If observers are right, modern parenthood is in crisis. The titles of some recent books say it all: The Collapse of Parenting, Toxic Childhood, and Spoonfed Generation, to name a few. In spite of our all-consuming desire to give our children the perfect childhood, we seem to be raising a generation that is, in many respects, ill-equipped for life in the real world.
The problem isn’t that we lack information. No, the problem for parents today is that we’ve lost sight of the big picture. We could happily tell you our views on bottle-feeding, childcare, spanking, screen time, or sugar. But few of us could tell you exactly what we’re aiming for or how we plan to get there.
At a time when I was a particularly anxious, aimless parent, I turned to the Bible. Its ancient wisdom turned out to be the perfect antidote to the problems that plague modern parents like me. The Bible contains good news for parents, but it also confronts us with some hard truths. Here are three.
1. We’re Responsible for Their Moral Education
In today’s world, parents are taking less and less responsibility for their children’s moral education. In our busy lives, we struggle to commit the time and energy that the task demands. No wonder we expect our children’s schools to pick up the slack.
In the noisy marketplace of parenting advice, it’s easy to get sidetracked.
In a recent study called The Children We Mean to Raise, 80 percent of the young people surveyed said they value personal achievement or happiness over showing concern for others. This came as a complete shock to their parents, who believed the opposite. It’s one thing to hold certain values yourself, but quite another to pass them on to your children.
The Bible describes children as those “who do not yet know good from bad” (Deut. 1:39). Parents bear the primary responsibility for teaching them. Scripture encourages parents to do this by modeling, teaching, encouraging, training, correcting, and disciplining our children, all in the context of a loving and understanding relationship.
But what are the key values we ought to pass on? In the noisy marketplace of parenting advice, it’s easy to get sidetracked.
According to the Bible, the most important thing to teach our children is to love God and neighbor (Matt. 22:37–39). Everything else ought to spring from these foundational values.
2. We’re Not Responsible for Their Perpetual Comfort
Modern parenting is often driven by the fear of our children suffering any kind of harm. So we scramble to protect our kids from the slightest difficulty or disappointment. This mentality can result in anxious parents and children who lack resilience and self-confidence.
When we overprescribe the drug of instant comfort, we deny our children the chance to strengthen their immunity to hardship.
By contrast, the Bible prioritizes the development of godly character and values over comfort. The whole project of passing on our values—teaching our children to love God and neighbor—is summarized by the word discipline:
Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Heb. 12:10–11)
Hardship can be a powerful tool in our children’s moral education. Our job is not to steer our children around difficulties, but to walk alongside them through it all. When we allow our children to experience small doses of hard things—disappointment, frustration, boredom, delay—we’re helping them develop resilience that will serve them later in life.
3. Putting Their Desires First Is Bad for Everyone
Modern parents tend to put their children’s desires before anything else, including their marriage. Unsurprisingly, this results in parents who feel disconnected and taken for granted, and children who always expect to be the center of attention.
Of course, small children have legitimate needs that require attention throughout the day. But as children grow, they need to start seeing themselves as part of a bigger community, in which their needs and desires are balanced with those of the people around them.
Building a strong marriage sometimes means putting our children’s desires second. . . . But putting them second will benefit them in the long run.
The Bible teaches that the surest foundation for family life is a healthy marriage. Researcher Moira Eastman observes:
The parents are the architects of the family system. Their relationship is the foundation stone of the whole family’s wellbeing. In the happiest families, researchers found a unique bond of love between the spouses—a relationship of equals who genuinely respected each other. The marital relationship was the strongest bond in the family. (Quoted in The Making of Love, 141)
Building a strong marriage sometimes means putting our children’s desires second. If we expend all of our time and energy trying to please our children, we’ll have nothing left to give our spouse.
If our marriages are to survive—much less thrive—once we become parents, we must give them the attention they deserve. This means spending quality time together, laboring at communication and conflict resolution, and making sure we are parenting as a team. Though counterintuitive, putting our children second will benefit them in the long run.
Don’t Forget the Good News
Parenting is an enormously weighty task. We bear the chief responsibility for our children’s moral education. And this sometimes involves letting them experience difficulties and putting their desires second to our marriage.
We will never do any of this perfectly. But we can always run like little children into the arms of our loving Father, and rest in his inexhaustible forgiveness and strength. And we don’t have to do it alone. We are part of God’s big family of faith—a whole community that longs to see the next generation love others for the love of God.
- Good News for Modern Parents (Harriet Connor)