Often when someone commits abuse under the guise of Christianity, there are those ready to race, with a knee-jerk reaction, to erect a “new and improved” interpretation of the original doctrine. I’ve seen that happen with the topic of parenting often resulting in two dangerous ditches.
As we protect ourselves against the subtle pop-psychology that would invade our Christian parenting, let us examine ourselves as well, and seek to guard against any other ditches, parenting in love, and looking to Scripture to help us raise children who truly love and seek the Lord.
Here are 5 questions to ask yourself to make sure you are parenting in love.
- Am I using shame or anger to get my child to do what I want them to do?
- Do I withhold love or affection from my child or spouse in an attempt to change their behavior?
- Do I expect perfection from my child, other family members, or myself?
- Is my child able to fail without fearing the loss of my love or affection?
- Do my children feel free to let me know if I have hurt their feelings or to respectfully disagree with a family decision (recognizing the authority of the father)?
Although all parents struggle, homeschooling parents, particularly, fall under a peculiar pressure placed on them by family, friends, and society. Braving a “new” and often misunderstood approach to education and the lifestyle differences that often accompany it, they are painfully aware of those who are watching and waiting for their failure. This awareness can easily cause parents to get side-tracked, though their intentions are deeply sincere. This pressure has unfortunately caused some parents to place unfair expectations on their children, and lose sight of the heart of parenting–training their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Though Christians should beware of the destruction that comes from living in fear of man, our humanness wants to “succeed” and doesn’t want to be proven wrong.
So how do we train our children in obedience and instruct them in the Lord with all the practical behaviors that entails, without succumbing to “outward appearances”? It must begin with our solid understanding of our duty as parents.
Understanding our Duty
Ultimately, we must not allow our parenting to be ruled by fear or expectations. As with all other areas of life, our motivating principle must be “Christ above all”–to see our children walk in truth and become sincere followers of Christ. We must understand that our outward behavior should be a natural reflection of our inward condition. Our outward behavior doesn’t effect spirituality, rather, the opposite is true. As we walk in obedience and thankfulness to a God who has chosen us out of darkness, apart from anything we have done, the result is a natural desire to obey and please the One we now call “Lord”, and a sweet aroma that exudes from our deep love for Him.
This must under-gird our parenting approach. Because child-training involves obvious outward behavior, it’s easy for any parent to focus on that end. And I believe we do have a duty to “train the flesh”, even before children are old enough to understand the heart behind behavior.
For example, it would be foolish to wait until a child understands “why” to begin teaching him self-control. By then, he would likely be a self-consuming, miserable wretch. We potty train them, teach them not to throw things, and many other such behaviors before they are able to connect it to reasons. This is our job.
Get my ebook, Getting Your Children to Obey for a simple, practical guide to early child training.
But as we train them, we also need to impress on our children their need for a Savior, their inability to earn salvation, and their obligation to obey the Word. All these things simultaneously wrapped in tenderness and loving authority is what proper parenting looks like.
Using guilt tactics or shame to try to influence our children’s behavior not only hurts them, but it gives them a distorted picture of our Heavenly Father, ultimately having the potential to do serious damage to their spiritual lives. Part of our responsibility as we parent is to represent our Heavenly Parent and demonstrate how He loves us. Granted, parents can NOT do this perfectly. We fail often and it needs to be recognized that mistakes made in parenting do not equal abuse.
There is a fine line here: the Bible commands us to teach our children to obey us and to honor our authority. It further instructs us to implement discipline to enforce that obedience. We must teach our children the difference in right and wrong, and what God has to say about the consequences of sin. Many have described this paradigm as a destructive method of “shaming”, though it is a clearly biblical concept. The Gospel has become so distorted in some Christian circles that any mention of sin and consequence is deemed spiritually abusive and unhealthy.
We must keep our thinking clear, teaching our children discernment between what the Bible says and the often incorrect philosophies of a “new Christianity.”
Relationship is Key
The most important thing parents can do to ensure a healthy balance as they instruct their children is to nurture their relationships with them. A child recognizes sincerity and love; he knows when a parent’s motives are right versus when a parent is only seeking outward behavior to satisfy his own needs. He can easily honor and respect his parents, consequently learning to honor and respect the Lord through their example, when he senses that His parents are operating from a genuine love for his soul.
The following is a partial list of questions we need to be constantly asking ourselves:
- Is my number one goal as a parent to point them to Christ?
- Am I more concerned with the motives behind my children’s behavior than I am with the behavior itself?
- Do I regularly praise the character of my children?
- When my children sin, do I make it clear to them that their main offense is disobedience to God and not just something that “irritates” me? (i.e. Do I discipline them calmly, with love, or does my anger reveal that I’m merely frustrated and take their offense personally?)
- When my children sin, do I offer them the promise of God’s forgiveness and model it myself? Do I allow them to make restoration and then drop the offense into “the sea of forgetfulness”?
- Do I model repentance by asking my children for forgiveness when I have sinned?
Additionally, to strengthen the fellowship between you and your children, here are a few suggestions:
- Communicate friendship to your children. It can be as small a gesture as a genuine smile, a random hug, or a friendly conversation; but, let them know that you really enjoy them and love being with them.
- Take one of the children with you on errands and make the most of your individual time with them.
- Touch them a lot…physical affection can’t be given too much.
- Ask them questions about the activities that interest them. Listen and show genuine attention.
We are parents. We are sinful people. We fail and we must ask for repentance. We should be diligent to stay on our knees before our Heavenly Parent and ask for His grace and mercy, seeking to be faithful to the task of parenting to which we are called. Satan is always seeking to destroy, even through the misuse of our authority and through the misinterpretation of that authority by our children.
May we love them, discipline them, nurture them, and spur them on to a closer and deeper relationship with the Lord Jesus.