Oh that I could go back and do it again. I would make the choice to yell less, hug more and pray even more. There would be fewer expectations, more training and much more grace in my parenting. Going back is not an option but as a seasoned mother, I can move forward teaching and training those who are in the season of parenting young children.
Children are an immense blessing from the Lord, but sadly they are born with a will of their own and a bent towards that which is not good. In Psalm 51 the Psalmist says, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.” Isn’t it lovely that God desired our faithfulness before we took our first breath? Only He knew we would fail in our efforts to be faithful. Nineteenth century Bishop J.C. Ryle, in his book The Duties of Parents, tells us to “Remember children are born with a decided bias towards evil, and therefore if you let them choose for themselves, they are certain to choose wrong.” It is their nature to choose what is wrong, but sometimes it is our nature to give them too many choices and opportunities to do this.
Do you give your children too many choices? My daughter’s pediatrician called me out when I asked my then two-year old if she wanted to sit on the table to let him examine her. He asked me why I would give her the choice. If she needs to do something, don’t ask…tell her what you want her to do. From this gentle man I learned that there are certain times when we are to tell them what we expect, not give them a choice. For the important things they need to be directed and taught, not left to their own devices to choose, because on their own they don’t know what is good for them.
Being a parent is hard and a huge responsibility not to be taken lightly. Some would like to be permissive in this endeavor and allow their children to find themselves and discover their own limits. If we don’t teach them what limits and boundaries are they will not find good ones as they are prone to choose that which isn’t good. They will also choose to help themselves over helping others. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Parents, this is our job, our duty. We are to be the ones to train, teach and disciple our children when they are young and then release them to the Master Trainer, God, as they grow into adulthood.
It is scary to think that our children are watching what we do more than listening to our words. Do you remember the old saying, “Do as I say, not as I do?” It is a fact that our children are going to do what we do and that our words may fall on deaf ears.
Years ago I was at the zoo with my daughter watching the giraffes frolic. Right in front of us in BIG letters was a sign that read, “DO NOT FEED GIRAFFES”. A lady and her granddaughter were beside us (also in front of the sign) feeding the giraffes. A zoo keeper came out and scolded them and told them that the giraffes have a special diet and feeding them could make them sick. The grandmother told the little girl…”oops, we got caught”. I was shocked! That little girl may grow up thinking she can break the rules if she doesn’t get caught. This event made me ponder what I was doing and what I was saying and if my actions were speaking louder than my words.
What are our kids learning from us? Are they learning to be obedient because we are being obedient? Are they learning kindness because we are kind? Are they learning to serve others because we do? Or are they learning their way around the rules because we’ve figured it out too? Are they hearing us talk to others with unkind words or using impatient and inappropriate gestures? If they see us do something or hear us say something, they are likely going to be doing or saying it too.
Do we want our children to see us seeking things of God or the pleasures of this world? Do we want them to see or hear us praying and reading the word of God regularly or do we want them to see us watching what the world is doing on television and in magazines and trying to keep up with our culture? Do we want them to see us seeking God’s approval and peace or do we want them to see us seeking the approval of neighbors and friends? We must ask ourselves these questions if we truly want to raise our children to know and love God. If instead of seeking God we are seeking worldly pleasures, the approval of peers and social status, then that is what they will want too. Our children are our little apprentices. They are learning more from our actions and examples than from what we tell them they should or shouldn’t do.
Deuteronomy 6:4-7 says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 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.” We cannot impress God’s commandments on our children unless we first love God with all our heart, soul and strength as verse 5 says. We can’t teach them if we don’t know it ourselves and we can’t know it if we don’t seek to learn it.
What is important to you as a parent? Are academic, athletic and social accomplishments more important than your child’s spiritual growth? These things in and of themselves are not bad but shouldn’t we want our children to know how to handle these things without compromising what they believe and WHO they believe in? Wanting our children to succeed and do well in all areas of life isn’t wrong, but as Christian parents we should help them seek for more than what the world offers. The best way for them to understand what living a Christian life is about, is for us to model it for them. Does God expect perfection in this effort? I hope not because that means we have failed before even beginning. He doesn’t expect perfection because He knows we can’t attain it. He wants us to love Him with all of our heart, soul and strength and to put forth our best effort to raise our children to serve Him in all they do, whether they are a genius, pro-athlete, debutante or even if they choose to do something even more wonderful, like become a parent one day.