Parents spend a couple of decades shaping their children and the variety of situations we face is endless. Health, maturity, and our children’s futures hang in the balance, and so we search for strategies to help our children really have the life that we envision for them. Sometimes the search is an intentional quest for strategy, sadly, more often than not,
this search takes the form of a gut reaction in a moment. Too often the reaction is more the fruit of our own childhood journey than any real intentionality about being a good parent. Nevertheless, I would like to weigh in on a few of the intentions that can help our kids become who they were made to be.
Train up a child in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6). This Biblical admonition has been used to validate all manner of parenting, but let’s settle something here. The way most people interpret that passage hangs on our English, Western, Judeo-Christian interpretation of the word “Should”. We read that word, and our mind fills with a path strewn with prohibitions and expectations. The “should” here echoes in our mind with our own sense of what we “should and should not do”, and the lifelong effort of will to conform ourselves.
The phrase in Hebrew really is much better understood in this way. “Initiate the child at the opening (the mouth) of his path.” When he comes to the opening of the way of life, being able to walk alone, and to choose…” (Taken from Clarke’s Commentary on the the Bible.)
Let me give you my turn on this wording. Help a child become who he was made to be, not your idea of who he ought to be. Even in English, if we consider the word should in this way. “…if you plant corn in the ground, it should grow up to be corn… “. This usage of the word “should” is not describing a mandate to be followed it is describing the natural unfolding of a seedling reality. Our job as parents is not to impose our insecurities, our unrealized past, our fears, or our inner vows on our children. Our job is to discover alongside them who God made them to be and help equip them to fight the inherent battle to become that person. Train up a child to become the man or woman they were created to be and they will not turn from it. Try to make them something else, it will be an ongoing struggle for you and for them.
My four children are all so different, and part of the fun of parenting them has been learning from them who they are. But these differences also demand that each one of them be parented in a
different way. To take a “method” and apply it to all my children, (or every child on the face of the earth for that matter) would really make parenting about me and not about my children. In fact, too often our parenting is really about us. This is the root of all legalism. When we do this it’s about our insecurities and trying to get our children to not make us look bad. It’s about our fears and trying to get our children to comply so that we don’t experience fear. It’s about our own emotional needs, and trying to get our children and their standing to make us feel better about ourselves.
Any time parenting becomes about us, we have actually reversed the flow of life that parenting was designed to provide. We as parents are to give life to our children, not to get them to give life or comfort to us. Which brings us to the next thought.
Our kids will carry what we give them much more than what we say to them. Say nice things but give them anger, the anger embeds in their soul. Tell them good Bible, but give them fear, perfect fear will cast out love every time. Tell them you love them, but give them judgment, they will grow up with performance issues. Jesus said it this way, “freely you have received, freely give…”. We give away what is in us, regardless of what language we wrap around it.
And finally this issue of the will must be addressed. We are going to shape our children’s will. The “train up” portion of proverbs 22:6 refers to passing on skills based on repetition. The dilemma here is that our own wills are so poorly taught that we often pass on to our children the lowest common denominator, obedience.
In the same way that I fear most schools are teaching our children how to pass tests, and not how to think, I fear most of us, as parents, are teaching our children how to obey, but not teaching them how to choose well.
We have learned that we use our will to choose good things and to avoid evil things. What if that is not the highest design? As odd as it sounds, we must realize that this particular use of our will is built directly on the foundation of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (you know, the tree that killed us all…). Training our kids that first time obedience is the highest value, we fail to teach them how to do things like surrender (a key to salvation and freedom by the way). We fail to teach them how to choose wisely. In fact, I believe that choosing between self-reliance, and the active voice of God is the original purpose of the will, and we seldom practcie this ourselves, much less pass it on to our children.
When we focus on obedience, when inadvertently teach our children that relationship is based on behavior. When we focus on surrender we teach them that behavior grows from relationship.
When we teach our children how to obey, what will they do when they move out from our homes? (and yes, Virginia, contrary to today’s culture, our children are supposed to leave our homes.)
Let me summarize.
Discover who your children are, do not try to force them into a mold that you wish you had followed. Your motive shapes them more than your strategies. Love them where they are and you will earn entrance into their hearts. When you do this, they can receive life from you the same way that Adam received Life from His Father. Finally train them how to choose, not just what to choose. Help them respond to relationship with you not just a negotiation of rules and consequences.
We can force scripture on our children, while we treat them the way the devil does (trust me, I have counseled that family…), or we can learn to relate to them the way God relates to us, and they will be drawn to the Source of this kind of love.