Parenting, training and raising children, and relationship are keywords that have certainly occupied many families. What is the right way to raise our children? What should our focus be in our families – training and disciplining our children, or building a good relationship with them?
Even the experts do not agree completely on this question. The various parenting methods bear witness to this. There are, among others, the permissive, the authoritarian, the neglectful, and the authoritative style of upbringing. Each method places a different emphasis and gives a different outcome.
Educational methods and experts change over the years, and often what was seen as absolutely right 20 years ago is now considered outdated. People may be deceived, but the one who is never deceived is our Father in heaven. His Word remains forever and provides reliable guidance even in family matters.
The Bible clearly shows us that the upbringing of children should be an integral part of family life. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). How can we train someone to something? By educating him! Guide your children and show them the right way. Teach them right values. Equip them for this life and the eternal life to come.
Children need good rules
Rules serve children like guardrails on a road with two slopes. They give children direction and help them stay on the right path. Rules guide children within their social environment. Rules also give children security because they protect them from foolishness and danger.
If we have a fireplace in the house, one rule for our toddlers will be that they are not allowed to go to the fireplace and touch it. You do this not to annoy them but to protect them. Letting your child have “free rein” and “make their own decisions” will find them facing severe consequences very quickly.
Therefore, find sensible rules rather than exaggerated ones for your children, and teach them accordingly.
Each child is unique, and thus we should respond to each child personally in our parenting. This is how God deals with us. He provides for us and teaches each one of us personally, and we want to imitate His example.
Our children are so diverse! Ask yourself: What makes my particular child “tick?” What is important to the child, what does he or she respond to, and what doesn’t work at all? Some are quieter and more reserved, others much more energetic. Some are more practical, others more theoretical. Some need praise and recognition, others need attention and tenderness.
The better we know our children, the more purposefully we can respond to them and the more effective our parenting will be.
Parenting by example
Children learn fastest and easiest from you and your behavior. They acquire your manner, and they imitate you. They are scanning you – unintentionally, casually, and unconsciously, but they are learning from you.
Be an example, as Paul wrote to Timothy, “in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). Teach your children the Word of God through action and word. Parenting by example – this is perhaps the hardest but also the most important part of parenting. Be the person you want your children to be.
In parenting and training, we must never forget the relationship! We need healthy relationships. God has instilled this in us. We cannot live without relationships. Children and even spouses wither and break down without healthy relationships.
What is the foundation of a good relationship? We can best learn that from our Heavenly Father. He knows! The foundation of His relationship towards us human beings is unconditional love. His relationship with us is based on love and grace. He has shown us this through Jesus Christ. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).
Love is the foundation on which a good relationship can be built. It is not the law, it is not authority, it is not reciprocity (giving back what you get), nor is it even good intentions and desires. The foundation must be love.
True love comes from the One who is love. God is the fountain of love, and when we encounter Him, we are filled with love and are able to pass it on (see Romans 5:5).
Relationship in practice
So, what does this look like in practice? Where does a good relationship begin in the family? Here is the answer: “Happy children have happy parents!”
A good relationship in the family always begins with the parents. If they don’t have a good relationship with each other, how will they build a good relationship with the children?
Do you still have a deep love for your wife? Can you (and do you!) still sincerely tell your wife “I love you?” Do you still honor your husband, even after years of marriage, knowing all his weaknesses and strengths? Is he still someone special to you?
If you notice that your “love tank” is running low, then you should desperately rush to the divine “gas station” and be filled by the fountain of love.
Having a good relationship with your children is the next logical step. Build up a heart-to-heart relationship. Let your children know that you are interested in them not only superficially, not only with words, but that you really care about them.
Relationship – but how?
How can we build a good relationship with our children? This is another area where we can learn from our heavenly Father. What relationship did He have with His Son while His Son was here on earth? We read how His Father thought about Him, looked upon Him, and the things He spoke to Him:
“You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). This relationship, and the words God the Father expressed, is a powerful model for us.
“You are my Son.” This is acceptance. You are my son/my daughter, you belong to me, and I belong to you. I accept you as you are. This is your home. Here you are understood, even if no one else understands you. Here you are always accepted, even if you are not perfect, even if you don’t do everything right, and even if you don’t always perform at the highest level.
“You are my beloved son.” You are not just a son, a daughter. You are not just accepted, but you are loved here! This is the next level, this is more. I want to love you as unconditionally as possible.
I know that as a human being I fall short, and I can’t love as unconditionally as my heavenly Father does. Nevertheless, I want to follow the model of my heavenly Father. I want to learn from Him and let Him fill me with His love, and love my child as He loved me.
“With you I am well pleased.” What is the heavenly Father actually saying to His Son here? He is saying, “You are accepted and loved, and you please Me.”
How do we talk to our children? Is there primarily blame, reprimand, and harshness? Or do our children also hear from us that they are loved, that they are doing something well, and that they please us?
“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6). This is especially true in regard to our children. Words have incredible power, so they should hear good things from us. What you speak does something to you and to your child. Words can destroy or build up, and I urge you – build up! Build a good relationship with your child!
Training your children and guiding their development, or building a relationship with them – which is more important? Should they be balanced with one another? Balance is always a good approach; however, with God, love dominates, and that should be the case with us as well.
Therefore, I recommend the “sandwich tactic:” We take the relationship as a foundation, put the process of training up children on it, along with reason, with discernment, with sound rules and arrangements, and then cover the process of training with relationship and love again!
This is the way the Lord deals with us, and so we should deal with it in our families, and God will bless us!