So, what exactly is Christian parenting?
- Home schooling delivered by a full-time stay at home mum?
- A safe, accepting place where we instill in our children a strong sense of security and freedom?
- An orderly and disciplined home, where the “rod” is paramount to shaping a child’s character?
- Pretty much like any other parenting, apart from we encourage our kids to go to Sunday School and Christian summer camps?
- Teaching our children to respect authority?
- The decision to send our kids to a boarding school with a long history of evangelical Christian witness?
These are all approaches that we’ve come across in our exploration of Christian parenting.
When we found out that we were expecting our first child it suddenly dawned on us that we were going to be responsible for another human being. Us!
Surely you should have to pass an exam or something first?
Time to start the homework…
We read several Christian books, we went on two Christian parenting courses(!), we started listening to podcasts and reading blogs… you name it, we did it. We like to think that we were just excited, but others may think we were borderline neurotic! We also read our fair share of secular resources.
There was lots of helpful stuff in this which we’ve implemented into our parenting and are very grateful for. The problem was this: lots of these really helpful resources (and some of the not so good stuff too) wasn’t given as helpful advice but rather was presented as universal fact.
Here’s our conclusion on the matter. The Bible has much less law to lay down on Christian parenting than we often think.
It says that Christian parents are to teach their kids about God in everyday life, at every opportunity. Such as here:
“18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 11:18-19)
It also says that the way parents treat their kids is really important – don’t embitter them, love them, discipline them, counsel them, provide for them, and so on.
And it says that the way kids treat their parents is really important – listen to them, obey them, respect them, honour them, provide for them etc.
Other than these things, there’s not a lot else that the Bible directly says about Christian parenting. And for many of these things, it rarely prescribes exactly how we are to go about them.
Which is interesting, isn’t it?!
Despite this, lots of cultural expressions of Christian parenting are presented with an authority that would suggest they’re directly from the Bible. When the reality is, they’re just not.
Don’t get us wrong. There’s lots of wisdom out there on Christian parenting. But we need to remember that it is just that. Wisdom. Ideas that are generally true in lots of situations. But every situation is different. Each family is made up of unique individuals, living in different contexts, with different pressures, strains, resources and opportunities. So Christian parenting can never be a one-size-fits-all, pre-packaged formula.
One of the beautiful realities of Christianity is that it does not call for a uniform culture that is dictated and prescribed (unlike some other religions). Rather, whatever culture Christianity is being expressed in, the culture remains but is shaped and moulded by the Christian worldview. This applies in the realm of parenting too.
In Spain, children regularly stay up with their family till 10pm at night. In Japan, children as young as 7 catch the underground by themselves. In Vietnam, babies are potty trained to the sound of a whistle – at the grand age of 9 months old! (Don’t believe us? Check out this article).
You’ll read some of these cultural differences and gasp in shock. You’d never permit that for your child! But here’s the thing: if you were a parent (even a Christian parent) living in that culture, you wouldn’t bat an eyelid. And nor would your peers. Yet people in that culture would look to some of the choices that you and your culture make and think “How on earth do they justify that?!”
The same is true for generational differences. It only takes being with your parents/ in-laws and grandparents for the briefest amount of time for this to show. Differing opinions about feeding, sleeping and children’s manners abound, which can have its tensions and hilarities! “Thank you Nanna for that advice” we said, while secretly thinking ‘there’s no way that I’m putting a rusk in my two months old’s bottle of milk’! (Yes that was actually recommended!)
So, let’s stop labelling our societal preferences or even Christian-subculture norms of Christian parenting as the way to parent as Christians. They might be right in your particular situation. They might even be right for lots of other people. But they aren’t Biblically prescribed, and so we should be careful to look down on other Christian parents who do it differently.
We’ve all done it. We’ve all looked at another parent’s choices and felt that little glow of self-righteousness. In writing this we’ve been convicted again of our tendency to use parenting as a way of exalting ourselves.
Well the gospel is for us too. The gospel says that we’re forgiven for our self-righteousness, that Jesus has dealt with it on the cross and given us the power to live differently going forward. And the gospel means that we can view those situations differently next time.
It says that a lot of the decisions about how we parent our children don’t matter nearly as much as we think they do. Isn’t that hugely liberating!
It frees us from the tyranny of self-righteousness that only ever leads to our own condemnation as we fail to live up to our own high standards.
And it frees us to be generous to those who are different to us, just as Jesus is generous to us.
So then, let’s be those who have open, loving conversations about parenting. Let’s seek to edify and build up, not to tear down. Let’s seek to extend grace, just like it’s been extended to us.
Let’s not get so bogged down by important but secondary issues within parenting, and instead let’s keep the main thing the main thing: let’s keep sharing Jesus with our children at every possible opportunity.
So here’s the most important question. How can we keep chatting to our children about Jesus in everyday life at every opportunity?
Because let’s be honest: eating, education and environment are the easy bit really. The real challenge of Christian parenting is keeping the gospel at the centre of it all. Chatting about Jesus and living for Jesus – that’s the battle of the Christian life. And that’s the battle of the Christian parent. But it’s the joy too.
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