"Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it." Proverbs 22:6 Stock Photo
Very carefully read these words from Edith Schaeffer's What Is A Family: "...a family is an ever changing life mobile....a formation center for human relationships....a perpetual reality of truth....a museum of memories....All these things a family is and much more" (Schaeffer, 1975, p. 18).
Understanding this concept, First Lady Barbara Bush said in her commencement address to students graduating from Wellesley College in 1990, "Our success as a society depends not on what happens in the White House but on what happens inside your house." In that home, ideally, there should be visible expression of care between the mother and father. Truly loving our spouse is needed. We give ourselves to one another; that does not mean one takes and one gives. It does not mean one controls the other. Children need to have the security of knowing that the two people they love most love each other.
Writing in the early 70's, Mrs. Schaeffer says: "There is no possible way of having good relationships....if there is no one who understands that it takes time, patience, hard times, unselfish work, sacrifice of a variety of sorts and planning on the part of someone to insure memories of beauty sprinkled all through the difficulties" (Schaeffer, 1975, p. 29).
Writing 35 years later in his New York Times bestseller The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, Timothy Keller says: "Children come into the world in a condition of complete dependence. They cannot operate as self-sufficient, independent agents unless their parents give up much of their own independence and freedom for years. If you don't allow your children to hinder your freedom in work and play at all, and if you only get your children when it doesn't inconvenience you, your children will grow up physically only. In all sorts of other ways they will remain emotionally needy, troubled and overly dependent. The choice is clear. You can either sacrifice your freedom or theirs. It's them or you. To love your children well, you must decrease that they may increase. You must be willing to enter into the dependency they have so eventually they can experience the freedom and independence you have" (Keller, 2009, p. 202).
Mrs. Schaeffer encourages us with these words: "The family is the place where loyalty, dependability, trustworthiness, compassion, sensitivity to others, thoughtfulness and unselfishness are supposed to have their roots. Someone must take the initiative and use imagination to intentionally teach these things" (Schaeffer, 1975, p. 83). As these qualities are taught, they are usually also caught as the child sees the example of these teachings in action.
"Time can never be brought back, and like money, it is spent one way or another. Once spent it is gone - except for the memory. Time spent in yelling for what is not possible means it is lost for the use of what is possible....When people insist on perfection or nothing, they get nothing. When people insist on having what they dream is a perfect relationship, they will end up in having no relationship at all....The waste of what could be, by demanding what cannot be, is something we have all lived through in certain periods of our lives, but which we need to put behind us with resolve" (Schaeffer, 1975, p. 74).
"When we stop striving for perfection, we become more gracious to ourselves and more gracious to those who live with us," writes Lisa McMinn in The Contented Soul: The Art of Savoring Life (McMinn, 2009, p. 95). "Jesus accepted people as they were, meeting them in their messiness, imperfection and even wrongheadedness" (McMinn, 2009, p. 94).
This spirit, that Jesus had, strongly applies in how we deal with our children. In The Blessings of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children, Dr. Wendy Mogel writes: "A paradox of parenting is that if we love our children for their own sake rather than for their achievements, it's more likely that they will reach their true potential" (Mogel, 2008). Children must be keenly aware of the fact that we love them "for their own sake" and not because of their performance or any part of them that makes us look good. They are not our trophy. Our children were each a gift entrusted to us to raise them up. Not everyone can be valedictorian, or the best goalie the school has ever had or destined for the NFL; these things pass with time. But everyone can learn for a lifetime to be kind, generous, encouraging and interested in the well-being of others.
We want to intentionally raise our children so that they will be easy to live with because we only live with them for eighteen short years, but someone else has to live with them for the rest of their lives. Spoiled children become spoiled adults and spoiled adults are not likely to live a happy, balanced life because they have been conditioned to think of their needs first.
We must watch our children closely enough to guide them away from being "takers" or from thinking they are entitled or somehow above others. As always, Jesus is the ultimate example here: He was God, and He did not see Himself as being entitled to anything except death on a cross. Mrs. Schaeffer writes that "Compassion and understanding of what another person needs comes through having been cared for....Generally this is true, but there are some who have not had care but by God's grace have become caring....A family is the place where this kind of care should be so frequently given that it becomes natural to think of the needs of other people" (Schaeffer, 1975, p. 86). It is hard to learn the importance of caring for others first unless you have experienced it and seen how it works in the home, or in Christ, or hopefully both.
Particularly before we actually have children, we might think of child rearing as something that must not be so hard because everybody does it, but the truth is we need to prayerfully study our children and ask God daily for help in guiding them. Proverbs 22:6 says, "Train a child up in the way he should go, and when he is old (i.e. 'grown,' according to the footnote in the New International Version of the Bible) he will not turn from it." The depth of this instruction would surely require thought and prayer and since it is written in the book of Proverbs, teaching children the way of wisdom is also implied (NIV Bible, p. 976). Also along the way, everybody needs to know that somebody cares and that their care is unconditional. If our children do not sense that their home is a haven for them, then eventually they will find a haven somewhere else.
Child rearing is an art, but it is not something that we can do perfectly. I just encourage you to be mindful of these things and do as well as you can and still be one, finite person who depends on God. Your child should not expect you to be perfect anyway. "The expectation that 'Tomorrow we'll do better' lends an important atmosphere, even though we need to allow for a repetition of mistakes on our own part and the child's....making it clear that....how to deal with and live with human beings takes a lifetime" with the idea of 'progress' bringing a "feeling of excitement to the whole relationship within the family" (Schaeffer, 1975, p. 70). This implies the idea of a lifelong relationship in encouraging each other toward godliness and doing good to others. Hebrews 10:24 says, "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds."
Edith Schaeffer writes that in some instances, "Criticism of each other may be very necessary....but there must be encouraged sensitivity to the fact [that] the whole point of communication is to have growing relationship coming forth. If criticism is degenerating....there can be a change of subject, an introduction of a pleasant thing....Every discussion in which two people are differing does not need to continue to the bitter end" (Schaeffer, p. 83). In Boundaries in Marriage, Henry Cloud and John Townsend say that "When two people are free to disagree, they are free to love. When they are not free, they live in fear and love dies" (Cloud & Townsend, 2002, p. 9).
There are some people who enjoy an argument. Well, let those who enjoy such heated conversations have their debate with those who also enjoy spending their time in this way. Some folks just enjoy hearing themselves talk or regretfully sometimes they enjoy somewhat "talking down" to someone they feel is "less" than they. Certainly in the family as well as outside the family, this kind of speech should never be. Once certain words are said, they can never be erased. Yes, we can and should apologize, but it is far better to guard our mouth as Scripture says: Our speech should be "gracious" (Proverbs 22:11) and an encouragement to others as in verses like 1 Timothy 4:12 and Colossians 4:6. These last two verses were written by Paul, the great persecutor of Christians. His change from darkness to light is a great example of what God can do in a life yielded to Him. This is the kind of thing God wants just as much in our lives.
"If you aren't faithful to encourage, you can be sure you will eventually exasperate your child. But if you are faithful, then when the times for necessary correction come....the adjustment will be far more effective because the environment you've created isn't correction centered, but grace centered" writes C.J. Mahaney in Humility: True Greatness (Mahaney, 2005, p. 106-107). Grace is incredibly important because grace is at the heart of the Gospel. We show grace by giving our children the sense that we are approachable, and when we are approachable we are also winsome. We should be approachable first with our own family and then with others. One way to do this is to be open about your own struggles to whatever degree is appropriate; also James 1:19 applies so strongly here as well as many other Scriptures. God wants us to be real. You must first be real at home because if you are not real there, then you are not real at all. You see, those people at home are the most important people in your world. They look to you for guidance and for strength, and you are the one God uses to turn their minds toward Him. The ultimate hypocrisy, dear souls, is to be ungodly at home and a sweetheart to the world. Nothing good can come from such hypocrisy. Meshed with this can be a subtle tendency to be easily offended. A person who chooses to be easily offended can never have, or give, real peace. So be careful to examine yourself and your motives a bit, remembering that being real is a lifelong discipline - but it is a discipline that invigorates and inspires, causing you to feel free and more alive and yes, you will be more winsome.
Having a family full of laughter, memories, care and courage is a beautiful contribution because thus we send our children out into the world with a solid foundation that equips them to make wise choices and then make their own contributions. In raising my own children, my hope, my intent comes from a quote in my kitchen: "Home - Where you are loved the most and treated the best." To whatever degree that happened, may the Lord be praised. Those in the White House will come and go, but the memories you and I make last and multiply themselves for generations to come.