Raising Children … The Principle Approach
I’ve been harangued, emotionally and physically abused, punished for things others did … but always loved by a merciful and loving Lord Who took what I really deserved. I know what it is to be raised by a grandparent, a wicked stepmother, a single parent (and I even raised myself for a time) … but, arguably, I turned out alright. God’s destiny for your life is never inexorably thwarted by obstacles He cannot overcome.
Before I go any further, let me say I was not a perfect parent … neither was my wife. In retrospect, many of the decisions we made we would, no doubt, now make differently. It seems strange that so many of the conclusions we’ve come to have arrived too late for our own children to benefit. Maybe that’s why grandmas and grandpas, if they’re available, should at least be consulted.
Children need to be raised by what I call The Principle Approach. Let me explain. Rules are rigid, concrete inviolable edicts. There must be exceptions because life is not lived in the black and white, but the gray of reality, where any deviation from a rule is another reason for a child to feel insecure by what he sees as a changing standard. Whereas principles are guiding perspectives that are equally as inviolable (that’s where a child’s security comes from) as they are varied in their application (that’s where a child’s sense of justice is refined and satisfied).
For example, a parent’s love principle may one day overlook an infraction, but on another day see that same infraction has become a pattern of behavior and mete out a commensurate discipline to break the bad habit. The parent must see mercy and discipline as the opposite sides of the same coin, the love principle. Jesus was not being inconsistent when He alternately forgave the woman caught in the act of adultery and chased the money lenders out of the temple with a whip.
Here are a few principles we believe make sense:
- Punishment looks back at past incorrect behavior, discipline looks forward to future correct behavior. If you discipline well, punishment may be rare.
- The wise parent is working himself (or herself) out of a job, slowly releasing reins of authority as a child learns to accept responsibility for his (or her) own acts.
- Every child is different; possessing different gifts, approaching challenges differently and requiring different parenting solutions though the problems are similar.
- When it’s everyone’s job, it’s no one’s job; everyone benefits from a little hard work.
- Hands are for hugging and blessing, never for discipline … that’s what a belt or wooden spoon is for (Prov. 13:24); angry discipline is always misunderstood; successful discipline is followed by forgiveness and restoration of relationship.
- At the core of all disappointment is unreasonable expectation.
- Regret is where the past meets the present to guide the future.
- Everyone suffers a little injustice (Rom. 5:8) … you are not omniscient … only God is (Job 34:16-30), so cut yourselves some slack!
Is raising children biblical? What about the parent who’s single? What about raising someone else’s kids? Why are my kids so unruly and rebellious? What if I’ve made mistakes? Is it too late to do things right? These are the questions thinking Christians should be asking themselves.
It is important to true understanding of any topic to define your terms. According to a combination of what many dictionaries say: Raising Children is the means by which a parent or parental figure brings infants to maturity. Principles are fixed guidelines for direction. A Perspective is a viewpoint. Therefore, in the context of raising children, principle perspectives are certain ways of looking at the challenges of child-rearing that guide the parent in the raising of a child.
1. Is raising children biblical?
Of course it is; what do you think God was doing when He walked with Adam and Eve in the “cool of the day?” (Gen. 3:8) Although it is not directly related, there seems to be a progression of revelation from God to Man, with knowledge imparted, choices given and made, consequences experienced, and new direction instituted … at the very least we see that the raising of the progenitors of the human race by God is inferred.
A close study of Man from the creation to the arrival of Jesus reveals that Our Heavenly Father has taken a deep and personal interest in our raising. This process has been involved and, ultimately, quite costly … much as parenting is known to be. The saga of God’s parenting of mankind is what we call “history”—“His Story.”
2. What about the parent who’s single?
Whether you have arrived at single-parenting though divorce, the death of a spouse or any one of a number of other circumstances, raising kids alone can be challenging. For the Christian, a realization that you are not alone (Heb. 13:5) is always comforting. God is only a prayer away and your children will keep you on your knees. Parents should have this bumper sticker on their car: “As long as there are children, there will be prayer in the home!”
However, not having another parent physically present to share the burden of raising children can be overwhelming at times. Let me help you be creative. Here are a few considerations that may make your task less daunting.
Single-Parenting – Suggestions that Might Lighten the Load
- Mother’s Day Out – Many churches, realizing the need, offer this once-a-week half-day or all-day childcare service. It is clean and safe and it might make house cleaning, shopping, or just taking a break possible or at least more pleasant.
- Au-pair or Nanny Service – There are professional, trained adults available and waiting for their services to be contracted. Though often expensive, it might pay for itself in sanity or therapy savings, if you know what I mean. Also, there are a surprising number of college-age young ladies wanting an American experience who, for the cost of a round-trip airfare, room-and-board and a little spending money, might consider a live-in nanny position. Things to keep in mind: Do they have a valid driver’s license? Training? Experience? References? Passport/Visa?
- Extended Family – Often a local sister or brother (or sister-in-law or brother-in-law) or grandparent may offer both a family connection and an outlet for relief. Two things to note: 1) You should always offer to compensate them; they should always graciously refuse. 2) You can never be too sure that an otherwise circumspect relative (let alone a friend or neighbor) won’t take advantage of the vulnerability of your children … just be sensitive AND sensible. God is holding you accountable for your children’s well-being.
- Nap-times are Me-times – Use your children’s naptimes for cleaning, cooking, laundry, or breaks. Your wise use of these times can make all the difference.
I hope this section does not come across gender-specific. It surely was not my intent. One of my sons has four children and his role is “Mr. Mom” ; he cleans, cooks and home-schools his and three others, too. He is not a single parent, but since his wife works, many of the household responsibilities fall to him. There are probably others that are left alone with kids occasionally. The single- parenting suggestions might come in handy for you, too.
3. What about raising someone else’s kids?
In a sense, we all do … (they are really God’s kids, on loan to you). Still, many are raising someone else’s kids … or at least they feel like they are. Sometimes they’re adopted, sometimes they’re foster-kids or the product of circumstances they did not choose … but they should never be collateral damage—the result of someone else’s bad choices. They are your children, regardless of how they’ve come to live under your roof … and what happens from this point is entirely your responsibility.
Whether or not your DNA can be tied to theirs, the children in your care are a sacred trust, and the task with which you have been charged is the most important job in the universe. Children are not the “hope of the future” … they are the future!
Raising someone else’s children is no different, then, than raising your own—the same love, care, provision, wisdom and courage is required. And, as a Christian, you are tapped into the limitless Source of all that.
4. Why are my kids so unruly and rebellious?
How were you as a child? Maybe you are just reaping what you have sown! Still, the basic natures of children are different. Don’t get me wrong—they are all fallen. Every child is the selfish center of his (or her) own world. Proof of that comes early … children are just naturally selfish with toys; they have to be taught to share—sharing is a self-sacrificing, loving and caring act … and not natural in the least.
The Scriptures say, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way …” (Isaiah 53:6 ASV) and “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23 KJV) Until your children have their own knowledge of God, pleasing you will have to come with enough rewards and sanctions that the desire to obey is greater than the tendency to rebel. Remember that the Scripture also says, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him.” (Proverbs 22:15 NASU)
5. What if I’ve made mistakes?
What parent hasn’t? Remember, God is bigger than your mistakes and He will even turn them into something good for you and your child (Rom 8:28). Besides, the humbling experience of asking and receiving forgiveness can set a pattern that is both a good example for children and may humanize the parent in the child’s eyes. It is good for your child to look up to you … but not as if you were God and never wrong. He (or she) needs to see that you, too, are submitted to Someone greater than yourself, and that He holds you accountable as a steward/parent.
Mistakes are where you learn and as such are not to be entirely regretted. Remember the principle, “Regret is where the past meets the present to guide the future.”
6. Is it too late to do things right?
Time is a multiplier; the longer you wait the more costly “doing things right” becomes. However, it is never too late; but it’s always better for your young children to have a ‘visit’ from Mr. Belt or Mrs. Spoon than to for you to visit your adult children in jail.
Children pattern themselves after the role models you give them. Choose their caregivers wisely. A parent should be more concerned with what their children have caught than with what they have been taught … choose their teachers carefully. The wise parent looks for character, not credentials, but it is usually possible to find both. Even choose their friends until they are wise enough to begin making those choices themselves.
Finally, a word about screen-time. There is much positive to be said about the convenience and capacity of technological advances. I-phones, I-Pads, and Laptops are rapidly becoming essential for the person who wants to avail himself of the latest technology. A child’s competitiveness may well depend on his (or her) ability to use these information management tools. But screen-time is no substitute for face-time. Parents who allows violent games, Netflix, Hulu, or even social media to become the primary babysitter is cheating their children and themselves.
Parenting is as much a refiner of parents as it is of children.
“Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Prov.27:17 NASU)
Recommended Reading List:
Parenting Isn’t for Cowards – Dr. James Dobson
- The New Dare to Discipline – Dr. James Dobson
- The Passionate Mom: Dare to Parent in Today’s World – Susan Merrill