Recently I read a great paper on educating children in poverty. One of the interesting findings was something I have always suspected. Things a middle class parent would consider “common sense” are really not common sense, but are behaviors and attitudes passed on from middle and upper class parents to their children. Children in generational poverty are never taught these “hidden” rules for success. Unless parents in poverty are actively coached on these rules or have stumbled upon them on their own, they are almost certain to pass the poverty lifestyle on to their children.
Christian parenting also has hidden rules. Actually, they are in the Bible, but many parents don’t catch them or don’t think they are important. They parent with the best of intentions, but are raising children who will leave God and the Church or grow to be lukewarm Christians.
How do I know? I have spent a lot of time over the last few years talking to parents of children and watching those children grow into adults. I have spoken with many parents whose children are active, faithful Christians. I have talked to many young people in their twenties who left the Church – some returned and others didn’t. I realized I was hearing the same things over and over. I believe these are some of the hidden rules of Christian parenting.
- God has to come first in your house. Period. Not just in your words, but in how you live your life. What that looks like in practice can be found in the next few hidden rules.
- God’s commands and principles are the lens through which every decision in your house is filtered. It is not only important you operate this way yourself, but you need to verbalize it to your child on a regular basis. This may mean breaking a lot of “sloppy” habits many Christians excuse themselves for on a regular basis. Habits like breaking traffic laws, “little white” lies, permanently “borrowing” equipment and supplies from our employers, keeping incorrect change, treating people harshly, using substances like alcohol and drugs to alter our moods, watching unwholesome media, using “coarse” language, etc.
- God is worshipped joyfully and consistently. Worship is attended at least weekly, not just for fellowship and our own spiritual uplifting, but to show our gratitude, respect and joyful worship to God. We rarely talk about it, but worship is for us to worship God – it’s not really about us – we just get added benefits from the process. Try to attend worship even when you are on vacation. It sends a clear message to your children about the importance of showing God your love and devotion regularly.
- God is worshipped regularly in your home through Bible study, prayer and song. It doesn’t have to be formal. I love hearing praise songs playing on iPods or on stereos. I enjoy moms who sing “church” songs as they go about cooking and cleaning. One of my most cherished memories as a child was waking up early at my grandparents house and walking into the kitchen while they were reading their Bibles. Have family devotionals, even if you have difficulty being consistent. Grab the family for family prayers outside of meals and bedtimes.
- God is not presented as the big “bully” with harsh lists of rules. God’s rules are presented as the way God shows His love for us, by giving us the blue print for the best possible life here on earth. God does have lots of rules to follow, but following them frees us up to live a truly meaningful, joyful life.
- Your discipline is consistent with godly principles. Consequences should be loving, but firm. Your children should know exactly what is expected of them and what they can expect if they choose to disobey/rebel. Teaching your child to respect and obey authority is crucial for them to be able to respect and obey God.
- You love your children unconditionally. Model your love for your children on how God loves us. Rules and limits are a part of this love, but I always imagine God’s eyes would light up if anyone walked into the room. We always have his full attention when we need Him. He delights in hearing about our day. Remember, the way you love your children is what they will unconsciously expect from God.
- You serve others, just as Christ did. Jesus did not go far without serving someone. He was always showing people God’s love, care and concern and helping them whenever He could. We need to consistently model service to others in small ways as well as large ones. Include your children in your service from infancy. They can serve in child appropriate ways as early as about 12-18 months old.
- God is viewed as an active God in the lives of you and your family. Point out to your children how you see God working in your life. Tell them how obeying God has made a positive difference in your life. Show them God working in their lives. Teach them how God helps you endure tough times and makes the good times even sweeter. Ironically, this is the number one thing I hear from young people who left the Church at some point “I did not see how God made a difference in my parents lives. They never told me or showed me.”
- God should be discussed daily. God commands this in the Bible for a reason. He knows parents create tapes in the minds of their children. If you constantly talk about God, His principles, His love for us, His plans for us, your child will have really strong tapes playing in their heads for the rest of their lives. Even if they make poor decisions as adults, those tapes are still playing – urging them back towards God.
- Finally, help your children find their personal place in God’s kingdom. Your job is not finished when your children are baptized, it is just beginning. They need to understand what it means to be a disciple. They need help discovering and developing the gifts God gave them to serve Him. Help them develop a strong foundation for Christian life.