Friday, June 13, 2008

"Successful" Parenting

We might all have different ideas about what successful parenting actually looks like in practice. Some do so-called "gentle" or attachment parenting... some follow particular books, authors, or methods for the "meat" of their parenting... some choose public schools... some make other choices.

Undoubtedly though, for Christian parents, the most important thing is getting the good news of Christ as the Savior of the world into the hearts and minds of our children. So we may all differ in one way or another on externals, but the most important thing is the delivery of the message of Jesus Christ. But if we're only mimicking the "success" of others, and don't truly "own" the plan ourselves, our hope that our children will have faith in Christ may come to nothing. In fact, if we deliver faith in something OTHER than Christ (perhaps money, beauty, or even something "good" like a Christian author, parenting method, or book), we may set them up for life-long rejection of the gospel.

It reminds me of the French castle scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail... where the knights of the round table want to get inside of the castle, so Sir Bedevere declares to King Arthur, "Sir... I have a plan... ." Soon, a giant wooden rabbit is being noisily wheeled by the soldiers towards the front gate of the castle (modeled after the Trojan horse, of course). They then run away to hide in the woods and see what happens next.

After the French soldiers have stealthily examined and approved the rabbit, they wheel it inside the castle. Just behind a little hill, we see the "knights of the round table" giddily hiding, and we hear:

Arthur: "What happens now?"
Bedevere: "Well, now, uh, Lancelot, Gallahad, and I, uh, wait until nightfall, and leap out of the rabbit, taking the French by surprise. Not only by surprise, but totally unarmed!"
Arthur: "*Who* leaps out of the rabbit?"
Bedevere: (pointing to each knight as he names them) "Uh, Lancelot, Gallahad, and I, uh... leap out of the rabbit, uh.... and uh..."
Lancelot: (groans)
Bedevere: "Oh, um, look, if we built this large wooden badger..."

And Arthur rightly knocks Bedevere on his head.
My point is this: Bedevere wasn't coming up with his own plan. He was simply trying to mimic what worked for someone else. We don't need to put our hopes on "what works". And we don't need to look at what some other parents did as our ultimate goal. Should we learn from others? Absolutely!

But the verse in Proverbs says, "Train up a child in the way he should go"... and too many teachers have claimed that for their own method. Truth is, the verse is talking about knowing your child and training them up according to the way God built them-- their aptitudes, interests, personality, and maturity. We're not to parent every child in a factory-like manner. It shouldn't be a cookie-cutter approach. And the funny thing is-- we know that when it comes to our own children-- we know that our second child is nothing like our first, and that the discipline methods/teaching methods/etc. that "work" with our first child often don't work with our second or third in the exact same way. BUT-- we sometimes forget that when we look around at other families-- we see God at work in other families and may unscrupulously try to copy what they're doing instead of inquiring what HE would do in our family, with our unique family DNA.

If another family is doing something that you ought to be doing-- intentional discipling of their children, or training their children in biblical obedience-- then you SHOULD find a way to bring that into your own family life. But we shouldn't be blindly following any method, family, or parenting philosophy without checking it against Scripture and against the God-given vision He's given us as parents for our families.

God made us each as individuals... and we are all different. And yet, we have His unchanging Word. So, we each as individuals need to look at the scriptures, look at what they say about parenting, about wisdom, about children, about teaching, about families... and implement them in that unique way that God built our family to do.

Some fathers may like theology and that may be a regular dinner table topic... other fathers may be better at teaching about God as they go about life-- on the baseball field and on the drive to the lake, etc. But all Christian fathers ought to be teaching.

Same thing for us as Christian mothers... one mother's approach may look different externally from other mothers' approaches, but we are all trying to do what Bedevere was trying to do: safely deliver something (or more specifically, Someone) into a place that is, for all practical purposes, out of our control. Now, we differ from those knights in that we are not trying to do it stealthily, or for ill purposes... but we DO need to get the pure, Biblical gospel into the hands, hearts, and minds of the children God has given us.

Funny thing, though, because they built it poorly the first time, the knights' chances of success for any future attempt (like building a wooden "badger") were probably close to nil. They were so busy focused on getting the outside "right" that they forgot to focus on what was INSIDE the large, wooden rabbit.

If we spend our time making the outside *look* right, but we aren't actively stoking true faith, we are setting our children up for spiritual disaster. They KNOW when we are faking it. They KNOW whether or not we really believe God answers prayer. They KNOW whether or not Christ is permeating every part of our homes or just something we "do" on Sundays. They KNOW if our hearts are set towards eternal things or towards storing up our treasures here on earth. We have to let Christ do His work inside of us rather than focusing on getting all the outside things "right".

We need not sit around fretting about if our home looks or doesn't look like someone else's home. We don't have to have the same amount of children, or have the same bedtime routine, or do "school" in the same way, or have the same philosophy about discipline in order to be unified in our goal of honoring Jesus Christ in our family, and teaching our children to trust Him for all of their lives. We don't have to build a large wooden rabbit (or a badger!) just because someone else "succeeded" by building a large wooden structure.

Prayer and obedience should be the keystones of our parenting "method"... and learning from others is great, but should not take precedence over the importance of the Word. Seek to know Jesus and to make Him known in your home... and do it in a way that is natural for how God built you.


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