I’m a parent of two young adult children and a pastor. I’ve gleaned some perspective on the process of parenting. Preliminarily, I’m grateful to God for our sons and my wife Karen, who has been a terrific mom to our boys. There are no perfect kids. There are no perfect parents, and there are no perfect people. Nevertheless, we have a perfect Savior, and our primary job is to equip our children to know Him, submit their lives to Him and follow Him as mature adults.
Every family dynamic has special challenges that require God’s grace, wisdom and resiliency. Our sons grew up as PK(s) (pastor’s kids) in a large church in a smaller city. I really can’t imagine the “fishbowl” experience from their perspective. Adults at the church interacted with our sons distinctly from other children. Arguably, they were held to a higher expectation of behavior simply because their father was a pastor.
The moral: Your kids have unique challenges that you can’t really appreciate, and you may never fully understand. Chances are it has been quite a while since you were their age. No matter how you much you imagine that you had coped with the challenges they are facing now, you don’t feel their angst. Their peers have a different view of Christ’s followers than your peers did. That reality is dynamic, complex, and they are trying to navigate it with the coping skills they are developing in real time.
In an effort to help, here are five essentials for Christian parenting:
1. Be sensitive to who God is making them:
As a general principle, we are to raise our children in the Christian faith. We are encouraged that, generally, as adults, they will continue to walk in the faith: "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6). We appreciate that there may be adolescent experiences of testing the boundaries of authority and some rebellion. We are comforted that, generally, if we raise them in the faith, they will walk in it as adults.
The Hebrew of Proverbs 22:6 could be translated, "Train up a child in the way that he is going …" Here, the nuance is to recognize that God has cut your children from distinct cloth; and it may not be the pattern that you would have selected. For example, you may be an artist or an athlete and want your child to follow in your footsteps, but God has called them to other interests. Resist the temptation to impose your calling on their life, and be sensitive to support God’s calling on their life.
2. Be close:
My friend the farmer says, “The best thing for crops is the farmer’s shadow.” Proximity provides insight with children as it does with crops. Jesus appointed the twelve that they might be with Him … (Mark 3:14). When you are close, you discover where there is stress and strain and where there is health. In the debate between quality verse quantity time, I’ve discovered the value of “both and” rather than “either or.” Find out what your kids enjoy, and share it with them, even if it is not your thing. One son likes sports, and I am blessed when we watch a game together or throw the ball. I raised him to be a Dodgers fan, and he became a Reds fan; but it is not the unpardonable sin. Our other son likes movies, and I cherish watching movies together. We are currently watching the American Film Institute’s (AFI) top 100 films together. Similarly, we draw close to one another by praying together, eating meals together and family vacations together.
3. Be consistent:
Consistency creates stability, and children tend to thrive in a stable environment. Your child needs you to be an example of a consistent walk with Christ, not a perfect life. Let your child see you consistently read the Bible, pray and worship with other believers. Try to minimize wild swings of the pendulum from generally no relationship with Christ, to the uber- Christian and then to the extreme of no relationship. As an ideal, be able to graph your own walk with Christ as a steady upward progression without too many rollercoaster-esque peaks and valleys. For example, sports and other recreational activities that cause the family to disengage from healthy Christian life for months at a time make it challenging for children to recognize Christ as the priority. Create boundaries that demonstrate consistency with Christ to help your child learn to love Jesus first and foremost (Philippians 3:17).
4. Be able to correct:
As our sons became adults, my role shifted to more of a mentor or coach model.
Yet, I have to resist the temptation to pursue a friend relationship at the expense of a parent relationship. At every stage of parenting, create healthy biblical boundaries. Seek to enforce the boundaries with love, and correct with respect. Don’t treat a 13-year-old like a 10-year-old or a 16-year-old like they are 13. Recognize that each child responds to various forms of correction differently. Discover what works and what doesn’t work. Correct your children the way that you would like God to correct you (Hebrew 12:5-11).
5. Be willing to give control to God:
Your children belong to God, and you are a steward to train them in His ways. Resist the temptation to think that they belong to you. Avoid excessive control of your children that flows from a desire to fulfill your dreams as a parent. Don’t create an unhealthy yoke upon your children to compensate for your sense of identity in Christ. Pray for them constantly, pray for them regularly, model a healthy life in Christ and relinquish control to the true and living God who loves your kids more than you, because they are His kids.