halle (21) and Katie Ann (19). Judy worked professionally for more than 10 years in public service before leaving the work force to spend more time with her family. As a volunteer for over 25 years, her leadership roles have included bible teaching, serving in community groups, and both youth and women’s ministry. She is a voracious traveler and also loves to spend time with friends and family. Most importantly, she has a passion for equipping parents with the tools necessary for raising world changers. You can follow her on judymccarver.com

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