Parents, the Experts in Everything!?
Parents are expected to provide physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual support to their offspring through many years of loving care and nurture. They are also expected to fulfill many-faceted marital obligations. Most important of all, we have made a life-and-death covenant with the Lord to sacrifice our personal desires to fulfill his will. Fortunately, being the best parent we know how to be, and being the best spouse we know how to be, are counted by our God as a part of the stewardship he includes in our consecration to him.
As parents, our primary responsibilities during our children’s developmental years are the provision of the basic necessities of life—food, shelter, clothing, and protection from harm. Good! This is scriptural: “If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” (I Tim. 5:8) When we are cooking nourishing meals for our child, cleaning his house, washing his clothing, acting on our concern for him in this evil world—we are not just being a conscientious parent (which all should be as long as they have brought a new life into the world); we are also fulfilling God’s will in our consecrated lives.
We are not commanded to serve our child caviar, house him in a palace, buy him the most expensive designer jeans, or create a bubble around him to protect him; we are admonished to provide a healthy environment for him.
Love, Love, Love
Love and affection are vital in stimulating children to learn and grow as human beings—love and affection and communicating these feelings by displaying our sincere emotions for them. Every Christian desires to be godlike, and “Love is of God . . . every one that loveth is of God, and knoweth God…God is love . . . he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him” (I John 4:7, 16).
We cherish the tender story of Jesus, our example: “And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not…Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them” (Mark 10:13-16).
How To . . .
Because parents are their children’s first teachers, they play a major role in the socialization process, enabling their children to become independent members of society.
Children Learn What They Live
“If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn. If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight. If a child lives with fear, he learns to be apprehensive. If a child lives with pity, he learns to feel sorry for himself. If a child lives with ridicule, he learns to be shy. If a child lives with jealousy, he learns what envy is. If a child lives with shame, he learns to feel guilty. If a child lives with encouragement, he learns to be confident. If a child lives with praise, he learns to be appreciative. If a child lives with acceptance, he learns to love. If a child lives with approval, he learns to like himself. If a child lives with recognition, he learns that it is good to have a goal. If a child lives with sharing, he learns about generosity. If a child lives with honesty and fairness, he learns what truth and justice are. If a child lives with security, he learns to have faith in himself and in those about him. If a child lives with friendliness, he learns that the world is a nice place to live. If you live with serenity, your child will live with peace of mind.” (Dorothy Law Nolte}
When-To . . .
Parents teach their children to speak the language, to dress themselves, and to perform basic life skill activities.
“Most of what I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the sandpile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned:
“Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Live a balanced life—learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some. Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together. Be aware of wonder.” (Robert Fulghum)
Laying the Foundation
Parents give children opportunities to display proper etiquette and manners: “A soft answer turns away wrath” (Prov. 15:1). “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a fatted ox and hatred with it” (v. 17).” Be gentle” (Jas. 3:17). “Be kind” (Eph. 4:32). Dress modestly (I Tim. 2:9). “Be strong and of good courage” (Deut. 31:6).
Parents foster independence and self-reliance by teaching their children how to solve problems and make wise use of their time: “Wealth not earned but won unjustly will dwindle away; but he who gathers little by little will increase” (Prov. 13:11). “Treasures of wickedness profit nothing, but righteousness delivers from death” (Prov. 10:2).
Parents give guidance related to educational and vocational choices and assist their children in understanding the value of money: “Poverty and shame shall be to him who refuses instruction: but he who heeds reproof shall be honored” (Prov. 13:18). “He who is greedy for unjust gain troubles his own household, but he who hates bribes will live” (Prov. 15:27).
Wise nurturers give their children both “roots” and “wings.”
According to a Jewish Guide for Parents, the Hebrew word for parents (horim) and the Hebrew word for teachers (morim) are so similar that they sound alike. Both words mean to instruct, to teach. Christian believers emulate this Judaic heritage which has traditionally linked the roles of parents and teachers, for in fact the parent is the principal teacher of his children.
It is primarily the Christian parents’ responsibility to provide spiritual guidance and character development—ethical values, morals—for their children.
“You must love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Take to heart these words with which I charge you this day. impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up”—Deuteronomy 6:5-7, Torah, Jewish Pub. Soc..
“I [Jehovah] have singled him [Abraham] out, that he may instruct his children and his posterity to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is just and right, in order that the Lord may bring about for Abraham what he has promised him (to bless all the nations of the earth)”—Genesis 18:19, Torah.
Sometimes it is necessary to correct or chastise errant children, but such discipline must convey a message of love. “Bear in mind that the LORD your God disciplines you just as a man disciplines his son” (Deut. 8:5, Torah).”Whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth” (Prov. 3:12).
Various Proverbs suggest that children benefit from being chastened, sometimes with a rod; but at a time when (more than ever before) children suffer physical abuse at the hand of adults in authority, we temper this advice with Proverbs 17:10: “A reproof entereth more into a wise man than an hundred stripes into a fool.” It is possible that constant physical punishment may actually diminish its long-term effectiveness and become a stumbling block to more constructive discipline.
In Ephesians 6:4, Paul emphasizes, “Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” In Colossians 3:21, the Apostle reiterates, “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.”
It is advantageous to instill the concept of human dignity into children: “When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God” (Gen. 5:1, Torah). The word “likeness” or “image” implies a spiritual relationship, not a physical one. Man possesses qualities that set him aside from the rest of the animal kingdom, being capable of reasoning and feeling compassion—dimensions that are not limited by the senses. “Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands” (Heb. 2:7).
A moderate amount of self-esteem is necessary in any person, even a young one: “Love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matt. 19:19 and 22:39; Mark 12:31; Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14; James 2:8). We must first love (respect) ourselves—develop a healthy self-concept so that we can adequately direct our love toward others.
Learning by Imitating
Children are charming imitators. Charming and frighteningly accurate. Raise your voice; they raise theirs. Whine; they whine. Complain, criticize; you are shocked to hear yourself in what they say.
If we are their closest models, it behooves us to develop the fruits of the spirit which we desire in them: “Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Gal. 5:22, 23).
“That’s Not Fair!”
They have such a keen sense of fairness; they love the concept of Leviticus 19:15 (Torah): “You shall not render an unfair decision: do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich; judge your neighbor fairly.” Of course, they make very sure that our judgments must be consistent. They quickly remind us if they are not. “Justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Deut. 16:20, Torah).
They will see the justice of “Honor your father and your mother,” and they soon become aware of the promises: “That you may long endure on the land which the LORD your God is giving you” (Exod. 20:12; see also Eph. 6:2).
Children love the hymn, “Trust and Obey.” The wonderful story of Samuel uses the response every child of God must continually answer to the Lord, Speak; for thy servant heareth, and even Eli’s humble acquiescence, “It is the LORD: let him do what seemeth him good.” Finally, “To obey is better than sacrifice” (I Sam. 3:10, 18; 15:22).
The Lord does not suggest; the Lord commands: “He who repudiates (reviles) his father or his mother shall be put to death” (Exod. 21:17, Torah).
Because Hezekiah did not render again according to the benefit done unto him, there was wrath upon him and upon Judah and Jerusalem when his son, Manasseh, reigned. Generations to come suffer from our neglect to obey God’s will.
“The children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children” (I Cor. 12:14). How practical Scripture is! It not only lays out the divine plan for all mankind, but personal admonitions toward success in the way toward God.
The instructions of the Bible do not end with childhood, any more than its principles only apply to the New Creation. The laws of God are unending. They guide us in every stage of our lives.
A practical expectation for later years is found in I Timothy 5:4: “Requite (give back to or recompense in a good sense) your parents: for that is good and acceptable before God” (I Tim. 5:4). As parents age, adult children may find themselves in the position of providing the necessities of life for the parents.
Help a Child;
Help the World;
“He who helps a child helps humanity with an immediateness which no other help given to human creature in any other stage of human life can possibly give again” (Phillips Brooks).
We pray fervently to the Lord for help. Surely he is our primary guide. But we remember the parents who asked for guidance from God, and then refused the help proffered by their neighbors, by the schools, by the doctor, and by their relatives. Perhaps the Lord was using these tangible methods to help the frantic parents. He does not always reveal himself in a miraculous vision; we do not always hear his voice in the thunder. Consider what helps are available. If they are in harmony with God’s methods, avail yourself of them!
We are not entirely responsible for our child’s strengths and weaknesses. The same boiling water that softens a carrot hardens an egg. Children from the same parents, raised in the same environment, do not always react the same way. Friends, teachers, even television characters often influence our children. Parenting is a major challenge in this end of the twentieth century.
Today’s Greater Need For Help
For hundreds of years, parenting was governed by trial and error or by traditional methods—i.e., parents reared their offspring in a manner similar to the way their parents had treated them. There was no formal training for parenting; there were no courses to outline the step-by-step progression of child development or to list suggestions and techniques for disciplining children.
Several factors may have contributed to the rapid growth in parent education during the 1900s. A major cause has been the diversification of the “traditional American family.” With so many family patterns today—single parents, blended families, extended families—parents face more challenges than every before. Thus, these new family patterns and problems often require child-raising skills that tradition may not have needed to provide. In addition, discoveries in psychology and other sciences may have stimulated an interest in applying new knowledge to child care.
There is Help
During the late 1800s and early 1900s, a number of organizations were established to address the growing concern related to parenting issues. These groups included what is now the Parent Teacher Association and the Society for the Study of Child-Nature.
In 1912, the United States government began to actively help parents when it established a federal agency called the Children’s Bureau which distributed information on child development and published many popular pamphlets.
In 1914, the Smith-Lever Act set up what is now the Cooperative Extension System to provide advice about child care. Then in the 1920s, the scientific study of child development was begun. Many universities established child study centers where researchers investigated the growth and development of children, applying their findings to educational methods.
Since the 1960s, parent education has expanded greatly, due in part to government support—e.g., Head Start, a federal project that was established to help low-income parents prepare their children for school.
We conclude with a combination of Scriptural concepts which no Bible Student can deny: We are God’s stewards; our children are our stewardship. We are to do with our might what our hands find to do. We are to be diligent in whatsoever state we are. But what a comfort: After we have done our best, we can cast all our care upon God; for he cares for us. And for our children.—Deut. 11:19, 12:25, 28, 29:29.