Building Firm Foundations with your children: godly parenting
As we saw in our previous post
: marriage is a prophetic declaration of the Trinity and so we represent the child’s first understanding of the nature of God.
Which is why it’s no surprise that atheists are far more likely to come from homes with defective fathers (see Faith of the Fatherless
So our desire is to relate to our children like God relates to us. This is a huge area and will form the basis of our godly parenting blog in the future. So in this blog entry we’re just going to look very briefly at how we can communicate two aspects: love and grace.
God is love (1 Jn 4:8b
) and exists as a loving daddy to us (eg Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6
) but also as a loving mother (eg Isa 66:13; Mat 23:37
). We as parents need to love our children in the same way God loves us. Children who feel loved won’t look for it elsewhere, particularly in the realm of relationships. Indeed a close relationship with parents is one of the key predictors of lack of teenage sexual experimentation.
But even though we may love our children they may not feel loved as we may not be loving them in a way they understand. For example, my dad grew up as an unwanted second child in a family that was struggling financially – so his aim was to love his family by ensuring that we were provided for. Whilst we did have holidays the reality was that I had a dad I didn’t see much and when I did he was stressed out by his high powered job and very quick to anger. What I wanted (and needed) was some closeness and affirmation from him. As a result I ended up looking to porn to try and fill that gap.
We’ve already mentioned the five love languages in the previous as a tool to help you speak the same “love language” I’m going to look briefly at three aspects here with respect to our children:
• Physical touch
God made us physical beings (embodied spirits) and has designed our bodies and emotions to thrive from touch. We release a chemical called oxytocin
(often called the “cuddle chemical”) which in babies has been shown to increase growth, immunity and neuron development*. For all ages it increases trust,bonding and feelings of closeness between the individuals involved. It also leads to increased self-esteem and optimism.
As such it is essential to ensure that our children receive adequate touch as they grow up. It doesn’t have to be hugs and kisses – any kind of touch will do such as rubbing a head, touching a shoulder or snuggling next to each other when reading a book.
For boys as they grow up the wrestling/rough housing play between father and son is actually a great way of having physical affection but in a way that isn’t viewed as childish. I noticed that my eldest son used to beam with happiness after our “throw me on the sofa” games or cushion fights which made total sense once I learned about oxytocin.
As girls mature fathers may become wary of showing physical affection (especially in the current environment where every action is sexualised) – but to pull back at this critical time will devastate their fragile confidence – so continue to show affection – but in a respectful way.
• Quality time
Quality time is a lovely idea – but you can’t choose when your child will open up – so you have to be ready. For one of my children it was always just as I tucked them into bed and was just about to rush onto my next job. For quite some time I was caught off guard as “it was their bedtime” – and I confess I used to curtail it – then I realised what was happening and so used to mentally plan an extra 10 minutes just to listen.
Part of giving your child quality time is what I call the incarnation principle: our God didn’t stay far off but in Jesus entered our world. Similarly we need to enter our children’s world. What is important to them? Then it needs to be important to us. This is so much easier said than done! For example, it’s easy when they play you the music they like to rubbish it (as it clearly won’t be as good as the music you listened to when you grew up) – but doing so will cause them to withdraw from sharing with you what they’re interested in and their heart’s desires for fear of rejection. Instead pray for grace and take an interest, ask questions about the artist and tell them what you like about it.
• Words of affirmation
God the Father publicly
affirmed his son (Mt 3:17; 17:5
) how much more do we need to affirm our children to other people in front of them? There’s something about saying it to other people that causes children to actually believe that what we say about them is true. For example today my eldest son was helping me chop wood with an axe but I could see that he was frustrated despite my encouragement. So when my wife comes outside I say to her “look at Josiah’s chopping – he’s doing such a good job”. My wife who works as a team with me on this replies “you’re right – that really is good chopping.” I turn and see my son beaming.
An aspect of this affirmation is what I call prophetical calling out.
Here we ask God who are child is going to become and then we affirm and call out who they’re going to be rather than who they are at the moment. That is the spirit of prophecy, for example when Ezekiel prophesied over the dry bones (Ezek 37
) didn’t say “you’re dry bones, you’re good for nothing” – but “you’re a mighty army” and they rose up to it. Same with our children. For example, one of our children was hopeless at looking for things and unless it fell out of the sky into their hand they would never find it. We used to get so frustrated that we began saying “you never find anything!”. The Spirit woke us up to the fact that we were cursing them – saying that this is all they will ever be whereas God will finish the work he began in us (Phil 1:6
) so we started prophesying over them “that’s strange that you can’t find it – you’re really good at finding things” and soon we asked them to help the other children find items and now they are amazing.
Grace vs Law†
Are we saved by grace or by obeying the law? (eg Eph 2:8-9
Do we become more Christ-like by grace (God’s spirit working in us) or by trying harder? (eg Ezek 36:27
; Phil 2:13
So given these answers why do we expect children to become “better” by giving them law?
For example, “you must try harder to not to say that” or “well done you managed to stop talking with your mouth full!”
Rules will either produce children who think they can do it by their own effort and so become proud moralistic/religious children who have no need of a saviour or it’ll produce children who realise that they can’t change and so give up trying and instead become rebellious.The Law is powerless to bring change (Rom 8:3-4; Col 2:20-23) its purpose is to show us our need of a saviour. Also rules also won’t capture our children’s hearts so that they actually want to change – only God’s love can do that.
How can we impart grace to our children in the disciplinary process? Here is an outline of what I currently use:
- “I love you – you’re my precious son/daughter”
- “I forgive you – as God has forgiven me of far worse”
I confess I used to give forgiveness only after they had said sorry – but I realised that I was training them that forgiveness and grace depend on their behaviour – whereas forgiveness is always available – the only block is our willingness to humble ourselves and receive it. Hence I forgive and then say:
- “But you won’t be able to receive my forgiveness and love until you’re ready in your heart to say sorry – so we need to have time out where you decide whether your heart wants to do this”
- When they return from their time out we have our cuddle and restoration:
- “I also struggle with this (see Heb 4:15) and it’s too hard to change on our own but daddy God has helped me change and he can help you. Shall we ask him to help us?”
Then pray and for our Father’s help.
- Then notice any evidence of grace and thank God for the change he’s brought in their hearts. For example “look – you just shared your toy – you never used to be able to do that – daddy God has changed your heart so that you naturally wanted to do this!”
We are only a shadow of the heavenly reality
Remember, however, that we are not the ultimate reality – we’re only a shadow of the real thing and so we need to point our children to the perfect One.
We saw this in the discipline process where we point out that we also need God’s help to change. If we make a mistake (for example shouting at them when we get stressed) then we need to apologise to our children and ask their forgiveness. I also make clear how daddy God is not like daddy (so in this example I would say that daddy God is slow to anger – taking more than 400 years before punishing the Amorites Gen 15:16 – does your daddy take 400 years before he gets cross?)Then they see that we are living what we preach. Failure to do so we cause our children to see as us hypocrites and lose respect. In which case (as we saw in the previous post with my parents and lying) why would they listen to us?
*Some sources include:
Maternal-Preterm Skin-to-Skin Contact
†I am indebted to Jessica Thompson and her book “Give them grace“ which first opened my eyes to the law-based nature of my so-called “Christian parenting”.