I think a myth exists in Christian circles that when it really comes down to it, you can’t truly have much of an impact on the outcome of your children. People think that you can raise them right, invest eighteen years of your life into them, but when they hit their upper teen years, anything can (and will) happen.
This is a fundamental issue to address in parenting, because if it is true, than why in the world would any parent pour his or her heart, soul, energy, and life into parenting? Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel is a key motivator for most of us. Why would an athlete train if he didn’t have hope of improving? Why would a student study if she had no hope of learning, graduating, or applying the material? We need to know that our efforts will pay off at some point. If there is no guarantee in how our kids will turn out, then there is little motivation to really parent wholeheartedly.
So, what’s the truth? Well, we need to start by realizing that any good lie has a lot of truth mixed in with it. Blatant lies are much more easily spotted than ones laced with truth, and like any good lie, this one has a lot of truth to it. So, before addressing why we can have confidence in the outcome of our children, let’s address why we doubt that truth.
First of all, let’s talk about appearances. I’ve seen many good parents who have had kids that didn’t turn out well. I’ve also seen some kids with pretty admirable character who came out of some pretty messed up families. From outward appearances it would be pretty easy to deduce that parents can’t control the outcome of their kids very well.
The second strong argument for the case that you can’t dictate the outcome of your children’s lives is the issue of freewill. The concept of freewill is simply this: God has created each of us with the ability to choose. I am not bound to make any choice based upon anyone else’s will—not God’s, not the government’s, and not my parents. The choice is mine. Of course, God, the government, and my parents may dictate certain consequences for certain actions to help me make wise choices, but that is another topic. The point is that your children have choices. They will have to choose whether or not to have premarital sex, to do drugs, to become Christians, and countless other choices. You cannot make those choices for your kids. Some people will put it this way, “Adam messed up didn’t he? And who was his parent? You don’t think you can parent better than God do you?”
Let’s address these two arguments, and then we’ll look at some reasons to believe that YOU CAN HAVE A PROFOUND IMPACT ON THE OUTCOME OF YOUR KIDS.
So what about appearances? Is it true that we can’t guarantee the outcome of our children, and that the lives of hundreds of other families prove that point? I’d say that is a very important question to consider, but I’d also say that appearances are very deceiving. Over the past few decades family values have eroded away in both Christian and non Christian homes. Perhaps what we think of as a good home is only good in comparison to other homes. It is possible that many “good homes” are really not that good at all. It may be that the standards in the average Christian home are so far off, that they’re really not worth looking to for what works and what doesn’t. That is my opinion. I think the average Christian parents try hard, and fail miserably. I’m not saying every parent who goes through tough times, or who has had a child turn from God has failed miserably. I don’t believe that. But I think very few parents really nail it with parenting. The put in lots of time, energy, and effort, but they don’t nail it. Is that proud to say that we can succeed where others have failed? I think it is if we are basing our confidence on our own efforts and programs it is, but if the belief in the future success of our children is based on what God says, then that is not proud at all! That is faith.
Let me put it this way. I’m not very good at losing weight. Most people I know are not very good at losing weight. Some people I know eat very little and are still overweight. Some people I know eat a lot and never gain any weight. However, it would be wrong to issue a blanket statement that we really have no control over the outcome of our weight. We all know, when it comes right down to it, that the issue of weight loss is simply a matter of exercise and diet. Some people are an exception to the rule, like those with health issues, but for most of us, exercise and diet, is the key to weight loss. In the same way, in parenting you should not fear (or take comfort in) the failures of others. Just because lots of parents are failing does not mean that we should issue a blanket statement that says, “Parenting does not work. You cannot control how your kids turn out.” On the contrary, just like in dieting, there are principles that will bring great success for the vast majority of the parents who apply them. Could there be exceptions? Sure, there may be exceptions to the rule, but the rule should be that good parents using good parenting principles will result in good kids who become good adults. I’m every bit as confident of that as the fact that if I diet and exercise, I WILL lose weight.
What about the issue of free will? How can I have any confidence in how my kids turn out when I know that they have freewill? This is an excellent point, and I think this is why there could be exceptions to the rule that good parents using good parenting principles will result in good kids who become good adults. Your kids will always have freewill, however, you have an incredible amount of influence on their will. We expect teachers to impact students, officers to change soldiers, and coaches to influence athletes. Why wouldn’t we expect parents to impact their kids? Students, soldiers, and athletes all have freewill, and yet they are greatly influenced by those over them. Jesus said, “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained WILL be like his teacher.” (Luke 6:40) Why wouldn’t we expect the same thing from a parent who spends 18 years TRAINING his or her children?
One might ask, “What about Judas? Wasn’t he trained by Jesus? Didn’t his freewill win out?” That’s a good point to which I have three responses. First of all, if Christians today “lost” only one out of every twelve of their children I’d be a whole lot more encouraged with the situation than I am now. Secondly, it seems as if Judas may have been chosen as a disciple not to be a disciple, but for the very purpose of betraying Jesus and fulfilling scripture (John 17:12). Thirdly, I don’t think anyone would argue that Judas was “fully trained” as referred to in the verse when it says, “Everyone who is fully trained WILL be like his teacher.” Had Judas been Jesus’ son (sounds like a great Star Wars plot) I most certainly would not have expected that kind of outcome from his life.
You must realize that if you do a good job raising your kids they will be much more likely to be model citizens than if you don’t. Your kids should be far more likely to be following God than to become atheists. They should be far more likely to be doctors, missionaries, and judges than to turn out to be frauds, serial killers, or terrorists. Why? Because of your example, your training, and your influence. Yes they have freewill. But you can greatly influence that will, just as your parents, teachers, and Sunday school teachers have greatly influenced you and your will – for the better or for the worse.