Parenting is tough. It’s messy and exhausting. But it’s also sanctifying and rewarding. If there is one thing I have become more aware of since the day I became a mom, it is that I am insufficient; I am selfish; I am depraved. I know that my kids need me, but I am fully aware they need their Heavenly Father more.
Unfortunately, there is no way to write a few sentences that will solve all our parenting problems. The reality is, any parent who writes about parenting is just a sinner talking about raising sinners. And no matter how we parent or how much we pray, there is nothing we can do to guarantee our children embrace the truth of the Gospel. Ultimately, any “good behavior” and authentic heart change in our children is brought about by the work of the Holy Spirit.
In my insufficiency, I have watched, read, asked, listened, noticed, observed, prayed. And any little bit of “good” that I have done in my parenting has been by the grace of God and by learning from others.
Here are 4 parenting practices that I have noticed making a difference for Gospel-minded families:
- Intentionality. Deuteronomy 6: 5-7 says “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength. These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up."
Intentional parents recognize that their time with their children is limited. They have about 936 weeks with their child from birth until they are 18. Therefore, intentional parents take advantage of their weekends, their time around the dinner table, their time in the car, their bedtime routines; making sure to press into their children the truths that God has pressed into them.
They hold all their decisions up to the light of the Word and seek to make choices (schooling, activities, holidays, worship, fashion, work, finances, where they live, etc) through the filter of His will for their family and not through the filter of cultural expectations. They recognize that they are the manager of their family’s schedule. They recognize that if their child is in school all day and extracurricular activities every evening, then the majority of their child’s time is spent under the influence of other adults, so they choose wisely. They know the power of a family gathered around a dinner table instead of a TV and so they make family mealtime happen. They believe that family worship is not just for Sundays but can happen every day in their home.
They ensure that their children know that everyone does not look like them or have all the stuff that they do. They provide their children opportunities to serve. They make sure their children know that God’s heart is for them but His heart is also for the hungry kid in their school and the orphan across the globe.
When we parent with intentionality we believe in the power of our testimony for our kids and future generations so the work of the Lord in our lives is a constant refrain of our lips. If we are intentional parents, our children will grow up knowing that we firmly believe the truth of the gospel because we consistently spoke it to them in our homes.
Questions to ask ourselves:
- If someone else were to ask my kids what was important to their mom and dad, what would their answer be?
- Am I consistently praying for God to direct my decisions and am I willing to do things differently from the culture if God asks me to?
- Consistency. Gospel-minded parents recognize that, as inconvenient as it can be, the key is consistency with their presence, their expectations, and their actions.
They intentionally spend time engaged with their kids with this message communicated: you as an individual are important, and we as a family are important. Consistent parents make a priority to gather around the dinner table, turn off screens frequently, know their child’s interests, connect in some small way with their child every day. They are consistent about showing up in their child’s life.
These parents know that discipline is often inconvenient, but they do it anyway because they know the end result is more important than the temporary frustration. They recognize that constant nagging and begging do not produce actions when there is never any follow through. Parents with well-behaved children are parents whose children know what is expected of them and know what the consequences are if they do not act with obedience. These children aren’t constantly wondering if they can get away with a bad behavior, nor do they constantly feel as if they have no idea what their parent’s idea of a bad behavior is.
Finally, they recognize that if they want to develop character in their own child they must consistently model that behavior in their own lives. These parents understand the weight and responsibility of what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ.”
If we want our children to be patient, they must see that we extend that patience to them and others. If we want them to go the extra mile and help others even when it's inconvenient, then we must not regularly communicate to our kids that they are an inconvenience to us. If we want our kids to pray and be in the Word, then they must see us pray and be in the Word. We cannot expect our kids to act one way, when we do not model that behavior ourselves. Psalms 101:2 says, “I will live with a heart of integrity in my house.” Living with integrity in the world begins with living integrity in our home first.
Questions to ask ourselves:
- Do I model the character I want my children to develop?
- Do my children know what I expect of them? Are my expectations and responses unclear or inconsistent?
- Grace giving. Gospel-minded parents discipline but also practice grace. They talk about it often. They know that their discipline has the ability to heal or destroy. Colossians 3:21 says “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they don’t become discouraged.” When we parent with grace, we recognize that our children need to hear truth, love, and encouragement spoken into their hearts and minds more than they hear frustration, nagging, and discouragement. These parents aren’t just seeking to modify behavior so that it is more convenient and acceptable, but rather they are seeking to direct their child’s heart toward Christ.
Their children know that their parents mess up because their parents are humble enough and intentional enough to acknowledge their mistakes and ask for forgiveness. These kids know that when they mess up they can ask forgiveness from their parents and receive it (even if there are consequences). These parents edify their children and protect them, knowing that even at a young age they can feel shame and embarrassment. They do not broadcast their mistakes to the world. These children feel comfort in the knowledge that home is a safe place for them to make mistakes and learn from them. They know that their parents aren’t perfect but the God they serve is. This truth is constantly magnified in their home.
Parenting with grace means we constantly ask ourselves if we simply want well- behaved kids or if we want gospel-advancing children; are we simply modifying behavior or seeking to direct hearts toward the things of God? When we parent with grace we recognize that while we can try to control the behavior of our child only the Holy Spirit can produce authentic heart change.
Questions to ask ourselves:
- Do I discipline my children out of fear and frustration because their behavior is inconvenient or embarrassing? Or do I discipline with love and consistency because I want to direct them to Christ-like behavior?
- Am I willing to admit to my children when I make mistakes and ask their forgiveness? Do I offer forgiveness to them when they ask? Do I hold their past mistakes over them?
- Humility. Gospel-minded parents recognize they aren’t perfect, they don’t have all the answers, and they can’t do everything on their own. They spend considerable time on their knees and an abundance of time in the Scriptures. Their children hear them praying, see them searching the Word, and they embrace the invitation to worship and see God together not just in the church but as a family in the home. The name of Jesus is called on often in their everyday lives, not just for their kids’ sake, but because the parents recognize they need to hear His name spoken often too.
Humble parents seek the wisdom of others. They find those blazing a trail before them and they follow them. They ask their advice and make sure it lines up with the Word of God. They ask to be a part of the trail blazers lives so they can learn from their experience. They read books, listen to sermons and podcasts, and posture themselves with ears open to constant learning and evaluating.
Proverbs 11:2 says, “When arrogance comes, disgrace follows, but with humility comes wisdom.” Did you catch it? “…with humility comes wisdom.” When we humble ourselves under His authority, the Holy Spirit grants us wisdom that we aren’t capable of by ourselves. When we recognize and acknowledge our weaknesses as parents, we get to see God show off His strength as the Father.
Questions to ask ourselves:
- Am I praying for my parenting and interceding for my kids?
- Am I humble enough to be consistently learning in my parenting?
If we talk about the powerful practices of parents that make a difference we must first consider what our goal in parenting is: are we trying to raise “good” kids who grow up to choose well-paying careers, provide us with the right number of grandkids, and live in a house close to us? Or are we trying to raise courageous children who are seeking to advance the kingdom of God?
While I typed out these practices, I felt the sting of conviction in my own inadequacies and inconsistencies. The Holy Spirit was prompting me to write things because I needed to hear them. You and me… we can find comfort knowing that when we are weak, He is strong. We will fail as parents but God always succeeds as perfect Father.