We all seek perfection in our lives. We want the perfect house, the perfect car, the perfect job, the perfect vacation, the perfect church and the perfect list could go on to any number of perfect situations we want to fill our perfect lives, right? Is this, however, a reasonable expectation in this fallen world in which we live? Of course, we want to always strive for the best. We want to pursue perfection and tolerate excellence. But what are our expectations for raising perfect children who always do what is right in the perfect all seeing eyesight of God?
As parents we see the mistakes we made as teens and twenty-somethings, and with all our heart we want to help our children avoid those same mistakes. Should we, however, expect to produce moral robots that always do what is right? Is this a reasonable expectation to place on our little perfect angels? And what happens when our perfect little angels’ halos shift to one side exposing not so perfect horns?
Let me offer a couple of guidelines…
We have to come to the conclusion that there are no moral robots. There aren’t any humans who will consistently do the right things when facing a moral dilemma without fail. Well, there was one and we crucified Him. We know this to be the case, however in our own lives. Why do we expect different results from the lives of our children? Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way suggesting that we just expect our kids to go out and “sow their wild oats” and feel okay about it because we did it and we turned out okay … sort of. Wild oats produce wild crops and those can cause a lot of heartache (read Psalm 25:7-17 in The Message version of the Bible).
We cannot create moral robots. Even if we did precisely everything right in regards to raising our children, every single day of our parenting lives, we cannot guarantee the choices our children will one day make. As parents, we are to give them the right tools to make Godly decisions, model righteousness before them, and then we have to trust God to lead them in their reasoning to make Godly decisions.
It does my children no good just to hand them a hammer and tell them to go and put a house together. What serves them best is much instruction and example. If I show them how I hold the hammer, and the nail, and then where to place the nail and how to strike the nail, and how to follow the plans and stay by their side while they give it a go, then they will have a better opportunity for success. They need us to teach them what tools to use, when to use them, and then how to properly use those tools.
So how is this done?
First of all, communication is key. Evaluate how well you are able to communicate with your children. Never assume the communication is good. There can be indicators that it is, but the best way to find out is to sit down with your children and just ask them. A good question might, “Do you feel you can talk to me about anything?” Or you might ask them, “Do I listen to you well?”
If you have teenagers, their knee jerk answer will be, “Sure.” But don’t necessarily take their first response as the actual truth. Teens don’t want to be bothered by trouble with their parents, and their first suspicions will be fear that you have something on them. Set their minds at ease that you don’t. Teens don’t like to be tricked, either. It fosters distrust in them and it’s easy to come off as sneaky and somewhat underhanded. Honesty is always the best policy when dealing with teens and children while trying to earn their trust. Do your best to keep dialogue going all the time, and don’t be afraid to ask them tough questions, or have them ask you tough ones in return. This will go far to establishing good, trusting communication. The earlier you start the better.
Secondly, reassure your unconditional love for them. This is a key tool for them to grasp and to wield. Of course our children are going to do things that disappoint us as parents. We disappointed our parents with some of our choices, and they disappointed their parents with some of their choices. It’s the nature of our humanity. However, we should always seek to reassure our children of our unconditional love for them especially during disappointing behavior. It’s okay to express your disappointment in their choices, it’s especially okay to discipline them appropriately, but it never needs to be communicated that they are a disappointment. Disappointments always need to be viewed in the light of love. Love and discipline will help teach them how they are to love and discipline in return. These two go a long way in guiding children toward making the right decisions. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments” (John 14:15).
Finally, understanding that there are no moral robots doesn’t mean accepting bad behavior. It’s just good parenting to know this ahead of time. Our children will definitely do things that will go against everything that we’ve taught them. Sometimes those decisions will come with severe consequences. The first thing a parent does normally is question, “Where did I go wrong?” It’s normal to feel responsible, because we are responsible for our children. Our role is to love, support, help, and love … in case I didn’t mention LOVE already. Understanding that our children aren’t perfect little angels gives us proper prior preparation when our children do disappointing things.
One final encouragement is to trust the Lord with all of our hearts, and lean not on our own understanding. In all of our ways acknowledge Him and He will direct our paths … and theirs (Proverbs 3:5-6; paraphrase mine).
The Wrap Up …
- Work diligently to protect and maintain open lines of communication with our children and teens … and start early.
- Reassure our children with unconditional love like our Father has for us.
- Understand that despite our best efforts we won’t raise any moral robots that do the right thing all the time.
- And trust the Lord to help us give them the right tools for making Godly decisions, and that they will use those tools to His glory.