My wife and I have enjoyed the privilege of raising and loving our three children. Our oldest, Caleb, has graduated from college and is working full-time. Living at home this last year, he was able to pay off all of his student loans. Hallelujah! Our other two children will graduate from college in May 2013.
I can guarantee you one lesson all three of my children have learned: Mom and Dad are not perfect! In his helpful book, Like Dew Your Youth, Eugene Peterson writes, “The task of the parent is not to confront directly the problems of the young and find the best solutions to them; it is to confront life, and Christ in life, and deal with that. A parent’s main joy is not to be a parent, but to be a person.” His point is, “The parent’s main task is to be vulnerable in a living demonstration that adulthood is full, alive, and Christian.”
I have found this advice to be true. Rather than tell my kids they have to go to church, and have to read their bible, and have to (you fill in the blank), we’ve taught them by example that we get to do all of these things. We want to do them as an expression of our love and adoration of God.
As you read through the Bible, you should notice that there isn’t one family in all of Scripture that is put forth as an exemplary family. Not one! Our children will learn to love what we love, despise what we despise, and dismiss what we dismiss. Our examples, good and bad, will be mimicked. Be careful, Mom and Dad, how you behave.
All three of our children made it a priority to attend church while in college. My daughter plays piano for a Baptist church and a Methodist church each week. My oldest son teaches a youth Sunday school class. My other son plays drums on the worship team. They do these acts of service as an expression of their love for the Lord.
Mom and Dad cannot make their children love someone, do certain things, and behave in particular ways. Many try with unhealthy efforts of physical discipline (bordering on abuse in some cases), grounding, and removing privileges. All of these efforts can produce friction and detachment rather than lovingly talking with them to create respect and love for one another.
The book of Proverbs offers some sage advice: “My son, obey your father’s commands, and don’t neglect your mother’s instruction” (6:20, NLT). “Sensible children bring joy to their father; foolish children despise their mother” (15:20, NLT). “So give your father and mother joy! May she who gave you birth be happy” (23:25, NLT).
So exactly what is it we are supposed to be teaching our children? What is Christian parenting? In short, it is loving our children as God loves us. It isn’t about control or conformity. It’s emulating the father of the prodigal son who loved him enough to let him leave and squander his inheritance. It’s loving the oldest son enough to let him struggle with his hardhearted, judgmental self.
In Parenting Without Perfection, John Seel observes, “Godly parenting is more about who we are as parents than it is about our children. It’s more a mirror than a rod.” Our deepest prayer and desire as parents is that our children will become mature followers of Christ with a clear sense of calling in their life. We must aim at making ourselves unnecessary.
Here’s the aim, according to Seel: “The hour when we can say ‘They need me no longer’ should be our reward.” That is our goal, to lead them to become independent, to stand on their own two feet, and to make ourselves unnecessary.
Like Paul, parents should be able to say, “We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship with Christ” (Colossians 1:28b, NLT).