39 Lessons, 20 Tips and 10 “Don’ts” For Parenting
Editor’s note: Matt wrote this with his wife Eli, with whom he has five children.
39 LESSONS WE’VE LEARNED
Lessons About Ourselves
- To be a faithful steward of your children you must abide in Christ (John 15:5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”).
- “Trickle down theory” – Mom’s daily devotion naturally trickles down to encouragement and instruction in the Lord for the children.
- Not listening to your children causes you to misjudge them (James 1:19-20: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires”).
- Our task list is not as important as our children’s thought life.
- Preach the gospel of grace, not self-discipline.
- Being parented is defining; Parenting is refining.
- You will parent the way you were parented unless you think things through.
- Parents should become “smaller” as their children become bigger. In other words, a parent should become more transparent in confessing one’s sin and in sharing past struggles as children mature. Your children should hear more about your fight for faith as they grow older. Don’t be a plastic Christian!
- Ordinary times make for extraordinary memories.
- To have children is to need margin in your life.
- A disreputable life will undermine the gospel. An exemplary life will commend it.
Lessons About Children
- Little kids need the strength of your youth; older kids need your wisdom (i.e. have children while you’re young!).
- Pack in truth while your children are little and trust the Lord to unpack it in his time.
- Study your children. Know their “love language.”
- Consistent, loving, faithful discipline brings peace to the home. Inconsistency brings chaos.
- Do not let your child see their value in light of the world’s standards. The world rewards the 3 R’s. God delights in the heart that is tuned toward his (Deuteronomy 30:8-10: “You will again obey the Lord and follow all his commands I am giving you today. Then the Lord your God will make you most prosperous in all the work of your hands and in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your land. The Lord will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as he delighted in your fathers, if you obey the Lord your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul“).
- God hands out “talents” to our children. The child with two talents who exercises both may in fact be more pleasing in the eyes of God than the one with five talents who exercises three (Matt. 25). Faithful stewardship is the goal!
- On some days, it’s just fine to accomplish nothing more than keeping your kids fed and safe.
- Older children need to learn how to care for the weaker among them; doing so smells like Jesus. Matthew 18 reads, “And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.” By contrast, Psalm 10:2 reads, “In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises.”
- Do not presume you will be able to speak into the lives of your older children if you do not live in their world when they are younger. Play with your children. There is a reap/sow principle at work here (2 Cor. 9:6: “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously”).
- There’s nothing wrong with boredom for your children. It causes them to be creative.
- Send your kids to bed well (and school!) (Eph. 4:26: “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry”).
- Make sure your kids keep short accounts with each other. Create a culture of care and forgiveness in your home (1 Cor. 13:5: “Love…keeps no record of wrongs”).
- Teach your kids to be shock absorbers, not wave makers (Matt. 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God”).
- Kids can memorize scripture very quickly.
- Teach your children to notice needs. Teach them to ask, “What can I do to help?” (Phil. 2:3: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves”).
- Teach your children to look adults in the eyes. It shows respect and recognizes authority.
- Fight materialism by teaching your children to have a thankful heart (1 Thes. 5:18: “…give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”).
- Teach your children to receive reproof, correction, and instruction (Prov. 12:15 “The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice”).
- Let kids be kids. Let them dabble in various areas of extra-curricular activities (sports, art, drama, etc) rather than build a resume.
Lessons About Satan
- It seems Satan comes into our homes on Sunday mornings in order to make the Lord’s Day one of struggle.
- Do not feel outside pressure to baptize your children. Look for and test for a credible profession of faith in your child (Prov 22:15 “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child…”).
- Satan is a divider and always attacks authority: husband/wife and parent/child. In your home fight for unity around the gospel.
- For mothers, the “I-can-do-it-all-superwoman” mindset is at best a myth and at worst a lie from hell (Matt. 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money”; Luke 10:40 “But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made; verse 41: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her”).
- Beware of sports…on Sundays! Decide while your children are young that you will not allow the growing all-weekend sports phenomenon to usurp your worship (Ex. 20:8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God”).
- Arm your children for the world, not (necessarily) shield them from it. Consider getting your high-school-aged children out of the Christian bubble.
Lessons About God
- Prayer is a mighty weapon to use in the life of your children:
- It changes the parent’s approach to the child
- It softens the hard-hearted child
- God uses children as a mirror to your own heart to expose your sin and hypocrisy.
- God elects. God saves. Parents cannot do this heart-changing work. At best we can pray and point to the One who can cause our children to be born again.
20 MORE TIPS FOR RAISING GOD-HONORING CHILDREN
- The saying goes, “When mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” We believe daddy is actually the problem. From a complementarian’s viewpoint one needs to conclude the above saying with, “And if daddy ain’t happy in the Lord, ain’t nobody happy.”
- In a stay-at-home-mom scenario, dad tends to back away from discipline when mom has been with the children all day. In one sense this is wise as he has not observed the rhythm and rhyme of the day. However, dad needs to catch up and jump in.
- Talk to both good and not-so-good parents; you’ll learn lessons from both.
- Talking to really old parents may not prove to be fruitful as their memories fade and they’ll remember raising kids as either a nightmare or a glorious experience. Talking to parents 5-10 years ahead of where you are seems most fruitful (Prov. 15:22: “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed”).
- Though you may think this premature, have a vision for being involved spiritually with your grandchildren. This will shape even your parenting.
- Positive example: Paul writing to Timothy said, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in your also” (2 Tim. 1:5).
- Negative example: “After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel” (Judg. 2:10).
- Let your children see you practicing hospitality and let them participate. This breaks down the selfish tendencies all kids have (Rom. 12:13: “Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality”).
- Unbelievers set up their home for the benefit of themselves. Christians should set up and use their homes for the benefit of their family, the church community, and outsiders (notice the order of this list).Supporting verses:
- “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8).
- “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal. 6:10).
- If we could do it again, we would not have a television in our home. The television competes with more important things going on in the home. It competes for right thinking in the mind of the child. If you have a television, then watch it with your children (when you can) and play “catch the lies.”
- Our generation of parents encourages children to express themselves and vent all that’s on their minds. My parents’ generation grew up under the instruction that “Children are to be seen and not heard.” Both appear to be out of balance. Proverbs 10:8 says, “The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin.” Ephesians 4:29 suggests that the purpose of speech is to the benefit of the listener.
- You cannot expect younger children to obey if their older siblings do not. Proverbs 10:17 says, “He who heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray.”
- One’s conscience is not the same as the Law of the Lord. If conscience is defined as “That inner-voice that acts as a guide as to the rightness or wrongness of a behavior,” then your conscience is only as good as your knowledge of God’s Word. An informed conscience can be a trustworthy thing if it is drawing from God’s Word, God’s Law. An uninformed conscience is incredibly dangerous. Inform your child’s conscience by pouring in God’s Word.
- We often speak of a home with the aroma of Christ (peace, hope, forgiveness and love—all for God’s glory). Alternatives are homes with the aroma of
- a bus station—people just passing through
- a war zone—people fighting all the time
What does your home smell like?
- “Moral children” does not equal “Christian children.”
- Do a “sermon review” with your children sometime on Sunday. Have each child recap what he or she learned in Sunday School or “big church” and then help them apply it to their own hearts and trials. Then spend time praying for each other’s coming week.
- Martin Luther said he had the responsibility to be the worship leading pastor in his own home. His home was to be both a school and a church. Fathers, do you have this mindset?
- The unstated implication of Luther’s charge (above) is that fathers need to be present to lead in worship. Being in the house with a Blackberry in hands doesn’t count!
- Don Whitney encourages “brevity, regularity and flexibility” in family worship.
- Build in your children a global vision of God’s work in the world and thereby build a Great commission Mindset. We have found that having a map near to where we eat most of our meals is helpful. Reading from Operation World can inform the entire family of God’s work in the world.
- When children ask for permission to do something, their request can fall into one of several categories:
Not Wise / Permissible
E.g. out with friends on Sat night
Not Wise / Not Permissible
E.g. underage drinking and driving
Wise / Permissible
E.g. excused from family chores to prepare for next day’s test
Wise / Not Permissible
This problem rarely presents itself. Wants to save money for college but is not working age.
The Not Wise / Permissible category is the hardest to deal with. Try to break down the request and sort out in your own mind why you think the request is unwise. Is it your own preference or is it truly unwise? Then encourage them to think through the wisdom of the matter, so that, even if you permit them to do it, they will remember the lesson when things go poorly.
- Build Godward children.
TOP 10 WAYS TO (WRONGLY) PROVOKE YOUR CHILDREN
- Colossians 3:21: “Fathers [and mothers], do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.”
- Ephesians 6:4: “Fathers [and mothers], do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
- Make it a habit to discipline your child while angry.
- Make it a point to scold your child – especially in public. Mockery and ridicule work well.
- Deliberately embarrass your child in front of his/her friends. Name calling really gets their attention.
- Create double standards so that the child never knows who or what to follow.
- Preach and hold the child to a gospel of self-discipline instead of a gospel of grace. (Note: the Bible presents Pharisees as very unhappy people.)
- Never admit you’re wrong and never ask your children for forgiveness.
- Inspect your child until you find something wrong. Holding them to an unreachable standard makes this task easier.
- Judge a fight between your children before you’ve listened to them.
- Compare your child to others.
- Promise your children things early in the day and then don’t fulfill the promise.
Parents should provoke their children…in good ways: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on [provoke!] toward love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24).