Parents love their children. Whether that love comes in the way they provide for them, or nurture them, dream about them, or even brag about them – every parent naturally aspires the best for their children’s welfare. If then such goals are common regardless of religious convictions, how are we as Christians to differ in our approach to parenting? How are we to stand out as ‘salt and light’ to the world?
Perhaps the best place to start is identifying what parenting is not. The most common mistake I’ve seen is the notion that parenting is all about the children. It doesn’t seem so harmless at first; after all, we want our children to have everything we didn’t get growing up. We want our children to learn from our mistakes. We want our children to live lives of significance and make a difference in society. What can be so harmful about that? It’s when we push those ideals onto our children, and that our lives become all about their success, and that we have no individual lives of our own. For example, why do many families switch from a small church, to a larger one? “It’s all about the children” they usually respond. So they go to churches with the nicest programs and the largest youth groups so that their children can be ‘happy’. The same can apply for choice of school, sports program, and neighborhood – its all about the welfare of the children.
This can cause expectations made so high (after all, the parents sacrificed so much!), that inevitably the children cannot meet them. For example, the ‘soccer dad’ who trains his son hard to become a great soccer player, because his grandfather was a great player, and so was his great-grandfather. And the trophy case is filled with stories of greatness and success. But say his son deep down inside wants to become a (gasp) rap-artist. And he becomes embittered that he is molded into someone that he is not. The dad intends well, but is not giving the son what he needs; freedom to choose. Not only that, but parents invest so much of their own lives, that they end up with no personality of their own. And when the ‘chicks leave the nest’ for university or marriage, the parents try to latch on and hold onto their prized possessions. And a lot of hurt will take place. Be careful of trying to disguise legalism as an excuse to give our children better lives. Our children need grace.
Another extreme is that the parents cater toward their children in a way that spoils them. While most parents won’t admit to spoiling their children, it still comes in many forms! They will get the children the nicest clothes, material, and cook for their needs, while at the same time rarely disciplining them when they do wrong. “We don’t want to hurt their feelings.” They say. After all, we want them to make their own choices and don’t want to tell them how to live their lives. There is a great deal of truth to this. But there is an unhealthy line drawn called negligence that can occur. In fact, the biblical story of Eli and his sons in 1 Samuel 2 illustrates exactly that. Eli, a priest had 2 sons under him, but they were disobedient and wicked because Eli failed to chastise and influence their lives. In the end, God reprimanded Eli not on the basis of his service to God (for he still was a Holy man), but on failing to discipline his children. Let this be a warning for us all. If we do not lead our children in our homes – having consistent family time where there is prayer, worship, and confession, God’s judgment lies on us.
My non-Christian parents gave me all the freedom I wanted. But just because I had absolute freedom, doesn’t mean I was happy. In fact, for the longest period of time I was resentful that there was nobody to direct my life and that I myself had to find role models to which few who would care. To completely not influence our children’s lives is also unbiblical, especially when it comes toward spiritual matters.
So then what is the real purpose of being a parent? May I summarize it in one line: The real purpose of a parent is to lead your children to Christ. More on that in Part 2.
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