Parenting advice is often passed from generation to generation. Or perhaps it is acquired from a Podcast, blog, book or magazine article. Usually, we use our “gut” to decide whether or not to accept this advice as valid. If an “expert” gives the advice, or it’s written in a book, years of education have taught us to assume it is probably the best advice we can get on the topic and we will try to follow it.
Or maybe you are parenting by your “gut” entirely – assuming your “intuition” will warn you whether or not something is “good” parenting. The most common parenting advice often comes via parents at the same stage of life as we are – popularity and “common knowledge” mean the advice works – right?
Experienced parents can tell you that not all parenting experts are right. What’s popular is likely a trend – one that may be rejected as harmful to your child in the future. Parenting peers generally don’t know much more than we do about what will work -and what appears to be working now could have negative repercussions in the future. Not to mention, parenting experts are often secular and don’t necessarily make sure their ideas align with God’s ultimate wisdom.
Talk to experienced Christian parents who have raised children who are active, productive Christians as adults and there are certain bits of parenting “wisdom” that they know young parents should ignore. Often the advice is based on some erroneous assumptions about children and teens.
- “My kids don’t need very much of my time and attention as long as they get “quality” time from me.” It takes a lot of time and energy to raise a child who will grow up to be an active, productive Christian. One study found 14 hours a week need to be spent in Bible study, prayer, conversations about God and other interactions between parents and children focused on their spiritual education. The average parent spends only a few minutes a day talking to their children and most of that is logistical. Christian parenting that is successful usually involves a large quantity of quality time that also includes God in some way.
- “If I’m happy, my kids will be happy./Kids are resilient, so my choices don’t matter” While miserable parents probably do have miserable kids – for the most part – this assumption has a fatal flaw. It is based on a selfish premise – I should do whatever makes me happy and of course my kids will be happy because I parent better when I am happy. It has been used as an excuse by too many parents who are making choices that they know in their hearts will hurt their children. I read a lot of research about how the decisions of parents impact their children. The decisions that are usually justified with this bit of “wisdom” absolutely hurt the children of the parents who make them. Sometimes, circumstances force these choices, but being honest about the real negative impact on your kids makes it more likely you will take steps to try and help your children process and heal from the choice.
- “My teens don’t need or want my involvement in their lives.” While they may be reluctant to admit it, your teens need your involvement in their lives – they just need it to look a little different than they did when they were kids. If you have helped them build a strong faith foundation and taught them plenty of Christian life skills, you shouldn’t have to micromanage their choices. In fact, the closer they are to adulthood – the more they should be allowed to make their own decisions. Your role? Think of yourself as an advisor. They need to bounce new ideas off you. They often want to hear your opinions and more importantly why you think the way you do. They want to know any applicable examples from your own life or the lives of others you know who were faced with similar choices. They want to know what God would think of their various options. What they don’t need is you to make every choice for them, but they absolutely want and need you in their lives. (If your relationship is troubled, they want the parent they wish you were to be there for them – which is a deeper issue.)
- “My kids are getting all of the “Bible education” they need at church. Not all churches and ministries are the same, but the study mentioned earlier would suggest that even faithful attenders are still lacking about ten hours of instruction and coaching a week. Churches just don’t have enough time to give your kids everything they need, to know how to be active, productive Christians as adults.
- “————— is common knowledge. My kids already know that.” The problem with common knowledge is that it is still taught in some way. You may not remember someone teaching you to brush your teeth or to pray, but you were either taught how to do it intentionally or you learned it by observation, reading or in some other way. If something is important, be intentional about teaching it to your children.
- “Children should be allowed to work out their disagreements without adult intervention.” Anyone who knows me knows this particular piece of advice sends me into a tizzy. Children need to be actively taught how to resolve conflicts in godly ways – otherwise, they will likely spend their entire life resolving conflicts like a five year old. Look around our world and you will see the need for teaching your children healthy, godly ways to resolve conflicts.
Let go of these assumptions and your children will benefit. Don’t wait until they are adults to make changes – it will be difficult to undo any damage that was done.