Dan Allender‘s book, How Children Raise Parents, has been really helpful, personally and parentally, in connecting fatherhood/motherhood with the gospel. Here are a few thoughts distilled from the first two chapters of his book:
Good Parenting is…
Dan Allender debunks popular notions of good parenting—“provide the right influences and/or principles and your children will succeed”—by unpacking the way God parents humanity, offering his children the opportunity to become fully and truly human. In order to parent as God parents us, we must recognize two fundamental questions asked by all children: 1) Am I loved? 2) Can I get my own way?
The way we parent depends on how we answer these questions. If we answer yes to both questions, we must stay discipline and, in turn, rob our children of knowing God’s strength. We cheapen love. If we answer no to the first question and yes to the second, we give them license but no love, we spoil (=ruin) our children from knowing God’s mercy and care in the midst of our failures to keep his way. You get the idea. God parents us by telling us he loves us, but that we cannot get our own way. His love is communicated in and through his way, a way that is better than any other. God’s way, his rules, provides confidence for our children that security and strength can be found outside of themselves. There is someone bigger and better who cares for them.
Know Thy Children
However, answering these questions for our children will not work. We must know our children. When they refuse to do their homework or share with another friend when we have told them to do so, is it because they are seeking our attention which is rarely gained or is it because they simply want their own way? Moreover, parenting well requires wisdom, a knowing of our children’s bent. Allender defines “bent” as something that is beyond personality, it “is the manner in which God has uniquely written a person’s life story to reveal God’s character.”
Allender goes on to explain that child-oriented wisdom includes the understanding that your child is meant to be in, but not of, the world. Every child will bend one of two ways, “of” the world or “not of” the world, saddling up to the values of the world or secluding themselves from the difficulty of living in the world. From an early age, they will ten towards secularism or sectarianism, unthinking digestion of worldly values or unthinking embrace of religious values. Rebels or rule-keepers. At times God calls us to be rebels, and at others, he calls us to be rule-keepers, but never in our own strength. Knowing the sufficiency of the gospel for living and parenting in these tenuous times is key.
In order to respond to our child’s need for love and correction, affection and truth, we must know our own bent as well. Knowing where we lean under life’s pressures will reveal how we tend to push our children. If we tend towards pleasing others for approval, the example we set is “of the world.” If we tend to rely on ourselves to get through life, the example we set is “not of the world.” Knowing our bent, whether towards license or legalism, rebellion or religion, will enable us to mature as people and as parents, setting our hope not on parenting skill, but the wisdom of God. This wisdom is displayed in the gospel, sufficient for our victories and our defeats. Jesus death secures our forgiveness and his life our faith.