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Helping Parents Avoid 3 Understandable Parenting Mistakes

Daughter [hangs head]: I know.

Mom: I want to tell you something I’ve learned. I know that God loves me very much, and He loves you very much. He says it in the Bible. Now God expects me to obey Him, and I want to obey Him because I love Him. He has given me the job of parenting and disciplining you in love.

God also expects you to honor and obey your parents, and because you disobeyed, you need to be disciplined and face the consequences of your choices.

But I understand that sometimes you will make mistakes, and I will still love you, just as God loves you. We are all sinners, and we make wrong choices. But when we admit our sins and ask God to forgive us, He forgives us, even when we don’t deserve it—because Jesus paid the price for our sins. That’s God’s grace.

And when we understand His grace, it makes us want to obey Him even more.2

2. Keeping quiet about their own struggles to obey God

Why this mistake is understandable

In an attempt to be good role models for their children, parents aren’t usually open with their kids about their own struggles with God’s discipline. The parent may feel that, as an adult, he should be the example of what it looks like to obey God cheerfully and willingly, and that it would be detrimental for the child to realize that the parent isn’t handling life flawlessly.

And typically, when a child has disobeyed a rule, the parent is not even thinking about how he, too, sometimes rebels against God’s correction. Picture this:

Dad [voice tight]: Son, you were supposed to take the trash out. This is the third time this week that I’ve come home to overflowing bags in the kitchen, and it stinks!

Son: I forgot.

Dad [voice rising]: You have a simple task to remember, and it’s not that hard to do. Your mom works hard around the house every day, cooking and cleaning. I work long hours to provide for the family. You don’t see us slacking off! We don’t ask you to do much, and yet you can’t remember to take out the trash? Can’t you smell it?!

A better approach

Remind parents that keeping quiet about their own weaknesses and focusing only on what the child is doing wrong sends a message to the child. A parent needs to consider what message the child is actually receiving from him in a moment of correction.

Dr. Jim Newheiser shares with parents the importance of transparency and honesty with their kids:

To be honest about our weaknesses and our shortcomings is biblical. I think it’s going to point the kids more to the gospel, as opposed to thinking, “Why can’t you be like me? Why can’t you be perfect like I am?” No parent would articulate those words, but sometimes when we’re monitoring our children, that’s almost what we sound like.

I have more [similarities] with my kid than differences. We’re both sinners. We both, even when we try, fail to do all that God would have us to do. We both need God’s grace.3

By being open about personal struggles with God’s discipline, a parent can impart the message, “I know what it’s like to struggle. I understand what it’s like to be a sinner who gets disciplined by God. And when I fail to obey, I don’t always like it either. But I am so thankful for God’s mercy, and I know He loves me, and I want to be conformed to be like Christ.”

A word of warning, though: while sharing honestly with children is good, parents need to use wisdom as to how much is appropriate to share with the child, depending on age, maturity, gender and other factors (Prov. 10:19, 15:2).

3. Thinking they are in control/Not entrusting their child to God

Why this mistake is understandable

The Bible is clear: “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Prov. 22:6). So many parents assume that if they offer a godly environment (keeping bad influences out of the house by monitoring TV shows, Internet, music and kids’ friends), if they faithfully have their kids in church, if they pray, if they hold family devotions, if they provide their kids with a good education, if they give their kids opportunity to develop talents in sports or the arts, then their children are guaranteed to “turn out okay.” But if a child begins to disobey or rebel, the parent can become increasingly frustrated with himself, the child and God.

A better approach

Parents need to be regularly reminded that (1) verses like Proverbs 22:6 aren’t guarantees, they’re maxims, and (2) their kids are complex spiritual beings who are responsible for the choices they make. The message to impart to parents who are trying so very hard to control the outcome of their parenting is one that can actually be liberating:

Since what determines a child’s future is ultimately beyond a parent’s control, one of the best things a parent can do is entrust his child to God (Phil. 1:6; 2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Cor. 3:6–7).

Carol Floch, counselor and author of The Single Mom’s Devotional, says: “When we entrust ourselves [and our children] to the One who is ultimately in control, and find our peace there, that is a place of great security.”4

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As editorial director, Kathy upholds the editorial standards of the CareLeader.org text. Kathy is also a regular contributor to CareLeader.org. Kathy’s writing and editorial work can be found in the leader’s guides and workbooks for GriefShare, DivorceCare, Single & Parenting, and Surviving the Holidays.