I joked recently that part of being a father of seven is realizing you don’t know a thing about raising children. There’s some truth to that, but as I’ve shared in my last two blogs, the scriptures can teach us a lot about what it means to be a parent. Here are five things that scripture and experience have taught me over the years:
1: Be cautious about what you say to your children.
Don’t use your words lightly. If you make a promise, keep that promise—for example, don’t threaten to discipline a child and then fail to follow through on your words. Children have to be able to learn trust from their parents if they’re ever going to trust the word of God, or the faithfulness of God.
We’re not perfect ‘as our father in heaven is perfect,’ (Matthew 5:48) but scripture uses that analogy for a reason. When we make a mistake, we must ask the father’s forgiveness.
I remember watching our son Michael early one morning when he was five years old. The school bus was coming, and he raced out of the house because he could see the bus. I was standing on our front porch, and I realized that, in his eagerness to get to the school bus, Michael was going to run directly into the path of an oncoming car. I screamed: “Michael, stop!”
We had been careful to teach Michael to do as he was told, and all that teaching paid off in that moment. He stopped. I didn’t have time, in that situation, to explain to him why he needed to obey—I just needed him to stop in his tracks.
There are times when you just have to trust that what someone tells you is right. There is a place for taking things on authority, and I think when children are little, they need to know that they should trust your words. They need to understand that your words mean something, and they should listen to the content of those words—not the volume.
I’m not saying you should never raise your voice. We’re emotional people. God, I think, raises his voice at times. But do make sure your children understand the content of your words.
2: Give your children responsibilities.
You can’t do everything for them—you’ll ruin them for life. Give them chores to do.
Some of the best memories I have are of my kids when they were small trying to sweep the floor using a broom twice as tall as they were. No, they didn’t do a good job—that wasn’t the point. The point was to help them learn to be responsible for something. Sue had a chore chart on the refrigerator door, and next to the Bible, that chart on the refrigerator door was everything. Our kids are grown now, but they still talk about that chart.
The book of Genesis makes it very clear that we are put on this earth to work, and to be productive. The first three chapters talk about tending the garden and being given dominion. (Genesis 1-3) Work became onerous because of the Fall, but the fact is, we all need responsibilities and accountability. Give the kids a job to do, and don’t spoil them with money.
3: Teach your children the difference between right and wrong.
If you ask my kids today what was the worst thing a child could do growing up in the Sloan family, I’m confident that each of them would give you the same answer without prompting. The worst thing a Sloan child could do was tell a lie.
Sue and I taught our children that we were all part of a family covenant, and that covenant was based on trust. If they lied to us, they would break that covenant. Our kids knew that it was far better to confess what they had done and bear the punishment than to tell a lie. The penalty for lying was many times worse than the penalty for any other wrongdoing because we wanted our kids to know that the whole foundation of faithfulness is broken when we don’t tell the truth.
Let your kids know that there are things that are right and things that are wrong.
4: Teach your children the scriptures.
You may think your kids aren’t paying attention, but if you tell them the stories of God’s word and read to them from the Bible, you will shape and influence them for good. Vacation Bible School, Sunday School, Bible drills, and scripture reading in the home are all invaluable activities.
Closely related to scriptural formation is the importance of prayer. We’ve always prayed with our kids. In fact, I can to this day pray with any of my kids in a public place and you’d never know. I can walk up to my son Paul, give him a hug, and whisper a quick prayer in his ear. Only Paul hears it, but Paul knows I’m praying for him. We did that when the kids were little, and we’ve kept up the tradition.
5: Love your children deeply.
Love your kids enough to punish them when they need to be punished. You’ll have time enough to become friends after your child has grown—first you must be a loving authority figure.
Jesus had friends among his 12 disciples, but he only called them friends after he had worked with them for awhile. Similarly, the scriptures tell us that God and Abraham had a sort of friendship, but this friendship only began after their relationship had been established for some time.
Think of friendship as a kind of capstone to parenting. It’s not your place to be your child’s buddy. Love your children enough to say “no” when they need to hear it. Love them enough to discipline them. One of the greatest joys in life is to see your children grow and become your friends when they are older.
If your children know that you love them, they’ll take seriously the belief that Jesus Christ is Lord, that the Bible is the word of God, and that they ought to tell the truth. They’ll internalize all of those deeply held convictions.
I hope and pray that you can find these suggestions helpful in raising your children—but remember that none of us is perfect. You can’t do everything right, and even if you could, your kids might still choose to follow a foolish path. However, God’s grace is sufficient, and if you put your trust in him, all things do indeed work together for God’s good purposes (2 Corinthians 12:9; Romans 8:28).