Recently I was reading a post that my brother wrote in his blog titled "An Ideal for dads" where he presents an idea. The idea is to buy a bible for your child, but don't give it to them right away. Instead, read it and write notes in it over a ten year period, then give it to them. It doesn't matter when you give it to them, on their 10 year birthday (having started when they were a newborn) or at graduation, or even later in life, depending on how old your child is. This will be a way you can prophesy and speak life into your child through the Scripture. I thought this was a great idea, but it got me thinking.
A few days before that I was reading in Proverbs and a verse jumped out at me, "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it" (Prov. 22:6). We have heard this verse many times before, but have we stopped to think about what it is really saying. It doesn't say "raise" a child in the way he should go, it specifically uses the word "train". When you enter training for something it is because you want to learn a skill or become good at something. If you want to play football you would train for football. You would have a coach, go to practices at least once a day; in essence you would live football. It would be in your thoughts and mind all day long. But if you train all the time for football, you will probably be a lousy baseball player. What are you training your kids for?
Training our kids is more than just protecting them. Yes, you want to protect your children from the "world" and all the bad that is in it. That is natural, but we must do more than that. There will come a time when our kids will have to make decisions for themselves. They need to know how to do it. How to choose what is right or what is good for them. It is our duty as parent to protect them, but we must also teach them to make these decisions on their own. As my children are young I sometimes struggle with the balance between this. Many of their decisions we make for them, like bedtime and what's for dinner. There are times however when we need to let them make some decisions and learn from them. Think about it this way. Are you training them to be a good child or an effective adult? Sometimes letting go is the hardest thing.
I am the father of four children between the ages of 2 and 8 and I am far from figuring out how to do everything right. One thing I did figure out: with each new kid I realized I had a lot more to learn. It's like the old saying, "the more I know, the more I realize I don't know." I'm not saying this to scare anyone out of having kids, but to open your eyes to the fact that all kids are different. There is no "secret" to parenthood that will make everything better. Just because something works great on one kid doesn't mean it will work on the next one. Don't let your kids run your life, but be open and attentive to their wants and needs and let them teach you.
Experience is sometimes the best teacher. Have you had someone give you advice about how to raise your children that has never had any? I used to get frustrated with this. Now I just smile and laugh inside because they have no idea, and I'm going to be there when they figure it out. :) But really, if you have a question about something consult those who have been there before. Proverbs 13:20 says, "He who walks with the wise grows wise." This goes for parenting as well. If you know someone that has already raised their kids and was successful at it, go to them. Take their advise and then personalize it to you and your child.
Lead by example. Another thing I have learned as I grow as a parent is this lesson. You can tell your kid something until you are blue in the face, but until they start to see you doing it, they will never get it. If you want your child to take their dishes to the kitchen after dinner, start doing it yourself. Clean up after yourself and your kids will start to do the same. Are your kids disrespecting and talking back to their mother (or father)? Take a look at how you are treating your spouse. I find that most of the things that irritate me the most about my kids are the bad habits they learned from me.
To be a parent is more than just protecting your child and telling them what to do. You need to live life with them. Join with them in their successes and help them in their failures. Teach them how to live by living yourself. Let them join into life with you. It may not always be convenient for you, but it will change their life. If you want your child to live a godly life, let them see you do it. This really works. Here's an example from my life:
My oldest son Tristen is 8 years old. He is my mini-me, all my bad and all my good. Now I spend time daily in the Word and I have a note book that I write verses in from my daily reading. Then I later write out the verses in another note book and write my thoughts about what I read. This is where the majority of my blog posts originate. I've been doing this for awhile and my kids have noticed. One day Tristen comes up to me and shows me a notebook that he's been writing in. I take a look at it and see that he has been writing out bible verses. And this is his own doing. He learned by watching me.
I tell this story to illustrate my point. We must spend time living with our kids, we must lead by example, and we shouldn't expect our kids to do something that we ourselves would not even do. Our kids will learn most by watching us in action. Show them how to live. Teach them how to make good choices. And most of all just Love them for who they are.