The Parent-Child Relationship

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As parents, we cannot impart to our children what we ourselves do not possess. Unless we have a growing relationship with God in Christ, we cannot expect our children to desire the same.

According to Psalm 127:3-5, children are a gift from the Lord. He has temporarily placed them under our care—in effect, our children are “on loan” from God for the 18 or so years they are under our roof.

We have been given the task of raising them up from a state of complete dependence to a state of complete independence so that we can release them to God by the time they reach maturity.

Many parents make the mistake of building their entire lives and marriages around their children. They may seek to fulfill their own ambitions and dreams by identifying themselves with their children and living their lives through them. This vicarious attempt to find fulfillment always leads to frustration and disappointment because the children rarely meet such expectations and leave home so soon. It also places them under an intolerable demand of performance standards that they are physically, emotionally, or mentally incapable of attaining.

Perhaps the most difficult biblical principle to apply as a parent is the need to accept your children as they are. Your true source of identity is in Christ, not your children. Your children may not be as physically or mentally capable as you would like, but if you realize that they are God’s possession and not yours, you can accept them for who they are. The practice of this truth can liberate your children from the fear of rejection and failure.

Parents have also been entrusted with the responsibility of shaping their children’s character and guiding their spiritual, psychological, intellectual, emotional, and physical growth. This is not to be left by default to outside institutions. The primary spiritual and moral training of children should be in the home, not in the church or school.

When Christ-like attitudes prevail in parents, each member of the household feels that he or she is an important part of the family. Husbands and wives are to model before their children the qualities of mutual respect and concern for one another in the Lord. As this atmosphere extends to their relationship with their children, they will sincerely respect the worth and uniqueness of each child. This recognition of the individuality and dignity of each family member is manifested in a positive and encouraging attitude.

It is important for parents to be on their children’s team, not on their backs. They should avoid favoritism and comparisons of one child with another. It is especially important for parents to admit their mistakes openly and ask forgiveness from their children when they embarrass or insult them, break a promise, or mistreat them. In this way, honesty and esteem for each individual becomes ingrained in the thinking of the children.

As parents, we cannot impart to our children what we ourselves do not possess. Unless we have a growing relationship with God in Christ, we cannot expect our children to desire the same. The first prerequisite to being a godly parent is to love God with our minds, emotions, and wills, and this requires an ongoing relationship of trust, dependence, and communion with the Lord (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). It is only as we respond to God’s love that we can walk in it; spiritual vitality must be in our hearts before it can be in our homes.

We must not only respond to God’s love, but also to His Word (Deuteronomy 6:6). Scripture speaks to every dimension of life, and our effectiveness in any area depends on the degree to which we know and apply relevant biblical principles. If we try to raise children by doing what comes naturally, we will be ineffective.

We are living models for our children. What we are communicates far more than what we say—spirituality is more caught than taught. The intimacies of home life soon expose an artificial front, so there is little point in teaching what we do not practice. We must demonstrate with our lives the reality of our faith. The greater the correspondence between what we are and what we say, the more completely our children will identify with our standards.

Young children’s view of God is profoundly shaped by their view of their fathers. If a father ignores his child, is unkind to his wife, or is unfair, his child will have a problem with a distorted image of God. Modeling is the most effective method of teaching, whether for good or ill. A healthy view of God is best communicated by parents who have allowed the Holy Spirit to make them authentic, loving, Christ-like people. This requires a growing dependence upon the Lord.

We must live our convictions, but we must also explain them (Genesis 18:19; Deuteronomy 6:7; Isaiah 38:19). There is a danger in some homes of religious activities becoming so church-oriented that they become a substitute for Christian teaching in the home. The Scriptures, however, commission parents to be the primary vehicle for the teaching of the Christian worldview in the thinking and behavior of their children. It is their responsibility to teach their sons and daughters to know and pursue the ways of God.

“And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:8-9). Spiritual truth must be bound up in our actions and attitudes, and it must be inscribed in our private and public lives. In short, it must move from our hearts into our homes, and from our homes into our habits.

Part of our God-given responsibility as parents is to evangelize and disciple our children. We need to pray for them and ask for insight into their character so that we can raise them in the most appropriate and individual way. Each child should learn to cultivate his or her own walk with the Lord. Our real goal must be to teach them that their relation to Jesus Christ is more important than their relationship to us.

Because each child has a unique personality, the most effective training is suited to differences in age, abilities, and temperament. Children need to be treated as unique people. In effect, then, Proverbs 22:6 tells us to dedicate our children to the Lord and create a taste within them to know Him in ways that are appropriate to their ages and personalities, and when they mature, their spiritual heritage will remain a part of them.

It has been said that children spell love T-I-M-E. The quality of the time we spend with them is essential, but we are deceiving ourselves if we make this a substitute for quantity. There is a dangerous tendency in our culture to use material possessions as a surrogate for building intimate relationships with children. They are not so easily bought off. Overindulgence with presents will not make up for a failure to express love by spending time with them.

Taken from Ken Boa’s Handbook to Spiritual Growth.

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