Thus far, we have considered the context of all child-rearing, the attitude underneath all child nurture, and the mechanics of discipline. We will finish this short series on loving little ones by addressing a miscellaneous collection of remaining issues.
“Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust. As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more. But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children; To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them” (Ps. 103:13-18).
The Lord does not look down on us with contempt. Rather, He looks down on us with pity, the same way a human father pities his children (v. 13). He does this knowing our frame; He knows how we are constituted, and knows that we are but dust. He knows our frailty (v. 14). We are here for a brief time; our days are like the grass (v. 15). One brief summer, then we are done with it (v. 16). But in contrast to this feeble existence, the mercy of the Lord is not feeble (v. 17). His mercy is from everlasting to everlasting to those who fear him, and His righteousness is bestowed on grandchildren—to those who keep His covenant, to those who remember His commandments (v. 18). We see here the general outline of this series of messages: the context of all is God’s pity and compassion for us, and His realization of our frailty. For precisely this reason, His covenant (which includes means for forgiveness) and His law (which reveals His holy character) are not dispensible.
Think in terms of generations, and try to get your head and heart out of the day you are having, or the week you are having. Look past the dishes, look past the pile of laundry, look past the swats you have to give today for the same offense you gave swats for yesterday. Look past it all because child-rearing is a generational labor. God knows your work; it is not in vain.
There is such a thing as parental failure—we are not offering sentimental comfort here. But failure is not measured by discovering that today is very similar to yesterday. This is also true of all long-term successful enterprises. When you want godly feedback on how you are doing, take care to look in the right place. And if you are looking there— in Scripture—be encouraged.
Understand the Nature of the Process
Your children are being raised up to maturity, and one day they will occupy the same station in life which you currently occupy. This means that you must understand that you are dealing with a very different situation when your child is fifteen years away from leaving your home and two years away from leaving your home. Too many Christian parents get this part exactly backwards.
When children are little and sin is still (comparatively) cute, it is easy to go easy on the discipline. You relax a little bit too much and the roof doesn’t fall in completely. All the sins committed are at a toddler level. But when your child is old enough to seriously destroy his or her life, you panic and clamp down. This is backwards. Young children thrive in an environment of strict, loving, predictable, and enforced discipline. Teenagers thrive when they have been trained to be trustworthy and then are trusted. But if you are still doing “the same thing” fifteen years later, the central thing this should tell you is that the standards have not been internalized. If your sixteen-year-old still has training wheels in his bike, something is messed up. External rules are training wheels, and not a permanent part of the bike.
Education is Central
In many Christian circles, it is commonplace to speak this way: “We don’t want to emphasize academics so much—we want to focus on character issues.” The problem with this is that it presents a false dichotomy. Academics is a character issue. It is the work that children have been assigned to do—for good reason—and to set it aside for the sake of “character” is really misguided. Picture a number of men sweating away with pick-axes and shovels, digging a ditch. Off to the side we see one of them leaning on his shovel, and we look long enough to tell that this is not a well-earned break. We might go over and ask him what he is doing, and, if we did, we would probably not expect him to reply that he is “emphasizing character instead.” That is precisely the one thing he is not doing.
This said, it is cheerfully acknowledged that getting the academic work done is not the only character issue, but it is an indispensible character issue. “The sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason” (Prov. 26:16). This can certainly apply to the parents or teachers as well.
Boys and Girls
Remember that we are created in the image of God, and this means we were created male and female. That is how we bear the image of God (Gen. 1:27). But you are not rearing generic human beings until adolescence, at which point differences make their first appearance. When Eve gives birth to Cain, she notices right away. “And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD” (Gen. 4:1). Bring up your children with stereotypes in mind, but carry them and apply them in all wisdom. Generalizations are true, but they are true as generalization. Use them to nurture your girls, not to insult them
Faith and Works
God has set a pattern of good works for us; He has established good works for us to walk in. Among these good works, we must certainly include the good works you are doing as parents (Eph. 2:10). But this means that all your parental efforts must be ground themselves in God’s grace, appropriated through faith. Your children will not “turn out” by works. Viewed from the side, your parental efforts will look like a lot of work to others. But viewed from within, everything proceeds from grace and to grace. This is why you can extend grace to your children—because you are a non-stop recipient of it (2:8-9).