I’m a student of parenting methods. I’ve seen a lot of slogans and philosophies and parenting theories.
“Dare to shelter.”
“Break the will, but not the spirit.”
“First time obedience.”
“Biblical child training.”
I’ve heard that parents should teach their children the godly response to any situation, and the heart will follow. I’ve heard that training children is a simple as training a dog—provide enough negative stimuli, ambush and outlast for character flaws, and the child will learn to obey. I’ve heard that “biblical chastisement” will absolve the child of his sins before he comes to personal salvation. I’ve heard that the Christian parents who train their children to obey them will raise children who know how to obey God. I’ve heard that if you are consistent in your training, you will have a new child in 3 days. I’ve heard from child-training gurus that if their method is not working, you are doing something wrong—and that if they were in your home for 5 minutes they could tell you what it is. I’ve heard that if you shelter your children from knowing about evil, they will automatically be shocked by it. I’ve heard that if you protect them from ungodliness and negative influences, they won’t be led astray. I’ve heard that the goal of Christian parenting is good character. (I’m not pointing to any one teacher or philosophy—this is a mix of a lot of different ones I’ve encountered.)
I’m no expert and I haven’t finished raising my children. I am still forming my ideas about child-rearing and I’m hesitant to write with any authority until I see if my children turn out as I hope.
But I have observed parenting methods for a long time, and I’ve watched the fruit of these methods for many years. I’m seeing rotten fruit, a lot of shockingly rotten fruit from families who claimed to know how to raise godly families, even some who set themselves up as experts and taught others how.
After mulling this over for a long time, I’ve come to believe that the commonality in all these philosophies is that something other than Christ, His cross, and the transforming, redemptive power of the Gospel is at the center. I’m not saying that these philosophies don’t include the Gospel. I’m not saying that the families who implement these strategies don’t teach the Gospel. I’m not saying that those who embrace these ideas are not Christians, even very dedicated, loving Christians. And I know that by the grace of God, some really good kids come out of families who embrace these teachings. But the foundational belief is that something other than Christ can make us and our children good—training, sheltering, family, the right kind of church, or something else. At their foundations is the terrible sin of unbelief. The Gospel is not enough. We must put our hope, the hope for our children, in something else. It may sound like splitting hairs—but as my pastor says, it’s an important splitting of hairs.
I say with deep humility—I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to even say “fear and trembling”– that my goal is not to have a parent-centered home, a family-centered faith, or perfectly trained children. My goal is to have a Christ-centered home, and a Cross-centered faith, and to guide my children to surrender their wills to Jesus Who can transform their hearts and make them good. Sure, I want well-behaved, obedient kids. I want a strong family. I want something different for my children than the status quo. I want them to have strong character. I thank God that I’m in a church with many members who have hearts for Jesus and their families. But that’s not what will save my children, and it’s not where my hope should lie.
I don’t express this lightly. As I’ve watched these “philosophy trees” mature and bear a pitiful harvest, I’ve had a major shake-up in my own heart. I’ve fallen prey to some of these off-center ideas myself. In addition, I’ve been guilty of being “housework centered,” “childbearing centered,” “daily grind centered,” or “interest centered.” My husband is such a precious example of Christ-centeredness, but having one parent with a right heart is not enough to make a Christ-centered home. I’ve had to repent. Far, far too often my life has not been Christ-centered. And if I am not Christ-centered, then my home will not be Christ-centered. My family will not be Christ-centered. I won’t be an example to my children of a heart and life fully surrendered to Jesus and one that glories in the sacrifice of the Cross, a life that’s constantly becoming more like the Savior whom I love and to whom I surrender daily. I can be a good mother, a consistent disciplinarian, an excellent educator, and devoutly religious—but without JESUS HIMSELF at the center of my family and my mothering, I’m building on a faulty foundation.