In October 2018 The Gospel Coalition hosted a West Coast conference in Fullerton, California. One of the breakout sessions was led by Erik Thoennes and his wife, Donna. They shared the challenges of parenting in the 21st century. Their discussion focused on our culture that a. places too much emphasis on peers b. centers on blaming others instead of taking responsibility c. promotes rampant promiscuity and sexual confusion d. fosters relational shallowness due to the influence of technology and social media e. creates stress, anxiety and depression f. promotes an extended adolescence g. idolizes instead of prioritizes parenting.
By way of counsel the Thoennes’s offer the following for parents to consider:
- Give parenting its proper priority in your life but don’t make it an idol. Parenting is an important calling of parents but it is not the only calling. Some parents gain all of their identity from being a parent. They give all their energies to their children. They wrapped their lives around their children. They strongly desire to be a “successful” parent. The problem with this or with any idol is that it is not weighty enough to provide parents with a sense of identity or fullness in life. Only a vital walk with Christ is substantial enough to do that.
- Weave God into all of life. Our relationship with God and worship of Him can’t just be a Sunday thing. Children see right through that. This is why Deuteronomy 6 encourages parents to weave God into all of life. Talk about Him along the way. Show that the Lord Jesus is a guiding force in all of your life. Demonstrate to your children that Jesus is worthy of ruling over every minute of every day; that we can not live without Him any more than a branch can live apart from the tree.
- Tend to your souls and your marriages. The fact is it will be exceedingly difficult for parents to guide their children in the ways of the Lord if they are not tending their own souls. It will be equally difficult to convince your children of the truthfulness of God’s way if your marriage is a mess. Time spent on cultivating soul and marriage is never time wasted and will produce dividends in the parenting arena.
- Pray for your children at least as much as you preach to them. It is easy for parents to teach and preach and scold and lecture. That is all very easy. But to draw near to the the Lord and petition the Lord on behalf of your children, that is the hard work of a parent; a work that in the end will make those “teaching” times more in line with what the Lord desires for you as a parent.
- Have a local church family you can love together. Some parents get very wrapped up in the nuclear family at times to the exclusion of the church family. Some families at times choose “family time” over going to church together. (Oh we haven’t had much time together….I think we will skip church today.) Such an attitude fails to understand how as Christians we have been united together as a family. In fact, we don’t just go to church, we ARE the church. The connection we make when we are among God’s people is vital to the spiritual health of us parents as well as our children.
- Enjoy your children. Some parents have high aspirations for their children. As a result they run them from sporting event to sporting event, then on to piano and dance lessons. In any spare moment the child is being directed to new activities that will help them get into a top college. Now all of these things may not be bad, but sometimes, with all their prodding of the children, parents forget to enjoy them. How important it is to have fun together…go get ice cream, throw a ball, watch a movie with popcorn. These activities establish relational capital which is critical to the parenting task.
- Take your children on dates asking them the same set of questions each time. Another way to build relational capital is to take your children on a date. It might work for you to let your child determine what activity or what restaurant to eat at. During your time together get your child used you being asked several questions: How can I be a better parent? Is there anything you are learning in the Word that would help our family be more what God intends it to be? Is there anything you need to tell me? Are there any questions you have? After having asked these questions over many dates parents may find that the children will already have given thought to them, helping the conversations be more fruitful.
- Have clarity with the gospel. Too many parents are seeking to produce “good” children by focusing on controlling behavior. So they resort to lots of warnings, threats and punishment. Some parents are so good at this that for a time their children “seem” to be on the right track. But the sad reality is that parenting that focuses on controlling behavior isn’t parenting that stands the test of time and its not rooted in the gospel. When the controlling agent (the parent) is gone the child will live out of their hearts. If parents haven’t focused on the heart, if they haven’t shown the child how much we all need the Lord – His presence in our hearts – they will have missed sharing the true life-transforming gospel with their children.
- Parent with the long view. All parents have their moments when they feel like a failure. The child misbehaves, at times in a big way, and the parent feels that all is lost. During those times the parent needs a reminder that we parent over the long haul. There will be those days that seem disastrous, but if you persevere, always trusting in the Lord’s ability to capture your child’s heart, you may well see your young ones grow into “mighty oaks” for the Lord.
- Keep eternity before your children. It is so easy to live for the present, pursuing the things of this earth. But, for the believer, this earth is not our home. We are “just passing through”. We are aliens away from our home which is in heaven with our Lord. If this truly is our belief, this world will seem uncomfortable for us and our children. We will find ourselves at odds with others who are living for the present because this is all they have, and it is swiftly passing away. Our children need to understand this reality, enjoying God’s gift that are abundant on this earth, but never forgetting that something far better, far more satisfying awaits those who love the appearing of our Lord Jesus.