How I Came to Write This
For all intents and purposes, I have finished raising my children. It is all over but the shouting, and maybe quite a bit of crying and sobbing. My daughter, now 21, is married and expecting her first child. My son, now 18, is in his last year of school and working hard at the local grocery store. How I even managed to get them alive to this point is beyond me. Clearly, God is sovereign and has other things in store for them than to merely be my offspring.
I observe culture and society. Some of this comes with my work. Some of it comes as a natural part of my personality. And still more of it comes from the missions work I do. However, I spend a good portion of time watching other parents and how they interact with their children. The thing I watch for the most is to what degree faith and religion plays in those relationships. How I have managed to not lose my mind up until this point is beyond me.
This article is going to be an attempt to explain my observations and my failings. Lastly, it will also be a defense for how I maybe did one thing right by the grace of God.
Parental Failure and How I Am Guilty
It is easy to see examples of parental failure all over society. Cultural mores have plummeted so rapidly in the last 30 years that to try and picture where we are compared to where we were is impossible. Furthermore, parenting has become a study in friendship over leading.
I see this very often these days; parents often referring to their children as their best friends over and above their spouse. Some may be wondering why I would consider this development a negative. Certainly, we should desire a friendly relationship with our children. Moreover, there is a time when the role of the parent does move from a role of authority to that of friend.
As I juxtapose these two roles and what each means, I wonder at how I did with them. Using the examples I see of a far more permissive parenting culture than I was raised in, I often see myself as a heavy-handed authoritarian. There are more than a few days where I wonder how I could have been far less the authority and far more the friend.
I can clearly recall moments when I told my beloved children, “I want you to obey me out of love. But if I can’t have your obedience out of love than I will settle for obedience out of fear of punishment.” How I ever felt comfortable saying such an asinine thing I will never know? What kind of monster speaks that way?
Yet, there have also been moments where I told both my beloved children that I cherished a friendship with them. Those moments often came when I should have been more concerned with molding their behavior based on rules and not on friendship.
Those two examples demonstrate how I see my failure. I didn’t understand parenting.
How I was Heavy-handed and not Loving
This will not come as a surprise to those who know me, but I am not a great dad. I made and continue to make quite a few stupid moves. None of those are as bad as the heavy and overbearing ways in which I sought to mold my children after the image of Christ.
A friend recently posted a status on Facebook about an extended family worship time they had. It put me in mind of the days when we did family worship and devotions. I made it my goal to instruct my children in both the Old and New Testaments. The longer this went on the more it looked like a class on Old and New Testament Survey. How I managed to not drive my children away in those moments is an act of God’s mercy. I remember on several occasions looking at them and seeing their eyes glaze over.
Trust me, I know what that look means. I have seen it hundreds of times. I am sure that there were some positive take-aways from those moments. My dear son is a scholar to this day. However, that is despite those moments, not because of them. But those moments were acts of sheer heavy-handedness. Even in understanding the doctrine of election I was taking matters into my own hands. I was going to ensure my children were Christian.
It was also very clear to me that as time went on, I was far more rigid than I was loving. Our home was a Christian home and “gosh durn it” we were going to make sure we lived that way. I wanted a home that practiced “no read, no feed”. While I would have rejected the label of legalist, much of how I conducted myself was exactly that.
How I Learned from my Mistakes and from Others
I was striving to have a family devoted to pursuing the Christian life and finding their joy in God. However, I was watching the interest wane. My severity had robbed the joy from the them. Some of this came through varied trials that we experienced. No small amount of those trials brought on by my stubborn pride. However, some of that was also brought on by people that were running in the opposite direction of our household as fast as they could.
I watched professing Christian parents molly-coddle their children. Where I was at times too severe, these parents knew nothing but license and abandon. One family I knew at the time made bold claims to the Christian faith, but one of their children was a rebel. However, this rebellion wasn’t against the family values, it was an embrace of the licentiousness that the family taught. That child went on to sire several children out of wedlock.
In another example, one family swore allegiance to Reformed Theology but stayed contentedly in a local church that was apostate. Their affinity for their friendships and connections was more powerful than sound doctrine. Their child was treated the same way. Every whim and wish of the child was granted. No fancy was denied. Eventually, the child turned to homosexuality and the family insisted that their child was still a Christian.
I was watching these things unfold in other homes as I was watching things in my own home unravel. I know that my severity was doing damage to my children. In many ways, I drove them away from God and from me. This is to my shame. I know everyone is responsible for their relationship with God. But fathers are instructed to not provoke their children to anger.
Too Little but Never too Late
I didn’t learn well or nearly fast enough. I did my level best to destroy my relationship with my daughter. God in His loving kindness tore down the wall I built through my heavy-handedness and salvaged our relationship. In many ways I did major damage to my relationship with my son. I am quite certain that he has felt a second-class citizen. When I was grieving over the damage, I did to my relationship with my daughter I was inconsolable. How devastating this must have been to him. There is no way he could help but perceive my grief as undue favoritism towards his sister.
God saw fit to open my eyes during those times. During that time, I came to understand Romans 8:28 with a new depth. I saw God working in the circumstances in ways I could never have orchestrated on my own. He was teaching me something. He still is. What exactly that lesson is and where it will lead, I do not know with certainty. However, I do know this, even in writing this out I am facing some deep convictions over sins that still cling to me.
But I know this, it isn’t too late. I can still be the dad I am called to be. I can be the husband I’m commanded to be. Even now, I can be the grandfather I am called to be. And not only that, I can learn from others and the things they say. Not all our lessons have to be from positive examples either. So, let my failings serve as a warning to you. It ain’t ever too late!
How I Learned from one Repeated Refrain and Why I Reject It
Over the years I have had parenting conversations with hundreds of fellow parents. Some near and dear to me. Others far and wide from me both geographically and doctrinally. Yet, I hear one statement from so many of them.
“I will not force my religion on my children. I want them to make-up their own minds.”
Consequently, I reject this sentiment outright. First, I cannot force my religion on anyone. Even my children. Certainly, I can require that they live by my rules and standards while under my roof. However, I cannot make them Christian. God requires that parents teach their children His Law, day and night. Instructing them as they come in and go out. He tells us that if we teach them diligently that they will not depart from that way of living when they grow older. This is not a promise of conversion, but it is a premise that at least leads to some semblance of responsible living.
I have had parents tell me that even expecting their children to attend worship with them is too heavy. Others still reject preaching the Gospel to your children saying that it is abusive and lowers their self-esteem.
I am not interested in teaching my children to devalue themselves. However, like me, my children are not in much danger of thinking too poorly of themselves. In fact, even in my tendency toward self-debasement, there is a deep self-love that makes me morbidly focused on how worthless I am. The same prideful sin that causes over-estimation of one’s worth is what causes under-valuation of oneself.
I determined that no matter my failures in raising my children, they would hear the Gospel from me. It isn’t mine to conform them to Christ. That is all of God if it be His will.
In the End
In the end all I have is the responsibility to raise my children. I cannot ensure salvation for them. It isn’t my duty to save them. My best practice after years of failures derived from sin and lack of knowledge, is to pray for them. They have heard the Gospel from me. They know the God of Creation is real. There is no way around this for them.
I can, and I should, repent of the sinful ways I led them. I will seek their forgiveness for the cold and callous way I tried to instruct them. Yet, I will never apologize for how often I proclaimed Christ crucified for sin to them. If I had to do it all over again, I would change it all; but not that one thing.
My beloved readers know this. You will fail your children. If you think you have it all figured out and you won’t make the mistakes I made. It is already too late for you. You have failed them in that regard. Your children are sharp, they will see through your façade of perfection. Learn from others that have gone before you. Don’t err on the side of license. Yet, do not think you can legislate them into heaven through morality either.
Raise them up in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Preach the Gospel to them. Commit to pray for their conversion. Pick up the pieces that you break off when you sin against them. Repent in front of them. Seek their forgiveness.
Hold them close, but don’t cling to them too tightly. Love them, but don’t smother them. Learn from me; but not how I learned. Commit them to God and trust Him to do what is best.
He always does!
One Brief Final Plea
In the last few paragraphs I mentioned repenting in the presence of your children. I cannot emphasize enough how valuable this is. Let your children see you repent before God. When you sin against them you are sinning against Him. Do not merely say you are sorry when you sin against them. Humbly and contritely seek their forgiveness.
Previous generations were not raised in this type of environment. The generation before us, even the Christians of the group, did not model contrition before their children. Again, I plead with you, when you sin against your children, seek their forgiveness. Let them see you repent. In God’s eyes you are all on the same playing field.
Soli Deo Gloria!