[THIS IS A VERY LONG POST… I plan to be posting these parenting principles in various different places in little bite-sized pieces. But here is the WHOLE thing laid out for those who are interested in seeing it ALL!]
As a pastor I struggle mightily trying to help parents in the congregation raise up their children. I struggle and struggle, and struggle! And because of my struggles, what ends up happening – is absolutely nothing! I feel the only thing I have ever done well is get parents down, give them guilt trips, and generally make a fool of myself. None of my efforts has ever amounted to anything more than a hill of beans.
I suppose that one of the main problems I have had is that my own family was young and it always seemed more than a little presumptuous for me to be preaching to anyone on how to be a parent in these evil days when I was just trying to figure it out myself. But time does march on and it is getting to the point where now I actually DO have some real live experience – even with real live teenagers! And, although I am not so silly as to say that my wife and I are expert parents, or are even to be given the majority of credit for the way our four children are growing up, I DO believe that some of the things that Monica and I have done as parents HAVE really contributed to the (so far relatively successful) Christian upbringing of our daughters.
And so it is that I am prayerfully hopeful that it might be appropriate for me to put down in writing a few principles for the parents of the congregation during this “Year of the Family”. Perhaps it might be received with happy and eager hearts by parents who truly desire to be the best Christian parents that God has called them to be.
Just a few preliminaries:
- Some parents will say: “Well, sure, but Pastor’s family is Pastor’s family. He has all the advantages to raise up his children. I can’t see how we can expect to be able to have a Christian family like his.” This is one of those statements that is only half true. It is true that you might not be the Pastor or his wife. But how does that keep anyone from being faithful Christian parents? In some ways being a Pastor could actually be a detriment in Christian parenting – not an advantage (at least that is the old wive’s tale)! The truth of the matter is that there is absolutely nothing that a pastor and his wife have in parenting that anyone else cannot have. Whatever you feel you are lacking – go to the Lord in prayer about it! As the one father of the demon possessed boy cried out to Jesus “I believe! Help me in my unbelief!”
- Other parents might say: “Every family and kid is different. My family is just not like the Bjornstad family.” It is true that no family is as crazy and strange as the Bjornstad family. It is also true that although the details might work themselves out differently from family to family, the principles of a good and Godly family life should not and do not change.
- The implementation of the Godly principles in real life is really an ART and a PRAYERFUL endeavor. It also a matter of GRACE and BLESS|NG by the Lord Himself. The more you parent, the more appreciative of the blessing and strength of God you become.
- Parenting is a matter of living FORGIVENESS. There is absolutely no way we can be healthy as parents if we are burdened with the sins of the day and the day before. We must learn to live in our baptism and sure knowledge of the perfect salvation of Jesus Christ. It is because we are forgiven that we can get up in the morning and take another shot at being a Christian parent.
- Christian Parenting is not for wimps! This is especially true in these Last Days! This could be very disheartening because some parents just really are wimps! What to do?! If you are a parenting wimp, your best hope is to admit it and GET SOME HELP!!! Find a Christian neighbor, grandparent, friend, whoever, who is a proven non-wimpy parent who you can talk to and even ask to be a “part” of the family when it comes to raising your child. This is especially important if your child has a rebellious nature!
- The last truth: The very best parenting does not EVER guarantee the best outcomes. The converse can also be true: The very worst parenting does not always guarantee the worst outcomes! The bible gives us parenting principles, not promises!
BASIC BJORNSTAD PARENTING PHILOSOPHIES:
YOUR CHRISTIAN FAMILY IS NOT LIKE EVERYONE ELSE’S FAMILY
One of the most important things that you can instill in your child from day one is that 1) he/she is a child of God, and 2) that as a Child of God, life for them is going to be perhaps quite different than everyone else’s. We have said from the very beginning to our daughters that they would not be able to date boys until they were 18 (we say 21 in jest, but we know that once they are out of the house they are on their own!) From the very beginning we explained the reasons for this: that Christians hold our relationships between men and women sacred, and as such, until we are emotionally and spiritually mature enough to keep them sacred, we just are not going to put our sexual lives at risk. True, not every child is going to take kindly to this, but if they know this and have been taught this from the very beginning, they will be much more willing to go along. This goes for watching movies, the number of hours we watch TV, which friends we spend time with… in other words: everything! And when we live as children of God we do not compare ourselves to our neighbor! We hold ourselves up to the example of Jesus Christ and his teachings.
MODERATION IN EVERYTHING – EXCEPT IF IT IS GODLY!
Sometimes it seems that folks are reluctant to get “too” involved with the church, but are more than happy to be fully engaged with just about any other endeavor. I don’t understand this. Are there concerns about some families’ “balance” when they are at church three or four times a week? I would say so. It is important that we have other outlets in life than just the church. But it just breaks my heart when I hear parents say all the time “I keep my kid busy with (sports, friends, activities, etc.) so that he/she doesn’t get into trouble” – but then somehow use that as an excuse to say that they don’t have “time” for youth group or other church activities and servant events. It is a choice that parents make to direct the activities of their children. We need to be committed to the church rather than whatever “else” there is “to keep our kid out of trouble”.
There is nothing more beautiful than a parent and a child who are able to have really good, open and caring communications. It is so important to know what is going on in the hearts and minds of your children. After a hard day at work it is really easy to go to bed without even knowing what is going on in your child’s life. The easiest way that I have heard to help in this matter is to make it the routine to go around the dinner table or at bed time and ask the question “What is the High and Low of your day?” What was the best and the worst thing that happened? And then that will give you the opportunity to pray about those things that are important to your child. You can praise the Lord for the good things, and pray for whatever need was revealed in the “Low”. And don’t forget to share your own hi and low!
STRIVE FOR SIMPLICITY IN LIFE.
Life is complicated even when it is simple… so we don’t gain much when we just keep piling on all the “stuff” of our modern lives onto our family and children. Perhaps a good rule for kids is that you have at least one, but no more than two extra-curricular endeavors (scouts, drama club, sports) besides school and church going on at the same time. And if your kid is dying to do more stuff, why not start a new activity group at church with a couple other parents in the same boat?
THINK LONG TERM BENEFITS
As much as a life full of sports and other miscellaneous activities might be fun, they are usually not activities that are going to have significant long term benefits that will last a lifetime or make a positive difference in the lives of others. The training up of the mind in wisdom, the development of good social skills, the development and sharing of visual and performing arts, the disciplines of service and mercy and the righteous causes that God calls us to – these are some examples of the activities that are going to last a lifetime. Before a parent commits their children to an activity, just ask the question “How will this activity promote Godliness and have a lasting positive impact on my child’s life and the lives that he/she will touch 20 years from now. Will this activity be remembered as valuable on my child’s death bed and before Jesus on Judgement Day?”
GOOD PARENTING DEPENDS ON A GOOD MARRIAGE.
We are always thinking we have to dote on our kids and give them everything we think they need. The real fact is that in reality, other than the love and care of parents who have a strong marriage, our kids need very little. They don’t need the best clothes. They don’t need Disney vacations. They don’t need us to drive them all over creation whenever they want to be with their friends. They don’t need a cell phone. They DO need mom and dad to love each other and have a good relationship together. It might be nice to give them all those other things, but don’t even try unless you are keeping a good relationship with God and your spouse first. First things first: God. Second things second: Marriage. Third things third: Children. Fourth things fourth: career.
SOMETIMES LESS IS BETTER THAN MORE!
As much as I see negligent parenting, I also observe “helicopter” parents who constantly hover over their children. I think that you can often find examples of negligence and hovering within the same family. Parenting is really an art, a journey of “finding the healthy balance”. I remember when I was in high school and my father and mother probably came to my High School swim meets maybe once or twice in the two years I was on the team. I do recommend that parents attend a few more of a child’s swim meets than that. But, really, I came out just fine. I knew that my parents loved me and supported me even though they couldn’t be hovering over me constantly. There really were more important things that needed to be done than sitting in the stands yelling at the officials. (Now, if my parents had been out drinking at the bar or watching TV – I would have had quite different feelings about it all. But they were not. They were taking care of the rest of the family and doing the work of the Lord.)
BE A CHRISTIAN
You can’t fake it. Be a faithful Christian. The Bible says you can’t love the world and God at the same time. If you want to see your child in heaven it might be sensible to begin by loving God yourself so that you get there to begin with. The amazing thing is that the biggest ingredient to nurturing Christian children is just being a Christian yourself: knowing you are a sinner, and loving and trusting the salvation of Jesus Christ!
TURN THE (ONE) TV OFF
The TV in our house is just OFF unless there is something SPECIFIC that is going to be sat down and watched (from beginning to end!) Currently with four children in the house we watch a Netflix movie a week, six hours of football a week during the season (everyone except Erika likes to watch football), and maybe one or two shows like House and The Mentalist every week. Although the television does not have to be evil, the reality is that the vast majority of it is either unwholesome or simply a waste of God given resources of time and attention. If your kids do want to watch the TV, make sure that you sit down and watch at least the majority of the shows WITH them. The one thing that should be completely banned is a TV in a kids’ room. I hear from elementary kids who tell me how they watch their TVs into the wee hours of the morning in their own rooms!
CONTROL THE COMPUTER and VIDEO GAME USAGE
This is very important – and becoming increasingly so every day. A couple important things: Just like with the TV, make the computer that the kids can be on a FAMILY computer in the dining room where there is heavy traffic. In our house we have limited the time on the computer to no more than 2 hours/day/child. It would be very important to monitor the sites that they visit as well and talk to them about the sites that are not appropriate for them to be visiting. It is not hard to manually do this, but if you can’t or don’t have the time it would be best to put parental controls up on the computer. It is especially important to keep some semblance of control of the discussions on Facebook and Myspace. If you don’t know how to do this, find someone who can help!
THE OPPOSITE SEX
There is nothing more beautiful than the way God created us as human beings: both male and female, and that man and woman are to be so blessed to enjoy each other’s sexuality – WITHIN the marriage relationship. The problem (especially today?) is that the only thing sexuality has become is a subject for television comedy and the tool by which entertainment industry makes a LOT of money. Sex is cheap and it is everywhere – except in the context of the marriage relationship where it belongs. I can’t even watch a football game without feeling bad that my daughters have to watch scantily clad cheerleaders and think that this is an appropriate use of sexuality, something they should want to be some day.
What can be done about this? It is really difficult to do anything about it! But try we must. First parents need to treat each other and honor each other in a Godly way themselves. The other important thing is to be proactive in being the FIRST source of information concerning sexuality for you children (not the TV or friends) . Yes, it is also important to limit exposure as much as possible to the media madness that makes sexual relationships outside marriage perfectly acceptable. That is why it is important to just turn the TV off unless there is a specific show that you want to watch. The TV should not just be “on” all the time. And of course, music on the iPods all need to be checked for decent language and appropriate subject matter (please introduce them to Christian bands – take them to a Christian band concert or two or three so they get an idea of Christian music!) The Bible teaches that whatever garbage goes into our hearts and minds – it is most definitely going to corrupt our hearts and minds. This is true of adults, but especially true of children.
Yes, my wife and I are rather strict about the friends our daughters hang out with, what movies they watch, what adult supervision is being provided, etc. Our children know that the purpose of dating is to find a marriage partner. They know that they are not going to get married any time soon. That means that there is no dating! They can have friends who are boys, but no “boyfriends”. Sometimes this is hard, but we explain everything – with the aim of teaching them to be wise judges of honorable and Christian character, preparing them to be faithful to their future spouse and the sacred relationship they will have with him.
The important thing in all of this is to start from the beginning when your children are born! Unfortunately, if you never teach them sacred sexuality and once your child’s heart has been corrupted by years of exposure to what the world wants them to believe, it is incredibly difficult to all of a sudden try to teach them something different (but don’t give up trying if this is your situation!)
STEWARDSHIP OF OUR LIVES
Outside of instilling our children with Godly sexual mores, one of the most important things that we teach our children is the proper stewardship of the gifts of God. Recently there was an article in the paper about a new class for youth called “My Life, My Money”. They were teaching this class to the children who came from welfare and lower income families. Sounds great, except that the premise of this class is completely the opposite of the Christian understanding. It is not my life, nor is it my money! As parents we must be steeped ourselves in this understanding if we are going to teach it to our children. My life is to be lived for God. I am responsible to Him in everything I do. This is a beautiful thing to behold, especially since God’s plans and ways are always perfect! The problem is that it goes completely against our sinful nature. So, whether it is the regular Sunday offering and tithe, the way the family spends its discretionary funds and leisure time, to the way the poor are helped and acts of mercy are participated in as a family, to the number of Christmas presents everyone receives, to the kind of house and car that is owned, to the particular job or career we might have, be SURE the whole family understands that ALL these things are determined by the understanding that everything we have and are, are gifts from God – and we use them all to His glory and the benefit of His Kingdom.
It could be said that if a child is gifted athletically, he/she should use that gift by involving themselves in sports. No one can argue this – but it only true until it keeps a child from growing in the other gifts God gave them. We can point to some very influential athletes who are Christians and who certainly give glory to God in their sporting activities. This is excellent indeed. However, in the vast majority of the lives of young people, organized sports should NOT be the major focus of their lives – as it is so often. Parents should be concerned about developing and training up of the WHOLE person in the image of God. Although cultivating athletic skills might serve a youth for a number of (fleeting) years, there are be great dangers in making sports more important than fulfilling the whole of the Godly Christian life – just simply on account of the vast amounts of time and energy that are spent on them to the exclusion of everything else. Choose one or two sports to be involved in. After that just keep the TV and the video games turned off and the door to the yard and playground open.
One of the most important and disputed aspects of parenting is discipline in the household. Here are a few items that are important:
1) Discipline is a necessary aspect of the every child – however each child is different in how much he/she needs, as well as the type of discipline. We have a daughter who we have spanked many times. We have another daughter who we have not spanked even once!
2) One key to discipline is the purity of its motive. You must determine before you take disciplinary action if you, the parent, have any anger or unhealthy motive in your heart. If you do, you have to stop any disciplinary action until you have corrected your emotions. The only motive that should be in operation is doing what is best for your child. This is very difficult – and many times I failed! But it is very important to pay attention to so that the right discipline is delivered and any tendency toward abuse might not show itself. This is especially important if any kind of corporal discipline is used.
3) All too often I observe that children are disciplined by taking away things that are good for them – sometimes church related or Godly things! It is important to take away things that are luxuries and privileges! The flip side of this is to make sure you reward good behavior! (For example: “If you go to school without making a scene for three days you get ice cream or watch a specific TV show!”)
4) Discipline is to be more a consequence than a punishment. It is a very good strategy for the parent and child to negotiate the consequences for problem behaviors. Write up and post the problem behaviors – as well as their agreed upon consequence. This can be then referred to as the behavior problems come up. This limits all the arguments!
5) Discipline must be enforced equally by both parents. If one parent makes a judgement it must be supported by the other (even if they don’t agree with it in private!) There must not be the opportunity for a child to “play off” each of the parents.
6) Discipline is often times extremely difficult when it comes to single parent families – especially ones without fathers! Seek out the help that you need if you are in this situation.