Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Parents Impact The Lives Of Their Children

I am neither an expert on parenting, nor an expert parent. However, as a minister and a counselor, I have my share of work trying to help others wrestle their way through the very difficult task of being parents. Recently, our "Sermon Planning Committee" met to offer suggestions and help plan the third quarter 2005's sermons. I find this an excellent way to discover needs in our congregation, and to get input that helps shape my sermons so that they actually address current concerns, problems, questions, etc. Out of that meeting came a series of lessons on parenting. I'll share a few important points here.

1. The state and nature of your marriage will impact your kids. Parents need to get honest about what affects their children. Too many parents seem to think that the relationship between themselves, that is between the Mom and the Dad, somehow isn't something that greatly impacts their children. Wrong. Very wrong. Parents need to understand that children are affected greatly by whatever is happening in the relationship shared by the parents. Distant, angry, disconnected relationships that are going in different directions and do not demonstrate a solid unity are providing far greater impact on the children in that family than one might think. Parental example, agreement on discipline, family security, and a child's feeling of worth and importance are just a few of the things that are negatively impacted by their parents' relationship with one another. Moms and Dads need to consider seriously what they are teaching their kids and how they are affecting life through the state and nature of their marriage.

2. Children should not have to learn about marriage from people who act like children. Unfortunately, today's kids are learning all about marriage relationships from parents who exhibit woefully immature behavior. Anyone who has observed through the kitchen window a group of children playing in the yard might expect to see some immature behavior. One might expect to see them treat one another unfairly, to use hurtful language, to experience jealousy, or even to get into a fight. Stand in the yard and observe through the kitchen window a couple of parents inside the house and you might be surprised to see pretty much the same kind of behavior. Unfair treatment, hurtful language, jealousy, and (yes) fights are not uncommon in a lot of homes. Children are seeing these things, taking it all in, and it is giving them a terrible concept of what maturity ought to be, what a mature relationship ought to be. When they grow up, a lot of those children will resort to the same immature behavior they saw in their parents and repeat it in their own marriage.

3. Parents need to make liberal use of what I call the "Big Four." These are indispensible tools that can be used to provide the absolute best atmosphere in which children can grow into their own maturity.
A. The first is love. Parents need to love their children. It would be great if this were true, but if you will just observe parents with their children, you might get a different picture. Love is made up of several things. It is not just an emotion, though I would certainly encourage parents to "be in love with" their children on a deeply emotional level. Parenting calls for "agape" love. You can see this in 1 Corinthians 13. This love is not so much an emotion as it is an act of decision and will. It is doing what is right and best for a child regardless how you happen to feel at any given moment. Loving kids calls for words of love. I hate to say it, but sometimes when shopping, I've heard some of the most unloving words spoken to little kids by parents who are oblivious to the harm they are doing. Unkind, nasty, hateful, and even curse words are used to address and identify these children. Kids deserve better words than these. Loving touch is also needed. Children need safe, comforting arms to hold them. They need a tender hand to caress them. Babies who aren't held will fail to "thrive," something that can lead to death! Children are made to experience loving touch. Children also need the love of a parent's most valuable resource -- their time and personal involvement in the child's life.
B. The second and third go together simply because they are so often found together in scripture. Parents must grant grace and mercy to their children. Grace is getting what you don't deserve. Mercy is not getting what you do deserve. Anyone who has been a parent for a while understands that sometimes children need to get what they don't deserve and not get what they do deserve. Grace and mercy! You can learn the "grace and mercy lesson" from Hebrews 4:15-16. The passage tells us that we have confident access to God so that we can receive grace and mercy when we need it. I'd suggest we need it most when things have gone wrong, when we haven't been right or done right, when shame might otherwise cause us to hide our faces from the Father. But, because we have a great high priest who sympathizes with us, who understands what we're struggling with, he gives us access to grace so we can get what we don't deserve, and mercy so that we don't get what we do deserve. Parents need to remember what it was like to be a child. They need to sympathize because they know what it's like to face tough choices and to struggle with doing what is right. Because they remember what it was like, because they understand the fight their kids are in, they can be gracious and merciful.
C. Fourth, parents need to forgive their children. Go get your concordance out and just look up any number of passages on forgiveness in the New Testament. Read the ones that say we need to forgive so that we can be forgiven. Read the ones that tell you to forgive because you've been forgiven. Then ask yourself how those passages can be applied to everyone except our children. If you should forgive anyone, it ought to be your kids.

There's more to this series, so I'll try to post the additional information in a couple of weeks. Parenting is too important to take lightly. It's a huge job, with an enormous responsibility. One of the best things a parent can do is simply get real about the things that have a significant impact on their children's lives. Once aware, you're in a better position to do something positive about it.