I have now had the pleasure of observing from their earliest years the traits first of children, then grandchildren, and now great-grandchildren. I’ve noticed that if you observe carefully you can see their dispositional tendencies from the start.
Before they can talk or even walk they show on their faces and by their responses their reactions to people and life in general. And those traits tend to carry over to some degree when they arrive on the shores of adulthood.
One child has a sunny disposition from the start; another is unusually shy around all but close relatives. One child is full of self-confidence; another takes considerable encouragement to embrace new challenges. One tends to be defiant against all orders; another is easier to convince to go along. They all seem to share to one degree or another the ability to manipulate, to deceive, even that wretched impulse to punish parents who are supposed to regulate their lives. Likewise, they all at times have flashes of loving generosity toward parents.
If I could run my life back two generations to the time when our children were small I know I would study each one separately much more carefully than I did. I see even now how different they were in temperament.
I’m not a trained psychologist but I have gleaned from my child-raising experiences one truth that I find myself repeating over and over again. It’s that every child comes into the world with a “package,” one that their parents have to work with. They do not come as a blank sheet to be written on.
In the Bible, Esau was an outdoors type; Jacob was more for the indoor life. Esau was a man of appetite in the moment; Jacob was a cunning trader who could hold for the long view. But they were twins, both from the same mother and father. Each came into the world with his own package.
As our children were growing up, my wife, Kathleen, and I tended to pool our insights regarding how we would handle difficult situations. We had slightly different perspectives on what to do, and that was good. In fact, God made us to bring a male and female perspective to a parenting situation. But because of our shared values we agreed fully on the outcomes we were working and praying for.
We wanted our children to know Christ as we have known him. And character-wise we wanted them to be honest, respectful, obedient, and accountable to us even as they matured and went farther afield.
It pleased us to see them become resourceful and enterprising as they grew up. Perhaps some of this came from parental example and encouragement, but I think a fair portion of it came from the genes. They hustled and got their own odd jobs, saved their money, and bought some of their own clothes, or a bicycle, or fish tanks, or other things they were left to themselves to provide.
They were not without their squabbles. For siblings, fighting for territorial rights and jockeying for favor go with the territory. Sometimes it was tiring to us as it is for all involved parents. Those issues seemed to recede with the coming of adulthood and the children became staunch supporters of one another. And when they bring their spouses home, the mutual support among them all is a joy to see.
I feel for young parents who are bringing children up in today’s environment. There are so many external anti-family lures to contend with -– sitcoms in living color, often with subtle anti-Christian biases, cell phones, the whole perilous world of the Internet, texting (and sexting), early access to automobiles, a movie industry that can’t always be monitored, and even some educational influences in school that contradict family values.
Yet, I believe when properly administered, good family influences are stronger than all the counter influences. What are some of the things parents can do to increase the likelihood of winning the children to Christ and to adopt family values? Here are nine:
(1) Read the Bible and pray with them daily. Make it a family time.
(2) Take them to a church regularly where the preaching is biblical, clear, and anointed and leads to the growth of community.
(3) Make sure you attend a church where Christian Education for all ages is taken seriously and encourages discussion.
(4) Keep alert to the friends they choose. Invite them into your home.
(5) Don’t be shy about keeping track of what they are seeing and doing on the Internet; you are their guardians.
(6) Have fun times with them on their level.
(7) Take them for a treat occasionally one-on-one. In this case, it will not be the size of the treat that counts, it will be the exclusive attention of a parent.
(8) Be sure they get to Christian camps where their activities are properly supervised and they are invited to give their lives to Christ or to follow him.
(9) Model consistency before them and when you come short acknowledge it. Children respect honesty.
In my opinion, parents today tend not to reckon with a child’s free will as they should. They should make much of it when parenting, rather than considering themselves totally responsible for outcomes. By the time children are 15 they have made scads of choices that are rapidly shaping who they are becoming and what value system they will live by. Lying, cheating, stealing, sassing, rebelling –- these are all options open to them, however seriously their parents coach them in uprightness and decency and respect.
Children should therefore be held responsible for their choices. This needs to be brought home to them from their early years. I remember little sayings repeated to me in my childhood that infected me with a sense of personal responsibility from early years onward: “If you make your bed, you have to lie on it.” Or, “Your chickens will come home to roost.” Or, “Birds of a feather flock together.” Whenever I was unresponsive to parental advice regarding some decision, one such saying would be dropped into my memory and left with me to accept or reject. They were effective lines.
The battle for the souls of our children is a taxing one, but one well worth waging on every front -– the spiritual, the moral, the social. At the same time, every child must be helped to understand clearly that they are fully responsible for the decisions they make that seal their eternal destiny. The key decision: “What will you do with Jesus?”
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