Ahead of Father's Day (Sunday 4th September), we'll be sharing stories of every day Christian fathers and how the gospel shapes their parenting. In this interview, Chong Shao shares the joys and challenges of being a ‘Girl Dad’ to three young daughters. He also shares how becoming a Christian has impacted how he now sees priorities, daily habits and discipline as a parent.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself!
My name is Chong, and I am the only child of parents who migrated to Sydney from China when I was almost 7 years old. I grew up “in between” cultures – Asian and Australian, nerdy and sporty, and eventually non-Christian and Christian.
I have been married to my lovely wife Kendra for 8 years. I am a full on #girldad with daughters aged 5, 3 and 1. In this season of life I am time-poor, with my main hobby being listening to NBA and tech podcasts and occasionally making my own (In Good Faith).
During the week, I mainly work from home doing tech and business consulting. I attend Gracepoint Church in Sydney, after being invited to the high school program by my friend Heidi. I became a Christian during my uni years and have been at Gracepoint ever since, where I currently serve as a lay leader.
2. What are the joys and challenges of being a "Girl Dad"?
In this season of life, it is mostly joys to be honest. Not to be too stereotypical, but in my experience my girls are very sweet and affectionate. I’m the only male in the house so I get a lot of attention (sometimes to my wife’s dismay!).
But other than that, I don’t think we treat our girls any differently than we would if we were raising boys. We read to them, do arts and craft, play ball games, ride scooters/bikes, try to limit screentime, get angry and raise our voices at them, etc, etc.
I think the challenges of being a Girl Dad will come as they hit their pre-teen and teen years. Ask me in 5-10 years and I’m sure I’ll have lots of battle scars to share! For now, I’m trying to enjoy every moment I can get while they’re still young.
3. You did not grow up in a Christian family. How does knowing God the Father shape the way you parent, and how is this different to your own experience of a childhood without God?
That’s an interesting question for me, I would say both “nothing” and “everything”. “Nothing” in the sense that God showed me common grace and gave me loving parents and a happy childhood.
Growing up my parents were patient, kind and generous to me. They were stereotypically Asian in some ways - for example, they sacrificed a lot for me and told me to work hard. But they were also atypical in the amount of freedom and support they gave me to pursue my own interests. This included me exploring Christianity and going to church. So, I want to be patient, kind and generous to my children, the way that my parents raised me, and to allow them to explore their own interests.
On the other hand, I say “everything” because life - including childhood - is different when God is not at the centre of who you are and what you do. As with everyone growing up, I had to figure out who I was and what to value. Should I pursue success, intellect, wealth, pleasure or popularity? I didn’t go “off the rails” but I certainly did hit a lot of dead-ends while pursuing some of these things, causing myself (and others!) unnecessary angst, hurt and suffering along the way.
Now of course, I believe God is sovereign and He always had a plan to turn these things out for my good. But there is a greater wisdom and joy in knowing God and living for Him, and you’re never too young to start!
What it looks like right now is simply daily habits. A lot of that comes around bedtime where we will have some bible stories and prayer. Often, we will have children’s devotional music playing during mealtimes. I really like the albums by Emu Kids and Johnny Burns.
Probably the toughest but also the most gratifying teaching moments is when we have to discipline our children. This goes both ways - yes, they have done the wrong thing, but often my wife and I have also sinned through our own anger. So, these are opportunities for mutual confession, forgiving and being forgiven, and showing unconditional love - which is like the gospel in a nutshell.
4. What is something God has taught you since you've become a parent?
I think the common and correct answer is to say God has taught me how sinful I am, which is true!
Another thing God has been teaching me is patience. It is easy to get frustrated or demoralised when your children do the wrong thing, especially while you are trying to teach them good habits or theological truths.
My sinful heart tells me to expedite the learning process through fear or force. If I scare them enough, then surely, they will comply and say and do the right things? But of course, this is folly that will lead to ruin later down the track.
God is teaching me not to expect quick results, but to do the slow, patient, persevering work of walking in love with my children every day. It might seem unremarkable and sometimes frustrating, but the fruits, when they do come, are very sweet.
We had Church Camp the other week and my eldest (still only 5 years old) wrote on a little sticky note “God’s kingdom is for you”. How cool is that!
5. What is one piece of advice you would give to a first-time Dad?
My one piece of “big picture” advice is to get your priorities right. If you’re a Christian, knowing God and growing in maturity should be number one. To the extent you’re doing that, you will be a better father, a better husband, etc. If you prioritise anything else - especially your little one - you’re going to fall into idolatry and that will hurt you and your child in the long run.
My one piece of “small picture” advice is to savour every moment of your experience. It sounds trite but kids really do grow up much quicker than you think. You will never look back and think “gee, I wish I spent less time with my child”. So, the next time you’re tempted to hide in your office, or the toilet, or behind your screen, so you can have a “breather” away from your kid - remember that every moment is precious. Persevere, and be present with them!
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