An excellent message on parenting by Pastor Jeff at Waterbrook Bible Fellowship in Wylie, Texas reminded me off a song  by country singer Rodney Atkins. The song Watching You is reminiscent of a very poignant song by the late Harry Chapin called Cat’s in the Cradle.  Kids learn what they see. That song piled guilt on a lot of Dad’s in the 80’s, myself included.

Atkin’s song recalls his shock when his little boy drops a mild expletive after spilling his drink. The horrified Dad demands to know where he heard such language.

He said, I’ve been watching you, dad ain’t that cool?
I’m your buckaroo, I want to be like you.
Yeah, we’re just alike, hey, ain’t we dad
I want to do everything you do.
So I’ve been watching you.

The incident may be humorous but the principle is sobering. Our children learn far more from watching their parents than from listening to them. This little boy demonstrates that if they do listen it will usually be at the wrong time!

The song goes on to detail a great response to his son’s revelation that he picked up that language from someone very close to him.

We got back home and I went to the barn
I bowed my head and I prayed real hard
Said, “Lord, please help me help my stupid self.”
Just this side of bedtime later that night
Turnin’ on my son’s Scooby-doo nightlight.
He crawled out of bed and he got down on his knees.
He closed his little eyes, folded his little hands
Spoke to God like he was talkin’ to a friend.
And I said, “Son, now where’d you learn to pray like that?”

The answer is obvious. He was watching Dad as he had earlier bowed in repentance before the Lord. It took me awhile to figure out that my sons were watching even when they appeared disinterested or even distant. Thanks to a wonderful Mom and a lot of grace we have been blessed with three awesome sons. I have asked them to tell me what I did right and I also asked what I could have done better. Their answers were instructive. First, some positive things that our sons noted.

  • We picked our battles carefully. Middle Son Scott told us that when we were passionate about an issue he knew it was important to us. We extended grace on most issues. For example, my wife graciously allowed the boy’s rooms to be a bit less tidy than she would have preferred. She knew that was not a battle worth fighting. She simply closed the door to their rooms and prayed for patience and for no rodents to nest.
  • We prepared them to leave. Children are a gift that are entrusted to us for eighteen years or so. It is our job to prepare them to be independent and functional adults.
  • We tried to model our faith during trials. When our daughter was born with a terminal birth defect we determined that our response would reflect how faith relates to life and especially to hard times.
  • We learned to say “I was wrong” and “I am sorry”without “buts”. A wise person once told me that what follows the but is how that person actually feels. Parents must model that for their children.
  • We carefully monitored friends.
  • We tried to adapt to their unique design and not try to force them into our personal dreams.
  • We attempted to innoculate them to sin. An innoculation is a controlled exposure to disease that builds up immunity to that malady. We felt that sheltering our sons from the world would not prepare them to live successfully in it.

But nothing is more important than simply living what you are saying. They are watching. They start out wanting to be just like us. For new parents and future parents there is no more important lesson than recognizing how carefully your children are watching you.

If your kids are grown or nearly grown let me offer a word of encouragement. I did a few things right but I also did some things very poorly. All three sons wished I had worked less and been home more. So do I. But love really does cover a multitude of sins. They have forgiven me for being absent too often. I hope they will learn from my mistakes as they begin families. If you feel you need to reconcile with your kids I would encourage you to do that today. Grace is amazing and redemption is always possible in Jesus.

Paul addressed the church at Thessalonica. He was trying to describe how he attempted to communicate with the believers there. It is instructive that Paul chose the example of parents twice.

As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.

Later Paul makes this comparison.

For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children…

And how does Paul describe those dealings? He says that they communicated like a father that is “encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory”.

That is a pretty good roadmap for a father to follow. Be encouraging. Comfort your child. And urge them to live lives worthy of God. There is no fooling them because they are watching. Always.