In a little less than one week, I will be a father for the third time. Questions of fatherhood have been on my mind for a while now. Not the first time father questions about diapers, babies falling, and soft spots, but the spiritual questions that fathers have been asking since the dawn of time.
How do you raise a child in the faith without completely screwing them up? There are a lot of different methods people have come up with. I’ve read books that give you a complete day-by-day parenting guide. It tells you not only how to feed your kids, but also what to feed them. There are guides as to how to discipline your children (they even tell you what to spank them with), guides for potty training, and guides for kiddy-manners.
>And here’s the secret that no one will tell you: this doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for a lot of very good reasons. First, because every kid is different and they will never fit into the box you want to create for them. My two kids are, at times, polar opposites. One loves to play by himself, the other can’t stand it. One is easy going, the other is a wild beast-man. One is sensistive to a firm voice, the other can shut his ears off. I can’t treat them like they’re cookie cutter kids, it just doesn’t work that way.
Second, these methods don’t work because every parent is different. There is an assumption in these books that there is one way for parents to be and child raising flows down from there. Usually this model is somewhere between stern authoritarian and crazy fundamentalist preacher. Of course, we know that everyone is different and there isn’t a single personality model. We’re all different and we have to parent accordingly. What works (or worked) for you may not work for me.
Third, there is an inherant failure in these methods because they tend to focus on external behavior rather than a relationship. Don’t get me wrong here, I want my kids to be well behaved. I want them to have good manners, to say please and thank, for my son to hold doors for women, and to put others ahead of themselves. But far too often I’ve seen kids who say yessir and nosir (or ma’am), who wear the corny kid-suits, and have the plastered down hair but have no regard for anyone but themselves and their own pleasure. I was one of those kids. To put it another way: would you rather your kids be gold-covered crap or crap-covered gold? (The right answer is, of course, gold-covered gold.)
Finally, the all-encompasing, complete manual of parenting fails because of the method of biblical interpretation. It’s funny how a few verses in Proverbs can be stretched out to include every facet of your children’s life. No one doubts the wisdom of the Proverbs, but so many take them as absolutes. If you raise your kids in the faith, they will never depart from it; that’s it, final, it’s settled. All I have to do is ensure my child’s conformity to some standard and they will be godly their whole lives. Isn’t that one of the worst ways to interepret the Proverbs? Add in some selected passages from the Law that talks about child-rearing, and you’re set to go. No one ever mentions the law that calls for a kid to be stoned if he rebels. (I’ll get into this more when I do a post on the Scriptures and parenting.)
When my daughter was born, we jumped immediately to the all-encompasing method of child rearing. We wanted to completely follow what the Bible had to say and we just knew that these books (and tapes and DVDs) were right. But over time we got burned out on this stuff. We realized it just wasn’t going to get us where we wanted to be. It would help us create conformity but not build a relationship.