Parenting is a challenging but richly rewarding endeavor. I get asked from time to time questions on parenting. I am certainly not an expert - I have made my fair share of parenting mistakes and will probably continue to do so. I am in the early stages of parenting teenagers which is a unique time all together. But when it come to young kids and parents, here are some thoughts and pointers for you to consider.
1. Remember who is the center of the household: For many parents - either verbally (you are the center of my life) or practically (little juniors schedule dictates your calendar) the child or children are the center of the universe. I understand how this happens - it is easy. But it is dangerous. Our children need to be taught from a very early age - Jesus is the center of the universe, the center of our church and the center of our home. Practically speaking - when it comes to calendars - the whole family needs to be considered (including mom and dad) when making plans and reservations. If your kids are brought up with the world revolving around them at home they will have a hard time adjusting to a world that does not revolve around them or a gospel that does not revolve around them.
2. Make Jesus and the Church a priority: As a pastor this may be easier to some degree - but make the life of the church a priority. To the best of your ability don't schedule or plan things during church gatherings. My children do not play sports on Sundays. My children do not have extra curricular activities on a Sunday morning but if it is critical may later in the day. We seek to protect the gathering of the local church. This does not mean you have to prioritize everything in the life of the church - for some of you that might mean you never do anything. Friday Youth Group does not have the same priority as Sunday Morning. Wednesday bible study is not the same as a corporate gathering. Teach your children to prioritize the life of the church. Don't work on a Sunday unless it is unavoidable. Some of us have to work on a Sunday...Some of us choose to. If necessary put a church service in your calendar as a reminder - from 9 - 11 my day is full. One day your children will have to create their own schedule and if the example of mom and dad has been good and the life of the church has been important by God's grace it will be important to them as adults.
3. Don't let your kids grow up too fast: My kids have at times been frustrated because we would not let them watch a PG-13 movie until at the very least they were 13 (although there are some we still don't let them watch). Choose age appropriate TV shows (this will date my age but my 5 year old did not watch Hannah Montanah a show about a teenage girl - thank you Jesus for that little bit of wisdom in hindsight) or video games. I generally do not let my children hang out with those who are older unless it is strategic - there are conversations that young adults have that might not be good for my children. There are times when I want them to learn from older students in the church but I choose those carefully - I don't wanter them to pick up sarcastic, rude, disrespectful behavior or words from others without any discernment from me. It is ok for your son or daughter when they are 7 to do, say and act like a 7 year old.
4. Let your kids gain an imagination: My girls learned to read and we attempted to promote that over other forms of entertainment early on. this allowed them to have vivid imaginations, they know how to make believe and dream, they are able to learn quickly, and they have learned to communicate and think well for themselves. I love it that my 13 year old daughter can still have moments where she is able to think up things without the need of a television or an APP. A good book. The Good Book. Let them read often, read to them, listen to them read...
5. Do not give your children unsupervised access to media - there are too many crazy things and people out there to just let our kids enjoy a computer, iPad, or a phone without any supervision. If your kids are like mine, they want to have that freedom but it is not wise for them to have it all right then. A friend has a good habit of turning off the WiFi at night and having a collecting point for phones to charge so that his kids are not on their devices all night long. Keep the computer in a public place to protect against pornography and other dangerous media. Allowing kids to have a TV (particularly with Cable) in their bedroom may be a privilege your give to your kids but it is a dangerous (or could we say foolish) one. Have you seen what is on TV late at night. If your kids have to watch things in the public domain they are less likely to be exposed to things that could be dangerous or unhealthy. It does not prevent everything but a little prudence goes a long way.
6. Teach them to Forgive Like Jesus. this may be the most challenging thing. It is not uncommon to see children have a conflict with those around them & simply end the relationship all together. Most of this is a learned behavior from their parents - mom and dad quit on each other, left their jobs because of a difficult co-worker, left a church because someone hurt their feelings or what ever. Jesus wants us to develop a pattern of forgiveness and restoration in our relationships. Of course our children are not yet mature followers of Jesus - so their old self will want to practice rejection, hate & vengeance. We need to teach them, model for them, & assist them in resolving problems for the glory of God. If your child is hurt by another child - assist them in resolving it biblically: 1) Go tell them by your self first and seek repentance and forgiveness. 2) if they won't receive you or resolve it come back and ask mom and dad for help. In a culture where parents tend to micro manage everything for their children (fight their battles with teachers, bosses, or others) this is the one area we tend to take a back seat (I don't want to get involved, I want to let them do what they want). Parents, your children want to disobey God. Assist them in learning not to. Teach them not to run from pain or hurt. Teach them not to end relationships to quickly. Teach them to forgive...& restore their friends. If we don't - we are building a pattern in their heart that may one day lead them to leave a church because someone said something careless, to leave a job because their boss was harsh or to leave a spouse because they caused pain. Instead we want to teach them how to forgive like Jesus - who forgives us unconditionally, completely restoring us. You say well what about the pain, what about the hurt, you want my kids to bear that....well...no. I want you to teach them to let Jesus bear that. Listen you will not regret cultivating a child who learns to forgive well. It will be a blessing to you, it will be a blessing to others, it will bring glory to God.
7. Finally, although we could probably list 80 things right, teach your children to speak and act respectfully to adults. 1st Graders who speak with sarcasm, can't follow directions, argue with mom and dad or other adults. This may be funny at first but it is enterally dangerous in life. You see, if we don't teach our children how to respectfully submit to mom and dad, to their teachers, to their pastor, to their bosses now - 1) how will they ever learn to do that as they get older, 2) when will they ever learn to submit to God. You say - teachers and God are very different things....but I am not so sure. Patterns and habits develop early. If you teach your children with your conversation to disrespect others (particularly their direct authority) they will mimic it, duplicate it and for some, master it. Teach them to submit to mom as unto Jesus, to respect the pastor as unto Jesus, to listen and obey their teacher as unto Jesus. Are there times that any of those authorities will ask a child to do something that is not wise or unbiblical...Yes...but those will be rare I hope. Then in those moments, they RESPECTFULLY, instead be obedient to God's word. I am amazed when I ask a child to do something and they unapologetically tell me no or call me names or simply ignore me like I was not even there. This begins with the respect of mom and dad and continues into all areas of life - teaching them to respect and honor their authority.
For those of you who do not have kids of your own consider how your example, words and actions affect the kids around you in the life of the church. You are an extension of God's family to those kids - your have as much a responsibility to lead the kids in our church well as any parent - provide a godly example in your conduct, in your words, in your participations.
Deuteronomy 6 is a great reminder for all of us in the church to lead our children well - to write the law of God in our hearts, hands, head and to teach them often - what it means to be a follower of Jesus. In doing so we are all teaching and training children to live, work and play in the Kingdom of Jesus.