Have you ever looked at your child and been completely bewildered about what to do next?

They won’t stop crying. They refuse to eat their carrots. They keep getting out of bed. They pick friends who are bad for them. They take money out of your purse. They won’t apologize.

You’ve been over and over this ground with them, but here you are again. You stand there, looking at them, barely holding on to your temper, wondering, What do I do now? What do I say? What don’t I say? What discipline do I impose? Will anything make a difference? To date nothing seems to have worked. You’re out of ideas, and you really would do anything, if only you knew what.

You’re not alone. I regularly get asked, “What’s the right thing to do with my child who is ruining his life by ________?” It doesn’t seem to matter how old the child is—several months to several decades—parents still ask. There’s something inside of us that wants certainty, some clear path forward with our children, maybe a flowchart with multiple branches detailing the many if-thens of what we should do based on what they’re doing.

But the Bible doesn’t give you anything like that. It’s not organized according to parenting issues you encounter with your child. It doesn’t even have a parenting section you can skim through.

Ultimate Parent

Instead, it offers you something better. From cover to cover, it introduces you to the Parent who engages his children, and you get to watch him parent. You learn how he relates to them and what’s important to him in that relationship. 

Every historical account, every law, every poem, every vision, every biography, every instruction, every interaction is meant to reveal this ultimate Parent to his children—to you. You see what he’s like

  • when you’re faithful and when you’re straying;
  • when you’re happy and when your heart breaks;
  • when you’re strong and when you’re frail;
  • when you’re confident and when you’re confused.

You don’t learn first and foremost how to straighten out your kid’s problem, so much as you learn how to be with someone who is struggling. You learn that God, the wise Father, approaches his kids in a variety of ways based on who they are and what’s happening in their lives. He doesn’t pretend that for every problem there’s a singular solution that’ll be the key that turns the lock.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. Scripture has lots of things to teach about raising children. Numerous principles are communicated implicitly and explicitly. Nevertheless, there’s an entire genre of Scripture devoted to wisdom, and it insists wise things cease to be effective when you misuse them: “​Like the useless legs of one who is lame is a proverb in the mouth of a fool” (Prov. 26:7). You can know all the right things to do, but they’ll be utterly useless if you apply them in ways God didn’t intend.

Like looking for the one right way to approach your kids.

Parent Like Jazz

Watch God with his children and you’ll quickly learn you can have the same issue as another of his kids, and yet he’ll approach you both differently. Or think back over your life and you’ll realize he varies his approach with you over time depending on how you’ve grown.

In other words, God’s method of parenting doesn’t lend itself to tightly scripted formulas—“If you do x and y, then z will result.” It is more like playing jazz (I’m told!) than working off a score.

You have to study the chords and chord progressions, and you have to practice and hone your technique. There’s music to learn, but in the moment you’re always ready to improvise based on what the rest of the band is doing and how the audience shapes and influences the piece. It feels dangerously uncertain, like it could spin out of control at any time. You start a riff and look for it to move toward a resolution, but you’re not 100 percent sure where or how it will end.

Trust the Father

Is parenting then a hopeless matter of taking random shots in the dark? No, but your hope is found in your Parent—the Parent—not in the principles and techniques you’ve learned. Hope comes from realizing 

  • he loves your child more than you possibly could, which means he cares that they’re parented well even more than you do;
  • he gave you principles and examples of parenting long before you ever knew you needed them,
  • he’s more concerned than you are that you have the resources you need to parent well;
  • he gave up his own Son to rescue you from the foolishness that would distort the wisdom he gave you, proving he cares more than you do that you’ll use his resources well;
  • he committed himself to redeem every misstep in your life to bring about the future he desires, including all the missteps you’ve taken with your child;
  • he promises to wipe away every tear that comes from times when you’ve failed;
  • he put himself inside you to lead you—to parent you—so you could be the parent he longs for you to be, the parent your child needs you to be. His Spirit teaches you to trust his parenting of you far more than you trust all the graphs, flowcharts, and principles you could ever master.

Does that kind of hope offer you a certain future of guaranteed outcomes with your child—a future when you confidently know what to do in each situation?

No. It’s better.

It offers you the certainty of God committing himself to work in you and in your child to accomplish his purposes in them and in you. That confidence will keep you stepping into your children’s lives even when you don’t know what to do next, because you trust he’ll be with you every step of the way.