Good Girls, Good Boys: A Worthy Parenting Goal?
- 2006 30 Nov
What are we saying to our children when we say that we want them to be "good little boys and girls"? It might be best to avoid such talk altogether. Telling a child to be a "good boy" or not to be a "bad girl" gives them nothing to do -- that is, no instruction to follow -- and it may lead them to believe that they are either good or bad persons. Although we do bad things because we are bad people (sinners), this is not the whole truth about us, and we need to be sure that it is not the only truth we are communicating to our kids. Speaking to our children in such absolute terms can lead them into an oppressive, shame-filled life.
Clearly there is something wrong with us. We sometimes do bad things without thinking about it, and we often have to force ourselves to do good things. What is bad seems to come naturally; what is good requires effort and intentionality. Until we get a handle on what makes a thing good or bad, we will not know how to fix it.
An action isn't good because God arbitrarily decided that he liked one thing but not another. Conversely, a behevior is not bad because of some capricious decision of God, but because that behavior is inconsistent with his goodness.
God is Ultimate Reality, so whether we are talking about what is true, what is good, or what is beautiful, we are really talking about reflecting some aspect of God. For example, God cannot lie or say that lying is good because truth is fundamental to his nature. Telling the truth corresponds with God's character and is therefore a good thing to do. Lying is bad because it is ungodly (that is, unlike God).
Greed isn't evil just because we have agreed upon generosity as a desirable social norm. Greed is the opposite of God's generous nature, so it will always be bad, regardless of what a culture decides. All of the qualities we want out kids to develop as they grow up -- kindness, patience, endurance, forgiveness -- are attributes of God. As people made in God's image, we are designed to become more like him as we grow up.
God is fundamentally good, so being good is godly. God is not bad, so being bad is ungodly. In order to even have a conversation about good and bad, there has to be a standard. Otherwise, when what seems good for me is bad for you, we are on a path to anarchy and chaos.
The topic of evil is so difficult to discuss because by using the term evil, we are suggesting that there is some standard that tells us what is and is not evil in a given circumstance. But who gets to say what that standard is? Is anyone willing to step forward and suggest they are qualified to make such an assessment? We cannot measure ourselves by ourselves; it just doesn't work. Can we allow social consensus to decide for us?
At one time in our nation, the consensus was that slavery was acceptable, even good. Women and children, too, were treated like property. The only people who had rights were white adult men who owned land. Lynching was acceptable, but interracial marriages were not. Bearing this in mind, does anyone really want to advocate that society be allowed to determine right and wrong for individuals? The Roman concept of vox populae, vox dei ("the voice of the people is the voice of god") has dangerous consequences.
Parenting Toward Godliness
Here's what this means for parents: When you say that you want your kids to "be good," you're really saying that you want them to be like God. What you thought was a propositional truth (goodness) turns out to be a person (God). This is very important because it could mean that some parenting manuals and techniques are built on faulty foundations. Rather than teaching our kids to know right from wrong and good from bad, we should be teaching our kids to know and imitate God.
The best way to do that is to introduce them to Jesus, who is God made flesh. The whole premise behind "WWJD" (a concept that has been too much maligned) is that we can and ought to live as Jesus would live if he were in our shoes. This guides our parenting much better than asking our kids to follow a lot of frustrating rules that even we can't keep track of. It may be more difficult to decide what Jesus would do in a given situation, but it's better to have our children wrestle with that than to have them obey without knowing the why behind the what.
In this book, we've talked about Jesus as the model for our parenting. What if Jesus was the model for our kids as well? Why not redefine successful parenting in such a way that the goal is for our kids to become like Jesus? That's good!
The goal can't simply be better behavior. Jesus became most angry with fairly well-behaved people. Unfortunately, many parenting books provide us with a recipe for good behavior that isn't tied to good motives. According to God, this is inferior to bad behavior with good motives. Could many of our parenting approaches actually be helping us to raise Pharisees instead of disciples of Jesus? It's a terrible thing to contemplate, but until we deal with the fundamental flaws in our parenting strategies, we won't be able to offer any meaningful alternatives.
Because kids who grow up to be good grow up to be like Jesus, it's important to know how Jesus grew up. In Luke 2:52 we read, "Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men." We may be stuck with out stature -- we can't worry or pray ourselves into being any taller or shorter -- but we can do something about the three other growth areas that Luke mentions: growth in wisdom, in favor with God, and in favor with people.
Simply put, our parenting should help our kids determine what is wise, what pleases God, and what helps them get along with people. As we study our Bibles to find the answers to these questions, it will help if we shift our focus from "What does this passage tell me to do?" to "What does this passage say about God?" The more we teach our children about God's nature and Jesus' character, the more we will be able to help them to make wise choices, gain God's favor, and get along with their siblings or playmates.
Excerpted from Hearts and Minds: Raising Your Children with a Christian View of the World by Kenneth Boa and John Alan Turner (Tyndale House Publishers). © 2006 by Kenneth Boa and John Alan Turner. Used with permission. All rights reserved.