One of the privileges of itinerant Christian ministry is staying with other Christians in their homes. Helen and I recently had six weeks of rich fellowship in the homes of English Christian friends.
As we travelled from home to home, we experienced an enormous variety of household rules and culture. Each household operates on a different schedule, with its own distinctive way of operating.
Nowhere is this more pronounced than in how each household raises its children – from the laid back informal approach to the more rigid rule based regime. For some families there is a clear way to do everything while others families are always on an experimental journey -making it up as they go along. Some teenagers are taught the value of money by taking part time jobs and other teenagers are taught the value of fun and pleasure by being freed from gainful employment. Some families have all the latest electronic gadgets and toys while others seem positively Luddite in their commitment to reading and jigsaws. In some families children address us formally by surname, others used our Christian names and still others used some term of affectionate respect like ‘uncle and aunty’ as if we are part of their extended family.
There are a myriad books on parenting in Christian and non-Christian bookshops. Many of these follow the latest fad – in some ways like diet books. Most of them, again like diet books, provide the reader with more guilt than useful advice.
There are courses and books that imply, if not state, the necessity to raise children by their particular method. Failing to do so seems sinful and complying seems to assure that your child will grow up to be free of the problems of youth and will certainly become Christian in their adulthood. Life is not so simple!
Children are not automatons to be trained or programmed. The tabula rasa theory of being born with no innate ideas or particular personalities has no evidence to support it. Babies do not come with a one-model-fits-all kind of personality, to be moulded by parents as they see fit. From birth parents have to adapt to the individual child as the child also adapts to the parents. And each child even within the one family is unique.
There are however some universals in parenting. The faithful commitment of parents to each other is the God given pattern in raising godly offspring (Malachi 2). That is not to say that single parents cannot raise godly offspring or that faithful couples will always succeed in raising godly offspring. But God’s purpose in our marital unity was the production of godly offspring. So one of the reasons of marital faithfulness should be to benefit our children and one of the ways to raise children is to be faithfully united to your marriage partner.
Another universal in child-raising is the folly and sinfulness in the heart of all children. (Proverbs 22:15) The idealism of some parents about the wisdom and innocence of their children means that they do not discipline or protect them sufficiently. On the other hand Paul warns fathers not to exasperate, discourage or provoke children to anger (Ephesians 6:4).
Of course one of the universals in child-raising is the love that parents have for their children which nourishes and encourages them like nothing else.
It was interesting to visit our friends in England again. For we had visited if not stayed in each of the homes before. Each family had within the broad generalities of Christian understanding, their own unique way of raising their children. Some were on the permissive end of the spectrum some on the restrictive end.
Naturally we have always been interested in the progress of our friends’ children. This time it was great to see how the children have all grown into happy contented young people with well-rounded personalities and great prospects for the future. They are all forging their lives in the world with varying degrees of success but with great joy to their parents. And with thankfulness to God we noticed that all the children are professing the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and are actively involved in the work of the gospel.
The differences in styles of parenting seemed to have made absolutely no difference to the outcomes. There seems to be more to parenting than formulas and fashions.