Lord! Help Us! We’re Parents!
When the Duke of Windsor was asked what impressed him most in America, he replied, “The way American parents obey their children.” It is probably accurate to say this would be true of the majority of parents across the world. This post is written to reach out to those who seek to be parents after God’s own hearts. Rather than running here and there trying to find the “right” way of parenting, may we run to the Giver of children, who teaches us all we need about parenting.
In Proverbs 22:6, God clearly commands all Christian parents with these words, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” It is a short verse but packed with much content. Let’s break it into 3 parts and see each part closely.
1. The Command.
“Start children off.” The word “start” means to dedicate or devote an object to deity. It was used in connection with dedicating a house, dedicating Solomon’s temple, and dedicating the walls of Jerusalem. It also had the idea of providing moral and religious training. In a sense, we can say child training involves dedicating or confining a child’s conduct away from what is wrong and towards what is right.
Notice this training starts in childhood. Why? These are the formative years when their hearts are easily moldable and their consciences still tender. A prison commissioner commented: “[Parents] want it to be successful. They want to overcome sixteen years of neglect by letting their kids spend two hours with convicts.” One cannot neglect children at a young age and expect them to obey later.
The primary responsibility of training children lies with the parents. Christian schools and Churches are simply supplements—not substitutes to parental training. We read in Deuteronomy 6:6-7, “6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Notice the sequence. Parents need to first walk according to the word of God “commandments…are to be on your hearts.” Then they need to “impress them” to their children.
Training children in God’s ways takes effort. There must be ongoing instruction at scheduled times as well as through practical conversations throughout the day, as evidenced by the words “when you sit…walk…lie down…get up.” Simply stated, God’s truths should be the foundation of all conversation.
2. The Course.
“on the way they should go.” Notice the phrase does not tell parents to start off a child “on the way they or you or the society would like for them to go.” Rather it must be in the way God wants them to go! A child’s character is shaped according to what they are taught. Sadly, many children get their teaching from TV, Internet, Day-Care providers, etc. Everywhere but the parents! And if parents do teach, it is a quick 5-minute “family worship.” Many parents convince themselves, “As long as I enroll my child in the best Sunday school program or the best Christian school, I have done my duty as a Christian parent.”
While the motive may be good in such cases, it still does not fulfill God’s call for parents to be the primary teachers. Parents are to be the teachers, and they are called to provide teaching or training that can be broadly classified under two categories: A. Instructive and B. Corrective Teaching.
A. Instructive Training.
The essence of this is to teach children what to do and what not to do. Proverbs 6:20 reads, “My son, keep your father’s command and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.” The implication is that both father and mother have the primary role in teaching their children. How can a child observe a commandment that he or she has never been taught? Consider the following methods of instructive teaching.
a. Teach Creatively. Teach children according to their age. Many tools are available to help in the creative teaching of God’s word.
b. Teach Convictingly. Teach them in a way that awakens their conscience to the fact that God is holy, and as guilty sinners, they are under his judgment. Since all our children, even though they might look cute, are born with a sinful nature [Psa 51:5], they are prone to acting in a sinful manner. Hence, the need for convicting teaching. For example, if you catch them lying, use verses such as Proverbs 12:22 that deal with the sin of lying. Use biblical illustrations that deal with lying and the subsequent consequences [e.g. Genesis 27—Jacob’s lying and his subsequent sorrows].
c. Teach Convertingly. The primary reason for training children is not for them to be compliant to parents or get a good name or stay out of trouble. While these are good and valid reasons, the primary reason for all godly parenting is to see children come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and make him their treasure. Paul tells Timothy, “how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” [2 Tim 3:15]. Timothy’s exposure to the Scriptures from childhood ultimately led to his salvation. That’s the ultimate goal of all good parenting.
B. Corrective Training.
The essence of this training is what parents ought to do when children fail to do what is right. In other words, this refers to physically disciplining them. At the outset, let me state that I am against all forms of abuse. God does not discipline his children in an abusive manner, in anger or in frustration, but in love [Heb 12:6]. We are to follow his pattern.
Many professing Christian parents often state, “I am too loving to spank my children. I will simply keep talking to the children and correct them with my words.” While talking is important, there is also a time for physical punishment when that talking is not bringing about any change in behavior. Proverbs 13:24 clearly states, “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” According to this proverb, true love does physical discipline when needed!
Let’s pause and think about this for one moment: Why are there so many commands with regard to disciplining [e.g. Proverbs 19:18; 23:13-14; 29:15] if there would be no need for it? If God has put these verses in the Bible, then we must believe they are there for a reason. And we must believe a good God intends us to follow these commands for good ends.
A young girl wrote to a newspaper columnist, “My problem is my mother. She’s too lenient! After she gets angry and punishes me, she often will apologize. Why should she when I had the punishment coming?” The columnist responded, “Your mother, like many others, fears you will love her less because she has punished you. She’s wrong. No child has ever resented punishment he knew he had coming. Discipline is ‘proof’ of love. Children ‘know’ this. I wish more parents did.”
By the way, it is good to remember that the commands to discipline apply to both parents! And since children tend to play one parent against the other, parents need to be united in their instruction and disciplining of children.
Now for those parents who do desire to submit to God’s teachings on spankings, here are some general spanking rules to remember:
Do not spank your child for any and every reason. Always explain the reason for the spanking. Never use your hand. Use a wooden paddle or something along those lines. Never hit a child in the face. Spank them on the backside in a way that produces short-term pain but no long-term injury!
Once the disciplining is completed, the parent who did the disciplining must affirm their love to the child and explain that the disciplining was for their good. The parent should have the child [if older] pray to the Lord confessing his or her sin, and the parent should pray as well. If parents exercise physical discipline in a correct manner, there will not be a need for consistent use of it.
I am fully aware that some might not agree with the physical disciplining aspect. My appeal to such folks is this: Please read the above-mentioned Scriptures and allow the Lord to speak. Do not be guided by your feelings or by the teachings of this world. God always blesses those who unquestioningly submit to his Word.
3. The Comfort.
The final part of Proverbs 22:6 reads, “and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” This is the comfort for the godly parent. The hope and prayer of every parent that wishes to follow the biblical pattern of parenting is that the children will come to faith and persevere in the faith even when they grow old. And this has indeed been found to be true in many cases.
However, beware of the mindset that thinks, “Since my child is saved, I must have done a good job,” or “Since my child is not saved, I must have failed as a parent.” There are many godly parents whose children have turned out to be ungodly and many ungodly parents whose children turned out to be godly. Proverbs are not blanket promises. The key is to understand that God requires each one to be faithful in discharging their individual responsibilities as a father or mother. We must leave the results in the hand of the sovereign God who always does what is right [Gen 18:25].
So, we see the command [“Start children off”], the course [“in the way they should go”], and the comfort when obeying the command [“and even when they are old they will not turn from it”].
Before we look at some final thoughts, a couple of reasons why so many are poor parents.
Reason #1. Lack of Proper Priorities.
Just a moment’s reflection will reveal why parents in our culture have less influence on their kids. While some go to extremes by making idols out of their children [which is a sin], I am addressing only those who neglect their children due to misplaced priorities. While both father and mother have equal responsibility in raising the children, let us not forget that mothers, generally speaking, have a greater influence on the children.
Mothers are called to love their children in an unselfish manner [Tit 2:4-5]. They ought not to see children as an interference with their careers. When a mother, out of personal choice [not out of necessity], leaves the home, the children and the entire home will be affected. A mother cannot raise her children in her absence. Being a mother is a privilege, not a punishment! This applies to fathers as well. Fathers ought not to be always running after their careers and thus spend very little time with their children. And when they do spend time with their children, it should be in a constructive manner.
Many husbands [and wives] are quick to point the finger at the other spouse when the child misbehaves. Please face the mirror before pointing the finger at others!
Reason # 2. Lack of Christian Character.
As young Johnny reached for the ringing phone one Saturday, his dad sighed through his teeth: “If it’s the guy from the office, tell him I’m not home.” That evening the family went out for dinner. Before leaving the restaurant, Johnny’s mother looked at the check and mentioned that the waitress had undercharged them. “That’s their tough luck,” mumbled the father. Later that night, as Johnny finished his Sunday school lesson, he thought what a good Saturday it had been. How much better than last weekend—when his father had grounded him for cheating on his math test!
Simply stated, one cannot be a good parent and a characterless Christian at the same time! Truth is the nail, and character is the hammer that drives the nail in. We need to make sure we are Christians by deed and not by word only! Children can easily see through hypocrisy.
If we desire to be godly parents, we must commit ourselves to be diligent students of Scripture and persistent prayer. These two disciplines are the foundation and basis for all effective parenting. We must constantly keep crying to the Lord for our children. We can never ever give up on our children! Even if we have failed in the past, it is never too late to repent and start afresh. God is merciful. He will give us the necessary strength to be godly parents.
Parenting requires effort. Parenting should not be done with the mindset of what’s convenient for us now. It should be done for what’s beneficial later for the children. This may [and does] mean present inconveniences for the parent as well as the kid. But the effort is worth it when compared to the far-reaching benefits. So, parents need to have an eye on the future as they strive in their efforts during the present.
If you are single, understand the role of parenting prior to marriage. If the person you seek to marry is very worldly, beware! Where one’s treasure is, there their heart will be [Matt 6:21]! If you are a grandparent, you have a role to play as well. Timothy’s life was greatly impacted by his grandmother [2 Tim 1:5]. Remember, you never cease to be a godly influence.
Finally, we all need to remember the foundation of all good parenting starts with being a child of THE BEST Parent of all—God the Father. And the only way for that to happen is to turn from sin and trust in Christ, who alone paid the price for sins. Then and only then one can even begin to think about what it means to be a good parent. May the Lord help us do so!