Broadly, you should think of training up children like teaching them to ride a bike. In the earliest years, you are doing everything for them. In elementary school, you begin letting your child make some decisions and balance for themselves, while you’re still hovering over everything. Finally, at some point in high school, you should let go, allowing them to ride for themselves before they actually leave home, while you’re still close by to catch them or help them up.
This means that you should think of parenting in the earliest years as a benevolent totalitarian dictatorship. It really should be full of joy, and you should do everything for them. Your job is to give them reality as best as you can.
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).
A GARDEN OF EDEN
Because of the gospel, we live in a New Creation, and this means that as we walk in the light as God is in the light, confessing our sins, forgiving one another quickly, and remaining in fellowship with God and one another, we live in a new Garden of Eden. When it comes to raising children there really has to be a center of joyful fellowship. Everything else works primarily because of that joyful fellowship.
In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth, and He placed our first parents in a garden full of “yes” and one “no.” While sin has complicated matters, the world still is relatively simple, as Augustine put it: “love God and do as you please.” But since sinners are crafty and litigious, this can be helpfully expanded to the two greatest commandments, and every principle that is necessary for life is summarized in the Ten Commandments.
There are three important points to make here: First, focus on the principles not the particulars. Every principle must be applied in particular but don’t confuse the two. Prohibitions against jumping on the couch are usually reasonable applications of “love your neighbor as yourself,” but they aren’t identical. Second, strive to keep your house rules few and simple. Don’t multiply rules like a statist. Third, make your home a “Garden of Yes,” with tasty foods, good stories, jokes, games, adventure, joy, and lots of “get to” not “got to.” While there will be some hard things to do, remember their frames and focus on the principles (Ps. 103:13-15).
THE NECESSITY OF CHEERFUL OBEDIENCE
The central command that God gives to children is to obey their parents in the Lord, and this means that the central parental duty is to teach this obedience through training children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:1-4). “Nurture and admonition” is literally the “culture and counsel” of Jesus. This means that we are required to raise our children up in a coherent worldview and way of life. One of the ways parents provoke their children to wrath is by their incoherent or inconsistent application God’s Word. But children can smell hypocrisy a mile away. Children should know that their family is committed to doing whatever God says, that He is the Lord of the home, His Word is law, including if that means Dad or Mom was wrong about something.
Another way parents provoke their children is by not preparing them for obedience. Good parents should think of their role like good coaches. Your children should know that you are on their team (refer back to the “Garden of Yes”), and they should know that obedience to God is the way of life, joy, adventure, and blessing. So practice obedience regularly. Practice the “plays” – the commands and responses, that they will need before church, shopping, birthday parties, house guests, etc. Practicing obedience with lots of positive reinforcements and praise is positive discipline.
THE ROD OF LOVE
The Bible also clearly teaches that painful negative discipline is required of loving parents. “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth… But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons” (Heb. 12:6, 8). Failure to discipline children is slow motion disowning. Discipline communicates love and belonging: “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Prov. 13:24). “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him” (Prov. 22:15). Sometimes parents are stumped about how to get through to a child, how to get to his heart: “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol” (Prov. 23:13-14). Notice too that the Bible anticipates the objection that physical discipline will harm a child. Loving discipline does just the opposite: it saves a child from far greater harm. Remember, the goal is to win your child back into fellowship. And this means that the gospel, forgiveness, reconciliation, and restitution need to be regular parts of discipline.
BOYS & GIRLS ARE DIFFERENT (PT. 1)
Over the next couple of weeks, we will return to this point, but it really needs to be underlined here. From conception God has impressed His glorious image in every human being in the shape of male or female. Many well-meaning Christians have largely neglected this until adolescence and the further down the drain our culture has decomposed, the less children are prepared. You should be thinking about preparing and protecting your children from sexual folly, sin, predators, and confusion from jump. Encourage young girls to embrace their femininity, being lady-like, enjoying beauty, homemaking, and practicing for motherhood. Encourage young boys to embrace their masculinity, being gentlemen, working hard, being tough, and practicing to be leaders, husbands, and fathers. Don’t panic if they express some different desires, but cheerfully tell them what it means that God made them male/female in His image.
Remember that God takes us where we are, not where we should have been. In Jesus Christ, there is now a way back into the Garden, back into fellowship with God and one another. If you have sinned and failed, confess your sins, and get back into fellowship, get back into the light. Christian obedience flows from this grace. Because we are sons, we get to serve our King.