Parenting 101—Recipe or Relationship? (by D. P. Love)

If you Google “parenting books” you get over 166,000,000 hits; likewise, crowded bookshop shelves are brimming with numerous resources all claiming to have the best ways to parent our children. It’s overwhelming: parents really need advice—Christian parents included.

Dr. Bob Kellemen writes in the introduction of his latest book, Raising Kids in the Way of Grace, that there is a collective “parental plea: Give me a parenting how-to manual!”

As a certified family life educator, I often taught classes to parents struggling with their child’s conduct. I usually started by holding up a cookbook with a modified cover that read, “Easy Recipes for Positive Guidance: Handle all challenging behaviors by simply looking up the specific behavior recipe.”

My main point, of course, was that no such “recipe” book exists; however, as parents we often act as if it does, and we just need to find it. As Christians, we know God’s Word, empowered by the Holy Spirit, is our life manual with guiding principles and examples of godly living. And we know it includes insights into handling the challenges of parenting.

Yet the Bible does not provide specific behavior strategies for individual parents to use with their individual children. I believe this lack of details is intentional. It is God’s wisdom message to us as parents, if we are willing to accept it and take the needed time to explore its ramifications.  

While there is certainly guidance for parents in Proverbs and other Bible passages, and there are specific parenting methods offered outside the Bible that work sometimes with some children, it’s important for parents to realize such strategies work only because a foundation has already been built with their child. This foundation is crucial to successful parenting—and it is the primary message of God’s Word to us—both for our own dealings with God and with our children.

The key is building a real, genuine, dynamic (growing and changing) love relationship with your child. It’s like our relationship with the Lord. You can’t fake having an authentic relationship with God, even if everything looks good on the outside (I Samuel 16:7). You can’t fake having an open and honest relationship with your children, even if they display outwardly acceptable behaviors. Godly parenting must go deeper than just controlling our child’s conduct.

As Christians we are tempted to believe that what matters is that our children’s actions are morally right and good. External conformity just makes things easier! But if we’re not careful, we will cultivate the creation of children with “white-washed tombs” (Matthew 15:8; 23:27-28) instead of tender hearts toward God our Father (Psalm 46:10a; 51:10).

Real, genuine human relationships are not perfect and take time to develop. They are often messy and riddled with foolishness and sin—both on the part of parent and child. But in such whole-hearted relationships, there is ample opportunity to acknowledge our ungodly natures, to confess our sins and weaknesses to each other, and to ask for forgiveness and help to grow—it’s a give-and-take relationship filled with joys and sorrows along the way.

Godly parenting is all about cultivating a genuine love relationship with God our Father and with our individual children. Of course staying in God’s Word is essential, and it may help to read a parenting book or two from time to time as well. But in order to parent like God calls us to parent, spending time together and getting to know each other is indispensable. Wherever you are on your parenting journey, consider this challenge for today and spend time getting to know your Heavenly Father and loving Him more; then, spend time getting to know and love your own children more as well.

As Julie Lowe, notes in her book, Child Proof Parenting by Faith Not Formula, “The answer we need as parents is not a formula. . . .Instead of providing a parenting recipe, God calls parents to think biblically, wisely, and carefully about what love looks like in their unique family.”  Further, she notes, “When we focus on what our role should be in our children’s lives and on knowing them personally, we focus less on their behavioral improvements and more on how the Lord is calling us to shepherd them.”

Reflection Questions:

  • How well do you understand and know your children? What are their unique joys and fears? What is most important to them?
  • Does your child believe he/she can come to you at any time (like we can come to God, our Father) with any problem or concern and find understanding and help? 
  • When was the last time you ask for forgiveness from your children (preschoolers and above) for any specific way you sinned against them?
  • How has God “parented” you? Do you offer this same grace to your children?

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