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— Proverbs 22: 6, New International Version —
THERE IS A tug-of-war going on in Britain. Mum and Dad are pulling one way and society is pulling the other. The child is in between. Mother and Father often seem to be losing.
It’s always been difficult to be a good and effective parent. In this complicated and permissive world it has become downright confusing. How much control to exert over our children, when to loosen the strings a bit, when to clamp down. And which values to teach?
More to the point, whose?
The Christian parent is not isolated from this dilemma. There is no perfect strategy to employ in raising our children, and our role as parents comes with no guarantee that we will be successful in the endeavour. Each one of us brings our own failings and imperfections to the enterprise, and the uncomfortable knowledge that our own lives may have been less than exemplary. Each of us, mother or father, has made decisions that we are ashamed of and would not want our children to repeat. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the famous Baptist minister of the late nineteenth century, expressed it succinctly when he observed that you should try to raise your children in ‘the way you wish you had gone yourself’.
For the Christian, parenthood may be no less difficult than for the unbeliever. The Christian parent has — or ought to have — the desire and the means to impress on their children the advantages and necessity of Godly living. It’s not merely a case of their having the right manners, or looking neat and tidy, but shaping the way they think. The ultimate goal is to instill the love of good principles. With this in their minds, your children will be shielded well against immoderate conduct and the temptations that await them.
Proverbs 22: 6 declares a general truth, and informs us that the direction in which you steer your child will have a prolonged influence on his or her future. A good parent is a parent still, long after death, the early wisdom and advice augmenting the developing conscience.
In his commentary on this text, [FN] Adam Clarke puts it this way (the male ‘he’, characteristic of the style of the day, referring to either boy or girl):
‘Initiate the child at the opening (the mouth) of his path.’ When he comes to the opening of the way of life, being able to walk alone, and to choose; stop at this entrance, and begin a series of instructions, how he is to conduct himself in every step he takes. Show him the duties, the dangers, and the blessings of the path; give him directions how to perform the duties, how to escape the dangers, and how to secure the blessings, which all lie before him. Fix these on his mind by daily inculcation, till their impression is become indelible; then lead him to practice by slow and almost imperceptible degrees, till each indelible impression becomes a strongly radicated [rooted]habit. Beg incessantly the blessing of God on all this teaching and discipline; and then you have obeyed the injunction of the wisest of men. Nor is there any likelihood that such impressions shall ever be effaced, or that such habits shall ever be destroyed.
Free will, of course, plays its part, and beyond a certain age each one of us makes choices, good and bad, and we reap the fruits accordingly. Nonetheless, the adult will is shaped by the early upbringing, and the influences will be difficult to ignore.
Your children will follow the example you set at home. Regardless of the instructions you give or the edicts you lay down, your general behaviour will be the unspoken rule they will follow. If you don’t want to bequeath your bad habits to your children, watch yourself. Be quick to acknowledge where you fall short, and thus model humility, too.
Outside forces, whether it’s television, films, advertising, or friends, will exert an influence on the minds and hearts of your children. The competing claims on their attention come in forms that can undermine the lessons we as parents are trying to teach. Remember that your children are the targets of self-serving propaganda of one sort or another. As parents, let’s see to it that it is the message of Christ and Godly living that comes across loudest.
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