One of the easy traps for parents to fall into is having shortsighted goals for their children.
- If I can just make it through today… (particularly in the preschool years)
- My child’s greatest problem is to change _______ behavior.
- If he can just make a higher grade…
- If she could just have more friends…
While it is good to make it through another day(!) and behavior, grades, and friends do matter, 3 John 4 gives one of the greatest goals any Christian parent can hold: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.”
This is a long-term goal—that your children would set a lifelong direction of walking in the truth.
By the grace of God, Terrie and I can personally attest to the joy of having children who not only walk with the Lord, but are actively pursuing Him and serving Him. We thank the Lord that all four of our adult children are loving and serving the Lord with their spouses.
What helps set the direction for your children on the path of walking in the truth? Here are a few things we’ve learned over the years through our family life and through counseling hundreds of other families.
1. Have a Spiritual Relationship with Your Children
I believe you should have fun with your children. You should play games and have family days and talk about what’s going on at school.
However, realize that your children don’t just need you to be their friend. They need you to be their parent. They need you to be a spiritually nurturing authority in their lives.
It should not be abnormal to your children for you to talk about spiritual things—to ask them what they learned in church, how their walk with God is, how they’re doing in resisting temptation. Ask your teen, “What is God teaching you lately?”
When I was in high school, my mom was so good at this. She would come to my room in the evening while I was doing my homework and just ask me about my day, tell me she was praying for me, and sometimes share a Scripture verse with me. Those moments—not so much individually, but accumulated—made a profound impact on my life.
And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.—Deuteronomy 6:6–7
2. Know Your Children’s Friends
Influence is a powerful force. Your children’s friends can be a tremendous force—either for positive or for negative. So make it your business to know who is influencing them and what they are like.
When our children were still at home, I was a little bit like an FBI agent when it came to who their friends were. I wanted to know who was influencing my children and how. So it mattered to me what their friends listened to, talked about, thought was funny or cool, and (if I allowed our children to go to their houses) what their homes were like.
No children are perfect—not yours and not your children’s friends. So the point isn’t that they can only have perfect friends. The bottom line is simply that you do not want your children around people or in environments that are going to undermine the values that you’re teaching them at home.
He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.—Proverbs 13:20
3. Watch Their Social Media
Social media is often a window into a young person’s heart and can be a place where they reveal very private thoughts and even information that could hurt them in the future.
If you allow your child to have social media accounts, you need to be involved. You need to understand how it works, what their privacy settings are, who they are connecting with through it, and what they are saying.
The Internet is one of the most dangerous places in the world to allow your child to simply find their own way with no parental oversight. (This is why there are two entire chapters in Making Home Work on navigating through the challenges of media.)
For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light…And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.—Ephesians 5:8, 11
4. Be Involved with the Authorities in Their Lives
Know your children’s teachers, Sunday school teachers, youth pastor and workers, coaches, and anyone who is an authority in their lives. And help your child get to know them as well.
Invite them over for dinner, make an effort to see them at church, ask them specifically how your child is doing.
Children need a united front between their authorities. Don’t allow your children to pit you against another authority. If you ever have a concern regarding how one of your child’s authorities is handling a situation, go directly to that person, and work out the difficulty between the two of you. Also, be sure your children’s authorities always know you are available for any concerns they have and that you will listen to and believe what they tell you, even if it is that your child is struggling in a way you did not see.
He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul: but he that heareth reproof getteth understanding.—Proverbs 15:32
5. Set the Right Example
The greatest gift you can give your children is a good example. If what you tell them does not match what you show them, they are likely to reject what you tell them.
No parent is perfect (and no child expects his parent to be perfect). But every parent is an example. If you want your child to love God, engage in the body life of the church, develop character, respect authorities, and invest their lives in eternal values, don’t leave it to the youth group to teach them. Model these in your own life.
Children do what children see—and especially what they see in their parents.
Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.—1 Corinthians 11:1
Parenting children can be difficult and is definitely challenging. But in the difficult moments, look further than the immediate problem in front of you to the long-range goal of seeing your children walk in truth.
Ultimately, each person will make their own choice regarding the direction they take for their life. But, as a parent, make sure that what you are doing today contributes toward directing your children to walk in truth…for a lifetime.
I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.—3 John 4