By Mike Willis
Recognizing their responsibilities in the home, God-fearing parents seek out help and guidance to rear their children to reverence and respect God. What can we do to raise godly children in a culture so full of sin?
We can begin by recognizing that our task is no different from that of godly parents since the beginning of time. The world has always been ungodly. It has always tempted children (and their parents) to forsake the Lord.
In giving the suggestions which follow, I make no pretensions at being an expert in child-rearing. My wife Sandy and I are humbly trying to rear our two children to exalt and glorify God in their lives. We have a 20-year-old daughter (Jennifer) and a 14-year-old son (Corey). Both of them are Christians. We face the same temptations as do other parents and children, sometimes failing to be what God commands us to be. While none of us is perfect, we are conscientiously working to become the family God wants us to be. Here are some principles we have tried to follow in rearing our children.
1. Love the Children
God told older women to train the younger women to “love their children” (Tit. 2:4). In Paul’s description of the Gentile world as apostate from God, he stated one characteristic of their rebellion from God as being “without natural affection” (Rom. 1:31). Child abuse, which is becoming more common in American culture, stems from an absence of natural affection, a disrespect for God and life, and lack of self-control.
A healthy child must have a good self-esteem which is formed in the atmosphere of family love. Our children should never have to wonder whether or not they are loved. They should know that their parents love them by the conduct they see in their parents.
2. Be A Good Example
In no place is one’s influence so keenly felt as in the home. A child can easily spot inconsistency and hypocrisy. Parents may succeed in leaving a false impression of righteousness to the elders and preacher, but their children will know them for what they are.
As parents, we need to provide a good example in such areas as control of the temper and tongue, honesty, abstinence from smoking and drinking, sexual fidelity, and every other aspect of being a Christian. Our attitudes toward the local church (its elders and preacher, Bible study, gospel meetings) will be imitated by our young. Where parents look for excuses for missing worship services, the children will recognize their lack of commitment and imitate it. I have seen very few children of parents who were half-committed to the Lord stay faithful to God. Most of them chose not to make the pretenses they have witnessed in their parents.
My children have a right to expect a good example in me. Almost everything they know about family life and rearing children will be learned from what they see Sandy and me doing. My failures will likely be passed down to my grandchildren. Consequently, I need to be as good an example as I possibly can be.
3. Be a Spiritual Leader
Closely connected with being a good example is the recommendation that parents be spiritual leaders. A number of Christian parents are good examples of honesty, work ethics, financial management, and other honorable traits but do little to influence their children spiritually. My responsibilities as a parent obligate me to read the Bible to my children, to pray with and for them, and to teach them to pray. Paul instructed Timothy to “continue . . . in the things which thou has learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast down the holy scriptures” (2 Tim. 3:14-15). My children have a right to expect me to direct them in learning the Holy Scriptures.
4. Discipline the Children
Sandy and I have tried to provide discipline for our children. We never sought a “buddy” relationship; rather, we tried to be parents who are responsible to provide the mature direction and guidance that their young minds do not have. The Scriptures direct parents to discipline their children (see Prov. 13:24; 19:18; 22:15; 23:13; 29:15,17; Heb. 12:7-10). In administering discipline, here are some qualifications we have followed:
a. Present a unifiedfront to the children. Children are experts in detecting a difference between the parents and manipulating it to their own advantage. I know that is true because of how I used to act. When I was a child, I would ask my mother if I could go somewhere. She would sometimes say, “Go ask your father.” When I asked Daddy, I would say, “Momma said she didn’t care if you don’t care.”
She had not said that; I was trying to manipulate my parents to get my way. I suspect my children do the same to Sandy and me.
Mothers and fathers in families affected by divorce and remarriage or remarriage following a death are especially vulnerable in the area of presenting a unified front in discipline. The children who perceive this difference between the mother and the daddy will manipulate it to their own advantage. A natural parent may interfere when his mate corrects his children (she is too harsh, she lets her own children get away with murder). The children see the interference and pit one parent against the other.
In trying to keep a unified front, Sandy and I try not to criticize the discipline of the other in front of the children. If one of us does something that the other does not like, we discuss it later, but never in front of the children.
b. Keep your word. When we make a rule for our children with a specified punishment for its violation, we keep our word. This creates a respect for our word. When parents make rules but do not follow up with punishment when the rule is violated, they teach their children to pay no attention to the rule.
Very early a child needs to learn the meaning of “no.When a parent allows his children to ignore his “no,” he lays a foundation for disrespecting his word. A young child soon can learn what “no” means. A tender slap on the hand and a stern “no” can train even a oneyear-old child to obey what his parents say.
c. Be consistent in your discipline. We have tried consistently to apply the rules. Sometimes a parent witnesses his child violate a rule ten times and does nothing. On a given morning when he awakes feeling “under the weather,” he sees the same violation and punishes severely. This parent has taught his children to watch to see what mood his parents are in before violating the rule.
d. Punish while the deed is fresh in the child’s mind. Especially with younger children, the punishment needs to be administered when they are caught. Although there are times when we have counselled together about a punishment before administering it, Sandy has not made a practice of saying, “When your Daddy comes home, he is going to spank you for doing that.” Young children need to be punished when they are caught violating the rules, before they forget what they have done.
e. Make the punishment proportional to the offence. Punishment should not be meted out on the basis of the mood of the parent or the venting his anger. Rather, it should be given on the basis of what is necessary to correct the wrong behavior occurring in the child. Surely parents can understand that a different punishment should be given to one who forgets to pick up his clothes and one who is caught telling a lie.
God’s Means of Shaping Character
The book of Hebrews uses parental discipline to teach us about divine discipline. We can learn lessons about parental discipline from the passage. The writer said,
But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live. For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our own profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby (12:8-11).
From this text, observe these facts about discipline: (a) Correction causes children to respect the parents; (b) Correction can only be given “for a few days”; (c) Parental correction is “after their own pleasure” (every home has to have its own rules; every parent must use his own judgment in directing the affairs of the home); (d) Correction is not joyous, but grievous (neither the parent nor the child should expect it to be joyous); (e) Correction yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness.
The family which desires the “peaceable fruit of righteousness” cannot avoid the steps of correction which are necessary to produce it. We create monsters of our children when we allow them to control the family by their temper tantrums.
Discipline While They Are Young
The wise man wrote, “Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying” (Prov. 19:18). The proverb recognizes that disciplining can come too late to do any good. The poet expressed the need for shaping our children’s character while they are young in these words.
I took a piece of plastic clay
And gently fashioned it one day;
And as my fingers pressed it still,
It moved and yielded to my will.
I came again when days were past;
The bit of clay was hard at last.
The form I gave it still it bore,
But I could change that form no more.
I took a piece of living clay
And gently formed it day by day,
And molded with my power and art
A young man’s soft and yielding heart.
I came again when days were gone;
It was a man I looked upon.
He still that early impress wore,
And I could change it never more.
Do not wait until your children are teenagers to begin training them to obey you and God. If you do, you will have waited too late.
Even good parents sometimes have children who turn their backs on God. Because children have free will, they can choose to obey or disobey God, the same as parents can. However, knowing that our poor example and neglect of their spiritual training might have contributed to their rebellion will make their apostasy haunt us with feelings of guilt.
As parents, let each of us resolve to provide the best spiritual environment we possibily can in order to rear godly children. As a general rule, the adage of old will be true, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 7, pp. 194, 214-215
April 4, 1991