Yesterday I received a question via my Stump the Chump page, and it was so intriguing that I’ve decided to write two posts about it. The first post is written from a general parenting perspective, and it can be found on my Patch blog. This is the other post, and I want to approach the question from a pastoral perspective if I may.
Here’s what came in:
Question: this is not so much a question for You as it is meant for ALL parents…………. How do you plan to raise better children? (i.e. children with morals, dignity, respect, ability to think rather than repeat, etc.)
I want to start off by addressing the shaky premise of the question: that parenting alone is responsible for how an individual turns out. People are people. You can be a great parent and still have your child do things that break your heart. Likewise, you can be a horrific parent and have a kid who turns out to be a gem. That’s the thing about people: they are more than the sum of their parts.
But it would be foolish to dismiss the question outright. After all, there is something to be said about the power and influence of parenting. My parents helped shape me significantly; there is no better example of this than my inability to call an older adult by name without including a proper title – Mr. or Ms. Drives some folks nuts, but it’s just something that my dad ingrained in me and I can’t escape it.
Naturally their influence comes out in other areas as well, because a parent is the formative voice of a child’s early years. How a child understands the world is determined by the world their parents present them and how their parents guide them through that world.
King Solomon understood that idea very well. In Proverbs 22:6 he wrote, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
The question is, and I believe it pertains to the question above, though phrased differently, is “What is the way s/he should go?”
For the last couple of decades, the way was fairly obvious; so obvious, in fact, that it garnered the title “the Traditional Family.” A husband, wife, two kids, a dog, two cars, little house with a nice lawn and a white picket fence. Chances are they were Protestant, though not necessarily aggressively so, and they lived a good moral life being nice to neighbors and striving towards the American Dream. They were polite, well mannered, and well groomed.
Nowadays, that’s a stereotype. One that gets made fun of. A lot.
In a world where family means almost anything we want it to mean, where morality is no longer fixed upon a certain set of ideas or a certain social code or based in the character of an unchanging God, what is the way our children should go?
Do we even have a clue?
We can run to the Bible and start pulling out verses helter-skelter to try and support our old way. We can thunder from the pulpit that this generation needs to quit rebelling and just learn to do as they’re told. We can impose laws and restrictions and limits to try and curb what we see as disturbing patterns of behavior, but the reality is that none of that is going to do a bit of good. A generation that is used to blowing up standards and rules and regulations isn’t going to be phased by newer, harder, more better penalties.
They’re just going to push back that much harder.
To answer the question as simply as possible, in order to raise a better tomorrow, we must go back to the example of Jesus. We must get into the lives of our children and teach them who God is, how God loves, and why it all matters to our lives.
We must start at the beginning, on their level, and disciple them. Teach them. Show them what it means to live a life in right relationship with God. That means we must show them our relationship with God. We must show them humility, submission, forgiveness, grace, mercy, justice, self-control. We must lead them into moments of prayer and contemplation of the Word of God. We must train them that what we believe is not “cleverly devised fables” but reality, Truth with a capital T.
A better child will not come from brow-beating. It will not come from intractable thinking and uniform standards that cannot be changed. We must follow the example that God set before us in Christ: that, while we were still sinners, He died for us and forgave us of our sins (Rom. 5:8). True, God’s standards are universal, but His relationship with each person is individual. He comes to us where we are and shows us who we can be, then helps us become that person by His great strength.
Should we not imitate our Father?
Jesus said it this way, when speaking of the faith a child has, and how it is imperative for the Kingdom of Heaven: “If you give them a hard time, bullying or taking advantage of their simple trust, you’ll soon wish you hadn’t. You’d be better off dropped in the middle of a lake with a millstone around your neck. Doom to the world for giving these God-believing children a hard time! Hard times are inevitable, but you don’t have to make it worse — and it’s doomsday to you if you do.” (Matt. 18:6, The Message)
Granted, Jesus is talking about how we treat children in matters of faith, but don’t those words apply equally well to other matters of parenting?
Disciple. Love. Teach. Train. Give them the best of ourselves, because God gave us the best of Himself. If we want a better generation of children, we must start by being a better generation of parents. And that begins by leaning hard into the wisdom and will of our Father, and learning from Him.