The structure of a typical U.S. family looks very different today from what it did half a century ago. Due to socioeconomic changes and the rising trend towards blended families, many things have changed. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, most Western families now require dual incomes in order to pay their bills, whereas before most families were able to live off of a single income. In addition, more than half of families are non-traditional in that they don’t consist of two married parents in their first marriage. Twenty-four million children (34 percent) are being raised without fathers. Families are also smaller, with 85 percent of families consisting of three or fewer children. With so many changes, what foundations of healthy parenting stay the same? These three parenting practices transcend time and culture:
1. Elevate your partner
No doubt, this may be a difficult task for most. You might find your parenting partner annoying, unpleasant and hard to love. Infidelity, neglect, abuse and countless other hurts could swell up when faced with the idea of promoting the parent of your children. You may prefer to cut them out of the equation fully, and inform your children along the way of how their other parent is failing.
While you might be right in your partner’s failing, the Gospel frees us to look at the situation differently. Because God loves us despite our failings, we’re free to do the same with others. If we actually understand what God has forgiven in our own hearts, we forgive others the same way (Mark 11:25, 1 John 2:11). Instead of talking poorly about your parenting partner, why not use that same time to point out the positive qualities? Your whole family will benefit, especially your children. They’ll see redeeming qualities they admire and want to emulate.
2. Teach in every moment
It’s easy to narrow down life lessons into lectures, brought on after your children make poor decisions or show incompetence. What if we took the initiative to be proactive in our parenting? When we teach in every moment, our platform grows and our words are far better received in the less stressful atmosphere. Teach grace by articulating how you’re currently showing grace in their lives or those of others. Teach patience by letting your children in on what stretches yours (aside from them). Teach justice by explaining why they’re receiving the consequences they are and why it is helpful to them. We’re always teaching something, but pointing out lessons along the way might save ourselves some headaches, hurts and heavy hearts (Luke 6:40, Proverbs 22:6).
3. Stick to the plan
In order to stick to the plan, you have to have one first. What is your goal in parenting? What is a successful outcome? For my family, my hope is that my children see Jesus as beautiful, better and their only hope for eternity. I’m new to this parenting thing — my daughter isn’t even able to talk yet. With that in mind, our core mission as parents should still be the same: to teach our children how to live well. We’re always teaching something, let’s just hope we’re doing it purposefully. For me, I am in the continual process of reminding my own heart of what I want my daughter to know. In order for me to lead her, I must first lead myself. The same is true for you. I also have the responsibility to make sure that my wife and I are on the same page, and that I’m a loving and gracious student and co-teacher of our mutually-accepted mission.
Have you spelled out your desired outcome? It’s not too late. It will likely take new shape and mature as you do. Even if your desired outcome varies from your partner’s, you can lovingly lead and teach your children that there are always other opinions. Teach them how to think and reason for themselves, and teach them how to have conversations with those who disagree with them (Ephesians 4:31–5:2, Romans 15:1–13).
Of course, you’ll find that there’s more to parenting than these three things. However, I’m willing to bet that if you focus in on these habits, you’ll find great relief. God, our Heavenly Father, gives us a perfect example of a parent’s love. Wherever you stand in your own faith, you might find some serious encouragement in reading more about how and why God loves His children. May God inform you, bless you and keep you as you take care of His dearest creations: your children.
For more parenting perspectives, check out Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family by Paul David Tripp
Learn more about who God the Father is with The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Timothy Keller
Learn how to relate to God as a father, when you don’t know or care for yours by reading Jonathan C. Edwards’ Is God the Father Like My Father?
Authored by NCC Assistant Pastor Christian Glisson | northcentral.org