Photo by Rachel Morris Photography
My wife and I have four children ranging in age from nine to three months. We spent most of the last decade learning how to be parents. I realize you are a parent whether you know what you are doing or not, but our desire has been to learn how to parent our children well.
One of the things I noticed in our time parenting is the tendency for things to go well for a season and then for things to go completely haywire for a season. For a while, we spend quality time with our kids and then we get into a busy season where it feels like our kids get the short end of the stick. We see have family devotions consistently and then all of a sudden I can’t remember when our last devotion was. We discipline our kids consistently for a while, taking the time to talk to them about their behavior and not letting offenses slide by. Then we go through a period where we overlook things and speak to our kids in a frustrated way rather than taking the time to teach them.
Did you catch the key word in the last sentence? Consistently. Knowing how to teach and pray for your kids is not as hard as we think it is. Our instincts about the best way to discipline our children are usually correct and most parents want to spend quality time with their children. The hardest aspect of parenting is rarely our lack of understanding, but our failure to persevere. As parents what we need the most is the perseverance to continue doing the right thing after we know the right thing to do. There are three particular areas where parents need to persevere.
Persevere in Quality Time
This may not always be the case, but it seems our children want us more than they want stuff from us. In fact I cannot help but wonder how often our giving children “stuff” is our attempt to help them find to occupy themselves so we can have time alone. Now, I completely agree parents need time alone to recharge and also to connect with there spouse and I also agree we need to teach our children to occupy themselves. At the same time we also need to realize our children’s need for time with their parents. Fishing, hiking, taking a walk, throwing a ball, playing a game, and sitting around a fire roasting marshmallows provide great opportunities to connect with our kids.
Our children will be more receptive to our discipline and teaching when we spend regular time with them because it flows from our relationship with them. When children are young, you parent mostly out of authority. If you find them playing with something they shouldn’t be playing with, you can simply take it away from them or pick them up and move them. As they grow older, you still parent from authority but your relationship with your children becomes a much bigger component in parenting. They tend to listen better and be more receptive to our parenting when we spend consistent time with them.
This will also be a joy to you. God gives us children as a gift. Quality time together creates lasting memories and leads to fun, laughter, and joy. Each of your children have unique personalities and are fun and funny in their own way. Time together brings this out. Stop thinking you will magically “find time” to spend with them. Make the time.
Persevere in Discipline and Teaching
The Bible calls parents to consistently teach and discipline our children. Moses’ words from Deuteronomy 6:7 provide important insight for how this should be done. “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Much of our parenting takes place in the context of ordinary life. We teach, correct, instruct, and discipline our children while we are doing all of the basic things we usually do. This includes answering our children’s honest questions. Are there times we should tell them “you get one more question?” Yes, but within reason we should answer their questions because it builds trust with our children and they will come to us with their progressively harder questions as they get older.
In addition to teaching as we walk through life, we need to set aside time for teaching through family devotions. Family devotion is not and should be dad preaching a twenty minute sermon to the kids. (If you have small kids, it can’t and won’t be this.) Don Whitney offers a simple method for family devotion anyone can do whether they know the Bible well or not- read, pray, sing. Read a portion of the Bible. If your kids are small this can be from a children’s Bible like The Big Picture Story Bible or The Jesus Storybook Bible and as they get older progress into reading a section from your favorite translation. Depending on where your children are, you can work on memory verses or a catechism together. Then spend some time in prayer together and sing a song. These can be simple children’s songs like “Jesus Loves Me” or simple hymns like “Come Thou Fount” or “Be Thou My Vision.”
We must also discipline our children. Truthfully I find it difficult to separate discipline from teaching because they go together hand in hand. We do not discipline our children to punish them for what they have done, but to instruct their hearts so they will be different in the future. Discipline should not look the same all the time, but should be tailored to the situation and the bent of our children. Whether or not we discipline though is not up for debate. God commands children to obey their parents and we should expect them to obey what we tell them the first time we tell them to do it. Anything other than this must result in discipline for the sake of your children’s souls and your future sanity.
Persevere in Prayer
Finally parents need to persevere in praying for and with our children. Pretend for a second you could do a perfect job parenting your children. You always kept your cool when they disobeyed and told them exactly what they needed to hear in every situation. You read the Bible to them every day and spent the perfect amount of quality time with them. You led them to friendships with the right kids and gave them every opportunity they needed. Even if you did all of these things, it would not guarantee anything about your child’s heart or their future. Only the grace of God can take your parenting and make it effective, so you must pray.
Pray for your children and for your parenting consistently. Pray God would cover your efforts with grace, forgive you where you fail, and empower you to persevere in your parenting. Pray God would change your child’s heart by the power of his Spirit and raise them up to follow him and bring him glory. You need God and your children need God, so daily bring them before the throne of grace.
We should also pray with our children. By doing this they learn how to pray and about what they should pray. They get to see your family pray for things and how God answers those prayers. Also our parents should hear us pray for their salvation. Our prayers teach them what we value the most and they will consistently hear about their need for Christ.
For the parents who read this, write Galatians 6:9 over all your parenting. “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” May God show his grace to us as we raise our children for his glory.
“Recovering the Family Dinner Table”
“How to Have Family Worship”
For Further Reading:
Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp
A Neglected Grace by Jason Helopoulos
Family Worship by Donald Whitney