Since I found-out I was pregnant and have become a parent, I’ve found myself thrown into the weird world of “Christian parenting.” We’ve had the opportunity to watch friends and acquaintances raise their children around us and have received advice on how to raise our kids. I’ve read a bit of parenting literature that focuses on our job as parents being to teach our children the “Christian way” to act. Sadly, I’ve found most of these resources sorely lacking in what I consider to be how Jesus would have us parent. One thing that bothers me about typical Christian parenting is the tendency to demand from our children the fruit of the Spirit without showing them what those qualities actually look like.
Evelyne is still very young, 16 months, but she’s definitely old enough for me to lose my patience with her at times. We’ve had our moments when I catch myself snapping at her, and my words and expectations can be rather demanding toward her. I have noticed that in my effort to keep her safe and not destroy our belongings, my temptation is to give-in to the sinful desire to speak harshly to her in order to enforce a point. It comes naturally, it’s the way we speak to dogs and the way we’re taught to speak to our children…otherwise how will they learn? Something God has shown me is that one of the most important aspects of my parenting is my kindness toward her. When I think of the example of Jesus and the way He interacted with children, it was not harsh or demanding, it was full of gentleness and kindness. And the way He teaches and disciples me is not caustic in order to enforce a point, He guides me with grace. If that is not the way He teaches me, why should I use that method with my toddler?
Colossians 3:12-13 says, “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.”
“Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” Colossians 4:6
I rarely see any Christian teaching on parenting that applies these kinds of verses to our relationship with our children. One of the biggest aspects of my parenting is my own spiritual formation through the process. God is using Evelyne to transform my heart to look more like His. While I am responsible for teaching her about Jesus, I think that the way I show her Jesus is more important than my words. How can I show her what He is like if I’m not living-out these verses in my relationship toward her? How can I teach her about the kindness and gentleness of Christ if I am not being kind and gentle? Why is our tendency as Christian parents to demand these qualities from our itty-bitty children when WE are the ones who are adult believers with the responsibility to live the fruit of the Spirit? The burden of godly behavior should be on us, not our kids.
I’ve come to a place lately where I realize that I am much more responsible for myself and my heart than I am for hers. The way I teach her the qualities of God is to live them out, not demand that she exhibit them in her childish flesh. God holds me responsible for how I live-out the life of the Spirit in me with my kids, and it’s through a Spirit-led life that He will gently draw them to Him. I don’t expect for kindness and patience to be perfected in my one year-old’s heart when she is so young and does not yet have the life of the Spirit. How could she master these things when I am 27 and still haven’t? She doesn’t have the spiritual resources or maturity to exhibit true kindness in all circumstances–but I do.
I’ve found myself very convicted over this, more so as Evelyne grows older. It’s so human of us to demand things from our kids, especially when it comes to their behavior. But what about our behavior? Are we as demanding upon ourselves in the way we treat them? Sadly, most of the Christian parenting literature and advice that I’ve come across do not even mention this aspect of parenting. More emphasis is placed on making sure our kids are acting kind and our doing everything necessary to make sure they exhibit this spiritual quality than our own attitudes as parents and the way we are imitating Christ. Somehow I think that teaching Evelyne about kindness will be a lot more effective if I’m showing it to her on a daily basis rather than just demanding it and yelling at her when she does not act kind. I’m confident that the actual development of her kindness will be more of a work of the Spirit than a result of me squeezing it out of her. I’m responsible for teaching her and modeling the qualities of Christ to her, but ultimately, I am responsible for my own soul before God, not hers. So when she is not being kind to me or another child, I’m a lot more concerned that my reaction to her is one of kindness in order to show her what she should work toward than I am worried about trying to force the sin out of her. Jesus will do that. And I pray He will also give me the patience and kindness I lack because it is MY soul whose sin I am so desperately aware of.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” Ephesians 5:1-2.
See also Assuming the Worst About our Kids