Over the years, I have worked for several companies. In each case, my first days and sometimes weeks of employment involved some sort of training. One of the companies went to great expense, flying us thousands of miles away and housing and feeding us for a week while we completed their training program. Why was it worth thousands of dollars to that company to train us thoroughly? Because they had learned, well-trained employees were much more effective than those who picked it up by the seat-of-their-pants or used their instincts to learn their job.
Ironically, one of the most difficult jobs in the world has no mandatory training. Even Christian parents, whose job of parenting is even more difficult in many ways, may rarely if ever have any parenting training available to them. Yet very few people are concerned. The common train of thought is either “do what your parents did”, “do the exact opposite of your parents” or my personal favorite “trust your instincts”.
Granted all of those philosophies may have some validity to them at times. Most parents use all three at some point in their parenting. The problem with those philosophies though, is they promote reactive parenting. Reactive parenting comes with a special set of problems:
- Reactive parenting encourages parenting by your emotions – “I liked it when my parents did that”, “I hated it when my parents did this” or “this just feels right”. Unfortunately, emotions are not the most reliable helper in making godly decisions. Oh, sometimes guilt will kick in and point us in the right direction, but it is just as likely our selfishness or laziness or some other ungodly motivation is influencing our parenting choices.
- Reactive parenting encourages parenting in the moment – At first glance, this may not seem so bad. Unfortunately, the moment is not necessarily the best time to make important parenting decisions. Face it, every parent has had a child that did something (usually multiple somethings over time!) which drove them (as a parent) to anger – perhaps even strong, potentially dangerous anger. Parenting in the moment can result in you saying and doing things you would never, ever want to say or do to your child. It can also cause you to make uninformed decisions based on who knows what in order to handle the moment quickly.
- Reactive parenting allows ungodly behaviors to occur which are then addressed by correction and/or training rather than preventing them from ever occurring in the first place by training your child before he can be tempted. Doesn’t sound harmful, until you remember sin often has consequences. The ruined health of your child you didn’t teach to avoid illegal drugs, the suspension from school because your son wasn’t trained to handle anger in godly ways, the illegitimate child born because her parents were not coached on how to handle their passions in ways God would want. All of the training in the world after your child has committed these sins will not erase the earthly consequences they will suffer for having committed them.
Instead of parenting in a reactive way, try switching to proactive parenting. It seems more difficult because it requires research and training on your part. It also requires training your children to have godly behaviors before they are old enough to be tempted by the ungodly ones. In reality though, it makes your parenting job so much easier.
- You and your spouse will have very few parenting arguments. After finances, one of the biggest cause of arguments between couples is parenting. Finding a godly parenting philosophy you both agree to use (unless you both agree to disagree) will put you and your spouse on the same parenting page. When one of you moves away from the agreed upon philosophy, the discussion can center around why you want to make a different choice – preferably before the situation in question arises. When your child disobeys, you have already decided how to handle the situation and don’t need to argue before giving consequences.
- You will be prepared when a situation arises and have a plan for how to handle it. Yes, life will throw you an occasional parenting curve ball. After all, children rarely match any book perfectly and no parenting program can cover everything your child may do. In general, most solid Christian parenting programs cover many of the things common to almost every child. Proactive parenting will help you know how to handle it immediately when your child begins lying or speaks disrespectfully to you.
- You and your child will avoid a lot of the negative consequences of making poor and/or sinful choices. Often this doesn’t dawn on parents until the teen or early adult years when a child goes off the deep end. Suddenly their child is in a terrible car crash caused by disregarding traffic laws or is in jail or hooked on drugs. Some decisions at that age have consequences that can alter your child’s entire life and rarely for the better (at least initially). Even on a simpler level, the teen years in our house were almost drama free. Because our daughter had been proactively parented, she was (and is) pure joy even during the “tough” years most parents dread. Your child will still make mistakes, but the odds of that happening constantly and with major consequences are reduced drastically. (Even secular studies confirm this.)
- Your children have a much better chance of having a solid foundation of faith on which to live their adult lives. Proactive parenting means you are not as likely to lose track of time and realize as you take your child to college, you have neglected to teach them how to make godly choices and to chose to follow God all of the days of their lives. (Trust me, even when you have been a proactive parent, you still have a mini panic attack as you drive away from their dorm – convinced you have forgotten to teach them something crucial, but at least you can reassure yourself you have covered the important basics many times.)
The best part of parenting is you can course correct at any point in the journey. Of course, the earlier you parent your child proactively, the more successful you will be. If you have been a reactive parent for years, don’t be afraid to apologize to your child and explain the steps you will be taking to change to proactive parenting. Then find some godly parenting resources and use them. You and your child will be so much better for the switch.