"Successful" Parenting

We might all have different ideas about what successful parenting actually looks like in practice. Some do so-called "gentle" or attachment parenting... some follow particular books, authors, or methods for the "meat" of their parenting... some choose public schools... some make other choices.

Undoubtedly though, for Christian parents, the most important thing is getting the good news of Christ as the Savior of the world into the hearts and minds of our children. So we may all differ in one way or another on externals, but the most important thing is the delivery of the message of Jesus Christ. But if we're only mimicking the "success" of others, and don't truly "own" the plan ourselves, our hope that our children will have faith in Christ may come to nothing. In fact, if we deliver faith in something OTHER than Christ (perhaps money, beauty, or even something "good" like a Christian author, parenting method, or book), we may set them up for life-long rejection of the gospel.

It reminds me of the French castle scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail... where the knights of the round table want to get inside of the castle, so Sir Bedevere declares to King Arthur, "Sir... I have a plan... ." Soon, a giant wooden rabbit is being noisily wheeled by the soldiers towards the front gate of the castle (modeled after the Trojan horse, of course). They then run away to hide in the woods and see what happens next.

After the French soldiers have stealthily examined and approved the rabbit, they wheel it inside the castle. Just behind a little hill, we see the "knights of the round table" giddily hiding, and we hear:
Arthur: "What happens now?"
Bedevere: "Well, now, uh, Lancelot, Gallahad, and I, uh, wait until nightfall, and leap out of the rabbit, taking the French by surprise. Not only by surprise, but totally unarmed!"
Arthur: "*Who* leaps out of the rabbit?"
Bedevere: (pointing to each knight as he names them) "Uh, Lancelot, Gallahad, and I, uh... leap out of the rabbit, uh.... and uh..."
Lancelot: (groans)
Bedevere: "Oh, um, look, if we built this large wooden badger..."

And Arthur rightly knocks Bedevere on his head.
My point is this: Bedevere wasn't coming up with his own plan. He was simply trying to mimic what worked for someone else. We don't need to put our hopes on "what works". And we don't need to look at what some other parents did as our ultimate goal. Should we learn from others? Absolutely!

But the verse in Proverbs says, "Train up a child in the way he should go"... and too many teachers have claimed that for their own method. Truth is, the verse is talking about knowing your child and training them up according to the way God built them-- their aptitudes, interests, personality, and maturity. We're not to parent every child in a factory-like manner. It shouldn't be a cookie-cutter approach. And the funny thing is-- we know that when it comes to our own children-- we know that our second child is nothing like our first, and that the discipline methods/teaching methods/etc. that "work" with our first child often don't work with our second or third in the exact same way. BUT-- we sometimes forget that when we look around at other families-- we see God at work in other families and may unscrupulously try to copy what they're doing instead of inquiring what HE would do in our family, with our unique family DNA.

If another family is doing something that you ought to be doing-- intentional discipling of their children, or training their children in biblical obedience-- then you SHOULD find a way to bring that into your own family life. But we shouldn't be blindly following any method, family, or parenting philosophy without checking it against Scripture and against the God-given vision He's given us as parents for our families.

God made us each as individuals... and we are all different. And yet, we have His unchanging Word. So, we each as individuals need to look at the scriptures, look at what they say about parenting, about wisdom, about children, about teaching, about families... and implement them in that unique way that God built our family to do.

Some fathers may like theology and that may be a regular dinner table topic... other fathers may be better at teaching about God as they go about life-- on the baseball field and on the drive to the lake, etc. But all Christian fathers ought to be teaching.

Same thing for us as Christian mothers... one mother's approach may look different externally from other mothers' approaches, but we are all trying to do what Bedevere was trying to do: safely deliver something (or more specifically, Someone) into a place that is, for all practical purposes, out of our control. Now, we differ from those knights in that we are not trying to do it stealthily, or for ill purposes... but we DO need to get the pure, Biblical gospel into the hands, hearts, and minds of the children God has given us.

Funny thing, though, because they built it poorly the first time, the knights' chances of success for any future attempt (like building a wooden "badger") were probably close to nil. They were so busy focused on getting the outside "right" that they forgot to focus on what was INSIDE the large, wooden rabbit.

If we spend our time making the outside *look* right, but we aren't actively stoking true faith, we are setting our children up for spiritual disaster. They KNOW when we are faking it. They KNOW whether or not we really believe God answers prayer. They KNOW whether or not Christ is permeating every part of our homes or just something we "do" on Sundays. They KNOW if our hearts are set towards eternal things or towards storing up our treasures here on earth. We have to let Christ do His work inside of us rather than focusing on getting all the outside things "right".

We need not sit around fretting about if our home looks or doesn't look like someone else's home. We don't have to have the same amount of children, or have the same bedtime routine, or do "school" in the same way, or have the same philosophy about discipline in order to be unified in our goal of honoring Jesus Christ in our family, and teaching our children to trust Him for all of their lives. We don't have to build a large wooden rabbit (or a badger!) just because someone else "succeeded" by building a large wooden structure.

Prayer and obedience should be the keystones of our parenting "method"... and learning from others is great, but should not take precedence over the importance of the Word. Seek to know Jesus and to make Him known in your home... and do it in a way that is natural for how God built you.


Elizabeth said...

Kids certainly do have an uncanny ability to smell a fraud even if everything looks great from the outside!

Sanders said...

Hahaha! I really needed to hear this tonight Jess - and I LOVED the analogy! ~Tiffany

Laura said...

Thank you, Jess! You always have the right word of encouragement just when I need it most! This is something I have been thinking about for ages... I find relaying the truth about Christ to my kids so difficult sometimes... but your post is a kick in my rear to find a method for doing so that works for our family. I tend to watch what others are doing and thinking "oh I should be doing that too" instead of finding out what GOD wants from me.

Aubs said...

Thank you so much Jess! It is indeed difficult to not get caught up in the world's way of comparing to other's and feeling inadequate because you do things differently. What a great reminder this is for me that the Lord's way for me and my family is unique for us! I am so grateful that the Lord is able to work thru you to minister to me and so many others.....thank you for your thoughtfulness and dedication to our Lord and Savior!

mattnbec said...

Thanks. It's nice to hear someone say these things rather than harp on about specific methods. My mum has reminded me on more than one occasion that people had children who grew up to be godly young people before the plethora of modern parenting books came out insisting that their way was the way to produce godly offspring. Likewise, that a variety of approaches can produce the same result. Sadly though, I think we hear methodology more frequently than 'first principles' stuff we need to hear like in your final paragraph.

Thanks again,


Megan said...

I completely agree with the other commenters! I needed to hear this too. It is so easy to get caught up in the comparison game, and seeing where you feel like you're doing better than others and where you could improve. Like you said, it's not bad to look around and see what others are doing if you're at a loss, but I really needed to hear that it's okay and right to figure out what God wants for my family in the areas of discipline, school, family size, and most importantly, teaching them to be worshippers! Thanks so much for always bringing such great things to our attention!

Anonymous said...

YES!!! It's crazy to find out that no two children are alike...even if they did both come from you! My first is COMPLETELY opposite from my second...hubby and I have had to "raise" them differently (within reason of course) because their personalities are so different. I've had to pray, "Lord just show me how to raise them..."

darci said...

thank you jess! such a great post and such a good reminder that God made all of us different, moms and dads and kids, and He delights in the differences. Just to know Him, and to make Him real in our kids' lives..that's it.
"The hard, daily, repetitive work of making a home a haven, providing healthy meals, correcting and training little ones, and constantly cleaning up messes is percieved as menial labour instead of the stuff from which godliness is built. The result is that the mothers who do attempt to follow God's design for families may suffer from feelings of isolation, loneliness and discouragement."
from the Mission of Motherhood, by Sally Clarkson
I have been feeling alone in the walk lately..seems like not too many passionate for God moms are out there, at least not close by, so this spoke to me especially. thanks for sharing! darci

Mrs. Parunak said...

This is wonderful advice, Jess, and so needed as parenting issues can be very divisive. Thank you for reminding everyone that children and families are different. In fact, the differences can extend beyond personality. When it comes to parenting philosophies for infants, there can even be physical reasons why different families need to do things in different ways. I just wrote a post about this on my blog. It's called, Breastmilk, Ice Cream, and Infant Feeding Schedules: How Much Space is on YOUR Counter Top?. People shouldn't feel proud or defensive about the approach they've taken. We are all trying in our feeble way to do what's best for our precious little blessings.

Carletta said...

Jess, I so agree with you. I think there is far to much focus on methods nowadays, and far to less focus on the individual child and what he or she needs.

It saddens me to see mothers desperately moving from one method to another, or on the other end of the spectrum, clinging desperately to a method that is not working.

We do have wisdom from God's word as to how to train our children, and we hopefully all have real life mentors we can look to when we need guidance on certain issue.

However, I don't think it's wise to blindly follow any leader other than our Lord.

Godly parenting will look different from family to family. What worked for one homeschooling family could be harmful to another.

Tami@ourhouse said...

Thanks, Jess. This is so difficult. It is much very tempting to try and find a 'rule' book and copy it, adding along the way our own list of rules, Pharisee style.

My mom also scratches her head about all the books I read... my husband and I wonder how did our parents raise us without all the books?

Thanks for the encouragement to trust the Lord and to seek his wisdom for our own families.

Kara said...

Refreshing!!! This is just the kind of encouragement and "parenting advice" I like to hear! David teases that he will ban me from reading blogs b/c I get so frustrated with the craze of methodogy and worse yet, them often coming across as the only godly way. We CAN all be in this together and encourage each other, regardless of how different we look in the details.

MacCárthaigh Family said...

Good post...Ruth

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jess, for your inspiration to look to Christ--and not to man--for our leading.

A question for you--or others--how does "looking only to Christ" fit in with accountablity to other Christians and also with learning from those who have gone before us (like in parenthood) and have shown much fruit in their walk.) I have learned lots from older women (and men) and do like to glean from others. At the same time, I know I must be careful not to apply something to my own life (or the life of our family) just because someone else is doing it and it seems like a good thing. I need to constantly go to the Lord and ask for His input.

What is the key to the balance in this, in your all's eyes?

Sarah said...

Great post. I especially loved the Holy Grail references ... brings laughs as my husband and BIL quote that movie perfectly!

Seriously though - it was a good read, thanks!

Jennifer F. said...

I just love your blog. Yet another great post.

This one was especially helpful to me. I was raised in an atheist family, so it's completely unfamiliar territory for me to teach my children to embrace Christ on their own. Since I converted as an adult, I've never seen it done with children. Although...in some ways maybe that actually helped me -- I have no one to use as my model other than Christ himself!

Anyway, thanks for another great post.