Parenting – what an awesome responsibility! When a couple gets married, they envision their future together, which usually involves having a family. They have hopes and dreams for their children and idealize what a wonderful life is ahead of them. Unfortunately for some, reality does not match up with the dream.
Where does the dream go wrong? What can we do about it to better ensure a more positive outcome?
If we look at Psalm 127:3-5, it tells us that sons are a heritage from God and children are a reward. The person who has a quiver full of them is blessed. What is our responsibility with such a gift? Many people quote Proverbs 22:6 which says, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” This, however, is not a promise, as we are led to believe; it is more of a maxim, a likelihood of what the results can be if we take into account our children’s personalities and interests.
What are some ways to train up a child?
As we teach the fear of the Lord to our children, it provides a secure refuge for them (Proverbs 14:26). We are to teach our children to love the Lord with all their hearts, minds, and souls and their neighbor as themselves (Mark 12:30-31). In Deuteronomy 6:4-9, this is emphasized with the admonition for parents to impress this upon their children by talking with them about the Lord throughout the day – when relaxing at home, traveling, going to bed, and getting up in the morning. This can easily be done through a bedtime story, family devotions, and a fun song in the morning (“Rise and Shine” or “This is the Day”). As children bring up situations they face (while going to the store with you, for example), you can easily discuss it in light of Scripture and get them to think about what their response should be in that situation.
Another way to train up a child is to teach him/her to obey and honor his/her parents. It is not only good for harmony in the home, but it also prepares them to get along as they mature into adults. Just as Christ loved us unconditionally, so we should love our children unconditionally. This means we love them (their personhood), but we do not condone what they do wrong (their behavior). Thus we, as parents, provide a balance between love and discipline.
A part of love is discipline. Hebrews 12:6 tells us that the Lord disciplines those he loves and punishes those whom he accepts as sons. Although discipline is painful at the time, it later produces the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:11). It is hard for parents to discipline their children, yet it is so necessary so their children can learn from their mistakes and do better next time.
We need to discern between childishness and willful rebellion before applying the rod that Proverbs talks about (Proverbs 29:15). Some people take this verse to mean spanking a child, yet the rod that the shepherd used was used to guide the sheep from hurting themselves. The shepherd’s rod has been given four dimensions of use with the sheep: authority, discipline, examination, and protection. It is the loving use of the rod that kept the sheep following their shepherd; it corrected any course of misdirection, examined and counted the sheep to make sure all was well, and that they were protected.
We need to be careful that we teach and train in the area of childishness for Christian character and to discipline for willful rebellion. The end result is found in Proverbs 29:17, “Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul.”
Another way to train up a child in the way he should go is to communicate with him according to his personality preferences. When our youngest was in grade school, he came home being hurt from a situation that had happened at school. I was giving him the logical response and not getting anywhere. When I realized what was happening and switched into a feeling mode with him, he melted like butter on a warm day. When he would come home from a long day at school, he wanted to unwind by spending more time with playmates. A wise parent would be flexible to allow such playtime, even though he has been with friends all day. When I speak his “language,” his heart is with me.
What are some pitfalls we might run into as parents?
Sometimes, especially with firstborns (they don’t come with a training manual!), it is easy for parents to be too hard and too strict. In Ephesians 6:4 fathers are instructed not to exasperate their children. This can be done by expecting too much, saying “no” too often (because it is easier), comparing siblings, etc. I will say that siblings often think that “fair” means “equal” when they cry out, “That’s not fair!” What is fair is what meets the needs of the individual.
There is no guarantee that if a parent does all these things, their child will walk with the Lord. There are other factors involved, such as the strength of the will and choices which the individual makes. Adam and Eve sinned even though they had the perfect parent and were in the perfect environment. God warned Cain that he had a clear choice – to do right and be accepted or not to do right where sin would have mastery over him (Genesis 4:6-7). Cain chose to murder Abel. Sometimes our children make choices we wish they wouldn’t have made, and we have no control over their free will.
Abraham had two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, who were completely different. Isaac compliantly went with his father to Mount Moriah and allowed himself to be bound to be sacrificed. A strong-willed child would have protested and tried to run away. In Genesis 16:12, Ishmael is called a “wild donkey of a man” and that he would live in hostility toward everyone.
Luke 15 recounts the story of the prodigal son. The wise father allows his son to take his inheritance to squander it in foolish living. When his son suffers the consequences of his foolish decisions, he comes to his senses, repents, and returns home. If we have laid the foundation, then there is a greater likelihood that our prodigal children will come to their senses and “return home” where we will be there awaiting them with open arms!