“Aren’t you worried you’re going to push them away from God?”
“Don’t you think they might rebel when they get older?”
“Don’t you think they will resent the way they were raised?”
It seems that carefully tending to our children leads people to believe that our kids will one day rebel and resent us. My answer to all of those questions is “no.” I know that there are some people who were raised by strict, religious parents who were pushed away, did rebel, and do resent how they were raised. But I see difference between strict, religious parenting which focuses primarily on the child’s performance, and relational parenting, which focuses on developing the child’s relationship with God. Relational parents understand that when we primarily concentrate on our children’s relationship with their Heavenly Father, the desire to honor him will follow.
Religious Parenting vs. Relational Parenting
1. Religious parents associate evil with objects and have no reason as to why these objects are evil; they just are. These parents, for example, would tell their children that the TV is evil, or bikinis are sinful. Relational parents, on the other hand, understand that objects cannot be evil and they explain to their children that although TV is not evil, certain programming can lead to evil thoughts, dull their minds, or ignite fear, which is harmful to their spirit. They explain that while bikinis in and of themselves are not sinful, our focus shouldn’t be on drawing attention to our bodies, but on humbling ourselves and glorifying God. Children of religious parents often find themselves, as adults, still living with the ingrained belief that objects are evil. When questioned about it they begin to think, You know what? You’re right. My parents were overreacting. And this is when we see rebellion.
2. Religious parents don’t offer explanations. They often use the phrase “That’s just what you’re supposed
to do,” or “Because God said so.” For example, when children of religious parents ask why they have to go to church, their parents tell them, “Because Sunday is the Lord’s Day.” Now, I agree that Sunday is the Lord’s Day and that’s a perfectly fine statement. But the relational parent takes it a step farther and explains that when God made the world he rested on the seventh day, and we follow his example. This gives both our body and spirit strength for the upcoming week. Children need to understand that God didn’t just formulate a bunch of rules because he wanted to see us struggle, but that his commandments make sense and are given to us for our own well-being. Children who understand this will have the tools to think through situations to determine what is evil and what is good.
3. Religious parents try to raise perfect children. They at least want them to appear that way to others. They brag about their children's accomplishments, like how many Bible verses they've memorized, or the fact that they're in the choir and go on mission trips. Christian parents, on the other hand, know that God does not focus on our works, but our heart. Of course if a child has a heart for God and loves to memorize scripture, sing in the choir, and go on mission trips, that’s great! The Bible says that faith without works is dead. But relational parents focus more on cultivating a strong understanding of and relationship with God so that they will want to serve him.
4. Religious parents are afraid to admit to their children that they are clueless about certain aspects of God. When their children ask them a question like, "Why didn't God answer my prayer," religious parents invent some silly answer like “He was probably busy answering another more needy child’s prayer.” Relational parents, on the other hand, instill in their children the understanding that God is so big and so awesome and so complex that our itty bitty brains can’t always comprehend why he does the things he does, but the more we seek him the better we can understand his ways. If we are honest with our children about our own understanding of God they will appreciate that when they are adults.
5. Religious parents use God and hell to scare their children into behaving. “You better be good cause God’s watching you.” “If you don’t get baptized you’ll go to hell.” “If you marry a Methodist (or whatever denomination) God won’t honor your marriage.” These parents so desperately try to control their children that they use scare tactics to do it. Does God use scare tactics to control us? Relational parents inform their children that while God does know our sins, and he does correct us, he’s not going to disown us, or strike us down dead and send us to hell because we made a mistake. God looks at our heart. And if we cultivate a love and passion for God in our children, they will want to keep his commandments. John 14:15 even says, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” As a child I tried very hard to live a life that glorified God. But this wasn’t because I was scared of God and thought he would be mad at me if I messed up. It was because I loved him so much that it was my sincere desire to bring gladness to my Heavenly Father. Similarly, I don’t give my children hugs and kisses and clothes and toys because I’m afraid they won’t like me. I do it because I love them so much that it is my sincere desire to bring gladness to my children.
You know the saying “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” Well, I see religious parenting as giving them a fish. You’ve given them a rule to follow, so they know what’s expected for that specific situation. But relational parenting is like teaching them to fish. You’ve taught them how to discern for themselves what is wise and what brings glory to God, which they can apply to many difficult situations they will encounter.
I leave you with a final verse:
Deuteronomy 6:5-9 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”