By Tom Hamilton
The time between a parent and child is precious and indispensable. Parenting requires an enormous investment of one’s time which in turn requires the sacrifice of any self-interest on the part of the parent. As Deuteronomy 6 indicates, parenting is both a daily and a day-long responsibility. It is not the purpose of this article to suggest that there is such a thing as too much time between parents and children or that such time should be curtailed.
In fact, one serious problem we face today is the abdication of parental authority by both father and mother. Selfish parents are so caught up in the pursuit of their own indulgences that their children are left as casualties on the roadside. The daytime orphan home industry (euphemistically called “day care”) is booming. We are already seeing so-called who are part of the problem.
I would point out, however, that the solution to this problem is not that parents should spend more time with their children, as is often heard. When parents spend more time with their children, the family will wind up at an amusement park or similar activity. Are these the daily, day-long activities God envisioned in Deuteronomy 6? I believe the “parents-should-spend-more-time-with-their children” advice stems from several unbiblical assumptions.
1. “A parent’s number one job is to make the child happy.” This manifests itself on the one hand in placating, indulging, and entertaining the child in order to prevent any wisp of dissatisfaction, and on the other hand in cajoling, coaxing, and pleading with the child when a disagreement has already arisen and we want the child to change his view to conform to ours, but without troubling or disturbing the child. Of course, this parent usually gives in finally, because nothing is as important as keeping the child “happy.” It also shows that, apparently, the child has better judgment than the parent, because after all the child got his way and it was the parent, who foolishly thought it necessary to take a (temporary) stand on an issue, who had to change his mind to conform to the child’s.
This is a far cry from the Bible’s view of parenting in which the parent must make every sacrifice and pay any price to do what is best for the child. While our secular society would adopt this biblical principle materialistically, where “best” defines the house, car, clothes, etc., what’s best for the child biblically must be defined in terms of character or right and wrong. In spite of the child’s foolish and immature desires, in spite of the time required, in spite of the unpleasantness which might result, in spite of the pain, the parent must insist upon the pursuit of right conduct, thinking, and character. If you care about your children, it should pain you to see them unhappily disagree with you, but this is precisely why you need sound judgment and conviction of what is best in order to endure this pain and achieve the desired outcome. Unfortunately, too many parents them-selves are foolish and immature and instead placate the child, not so much for the child as selfishly for themselves so that they don’t have to pay the necessary price to teach their children right.
2. “If I have an unhappy child, I’m a failure as a parent.” This is a corollary to the first assumption and assumes happiness is the issue. Of course, “happiness” gets defined in terms of the child never experiencing any unpleasantness in his life. The parent must insulate the child from any unpleasantness from the outside and must certainly never be the cause of it himself! The ironic thing is that such children who are constantly cajoled, indulged, and catered to are not really happy children The parents are busy parading a constant stream of distractions (i.e., toys and games) before the child to provoke an external happiness which is so fleeting that it must be quickly replaced by another. This child has never learned genuine inner contentment, true joy. In fact, he has been taught just the opposite that happiness comes from external things and his self-interest is paramount. The parent is setting up this child for the most disturbing, profound unhappiness later, because he will be-come increasingly aware that the world does not share his view that he is the center of the universe. Already at a young age, when these “happy” children find out that other children don’t cater to their every whim, they fly into fits of rage and unhappiness. Truly a “happy” child.
Funny how the Bible never talks about happiness being the goal of anything. In fact, it speaks about just the opposite. God put us here, beginning in childhood, to learn right and develop character through suffering, pain, sacrifice, hard work, etc. All training and discipline are unpleasant for a time, but yield the peaceful result of what’s right (Heb. 12:11). The attempt to provide constant happiness for our child will result in his eternal unhappiness, while our willingness to put him through the temporary unpleasantness of discipline will result in his eternal happiness. If you have an unhappy child because he is suffering from the development of character and the pain of crucifying self-interest, it’s the best sign you are succeeding as a parent.
3. “I must treat my child with respect, as an equal.” Again, this statement sounds good, and it does contain a bit of truth from a certain point of view. The problem is with how this statement is usually intended.
There is no doubt that children are human beings (al-though I have known a few that would make you think otherwise), created in the image of God. They are not the property of parents, but have been given into our steward-ship for a short while. This emphasizes all the more that parents should discharge the task God has given us in the short time we have to teach and train them to become adult servants of God. Yes, they must be treated with respect and as having equal value before God.
However, this is normally interpreted as treating children as if they are adults, equals in this sense. If they are adults, what are they doing in our homes? If their judgment is as good as ours, why are we supposed to teach them?
The fact of the matter is that children are not adults (only in America would one have to bother making such an obvious statement), and it is the height of disrespect to act as if they can function like adults. As they grow up physically into adulthood, they are also supposed to grow up mentally and spiritually into adulthood. This is a progressive process that takes place over time, with children able to increasingly take on adult responsibility. But to expect a small child to act like an adult is preposterous. Do we ever do such a thing?
One common mistake in this regard is allowing the child to make too many choices. Naturally, many assume that by giving their children choices, they are teaching the children how to make responsible decisions. The truth is that small children do not have the capacity to make such choices any more than an infant can chew steak
The question is not whether any child can decide if he likes A over B. The issue involves what processes the child depends upon to make decisions, and most small children choose on the basis of their self-centeredness. In this case, choices actually function to reinforce selfish behavior. This leads to a two-fold problem. On the one hand, the child fails to appreciate all of the factors and reasons why one decision may be better than another based upon sound judgment, and on the other hand, the child comes to view his whimsical, self-centered decisions as most important and supreme. The decisions and actions of other people must be subject to his. This further leads to the problem of ingratitude. A child who has always had his way cannot appreciate the actions of others. When the family of this child visits in someone else’s home and creamed spinach is served, what is the reaction of this child? I don’t like it. I don’t want it. Why do I have to put myself out and submit to eating it? This child has been taught nothing about evaluating any-thing except on the basis of his likes and dislikes. He has been taught nothing about accepting another’s gift in gratitude, appreciation, and thankfulness for what it represents far beyond the physical matter it is made of or what material value he places on it. He has been taught nothing about the ethical principle of placing the other’s feelings before his own. All because he had thrust upon him an adult function which he had not yet been taught how to handle or given the tools to do properly. How different from the Bible’s simple point “You will do this because it is right!”
Adults don’t need to act like children, and children don’t need to learn how to act like other children. In regard to children, socialization by one’s peers is always portrayed as bad in the Bible, while their socialization by adults, especially parents, is described as the correct way for children to learn. The point is that children need to learn how to act like adults.
No, parents do not need to spend more time with their children. Just the opposite, children need to spend more time with their parents observing and modeling adult behavior; yielding to parental authority, wisdom, and judgment; learning true happiness and the inner contentment that only comes by strength of character and sound judgment; and growing into mature, responsible, and spiritual adults them-selves. Let us, as adults, therefore make certain that we are genuinely modeling the right life for our children.
Guardian of Truth XLI: 19 p. 1
October 2, 1997