Volume 10, Issue 2: Childer
Children grow up, and once there, the work of child rearing is all done. Parents therefore have what might be called a fleeting opportunity as they bring up their children. Your two-year-old will be two years old once, and your teenager will be a teenager once. In later years, when you have much more time for reflection, those seasons of opportunity will seem like a moment. Many lessons which God requires us to instill during those times cannot be instilled later.
But before that moment is past, and before the consequences of unwise parental care become evident, the approaching problems are frequently ignored by some parents in the name of a particular theory or notion. Many such parents have a tight grip on a particular theory which they have been told will cover them. And it certainly does seem to cover them . . . until it is too late, and the damage is done.
Childrearing occurs in the context of a covenant community. When an infant is baptized, or when a child is dedicated, it does not occur in a private ceremony. Such things are done in presence of God's people, and together with the Lord, they witness the vows which the parents are making. This means, within due limits, that how your child is doing is the business of others as well as your own. They have a responsibility to pray for you and your children, and, when appropriate, to say something to you about how your kids are doing.
But parents are often prickly when it comes to any kind of criticism, express or implied, with regard to their dear ones. This is a natural temptation; it comes with the flesh. When told that your child was a premier stinker at that birthday party, the flesh wants to locate the problem outside, anywhere outside your kid. "They obviously weren't being supervised properly." At the end of the day, the excuses which parents make (and which they teach their children to make) can often be simply absurd. When informed that a sullen teenager is down at the corner giving the finger to passing motorists, mother may rush to fit this news into the categories she has already established for herself. "He is still struggling with his shyness. He is trying to come out of his shell."
Such defensiveness must be resisted as sin, and in resisting it, we are doing what every godly parent in the history of the world has had to do. But in the modern world of family and childrearing, fads and fashions come and go, and they bring with them a peculiar kind of defensiveness. When such childrearing fashions arise in the Christian world, they present themselves as a lost-but-now-recovered bit of biblical wisdom, a wisdom which our modern age has, of course, overlooked. The temptation is compelling to many because there are many aspects of biblical wisdom which modernity has lost or rejected. Sin is hard enough to resist at any time, but the worst danger comes when we are sinning in the name of righteousness and wisdom. We reason that since biblical wisdom looks strange to secular modernists, anything that looks strange to them must be biblical wisdom. The end result is that a greater prickliness or defensiveness comes from those who are in the grip of a theory which claims to be wisdom. Those who really have recovered an element of biblical wisdom are not defensive over it. Godly parents know that some of their practices look like a basket of fruit to the modernists, and the whole thing is good for a laugh around the dinner table. But prickliness is often a defense for the indefensible.
To take an example at random, it is one thing to warn a parent of the dire consequences which come from refusing to exercise discipline. The Bible contains clear and overt teaching on the subject of child discipline, so when a concerned brother warns a parent about lax discipline, he has a plain biblical case. But suppose that the problem is more obtuse, and the parent has read a book by an education expert who believes that sons ought not be taught to read until they feel like it. The son is now thirteen and doesn't feel like it yet. The concern is more difficult to pin down, and when the issue eventually does become clear, the concrete is dry and the son is an illiterate. When the parent is approached before the consequences are apparent, he can feel like his brother is overstepping his bounds and meddling on the basis of a mere difference in educational theory. If he is approached after the damage is done, then what we have is another barn door, another horse.
I have seen multiple examples of this kind of thing. Parental openness to outside input finally comes, and the faults in the various theories are finally acknowledged, but it is now too late to do anything about it. Sometimes this happens because the "theory" was bogus. Sometimes it happens when the theory was good, but the practice fell far short of the theory—but if anyone had asked about the practice, defensiveness was immediately manifested on behalf of the theory. When someone is seeking to escape accountability, it is not hard to lead those who seek to provide it on a merry chase.
One theory has it that no one knows your child better than you do. It would be more accurate to say that no one is in a better position to know their child than the parents, provided the parents conduct themselves with wisdom. If they do not, then the chances are good to outstanding that everyone in the church will know the character of the child better than the parents do.
Parental wisdom is not automatic. Parental defensiveness is. And harvest is a bad time to decide you don't like what you planted.