Dr. Spock. Neuropsychology. Behavior modification. Brain science. Energy profiling (huh??).
With the plethora of books, blogs, and methods on parenting out there, how are we to determine what is right?
With so many thoughts on what parenting IS, it may be best to look at what parenting is NOT.
But the only handbook we will need is the Bible because it is the inspired, infallible, inerrant, sufficient word of the God who created us and all of our children.
Biblical parenting is NOT…
Kind of makes parenting sound like a real downer right off the bat, right? But I’m afraid too many parents want to pawn off the responsibility of raising their kids onto somebody else:
Daycare, babysitter, grandma/grandpa, youth pastor, children’s church worker.
Too many parents who wanted to have kids now place them under the watch-care and teaching of someone else for eight or more hours a day (and that’s not including extracurricular activities).
So should we shut down all day cares, schools, and youth groups? Not if they are being used with the right motives in mind. But the primary responsibility of raising and teaching kids belongs to the parents.
One out of only two commands in the Bible about parenting says that fathers should not provoke their children to anger but “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
In all his wisdom, Solomon instructed parents to train up a child in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6).
Even as far back as Moses’ time, we are told to diligently teach our children the commands of the Lord at all times (Deuteronomy 6:7).
And this is certainly not always convenient. You may have to coach a child through a tantrum in the middle of cooking dinner. You may have to break up a sibling fight right as you just sat down to enjoy that cup of coffee and rest your aching feet. You may have to prayerfully prioritize how much time you are away from the home in order to be the one to guide them through the issues of life. Our children should always be our number one priority over personal pursuits or “me time”. And they are always worth it.
In our post-modern, humanistic society, truth is viewed as relative. What holds true for one person may not be what another person sees as true, and we are not supposed to tell anyone they are wrong.
The view that there are no absolutes has bled over into our parenting. Religion, gender, sexual preference, and even math are abstract subjects now. One of the top lines I have heard from other parents is, “I don’t want to force religion on my kid. I want them to explore the different ideas out there and decide for themselves.”
Children are naturally curious. It is good to let them explore their world and ask questions. But not without guide rails. We wouldn’t allow a train to jump track just because it wants to check out that field over there. Conversely, we don’t have to be “smother-mothers” or helicopter parents to do this. We can’t protect our children from everything; it’s not only undesirable, but impossible. Children are going to get hurt. They are going to make mistakes.
But while it is good to use a child’s mistakes as teaching moments to help them learn from them, it is quite different to let a child make all their own choices and be their own moral compass.
The Bible teaches that when left to ourselves, no one chooses what is right (Romans 3:12) and that our hearts can’t be trusted (Jeremiah 17:9). Likewise, King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived (with the exception of Christ), says that so often what we think is right actually leads to our destruction (Proverbs 14:12, 16:25) and that foolishness is bound up in the hearts of children (Proverbs 22:15). Clichés like“Follow your heart” and “let your conscience be your guide” are very poor advice.
In contrast to this, the beginning chapters of Proverbs are clear cut about how parents should guide their children in the way they should go, and how the best thing we can do for them is to teach them wisdom. Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 9:10). Within that wisdom, there is wiggle room for different methods and preferences of child-rearing: Vaccines or no vaccines? Organic or non-organic? Piano or sports? No screen time or limited amounts? Homeschool or public school?
But the fear of the Lord which leads to wisdom only comes from knowledge of the Lord and his ways, which only comes from God’s Word. And there is nothing abstract or relative about that.
…all about your child’s happiness.
Like most parents, we want what is best for our children. I hear so many parents say things like, “I just want my child to be happy” or “healthy” or “successful” in life. There is nothing wrong with wanting those things, even praying for them. The problem lies in our definition of happiness and success.
For most parents, the best possible future we can imagine for our children would be to go to a good school, get a high paying career, live the “American dream” of nice houses, cars, vacations, and a cushy retirement, all while being a polite, good citizen. That doesn’t sound like a horrible life, does it?
While that lifestyle certainly comes with many perks, it falls far short of what God defines as a happy and successful life.
In God’s counter-cultural, perfect wisdom, he tells us that a successful, long, and peaceful life comes from following his commandments (Proverbs 3:1-4). Riches, honor, and happiness come from gaining wisdom (Proverbs 3:13-17). Wisdom begins with the knowledge and fear of the Lord, remember?
Parents are to bring their children up to know the Lord, even if it is not popular, gets balked at, or is downright ignored or rebelled against. Pointing our children to the Lord involves telling them that they are great sinners, but that Christ is the great Savior.
Sometimes our children are not going to agree that their happiness is found here. Our culture is going to flat-out denounce this idea as being “too restrictive” or antiquated. But if we believe God, then we know that the best thing for our children is not their temporal happiness, but their holiness. And a holy life only comes from the grace of God through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ.