Christian parenting is a counter-cultural effort with eternal implications. The way we shape the lens through which our children see the world will affect them for a lifetime and for eternity. With that in mind, we must be diligent and focused in our approach to raising our children.
We live in a culture obsessed with appearances, success and instant gratification. These are dangerous and magnetic forces that can easily entrap adult and child alike, if they are not equipped to face them correctly. Only with God’s help can Christian parents raise children who are more likely to become counter-cultural. We want to raise kids who live in the world, but do not operate by its standards.
Harnessing the power of “NO” and placing emphasis on correct priorities are things that would be much easier to avoid. Giving in to the whims of our children is less emotionally taxing in the immediate, but can yield disastrous results later on. I have done 13 years of field work on the subject as a teacher and can guarantee this to be true.
I teach 10th and 12th grade English and am astonished by the parental permissiveness that prevails in the lives of many of my students. In particular, I am concerned by the lack of importance placed on success in school. Every year, I attend meetings with students and their parents for children who are in jeopardy of failing for the year and may not graduate. Yet often, after the meeting, they still come to school and have access to their cell phones, car keys and social lives. Without consequences, what incentive do students have to make the right choices and do their work?
Even within my own classroom, it seems they think that I cannot hear them when they speak openly about their various exploits. They freely talk about cheating in school, partying, sexual topics, and use profanity without filter. I always make sure they know that I can hear them and that they shouldn’t be speaking of such things in the classroom, much less doing them.
These observations are troubling and I am brokenhearted over the brokenness and folly of these kids. I’m convinced that this kind of conduct is directly linked to young people having no grasp of their own value and no real vision for the future. I don’t just mean plans for college. That isn’t vision, that is a plan often based on an expectation. Many of their lives are consumed with activities like sports, clubs, and socializing, but these things aren’t being used as building blocks for the future. Rather, they are used for the immediate satisfaction of having fun, winning or being recognized in order to get into college.
This is why it is critical to pour into our children, at every age and stage, the truth of who they are in Christ and how their choices are building blocks for the future. It doesn’t happen without planning and prayer though.
Certainly we can’t guarantee that our children avoid failure. However, we should do all we can to ensure that they “fail well” and learn from any mistakes they do make. Some of my most profound life lessons have come from failure. We must not be so stringent and strict that we suppress their ability to make choices we have equipped them to make. This is a difficult balance to find as a parent, and only through prayer and good communication with our children is it possible.
Here are 6 strategies for parenting with long term, eternal impact in mind:
1 – PLACE GOD FIRST – But seek first His kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)
Prioritizing worship services, family prayer, devotions and the like are critical to raising children with eternity in mind. It should be clear to children that God comes first because we love Him, not because it is a ritual or a chore, or because He will be displeased if we don’t. We place Him first because of His great love for us.
Part of this priority means making every effort to avoid letting other events “bump” church time. Although sometimes unavoidable, we wouldn’t sign our children up for a sports league that has weekly games during Sunday church time or Wednesday bible study.
Modeling for our children what we expect from them is the best way to teach them.
Children follow our example. If they don’t see us reading the Word and praying, it is unlikely they will view it as vital for their own lives. Modeling for our children what we expect from them is the best way to teach them.
My children know that my time in my Prayer Lair is a given and, as a result, have become accustomed to doing their own devotions as well. We memorize scripture and pray together also. Hearing them take ownership of their knowledge of the bible is exciting. These small moments add up and boost our faith as well as the faith of our children.
2 – EAT MEALS TOGETHER – They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)
Having meals together as a family is widely heralded as having many positive impacts on child development. A wealth of research on the topic can be found that points to it being one of the most beneficial family practices. According to an extensive 25-year study by Dr. Stinnett of the University of Alabama, there are six qualities cultivated by the practice of gathering at the family table. They are:
- Appreciation and Affection
- Positive Communication
- Time Together
- Spiritual Well-Being
- The Ability to Cope with Stress and Crises
These qualities will develop naturally as you set a pattern for mealtime. Prayer, sharing the good/bad of the day, and discussing what they learned at school are all great ways to engage children in communication with God and their parents. Other benefits include learning manners, how to wait their turn in a conversation and even laughter. Every meal should include some laughter! I wrote a full-length post on the importance of family meal, which you can read HERE.
3 – DON’T OVERSCHEDULE – And He said, “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:14)
Yes, this sounds like a tall order with never-ending events and activities for parents and children alike. Here’s some advice – you don’t need to accept every invitation proffered and you don’t need to attend every event that is happening. Learning to prioritize and say no may be difficult at first, but once you learn how and model it for your children, you’ll be sending a positive and critical message that family time and downtime matter.
It’s in these quiet moments that we can connect with our children and bond with them, getting to know what is important to them and showing them what healthy relationships look like. Also, it is worth noting that downtime allows children to be bored, which is good for them. They don’t need to be active and entertained every waking moment. They can learn to occupy themselves instead of having their entire lives scheduled for them. You can read my extended thoughts on avoiding overscheduling HERE.
4 – GIVE VOICE AND CHOICE – Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. (Psalm 103:13)
While our home is not a democracy, it is not a dictatorship either. We believe in giving age-appropriate voice and choice when possible. While we have the final say, the kids are free to chime in about family outings, what they’d like for breakfast and things and such. Allowing children to lay out their own clothes for school is good also. As long as they are weather and activity-appropriate, we don’t need to micromanage that kind of choice.
Guiding them in decision-making is important because as they grow up, they will need to tap into the skills of making God-honoring decisions.
At times, we will let them decide if they want to skip a sports game if they are tired. We may also let them choose between two possible invitations or activities with their friends. Bulldozing over them and not allowing them to have a voice may impact their ability to speak up for themselves and choose well later on. However, we do not permit our children to tell us what to do or what they are going to do.
It’s a balance we have created over time, which allows us to be “in charge” while still allowing some autonomy for our little ones. Guiding them in decision-making is important because as they grow up, they will need to tap into the skills of making God-honoring decisions. Without any practice in making choices, they are less likely to succeed in doing so.
5 – CHOOSE GOD-HONORING ENTERTAINMENT – Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (Proverbs 4:23)
Just because something is on the television or the radio doesn’t mean it is appropriate for children. We are very conservative with what we allow our kids to listen to and watch. We do PG and under ratings in our home and at times, veto things falling into this category according to content. Anything depicting rude or disrespectful behavior is not allowed.
Documentaries about animals and nature are educational and help expose our kids to the beauty of Creation. Shows about cooking allow them to learn about skills in the kitchen. YouTube videos on Rube Goldberg machines are a favorite also and teach creativity and scientific skills. We listen mostly to Christian music but do listen to other kinds of music, as long as the content doesn’t contain profanity or suggestive lyrics. Our kids love classical music and jazz as well as Christian music.
It’s critical that we teach our children that the world will try to influence them through entertainment and that everything put forth to see and hear doesn’t necessarily honor God. We want them to have a healthy perspective that points them to Jesus and we strive to do that by closely monitoring the entertainment they consume. This is one way of helping them learn to guard their hearts.
6 – DISCIPLINE IN LOVE – For the LORD corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights. (Proverbs 3:12)
There are different approaches to discipline, so we won’t hash out spanking/not spanking, time out, loss of privileges and the like here. However, administering any discipline in love is key. Regrettably, early in my parenting journey, I disciplined out of anger rather than love.
Now, I explain to my children what they did wrong and ask them some questions about why they made the choices they did. Then, they may receive an age-appropriate consequence. Sometimes having a conversation is enough. However, it is definitely always part of our aim to let them know we love them.
We aren’t perfect. Sometimes we yell, but more often we don’t these days. Parenting is a learn-as-you-go experience and we continually look to the Lord to help us. Just as our Heavenly Father has to correct us, we must follow His example and discipline from a position of love.
6 – PRAY FOR YOUR CHILDREN – For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith… (Ephesians 3:14-19)
This may seem obvious, but it is easy to let the craziness of a busy day slip by without praying for your kids. However, there are two ways to do it that are equally important.
You should get in the practice of praying for your children while you are with them. I pray over mine at night when we are doing our goodnight routine. I pray aloud, asking God to protect, empower, embolden and use them. This does two things. Firstly, it models for them how to pray for others. Secondly, it allows them to know our hearts towards them. When they hear your prayers for them, it strengthens your bond and brings them security that you care deeply. The rise and fall of their breathing melts my heart as I pour out the last sounds of the evening over them by praying.
Also, praying on your own for your children is critical. This is the time to talk to God about your deepest needs and dreams for your them. If your child is struggling with friends or in school or has strayed from the Lord, cry out to Him. Lay your children’s future in the hands of the Lord. Ask Him to put a call on their lives that will be clear to them.
Parenting with eternity in mind is definitely an effort requiring prayer and cooperation with God. However, the seed you are sowing into the future of your children is unmatched. As Proverbs 22:6 says “Train a child up in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it”.