In this present age, any well-meaning parent is more than a little concerned about how their children are going to turn out as adults. Parenting has not been easy in any age, but in our current setting, the challenge can seem insurmountable. Thank God for the principles outlined in his Word! No matter how formidable the task may appear, God’s ways still work. Rest assured that the message of Proverbs 22:6 remains true: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Many helpful principles could be shared, but to keep the article both brief and practical, let’s look at four key “beatitudes” of parenting.
Children know their parents, and know them well. They are quite aware of just how spiritually motivated you really are. Our children were in their teens when we were first seriously discipled in our marriage and family. Theresa and I made it a practice of sharing very openly with our children about what we were learning and changing about ourselves as individuals and as mates and parents. Even though our children have been away from home now for years, and have families of their own, we still share our struggles and desires to grow with them by phone. Our consistent emphasis on growing spiritually has done much to encourage the same in them. As has been said, attitudes are more caught than taught.
Be spiritual in what you talk about in the home. An old joke in my former church stated that most members had “fried preacher” and “roasted elder” for Sunday lunch! Sadly, that was often true, and more sadly, it is too often true even in our churches. After our daughter, Renee, was grown, she made an amazing statement in a marriage workshop class our whole family was doing together. She stated that she never remembered Theresa and me being negative about our schedules and schedule changes. Her memory may have been too kind, but I’m thankful that she remembers her time with us in that way. How about you? How positive are you in talking about the church and its leaders?
Also, be spiritual in your marriage. When Sam and Geri Laing once spoke in Boston to parents of teens, I was surprised at how much they emphasized this point. A poor marriage example damages children in many ways, including their view of whether God’s principles bring happiness or not. Please take this one seriously. Once our daughter as a teen was considering seriously whether she wanted to remain a disciple, and the telling point in that decision was our marriage. She told her mom that she wanted a marriage like we had and knew that she would never have one like ours outside the kingdom. Praise God that Theresa and I have worked so hard to keep our marriage exciting and growing over the years since we became disciples! Now Bryan and Renee have their own marriages, and our example of striving to keep growing has been a very important part of their view of marriages generally.
How you handle conflicts with your mate, how free each of you are with each other to freely express your opinions and hurts sets the tone for the openness or lack thereof on the part of your children. If you don’t respect your mate, the kids will not either, and they won’t respect their mates once they marry. Build a spiritual atmosphere in the home by having consistent spiritual talks, quiet times and discipleship times with your children. It will pay huge dividends in time and in eternity.
Humility is one of the qualities that God loves and rewards most, and nowhere is this quality more important than in the family. Read these Scriptures carefully: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2). “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Peter 5:5-6). God opposes the proud and so do others, especially our own children!
Be humble about your sins. An old adage says that people cannot see your humility until you allow them to see your humanity (though your own vulnerable sharing of same). I remember counseling a couple whose teen said of them: “mother can never be wrong; dad apologizes very quickly but doesn’t change.” Sadly, some parents never say “I’m wrong; I’m sorry; please forgive me.” When we became disciples, we started asking our children consistently what they saw in our lives that needed to change, what we have done to hurt them and what we needed to apologize for. We still do this periodically just to make sure our example is what it should be and to make sure that even something small is unresolved between us.
Be humble in seeking the evaluation and help of other disciples regarding your family dynamics. When we first became a part of a discipling ministry, we were so grateful for the help of the young singles that discipled our children. We made them a part of our family, and often asked them what they were seeing in our family dynamics that needed to change. Of course, we were able to help them in the ways that they needed help on a maturity level.
Ask spiritually mature couples to come in to help evaluate your relationship and family atmosphere. I remember on several occasions having others in to help us work out impasses between us and our children. In order to do this, you will have to be humble enough to avoid becoming uptight about how your children may make you look. We can put undue pressures on them, to make us appear a certain way. We can try to live our lives through them, which is a way of rejecting who they are as persons. Humble out and get help—lots of it. It has been my experience in counseling families that most married couples are more defensive about their parenting roles than about their marriage roles. Please fight that prideful tendency and just be humble. The dividends will be wonderful.
Raising children, especially through the preteen and teen years, is at times like walking through a mine field! Remaining calm is the only way to avoid unexpected explosions! Emotions begat similar emotions—whether calm or the opposite. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). Read 2 Timothy 2:23-26 carefully and thoughtfully. Thankfully, I came to a conviction about remaining calm at all costs when Renee was still in High School. It was very difficult, since that had not been my pattern in parenting through many years. Yet, it worked wonders in both of us. Renee followed my example and learned to communicate with me with reasoned calmness, in spite of the emotions inside that were trying to come out in worldly ways.
At times when dealing with sensitive subjects, Theresa chose to write the children letters, which helped lower the emotional challenges. We worked as a team by deciding which of us might be the best one for a certain type talk with them. While the one chosen carried the conversation, the other simply prayed. We have learned to keep our emotions in check and to act rather than react. Our children have imitated this and are now doing a much better job of relating to their young children than I did to them when they were young. My regrets are being replaced by the joy of seeing worldly cycles broken by God’s power.
Be a Friend
Being a friend to your children means that you listen much more then you talk, and you especially fight the natural impulse to lecture. “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out” (Proverbs 20:5). The most important parenting principle is to disciple the heart, not simply the behavior. Before you can disciple the heart, you must know what is in it. To find that out, you have to establish and maintain an atmosphere of openness in which the child can feel safe enough to express their honest feelings to you without fear of negative reaction from you. Hence, listen not lecture.
Find the right time for each child, the time when they will more naturally be talkative. When Bryan came home from school, he was a typical male in that works were few. However, at night around bedtime, he would talk if we were there to listen. Renee, on the other hand, walked in the door after school talking profusely. So, we had to make time to listen when they were most prone to want to talk. Children need times just to hang out with you—help them with their homework; have special fun times to build memories. Above all, have faith in them. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). Don’t give up on them, no matter what difficult stages they may be going through. Once when Theresa was struggling with faith that she could be effective evangelistically, Renee (when still a teen) gave her a mustard seed of faith. Theresa shared the same with her through the years, helping her to stay in the spiritually battle.
Being a friend means that you give “sandwich” type corrections – the challenges are encompassed on either side with compliments and encouragements. Paul followed this pattern repeatedly in his letters. Friendship to children also means that you allow them to have choices that are age appropriate. Failure to do this ultimately results in rebellion. Your job as a parent is to gradually replace your “parent” hat with a “friend” hat. Without question, the most rewarding stage of parenthood is when your children are grown and all of you say (and feel) that you are the best of friends. By God’s grace and forgiveness, our children’s grace and forgiveness, we can all enjoy that if we follow the above “beatitudes” of parenting. The Golden Rule of parenting is to love and train your children as you want God to treat you. Let’s do it, and give God all the credit when he blesses our families!
—Gordon Ferguson (November 2001)