Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Parenting Myths (Sunday's Sermon)

The earth is flat. Mankind did not land on the moon. The Jews did not suffer and die in concentration camps during World War II. Aliens have visited our world on numerous occasions, and much of the evidence is concealed in Area 51. The Illuminati is a secret society that has been in existence for hundreds of years, and want to take over the world.

Although some may believe that one or more of these are true – and may even belong to an organization like the Flat Earth Society – most of us would recognize these statements as myths or urban legends. We might be tempted to laugh at people that do believe these. Yet – as we discovered last summer in our MythBuster series – we all tend to believe a few myths – and today I’d like to examine a few about parenting.

My Children are Basically Good

- The Bible calls children a blessing and reward from the Lord, wonderfully made, a source of joy, recipients of God’s kingdom. Newborn babies (perhaps after a bit of clean up) are cute and cuddly. Their first smiles melt our hearts, their first laughs reach deep into our souls. Each developmental step brings joy. Their sincerity, their wholeheartedness, their curiosity, much of our experience with them may cause us to view them as basically good. Scripture would disagree.

- Romans 3:23 reminds us. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Romans 3:10, “There is no one righteous, not even one”. Ecclesiastes 7:20 is very clear, “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.”

- We might contend that these verses are talking about adults. However, David shocks us in Psalm 51:5, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” Romans 7 & 8 remind us that each of us are born with a sinful nature, one that we cannot overcome without Jesus Christ.

- So what are the practical applications of this truth? Do I need to treat my children as filthy, rotten sinners, unworthy of anything except punishment and condemnation? Of course not. But we do need to follow God the Father’s example of parenting us, showing us love, blessing us, training us, but also disciplining us so that we follow Him more closely. And we need to be very careful of parenting or teaching programs that start with the “man is basically good” foundation, which are often long on kindness but short on practical discipline. Many of us were raised under such a philosophy, and struggle to accept God’s truth or work in our lives, living under the deception that we are good, that all we need is a break or some education, all evidence to the contrary.

My Children Don’t Require Much Discipline

- Some of our children are compliant. Some of us, due to our personalities or past experiences, hate the idea of disciplining our children. The world teaches us that spanking, stern words, allowing children to suffer the consequences of their actions and/or depriving children of something they like are all examples of child abuse, or at least poor parenting. We see images of child abuse or hear about children that are taken away from their parents. Put these factors together, and we tend to hold off.

- And our children suffer for it.

- The most perfect child in the universe was Jesus Christ. He did not have a sin nature, and did not sin. Yet Hebrews 2:10 tells us that God the Father worked with His Son while here on earth, bringing Him to perfection through suffering.

- Hebrews 12 teaches us that God disciplines all His children, just as we should ours. Proverbs 13:24 is very blunt: “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” Proverbs 23:14 reminds us that discipline saves a child’s soul from death. Need I continue?

- So, discipline your children. Utilize a variety of methods that are in accordance with His word (I don’t recommend thumb screws or screaming at the top of your lungs!). Keep it private (as God often does with us, see Matthew 18), keep it loving, avoid selfish anger or motivations whenever possible. But discipline!

I Need to Be Totally Involved in My Children’s Lives

- I wish to publicly thank H. Norman Wright for sharing this in his book, “The Power of a Parent’s Words.” His point is that some parents over-involve themselves in their children’s lives, making them the center of attention every day, living their lives out through them, burning themselves out. He suggests that we may believe this myth if we:

** Insist that our child eat everything on his plate
** Restrict our child from some activities because we’re afraid they might get hurt
** Dress our child, tie his shoes, do other things from him/her that they are capable of doing themselves
** Continue to remind our child or teen to wear warm clothes on a cold day
** Regularly do homework for the child
** Give child no household responsibilities
** Walk an older child to school every day
** Have our lives dominated by external, child-centered activities
** Don’t allow others to care for or baby-sit the child
** Only allow our teens to spend time with friends we select from them
** Always pick up after the child, including his room

- I tell you, one or two of these got my attention – and I’m not sure they’re all true. The list certainly is not scripture, but it does make us think.

- Proper balance is found in a passage we studied a few weeks back, Deuteronomy 6:4-9. Love God passionately first (not make idols of our children), keep His word on our hearts. Teach our children about Him and His word as we’re on our way (not necessarily theirs) – as we sit together at home, as we walk on the road, as we get up and go to bed. This doesn’t mean we can’t have special activities for them, rather, that our lives cannot be dominated by 7x24 parenting, running ourselves (and them) into the ground.

I Need to Protect My Children from Bad Circumstances

- I want to be very careful here. This myth contains much truth. We do need to protect our children from people who would harm and exploit them, from circumstances that they are too young to understand or too weak to handle. We’re probably all agreed here.

- But we can become overprotective, particularly with older children and teens. One of the ways to learn is to suffer the consequences of a bad decision. As we noted earlier, God taught His Son through difficult circumstances & suffering. Sometimes we hold a child back from going to a funeral, but do they need to learn about death? Sometimes we keep children away from sickness and suffering, but will they then avoid suffering family and friends when they get older? Sometimes we’re scared to let them go on a missions trip, will they then learn to avoid adventures of faith later in life? Sometimes we bail a teenager or young adult child out of self-caused financial problems, will they then learn to depend on bailouts (corporate or otherwise) later in life? Such questions require wisdom, and don’t have 100% answers. James 1:5 reminds us that, if we lack wisdom, we can ask God and He will supply it. Sometimes God is teaching our children through difficult circumstances, and we’re standing in His way.

I Am Totally Responsible for My Child

- Here’s a myth that many parents believe, frankly, it’s almost instinctive. We tend to internally believe – although it sounds a bit strong or absurd when we state it aloud – that a child’s success or failure depends entirely on our parenting.

- The myth is reinforced by our viewpoint that Proverbs 22:6, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” – is a divine guarantee – we do our job, and all our children will turn out.

- Let me ask a few questions. What happened to a child’s freedom of will? What happened to adult children’s choices as they move away from home? What happened to the sin nature that each of us has? What happened to the viewpoint that Proverbs 22:6 may be a general principle, rather than a universal promise? What happened to God the Father’s (the perfect parent, if there ever was one) parenting of Adam and Eve, and the whole human race in general?

- There is a part of this myth that is true: if we parent poorly, our children certainly can be impacted. If we have sinned against our children, particularly over a significant period of time, we need to deal with it by confession and repentance, to God and to them. If they are still home, we need to change directions in our parenting approaches, moving away from selfishness and pride.

- But then we need to move through the guilt, through the frustration, through the self-condemnation into the freedom and peace that God gives. We need to realize that our children also have responsibility, and need to be interacted with accordingly.

Don’t take my word for it, examine scripture, discover how God wants you to parent. Don’t just believe what you were taught, or what you picked up along the way. Allow myths to fall by the wayside. Proactively parent. Let’s pray.


I'm Losing It! said...

I didn't read your entire post, (that would spoil it for Sunday), but I just reviewed a book called "10 Dumb Things Christians Believe". It's not specifically about parenting, but one of the myths in this book is: "A godly home guarantees good kids." I'm giving two copies away on my blog, but I'd gladly borrow you my own copy if you're interested. You also might want to check out my other post from yesterday, it's "for the birds."

Qtpies7 said...

What a sermon I missed!