I see parenting as probably one’s most important responsibility in this life.
We prepare for working life by getting an education that spans 13 to 16 years but we go for zero certification before undertaking the huge role of a parent.
There are good parenting courses and good books, but most of us who embark on the parenting journey usually feel woefully inadequate. And just as you feel that sheer hard won experience has taught you a thing or two, your child enters the next stage of life and the set of skills and wisdom required morphs to something different.
If only every parent were required to go through 3 years of intensive study before being allowed to produce progeny, perhaps we might feel more prepared, and make fewer mistakes whilst bringing up our kids. Though I suppose in many instances nothing could ever totally prepare us for the roller-coaster ride of parenting, and most of the learning has to be done ‘on-the-job’.
In any case, a good book on keeping close sight of the fundamentals such as Parenting by Paul Tripp helps a lot, no matter which stage of parenting you are at (hopefully your kid is not aged 35).
The main premise of the book is that we have to understand the human condition, of our children and of ourselves. Here are some other points that I felt were good reminders:
1. We have to daily battle the “ownership” view of parenting, which is subtle but will put us on a trajectory that leads our parenting far away from God’s design. Although it feels right and it does many good things, it is foundationally misguided and will not produce what God intends in the lives that he has entrusted to our care. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we are all very bad at moving away from “ownership” parenting.
2. Instead, God’s aim is for parenting to be ambassadorial work. We have been made parents to do God’s will in their lives. That is not what we want for our children or from our children, but about what God in grace has planned to do through us in our children. Successful parenting is not about what we have produced, or achieving goals (that we have no power to produce) but about being a usable and faithful tool in the hands of the One who alone is able to produce good things in your children.
3. Without a right understanding of our predisposition as human beings, we will parent foolishly and parent the endemic foolishness of a child with all the wrong principles.
4. As we often say, what matters is not outward behaviour but the condition of one’s heart. Although this was covered in the course we attended, Tripp delves more deeply into this, and describes all aspects and how best to combat this on a daily basis.
5. We are in the world but not of it. I especially liked this passage. So often, I lament the state of this fallen world. But there is no use in erecting a little ‘family monastery’ in an attempt to keep them unsullied. Because how much darker is the sin within than the sin without!
If we do not understand this, then all our methods, all our words will be aimed way off the mark. Is it any surprise then, that children brought up in Christian homes stray into legalism, or hardened proud hearts that want nothing to do with Christ and bringing glory to him?
6. A skewed focus on chasing ‘good things’ such as academic success. I felt the first section of the book was especially pertinent. It kindly but firmly berates parents for chasing success instead of heart-change. Outward success is visible, tangible and such a satisfying affirmation to ‘good parenting’, isn’t it? But if the heart is skewed towards chasing worldly applause and prizes of this world, it would not be long before a child’s life path veers away into a chasing after the wind, and fixating on what should not matter most.
7. What hit me most often as I read this book, was how every deficiency that we should be aware of in our children, should just as keenly be monitored and nipped in the bud in our own (adult parent) hearts. And that requires daily self-reflection, and daily mortification of our own sin.
Without recognising that, we parent from a position of pride and self-righteousness, and could often do lasting damage to the souls of our young, by talking down to them, and making them feel consistently inadequate.
8. Gospel principles to guide our parenting. The reminders I’ve mentioned so far are not the 14 gospel principles per se. Those comprise a very thoughtful and intentional order starting from “Calling” and “Grace” to the ending of topics such as “Character”, “Control”, “Rest” and “Mercy”.
9. The Bible contains the grand redemption story, not just a list of dos and don’ts. This is the story that we need to know and understand well, to make sense of our story as a parent and the stories of our children in the larger story of redemption. Our task is to raise children who are prepared to think and live biblically, in the light of redemptive grace.
10. Everything that God wants us to do, He will equip us for it. Thus we can rest in His power, instead of fretting in our inadequacy. Of course we are inadequate, mere jars of clay – for this is how His glory is best made known. He simply calls us to be faithful, knowing that the results are in His sovereign will.
Those are the ten short points that leapt out at me from the book.
As with all books, they are only as effective as how much we apply them. Finishing the book takes a few days, but remembering to apply its reminders daily is the real challenge. May we live up to this challenge, for it will make all the difference.