What helps and what doesn't.

 The elements of successful parenting.


1.  Knowing what you want to achieve as parents, what are the ingredients that will produce a product that meets your expectations?

Right family relationships.
    Perhaps the most basic, yet highly controversial issue in family relations today is leadership. Who's responsible for this organization?  Where does the buck stop?  In no other institution of our society - - government, school, business, social club or religious group - - is there any question about the need for a clear line of authority.  But if one spouse has less than an equal share in the family's decision making responsibility it is seen as somehow demeaning and contrary to the principle of equality.  Common sense clearly supports the concept of a single, recognized leader, but it does not require that those who follow are in some way inferior beings.  In the New Testament writings of the apostle Paul, the subject of family (and church) leadership is dealt with explicitly.  Wives are to submit to their husbands, and children are to obey their parents.

See Paul on the ideal family, Ephesians 5:22-6:4

     Distasteful as those words may be in today's culture, submitting and obeying are keys to success in parenting.  Traditionally and Biblically, the reins of family leadership belong in the hands of the husband; and his, too, is the final responsibility for providing and protecting.  If that is the husband's role in your marriage, it will greatly simplify your lives as parents.

    The word obey is rarely heard in wedding ceremonies today, but in the home, obedience must surely characterize the relationship between children and their parents.  This is not optional if you are going to be successful in the training process.  Sharing leadership within the family must never extend to the children, no matter how much you may believe in democracy!  The writer of Proverbs put it very well: "Folly is bound up in the heart of a child" (Pr. 22:15).  We can hope that folly is not found in the hearts of good parents and that they fill their role as coaches, not players.

Good genes.
    Choose your child’s grandparents carefully! The scriptures tell us that God punishes children for the sins of their fathers "to the third and fourth generations" (Num. 14:18).  In fact, you might be surprised, as I was, to learn how much your ancestors influenced the way you are today. My great-great-grandmother, Lydia Lever, for example, was clearly the source of the religious influence that flowed from generation to generation in my lineage.

    Researchers in the fields of genetics, brain development, and behavioral science seem to be reaching a consensus that genes are indeed important, but their importance is not in dictating individual characteristics, but rather in determining how we respond to the early environment that will produce those traits.  (See "Fertile Minds," "What Parents Can Do," and "The Day-Care Dilemma," Time, February 3, 1997)   You may say, "So what's the difference?"  But the effect is to put far greater responsibility on parents to "train a child in the way he should go" rather than merely to provide a climate in which he can freely develop according to his genetic instructions.

    The saying, "God helps those who help themselves" is true, assuming "those" are trying to do the Lord's will.  Indeed, as parents we depend on the guidance that He has provided in the Bible, and we can pray with confidence that He will support us by filling in the blanks when we fail to do our jobs like professionals.

Having parents who were good examples of caring parenting.
    Knowing how to be good parents, as we said earlier, isn't a skill we're born with.  But it is a skill that, if we were very fortunate, our parents taught us by their example.  If we left home with a deep and abiding love and feeling of respect for our parents, chances are they gave us a leg up on the task.  (And what a marvelous legacy that would be for you to pass on to your children, too!)

Love for the child with a determination to do what is ultimately best for him.  (Discipline.)
    Most parents love their children; it would be contrary to nature if they didn't.  But often that love shows itself in ways that seem kind and caring while actually doing harm.  It's only natural to want to give a child virtually anything he asks (or cries) for and shield him from all painful experiences, but common sense, parenting counselors and the Bible are unanimous in teaching that you must not.  Loving parents know that medicines and shots may not be pleasant, but they are absolutely necessary for the child's physical health.  Those who can follow that same principle when discipline is required are the ones who actually demonstrate the greater love.

    An obviously essential ingredient in successful parenting is instruction, that is, the process by which you teach such things as tying shoes and moral standards.  Put effort into your responsibility; don't assume that in time your child will automatically learn everything he needs to know.  Teach him how to swing a bat, teach him table manners and teach him goodness.  And if you are really serious about teaching moral values, take him to church and send him to a Christian school!

Example.  Example.  Example.
    Your child will mirror your values and your actions if he respects you.  No aspect of parenting is more important than example.  Be assured that you will not succeed in any element of training that does not reflect your own behavior.  If you exhibit integrity, kindness and consideration for others and model those virtues as you interact with your spouse and with everyone else in your family environment, those characteristics will naturally flow into your children.

Good fortune.
    "The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all." (Eccl. 9:11)  There are no guarantees in life; we may do our very best as parents and still our children may disappoint us. But you can be sure that without conscientious and disciplined effort, disappointment is certain.

2.  What are some of the factors and conditions that get in the way of success?

    After age 5, messages from peers, the media, and even teachers will often compete with yours.  By that time you must have thoroughly established yourselves as good examples and as the voices of authority so that those competing messages carry as little influence as possible.  But don't forget that you have every right to protect and shield your child from influences that are clearly negative.  While they are "children" it's foolishness to ask them to know the difference between good messages and bad.  That's your job!  So don't put a TV in a child's bedroom and don't allow him or her to have unsupervised exposure to books, magazines and movies.  The world is filled with ungodliness, but filling the mind of a child with that reality does nothing to teach virtue when the ugly reality is presented as acceptable behavior.

Not being there.
    Fewer and fewer families today enjoy the luxury and blessing of a home where the mother is able to be at home with her children.  I believe that proper emphasis on parental responsibility calls for sacrificing the material "benefits" of having two family incomes whenever that is an option.  But very often the job of child-rearing must be turned over to someone else for at least some portion of the day.  When that becomes a necessity, the parenting responsibility requires that you give very careful consideration to the choosing of a care-giver who will support, not undo, your efforts.  Remember that with day care, more training and guidance will be provided by outsiders than by the child's natural mother.

    Juggling too many responsibilities interferes with focus on the family.  With both parents struggling to maintain jobs and a home, nerves and tempers are easily stretched to the breaking point by the time in each day the children come into the picture.  The subtle message that children can't avoid receiving is that they really aren't very important.

Bad genes.
    Yes, it is possible for children to inherit traits that make life extra difficult (and sometimes, extra easy) for parents.  Aggressiveness, willfulness, and mental and physical deficiencies all present special challenges that require greater patience and, in many cases, help from professionals.  But don't let genes be a cop-out; remember that nature responds to training.

False prophets.
    In an age when we feel that science has, or soon will have the answers to all our problems, it's easy, natural and extremely common to look for the most reliable parenting guidance in those who hold Ph.D. degrees rather than in a two- or three-thousand-year-old book such as the Bible.  But it's not hard for someone like me, who has lived long enough to see the results of following the advice of some of those "false prophets," to know that unless their teachings are compatible with that book, they're worthless.  Many psychologists today are reaching that same conclusion, so you can expect to find some very sound counsel from Ph.D.s who accept God's wisdom, if you search for it.

    Unfortunately, some parents know what they should teach their children, but aren't willing to make the sacrifice in their own behavior or habits to model those values themselves.  Years ago, I was able to conquer the smoking addiction simply because I knew it was foolishness to expect my boys to stay away from cigarettes if I couldn't.  I'm thankful that none of them took up that health-destroying habit.

Marital conflicts.
    When husbands and wives can't agree on the course their parenting efforts should take, the children are the losers.  When the ones they should respect above all others are at odds about the rules, the standards and the enforcement, children have no way of sorting out the right course, and the result is confusion and insecurity.  Each parent must support the decisions and authority of the other as they apply to the children.  This means, of course, that a rule made by Mom isn't arbitrarily overturned by Dad.  So spend some time discussing your policies privately, then follow an accepted course, even if you can't reach full agreement. Never dramatize your disagreements in front of your child.

Misplaced forbearance.
    Tender hearted, compassionate parents are often unable to bear seeing their child in pain, even when that pain is clearly needed for training. For these parents, imposing punishment is out of the question.  Their resulting permissiveness leads to the child's insecurity, self-centeredness and ultimately to an inability to cope with  real world relationships.

Misplaced attention.
    It's not unusual for one or both parents to be excessively devoted to a child, typically the first, focusing loving and constant attention on him and quickly responding to every whimper.  The child soon learns that he is the sole occupant of the center of the universe and begins life with an inordinate sense of self-importance.  Sometimes the excessive devotion is shown by only one parent as a reaction to a feeling that the other party is too strict or too harsh toward the child.  This can be an especially serious problem because it produces a sense of rejection in the "strict" parent and it may lead to even harsher treatment of the child.

    In today's culture a great deal of rhetoric has been devoted to the subject of parents needing to spend more time with their children.  Indeed, that is a problem, simply because there isn't much time available for families to behave as families at all.  But the burden of guilt that has been placed on parents has caused some to feel that their first responsibility is to their children.  Not so!  A husband's first responsibility is to his wife and hers is to him.  In Genesis 2:23-24, the text defines the relationship between a husband and his wife: The man said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman,'  for she was taken out of man."  For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.  The responsibility of husband to wife and wife to husband supersedes all other relationships.  We are stewards of our children, but only for a time; God made the bond between spouses permanent.

    Success in parenting depends on many factors, but the most important is reliance on the word of God for direction.

Next: Preparing the Ground.
Contents Page
Parenting 1.01 Bible-based Basics for New Parents by Gordon Rampy