Saturday, May 22, 2010

Two Sides of the Coin

I write this one carefully. I recognize that I really am just at the beginning of this parenting journey, and don't have the experience necessary to really give definitive advice.

It's been a long while since I've read a parenting book. The last couple years I've been working on my master's degree, and so all my extra reading time is taken up by that. But now I am thankfully in "Marriage and Family Counseling," which I am not only greatly enjoying, but required me to read Teach Them Diligently by Lou Priolo, a book that had long sat on my shelf waiting for me to read it.

The subtitle is "How to Use the Scriptures in Child Training," which is really what this book is about. And indeed, it is a helpful, clear, excellent book. Priolo makes a very strong case for why parents need to be using Scripture when training their children. He teaches parents that not only should they be giving their children formal Bible instruction (memorization, devotions, etc.), but also using Scripture on a day-to-day basis, in the midst of many conversations and always when disciplining. Thus, parents must know Scripture well if they expect to pass it on to their children. I was convicted. I was challenged. And I was given many practical ideas for how to implement this kind of training.

But I did do some wondering. Priolo makes some pretty "absolute" type statements. "Teaching the Bible to your children is non-optional. You have been given the responsibility to indoctrinate your children with Scripture. The question is not whether or not you are going to teach God's Word to the, but whether or not you are going to obey God's Word yourself. No matter what you believe your parental job description entails, nothing else you do to, for, or with them is more important than this."

I struggle with that statement. On one level, I agree with him. Teaching Scripture to my children is extremely important (and something Gil and I are indeed already doing, though could be doing more of). But I worry....what if this is the main focus of a parent, and he or she neglects equally important aspects of parenting, such as the vital necessity of building a relationship with your children? Though Priolo emphasizes that we are not to pound Scripture into our children, that we are to initiate conversations and discussion but not be preachy, and that the parent first must "practice what he preaches," I wish that Priolo had put on greater emphasis that this Scriptural teaching must be based on a relationship with our children.

Let me explain. I think a parent could be extremely good at teaching her children Scripture, disciplining them with Scripture, and integrating Scripture into life's conversations and yet have very little relationship with her children. What will likely be the result? Embittered children. Against their parents and against God.

We don't want to listen to people if we don't believe they really care about us. We don't want to emulate them unless we feel the love. And I think, if we're not careful, that can happen in Christian child-rearing unless we emphasize both sides of the coin.

I think of my own upbringing. My parents did not follow Christ until shortly after I was born. They didn't get any lessons in "biblical child-rearing." I don't recall them teaching me Bible verses (though I do think they did so with my younger brother), but they did help me with Awana and send me to Christian school. They didn't quote Scripture when they disciplined me (which was often; I was a pretty naughty little girl!). But what they did do was build relationship with me. They spent lots and lots of time with me; we created wonderful family memories; they took time daily to talk to me on my level. They invited me into their lives. And when I got older, we discussed church and missions and theology and Scripture. All the time. I was very, very confident of their love and very much wanted to follow their example--and very much wanted to follow Christ.

So I guess that could be part of the reason why I struggle with Priolo's statement that "teaching the Bible to your more important [than anything else]." To take a verse slightly out of context, if I "have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal." Yes! I want to teach Scripture to my children and yes! I want them to know the gospel. But if it does not come in the context of love based in relationship, I will only be clanging cymbals to my children. Ideally, both elements (Scripture and relationship) should be in parenting. But if I had to change my upbringing to where my parents emphasized Scripture but neglected relationship, I would choose relationship any day.
Priolo does allude to this in his book. But I wish it was stronger, even though his book is really just a focus on using Scripture in child-rearing. Because I worry that a new parent who picks up this book and thinks that the main thing she needs to do to be a good parent is to teach Scripture to her kids, then she is mistaken.

So. I now have a renewed focus on teaching my kids to memorize Scripture. I've been using it more when I talk to them. I am working at showing them how it applies to various life situations. But I am equally reminding myself to get down on the floor with them. To allow them to crowd around me when I am baking cookies, even though I get a little claustrophobic and the flour gets on the floor. To read those books and give lots of kisses. To laugh at them when they are being silly and to look at Josiah when he says, "Look at me, Mommy!" and uses his hand to turn my face towards his (which happened a couple times during this blog post!). To bring them with me to the grocery store even though it's a whole lot easier without them.

Because then, hopefully, prayerfully, when I tell them, "Children, obey your parents," or "Do everything without complaining or arguing," they will listen. And it will go down into their hearts. And bring conviction. And the gospel.
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