The goal of parenting is not merely that our children would submit to the standard, but rather that they would love the standard (Dt. 6:5-7). Our goal is not merely that their faith would survive intact or that they would avoid various moral hazards. Our goal is that they would rise up with us and do damage to the Kingdom of darkness, that they would be hazards to unbelief and immorality. We want to raise dangerous kids – children that hate the darkness even more than us, love Jesus even more than us, and drive the Devil and all his works further off the field.
“Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep. Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is hisreward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.” (Psalm 127)
SPEAKING WITH ENEMIES IN THE GATE
The end of this Psalm implies something about how God builds houses and guards cities: He gives children that understand the mission and join us in the work (Ps. 127:5, 1). Parenting in faith (versus fear/anxiety) means looking for that fruit expectantly and encouraging it and praising it as it emerges. As children finish their elementary and middle school years, there should be less artificial consequences, more real-life consequences (e.g. chores, restitution, etc.), and more and more dialogue about everything. This means that you need to shift your tone from one of gracious authority to a tone of friendship and counsel. The goal is that your children will speak with your enemies in the gates as your peer, and you are the one primarily responsible that they be prepared to do that.
There are many warnings in Scripture about the power of words: death and life are in the power of the tongue (Prov. 18:21). Sharp words are like a dagger, but the tongue of the wise gives good health (Prov. 12:18). A wholesome tongue is a tree of life (Prov. 15:4). This applies to all people, but the way spouses talk to one another and parents to their children is potent, especially when you disagree with them or they have sinned or made some mistake. Remember also, that you are helping them prepare for their own marriages and families, so focus on loving your daughters and respecting your sons in your words, affection, and loyalty. The irony is that a certain kind of critical harping (about “high” standards) often tempts children to join the enemy, while respectful dialogue and patient, friendly sparing prepares them to speak with the enemy.
Remember that the plan is for your children to leave your home, and therefore, sometime in high school you should tell your son/daughter that they are free to do whatever they want in the Lord. The goal is for them to act like adults while they are still in your home, so that if/when they run into challenges/trouble, you are right there to help before they leave. And when sin/folly occurs, resist the temptation to overreact or clamp down. Treat them the way you would want to be treated; try to remember what you were like at that age. Maybe think about how you would talk to another teenager who needs help; your teenagers should get your best version. And think about accountability in the same way: offer it, encourage it, and only insist on it, if God requires it. Related to all of this: pick your battles carefully. Way better to stay in fellowship and let some things go than to overzealously drive your children away.
BOYS & GIRLS ARE DIFFERENT (PT. 2)
Sexual temptations that face teenagers generally incline boys to desire and girls desire to be desired. This is because God made women to be the glory of man (Gen. 2:23, 1 Cor. 11:7). There is nothing sinful about noticing this, but honoring the marriage bed means not allowing lust to contaminate your mind or emotions. Chastity means not giving or taking physically or emotionally what God has not blessed. While this certainly means that men must pursue covenant fidelity, particularly with their eyes (Job 31:1), it must also be pointed out that women must pursue covenant fidelity, particularly with their emotions (Song 2:7, 3:5). Practically, parents should talk about the glory of marriage and children from the earliest days, allowing for no foolish talk of “crushes” or “who likes who” or dating before marriage is an actual possibility. More on this next week.
CONCLUSION: WHEN YOU HAVEN’T DONE IT RIGHT
When you haven’t been doing it right, the answer is to confess your sins and repent as much as you can (Js. 5:16). But begin by confessing your sin to God, seeking His forgiveness, and praying for His grace to repent and lead your family back into the light (Job 1:5). Don’t try to turn the whole thing on a dime. Talk to your spouse, and make sure you’re on the same page first. Make sure there aren’t any outstanding disagreements, grudges, or offenses between you. Then pray hard together for some time about talking with your kids.
If your children are still relatively young (elementary years), confess your sins to them, and tell them that you are going to begin obeying God by requiring joyful, prompt obedience (Eph. 6:1). Maybe pick the top 1-2 things that need work, do 1-2 weeks of practice, and then enforce it. If there are 15 things that are wrong, just start with the top ones, don’t try to tackle everything at once. God is patient with us, and often small steps of repentance have a way of multiplying and clearing up other areas.
If your children are in middle school or high school (or even grown and gone), and you haven’t been faithful, you should sit them down (or call), explain what you haven’t done right, ask their forgiveness, and then tell them that you want to begin doing what is right. You should make it plain that you will not try to force their obedience but that you will strive to honor Jesus. Ask them if they are willing to join you. Make a plan together for how you will establish new patterns of life. Keep the gospel at the center. Jesus turns the hearts of fathers and children.