By Larry Mark, MA, MDIV, LMFT
A Christian Counselor’s Guide
What is life’s toughest job? It’s the one without a formal job description, with immense responsibility, the 24/7 on-call schedule, and with the greatest intensity for the first 18 to 21 years or so. I think parenting qualifies as life’s toughest job. It involves nothing less than nurturing personhood in another human being. I will never forget my thoughts on the night of July 22, 1986, my first-born’s first night outside of her mommy’s womb. She was delivered six weeks before we expected and needed to be in the neonatal intensive care unit while my wife was also in the hospital recovering from an emergency C-section delivery. After I returned to an empty house, and as I set the Polaroid picture of our daughter on the night-stand, I remember wondering, “Now what do we do?”
Babies don’t come with an owner’s manual. Where is the text book for parenting? There is no one, universally acclaimed, guide for all parenting situations. But there are timeless, cross-cultural, universal principles and practices that flow from the instruction found in God’s Scriptures. In this article, I present a few core parenting principles and associated practices that are especially relevant before children hit the young adult years.
Your Marriage Comes First
No other human relationship is described as “one-flesh,” as the relationship between husband and wife is. Your marriage is and will always be the most important relationship in your household, because strong marriages nurture secure kids. One vital practice for thriving marriages is daily checking in with one’s spouse. (Gottman, et al.) Checking in involves taking the time to give one another your focused attention in order to read and map the other’s heart and mind. Couples who track well with each other’s emotional states adapt well to the constant challenges of family life. For couples with children, daily checking in with your spouse first, when possible, can be pivotal. An initial check-in may mean taking a few moments to greet, embrace, and give face time to one’s spouse before engaging younger children. This conveys the message that mommy and daddy’s marriage is important and strong. Following this up with additional focused time with one’s spouse nurtures the bond of marriage. There is no legalistic formula being advocated here, but demonstrating the priority one’s spouse in front of one’s children provides them with a sense of order and wellbeing, especially if the result is loving, wise, and unified care for them. Neglecting to care for your marriage impairs your ability to parent well. Genesis 2:24 provides a basis for this principle and these practices: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
Dad and Mom Are the Boss
Parents are “benevolent dictators.” Young children need and desire loving and wise boundaries. They need limits that say: “This is right and wrong, wise and foolish, dangerous and safe.” It is important for young children to know that Mom and Dad are the ones who set and enforce healthy boundaries. It is essential for them to internalize healthy boundaries in order to develop a healthy sense of self and to grow in character. An essential practice for expressing healthy authority is to discipline in love, grace, and wisdom ̶ defiance in young children must be addressed in love and graciously. Consider the following texts:
Discipline your son, for there is hope … (Proverbs 19:18a)
Fathers do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:3)
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? (Hebrews 12:6-7)
Love involves a commitment to give oneself for the good of another. Good parenting requires costly engagement, involvement, instruction, and support.
Dr.Tm Kimmel, in his book, Grace-based Parenting, describes the title’s practice as encouraging freedom in children to be different, vulnerable, candid, and to make mistakes. The Bible defines wisdom as skillful living. What is particularly skillful for parents to understand is their child’s bent, or unique personality — temperament. Their calling is to train a child up in God’s ways, with consideration of the way she is made, and when she is old, she will (generally) not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6) (Proverbs 22:6) It is vital to be a student of your child, to know what is age-appropriate for his physical, cognitive, emotional, and spiritual development, not to mention her favorite friends, games, music, love languages, and inner world, including his/her feelings and pain. Did I say that parenting is life’s toughest job?
The third principle for parenting is to be intentional regarding values and practices. As practices flow out of values, it is vital for parents to be clear about their own family values and convictions (what they believe is important for the family and why), and then to be deliberate in how they enact them. If knowing God is important, then a bed-time routine that includes bible reading and prayer is appropriate, as is being part of a community that seeks God and serves others. If parenting is about mentoring in order to launch one’s children on the path of life with confidence, competence, and character, then discovering their passions and abilities, and directing kids to Jesus, will be constantly on the forefront of a parent’s mind and prayers.
Christian Counseling to Develop Your Parenting Skills
Christian counseling can support parents in discovering these values and living out these practices. In addition, counseling can help to identify hindrances in a parent’s heart that may be affecting their relationship with their children. Parenting does not have to be solitary work. While there is no substitute for a healthy, supportive spiritual community, Christian counseling can provide unique insight, can focus attention on particular challenges and problems, and can provide opportunities for honing parenting skills. Seattle Christian Counseling offers this kind of help, perspective and support.
“Family,” courtesy of arztsamui, ID 100231799, freedigitalphotos.net; “Asian Family Play Sand On Beach,” courtesy of Sura Nualpradid, ID 100160200, freedigitalphotos.net; “Couple Riding Bikes Through Tree Covered Path 2, RED0000A128.jpg,” courtesy of StockPhotosforFree.com