Tuesday, June 13, 2017

WHAt’s A Parent to do?

Lord, I will straighten all I can and You; take over what we parents cannot do.

—Ruth Bell Graham

When our children make unwise choices: when they abuse alcohol, do drugs, get pregnant, drop out of school, turn their backs on family and God, we ask ourselves, in one way or another, “What did I do that I should not have done?” “What should I have done that I did not do?” We collapse into self–doubt and condemnation. We feel like failures, our children the tragic victims of our mismanagement.

There is, however, no absolute correlation between the way people parent and the way their children turn out. Good parenting does make a difference, but it does not guarantee that the product will be good.
We’re all are acquainted with families where cruelty, abuse, neglect, violence and alcoholism are the normal state, yet the children turn out remarkably well. They have good friends, they do well in school, they get jobs and hold them, they end up in stable marriages and handle their parental responsibilities with wisdom and love.

On the other hand we all know of families where the parents are warm, nurturing, kind, firm, wise and giving and yet there is at least one prodigal and sometimes more than one.
It’s certainly better to be one kind of parent than the other, but the fact remains that despite our best efforts sometimes our children choose to go the wrong way.

But, you say, what about the proverb: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6)? That sounds very much like a guarantee—except it’s not.
The biblical proverbs are not promises; they are premises—general rules or axioms. Proverbs 22:6 is a statement of general truth much like our contemporary saying: “As the twig is bent so the tree is inclined.” It’s an adage, a saying that sets forth a truth applicable in most cases, but not necessarily so. There are always exceptions to the rule.

The reason there are exceptions is that children are not mindless matter that can be shaped and formed at will, but thinking, choosing individuals who may, even with the best of parenting, choose to go his or her own way. Even God, who is the perfect parent, has had trouble with his children—Adam and Eve to name only two. (You and me to name two others.)

You and I cannot produce godly children and if we believe that by applying certain techniques and rules we can secure good behavior we may be in for bitter disillusionment and heartache. No one can determine nor can they predict what their offspring will do. It was Joaquin Andujar, poet and pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, who said you could sum up baseball in one word: “You never know.” His word count was off, but he captured the essence of childrearing as well as baseball.

Given that uncertainty the question we should ask ourselves is not, “How can I produce good children?” but rather, “How can I be a good parent?” The two questions appear to be the same, but they’re not. The first has to do with results; the second with process. The first puts the responsibility on us; the second leaves the results to God. The first is concerned with matters beyond our control; the second with things that are well within our control.

If our focus is on process rather than results the questions then become, “How can I deal with my impatience, my temper and rage, my selfishness, my resentment, my stubbornness, my defensiveness, my pride, my laziness, my unwillingness to listen? How can I deal with my addictions? How can I strengthen my marriage? How can I develop my parenting skills? How can I build bridges of grace, forgiveness and acceptance, that make it possible for my prodigal to return?” And more important than all, “How can I grow in love for my Father–God and become much more like him in all that I do?”

These are the matters that ought to occupy us—the things that we can do. And then we must leave the consequences to God.

David Roper (With a a lot of help from psychiatrist, Dr. John White)

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