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Parenting God’s Way

What are some basic principles I can apply in parenting?

Although children are very different, certain general principles apply to each. Here are several habits every parent should develop and incorporate into parenting skills.

First, communicate and demonstrate a genuine interest in what goes on in the lives of your children.

A couple came into a counselors office one afternoon to talk about their son. It seemed he had decided to get married against the wishes of his parents. They were concerned and upset.

They had done their best to get their son to cancel his plans, even to postpone them, but he was determined to have his way. The counselor agreed to talk to the young man, and after some persuading, he agreed to talk.

His story was one the counselor has heard many times before. Dad and Mom were always too busy for the sixth-grade open house, too busy to see him play at football games, too busy for his music competitions, too busy to meet his friends, too busy to help him choose a major, and on and on it went. But when it was time for him to choose a marriage partner, all of a sudden they had a surge of interest. Suddenly, they wanted to jump into the middle of his life and help him make the "right" decision.

"Well," you may say, "this is the most important decision of his life." That may be true, but when he was thirteen, the most important decision was whether he should have his hair cut modestly or not. But he was left to face that "crisis" alone. At fifteen, the most important decision of his life was whether he should go to football camp or church camp. Nobody seemed too concerned about that one, either. Then there was the time he couldn't decide what to wear on to the prom. Mom looked up from tossing a salad just long enough to tell him that it was his decision. Again, he felt abandoned to do the best he could alone.

For years an unspoken message had been coming through loud and clear: "As your parents, we are not really interested in what you do. It is your life. Live it the best you can." So when Mom and Dad stepped in to stop the wedding, their son did not see their actions as an expression of love and concern. He saw their actions as interference.

Children spell love T-I-M-E. Dad, pitching a ball or fishing with your son is not wasted time. A mother smiled and remembered playing dress-up with her little girl and having tea parties. She said she knew those times paved the way when they went to buy a bathing suit for her daughter at age fifteen. You know what set the tone of the relationship at fifteen? The mom said, "Playing, making cookies, going to the park and blowing bubbles, reading lots of books, and driving to and from gymnastic classes, talking all the while, paved the way for the teenage years. We were buddies. When the bathing suit came up, we were determined to remain friends. We prayed. God led. And now, though she's married, we're still best friends. The foundation was laid way back there tucking in dolls together or sitting in an itchy sandbox together."

I think parents know that a child, or teen, would not walk up to them and say, "Mom, Dad, would you be intimately involved in my life?" If that happened, what would you say? Most likely, you'd say, "Why, of course I will!" To put this principle into practice, you must realize that every time your children ask for advice or share the events of the day they are basically saying, "Will you be involved in my life? Will you be on my team?"

A large part of expressing interest is listening.  I am grateful for what God has taught me about being a listener. I am grateful that we have a heavenly Father who is vitally interested in what we say. He gives us His full attention, and He doesn't care how long we take to tell Him; He won't change the subject.

Remember, it is not what you think that will have an impact on your kids but what you communicate to them. You communicate your heart and your value system when you spend time with them and listen to what they are saying and feeling. Second, love and accept your children unconditionally. When you think of love, you may think of feeling a certain way. But unconditional love is a habit, not a feeling. It is something you choose to do, not something you wait to feel. Unconditional love means putting others first, in this case, your children.

It is imperative that you accept your children and love them unconditionally. God does that for you, and He wants to do the same for your children through you.  Because children sometimes have a difficult time distinguishing between criticism of them and criticism of their actions or behaviors (as do adults, if we were honest), parents need to be especially careful to make sure the message they convey is an accurate one.

Clothing is an area in which I needed to learn how to show unconditional love and acceptance. If your children's behavior and dress brings you personal embarrassment, that is an indication that your personal sense of security is being threatened. You see your children as extensions of yourself, and you want them to reflect perfection. You can forget that.

One way to find out whether or not your children feel unconditional acceptance is to ask them: What do you think it would take for you to make Mom and Dad as proud of you as we could possibly be? Is their answer task oriented? Is it performance oriented? Is it something they must do?

Or is the answer more character oriented? Do they feel they would make you proud by obeying God, regardless of the cost, standing alone for what is right, refusing to compromise at the risk of sacrifice? Their answer will clue you in on the values you are emphasizing whether you want them to be emphasized or not.

I want to say a word to parents who have the calling of accepting and loving unconditionally children with disabilities. God, who has gifted you with your children, will give you wisdom. Psalm 139 includes children with disabilities. Loving them and accepting them unconditionally are not options for parents. It may be harder, but the rewards will be great. I do not pretend to know what you feel. But you know. And more important, He knows. All of His children have been disabled one way or the other, and He has accepted us and loved us unconditionally.

Our desire to help our children avoid the mistakes we made hampers our unconditional acceptance. A mother of three preschoolers was asked to list the greatest joys and greatest difficulties in her life with three little ones. One thing she wrote down was particularly insightful: "Seeing them mirror back to me my weaknesses." Probably the child who is the most like us gives us the most difficult time because he or she is our visual aid of things in ourselves that we don't like. It is difficult to be objective in disciplining that child because we tend to be overly strict since we've dealt with this issue over a lifetime, not just in an isolated incident with the child. We need to involve someone else (a friend or spouse) who can help us put things in perspective.

Third, set limitations. Since children are unique, the lines might have to be drawn differently for each child. And that is when the accusations come: "Well, Johnny gets to. Why can't I?" That's when you scratch your head and wonder whether you are consistent in your parenting. Just when you think you might be, Susie points a finger that Johnny gets to stay up a half hour later than she does, even though he is younger. Explaining that Johnny gets up when he is called while Susie snoozes away doesn't seem to convince Susie that you are excelling in your consistency.

Nonetheless, God has put limits on His children, and you need to put limits on yours. God's first two children and every one of them since then tested the limits, and your children will be no different. But your response must be to hold the line, to follow the original game plan.

Your objective as a parent is to strive to produce responsible adults who are able to function independently of parental authority, yet wholly submitted to God's. Discipline should prepare your children to live outside your home. As someone said, parents are really trying to work themselves out of a job.

Limits need to be clear. Saying, "Be home early," or "Don't waste your money," or "You need to spend more time on your homework," generally doesn't work. Be specific: "Be home by 11:00 P.M."; "Don't spend more than ten dollars"; "Spend an hour each afternoon working on your homework."

When setting the limits, keep in mind the nature of children is to push the limits. Former missionary Elisabeth Elliot tells the story of keeping her grandchildren while her daughter and son-in-law went away for the week. There were quite a few children to look after and one day she had to scold one of them. The little girl looked up and said, "Well, we're all sinners!" Can't you imagine trying to keep a straight face with that response? But the fact is, we are, and her theology was right on target, not to mention convenient.

Whenever possible, explain the "why" behind the what. Tell your children why you have set specific limits. Avoid saying, "Because I said so!" It frustrates you as an adult to hear that response; it frustrates your kids as well. Part of your responsibility as a parent is to help your children internalize certain limits for themselves. There will come a time when you won't be around to set up protective boundaries. If ou have not effectively communicated the why behind the what, it will be easy for your children to leave their standards at home.

Along with loving limitations, there must be clearly defined consequences. "Or else you'll be sorry" isn't enough. Whenever possible, your children should know exactly what to expect when they violate the rules of the house.

Be sure you are clear in your instructions, you are consistent in carrying through, and your disciplinary action corresponds to the offense.

To take this principle one step farther, work out a system of rewards for your children as well. Just as we avoid behavior that is punished, we repeat behavior that is rewarded.

Extending a teenager's curfew in response to the faithfulness to come home on time is an appropriate reward. As adults, we look forward to bonuses at work, and there is nothing wrong with that. There is no reason that our children can't look forward to bonuses, either. Set limitations, and enforce them with both consequences and rewards.

Fourth, meet the material needs of your children. The apostle Paul wrote, "But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Timothy 5:8). These are strong words.

I know what it is like to work and work and still not have enough. But the admonition is still there to provide for our families. In providing for our families, we must distinguish between needs and wants.

It is imperative that we provide for the needs of the family. Needs and wants differ in individual families and take considerable listening to one another and praying together. The promise is there: "And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19). When unemployment is a problem or money is tight, we need to realize God is the ultimate Source. What a time to teach the family to pray!

Praying for direction and guidance in financial matters should be a regular event in the Christian home. Let your children see your utter dependence on Him in the area of finances as well as other areas in your life.
Fifth, pass along your faith. Your primary responsibility as a parent is to pass along your faith and corresponding values to your children. Everything mentioned thus far is part of that.

Our ability to influence our children is tied into their respect for us. It is human nature to resist being influenced by those we don't respect. At the same time, we all find ourselves emulating those whose accomplishments and character we respect. To lead our children toward owning our faith as theirs, we must become leaders worth following. Loving them, accepting them, providing for them, and setting limitations on them are all part of establishing ourselves as respectable leaders.

Our children will never adopt our faith and values because we tell them to. They are even less prone to do so if they are not given ample evidence that what we believe both matters to us and works for us. We must live out our values in such a consistent and sacrificial manner that there is no doubt in their minds that our faith is genuinely a part of our very being.

Sixth, teach them to be wise. Soon your children will leave the comfort and security of your home. They will be on their own, making decisions for themselves. In light of this eventuality, they need to understand how to make wise decisions.

The principle of wisdom is in one sense beyond good and evil. That is, it goes beyond what the Scriptures delineate as right and wrong. Wisdom also takes into account people's past experiences, their weaknesses, and their strengths. The commands of Scripture have universal application, but wisdom's prescriptions are more tailor-made, more individualized. What may be wise for one person may be unwise for another.

Learning to live wisely is vital in child rearing because many of the issues facing our children are not clearly addressed in the Bible. The Bible does not explain whether or not dancing is okay; Paul did not include a chapter on rock music; Jesus never discussed dating. I believe such issues must be handled within the context of wisdom.

A high percentage of the "rebellious" children I have counseled came out of homes where the principle of wisdom was ignored, where everything was treated as a moral issue, clearly wrong or clearly right. And there were always "appropriate" verses to support the parents' side of things. Then the parents wondered why their children had no interest in church and spiritual matters. They wondered why their children would not open up and communicate with them. Why should children be associated with an institution that, according to the way their parents present it, has no clue about what they are feeling or thinking? Why should children bother to communicate their feelings to people who treat them as if they cannot think for themselves?

Children who are taught to be wise do not approach the questions of what music to listen to, what movies to watch, and what friends to have from the perspective of what is wrong with these activities. They approach these questions from the perspective of what is the wise thing to do. In light of past experiences, present weaknesses, goals for the future, and God's desires, they consider what is the best thing to do.

We need to play offense before we end up playing catch-up as the world moves in swiftly with its value system. If we only inform and equip and if we only train and teach, we may have protected them, but we haven't prepared them.

It won't take long at all for a university professor to undo everything we've tried to pour into their lives if it was just information we gave them and not help on how to make wise decisions. Make sure the information is there, but make sure you have helped them make tough judgment calls according to what is wise. Obviously, being effective parents is a time-consuming, difficult, wonderful job. It is surely one of the highest callings in life, and we need God's wisdom in dealing with these gifts from Him. Just when we think we have it all figured out, something comes up that we have not a clue how to handle, and again we are pressed to the Lord for wisdom.

See these precious children as gifts, spend time with them, listen to them, love and accept them unconditionally, set limits, provide materially for them, and do everything you can to bring them to Christ, teaching them to live wisely before Him.

Continue to give it all you've got. Pray much. Listen hard. Learn all you can. God will bless you abundantly as you treasure these gifts in your home: "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God . . . Every perfect gift is from above" (James 1:5, 17).

Unwrap your gifts tenderly.

There was once a parent who let his son and daughter play inside a fenced-in yard. They knew the boundaries. And they knew the consequences if they failed to obey and stay within the limits. The father was the best father you could possibly imagine. He loved the two children, and they brought him more joy than anything in his life. But the two children stepped over the boundaries, suffered severe consequences, and broke the father's heart.
     The son's name was Adam. The daughter's name was Eve. The Father's name is God.