My wife and I are in the throes of parenting and are surrounded, in our church and among friends, with other parents in the throes of parenting. So my parenting radar is hot. I'm learning, growing, repenting everyday as I ask the Lord to make me a faithful dad.
It's often easier to learn how to get better at parenting by observing and owning our mistakes. So here is a list of five tendencies Christian parents have. I hope it helps you think through this journey:
1) We overexpose our kids to the culture. The Bible doesn't use the term, "culture", but there is a very similar word, "world." This is a loose definition of the prevailing thinking in a given society. Typically the values of the culture run counter to the way of Christ. Not always. Sometimes a culture is shaped by Christian influence. Today, we parents should be cautious in what we allow our kids to imbibe. We can be passive in allowing them to form ungodly convictions based on what everyone else is thinking and saying. What's more, there are corrosive images that can hurt their souls. This is why we have to be wise to monitor the media they consume, how much time they spend online, and the amount of time they spend with friends.
2) We underexpose our kids to the culture. This is an equal and and opposite danger to overexposure. It is easy to adopt a fortress mentality as parents, sheltering our kids so much from the world that they have no ability to discern truth from error, ugliness from beauty. There is a tendency to overprotect our kids so much so that we fail to prepare them for their mission in this world. Our kids will one day live as adults and will require the requisite skills, both spiritual and social, to make wise choices. If our only parenting mode is protection, we fail to teach them how to apply the Scriptures to the reality of life in a sinful world. What's more we rob them of the God-glorifying act of enjoying, consuming, and creating the best of culture: art, beauty, and grace as expressed by artists whose talent points to a masterful Creator.
3) We mediate all of their petty disputes. I wonder if there is a more difficult thing to resist than the impulse to dive in and solve all of my kids interpersonal problems with their friends. But I've found that when I become my child's defense attorney, all the time, it not only harms my child's ability to make good choices, it destroys the fragile unity among Christian parents. At times there are issues that are serious that must be addressed and there are times when a parent has to step in if a child is being bullied or abused. I'm not talking about these moments. I'm talking about the every day, garden-variety squabbles that kids have. Let's face it, our kids are sinners in a fallen world. They will, at times, say things and do things that surprise and shock and hurt. They will at times be the recipient of hurtful words and actions. If we step in and take it personally every single time a kid calls our kid a name, we'll not train them for life in the real world. We'll damage their ability to work out forgiveness and repentance. And when they grow to be adults and face life in the world, wow, they will be in for a big, huge, rude awakening. It is said often in Scripture that we demonstrate our love for God by the way we treat people. So we need to let our kids learn these lessons as they interact with their friends.
4) We focus only on short-term behaviors. I'm learning this lesson as my daughter Grace gets older. She's eight now and we've given her some liberty to go a few houses down and visit with her friends. These are good families with whom we have relationships. At times, we've gotten upset with Grace because she made poor choices, such as going past the boundaries we've set because her friends encouraged her. Or maybe going into someone else's house or backyard without our approval. Sometimes it's a simple act of disobedience. But there are other times when, frankly, she was presented with quick choices and wasn't sure how to respond. We've often just reprimanded her for not getting our permission, but we have realized that we didn't always give her the tools to choose wisely. So we're sitting her down and running through scenarios, trying to train her how to make wise choices in the moment. We parents have a tendency to allow the frustration of the moment or just pure laziness to set a pattern of simply punishing behaviors rather than trying to set our kids up with the right information and tools to make good choices. We have to remember that there will be a time in the future when they won't have us around anymore. And so if we make every decision for them. If we give them no space to fail and come back and figure out what they did wrong, if we don't equip them to discern, they will be helpless when the time comes for them to be on their own. In the back our minds we have remember that we're not simply training our children to be good, we're equipping them for God's unique mission in their generation. Are we doing this?
5) We overcompensate for our perceived childhood gaps. Every generation tends to react to the mistakes (perceived or real) of the previous generation. You hear it in our talk. "My parents never gave me X, so I want to make sure my kids have Y." What we don't understand is that our parents were doing the same thing. So the imbalance we experience was likely a reaction to their parents. We want to avoid the reactive, seesaw parenting if we can. It's good to hilight areas where we think our parents might have missed the mark, but let's be careful of the pendulum. So if you grew up in a legalistic environment and didn't like that, your tendency will be toward permissiveness. If you grew up in a loose household, you'll tend toward legalism, especially if you became a Christian late in life. We are wise to recognize the extremes and avoid them. Furthermore, let's let the Scriptures and the influence of the Spirit of God guide us. And let's resist the temptation to reactionary parenting based on what we experienced in our own childhoods. Because, like our parents, we're fallen sinners in need of God's grace. Our parenting will have huge gaps. And in twenty years it may be our children sitting on someone's couch, lamenting the failures of their mother and father. So let's have some humility.