by: Rev. Ed Schneider
Let me start this column by stating that there are millions and millions of children born every year around the globe. A significant percentage of those births are to first-time parents. For thousands of years new parents have been presented with the humbling and sometimes overwhelming task of actually raising the children they have brought into the world until they become self-sufficient. Unfortunately, the obvious reality is an outrageous percentage of those first-time parents haven’t got a clue what they are doing. To make matters worse they have little support to help them gain the knowledge they need to positively and appropriately help grow the children in their care. It’s a BIG problem. It’s a gigantic challenge in trying to affect the circumstances of both the new parents and their children.
Another unfortunate reality concerning an additional and larger number of children’s lives has nothing to do with unknowing “first-time” parents. It has to do with far too many foolish, ignorant, and unwilling-to-grow adults, both male and female, these children seem to be stuck with. It is shameful. It is sad. It is in some circumstances tragic. We have other “parents” who only view their children as objects of affection towards themselves. Their offspring supply to them an emotional attachment they never received themselves as a child. They procreate so that they have something to love, with the expectation that their children will in turn supply to them what they have only dreamt about. The same, of course, can be said for young women who have for generations not witnessed a healthy dual parent environment to emulate. If their mom has 4 children by 7 possible “daddy’s”…… If their “fathers” haven’t got a clue concerning the maturity needed to exemplify an emotionally secure and ethically bound “grown-up” man….then like-it-or-not, children generally reflect in their adult lives what they experienced within their formative developmental years. Even though most of us are not limited by our pasts, we certainly are heavily influenced by it.
The Bible say, “Train up a child in the way they should go, and when they are old they shall not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6) I think it is safe to say just the opposite as well.
“by training a child in the way they SHOULDN’T GO, when they are old they will most assuredly do it again to their children.”
- It happens all the time where there are two parent families with educated, seemingly well-prepared, and financially stable adults guiding their children…and still their children grow up to be horrible human beings.
- There are a tremendous number of single parent households with multiple children of every cultural, racial, and economic distinction whose grown children end up being easily defined as healthy, productive, generous, spiritual, ethical, and joyful members of their respective communities.
My issue is not that there will always be lazy, ill-prepared, and non-attentive parents out there, my issue rests on contemporary American society that has done a poor job…at best…addressing this particular “child abuse” issue. As a society with trillions of dollars of revenue each month in the Untied States there is no excuse for the ineffectiveness of addressing ill-prepared parents. Now, with that said, what I find disgusting is the collective “hand-wringing” that goes on inside Christian churches in every sector of American culture…and we are far more guilty of neglecting this societal challenge than the rest of the country. I would be less angry if each of our churches had vibrant, healthy, and replicating youth ministry…but most of our churches don’t even have that distinction.
What is the Christian church community thinking?
There are hundreds of thousands of churches across the American landscape and the vast majority of them find it almost impossible to point to a successful spiritually and numerically growing….God forbid….empowering youth program. How are we Christian leaders, both clergy and laity, not guilty in the same way as other lazy, apathetic, and ill-prepared parents. The American society, in general, and the Christian church community, in particular, need to get “real” about the very specific challenges associated with not supplying the practical tools to support, encourage, and facilitate the spiritual, physical and intellectual health of our country’s children. The church cannot sit on “their pews” and, (1) deny the reality of our current circumstances and, (2) do nothing directly to transform the terrible child abuse that is being perpetrated on America’s children. We must do all that is needed to address the better development of practical parenting skills and positive home-life environments.
As “a church” we are uniquely positioned to approach this issue with the certainty of a gracious God and empowering message of love. As I have listened to highly successful family literacy, child advocacy, youth and family services directors, both in and outside Christian settings, there is much to learn and much to understanding regarding how to positively affect the circumstances that I am describing. It is a monumental goal to provide the mechanisms that help to promote and transform the lives of children and their parents who are at severe risk of losing their way. However, it can be accomplished. It can be successfully addressed…IF WE WORK TOGETHER….and make it the highest of our societal priorities. Like all major challenges, you start with small bites that can be achieved and then grow from there.
Beloved, its a big elephant we are attempting to eat with a butter knife and a salad fork….but it needs to get done. The odds are significantly against younger mothers and their children if society, in general, and the Christian church community, in particular, doesn’t do the right thing. To that end, I would like to start the conversation with a short list of common errors young parents make when it relates to raising their children. Let me share just a few:
- The Junk Food Trap: far too many young parents fall into the trap of using junk food as a reward for good behavior as well as a pacifier for an irritable child. Kids don’t need to learn how to pacify themselves by eating. Our kids are eating the wrong foods entirely too much, and they’re learning it directly from unprepared or badly trained parents.
- Not reading to your children early and often: Reading is one of the easiest ways to spend quality time with your child. It teaches valuable lessons about many topics, and helps the child develop a strong imagination. Reading to children should be a daily habit. Begin reading to your child from birth and continue well into their organized school experiences.
- Being too strict: Children need guidance and need to know that adults are providing them with security and love. They do not need drill sergeants. Too many limits and too much control will build resentment in children, which will often boil over in the teen years.
- Being too easy-going: The flip side of the overtly strict parent is the overly permissive parent. A parent’s job is to provide structure. No easily defined and continuous structure is a recipe for disaster. Children need limits in order to feel secure. Letting your child call all the shots puts too much responsibility on the young person’s shoulders and not enough on your own.
- Buying them anything they want: Children that are given every material thing their heart desires teaches them to place value on things, not people. That will always produce shallow minded and spiritually inept adults.
- Teaching and demonstrating personal accountability: Children need to learn how to take responsibility and take steps to correct their own mistakes. Far too many parents swoop in to clean up their child’s messes. Whether that mess is toys all over the floor or a difficult homework assignment that didn’t get completed, parents can do more-harm-than-good by trying to fix everything.
- Too much pressure: From potty training, to school work and sports – kids feel the pressure to perform from their parents constantly. Take the focus off the end result and teach your child to enjoy the process.
- Grandparents are not your personal baby-sitter: It’s your baby and it’s your responsibility. It’s your privilege to be the primary foundational and demonstrating agent of life to your child… not their grandparents!
- Your children have big ears: Whether you like it or not, kids listen to what you tell them. Be careful and extra cautious about overtly negative things you say about your children. They will quickly internalize the negative and more often than not end up turning into what you have verbalized about them. In contrast, you can never tell them “I love you” and “I believe in you” enough.
This practical advice may seem to some of you as logical steps in good parenting skill development, but the reality is that many of our society’s young parents do not have a clue of what it takes to actually raise a child. I pray I could tell you that these young women and men as well as their children had all the support they needed from their families. I can’t. I pray that single moms are geniuses and will learn the before-mentioned good advice as well as the long list of other important skills necessary for healthy children and home life in a very quick fashion. I can’t. At the end of the day there are some stark realities that should be dealt with in a forth-right fashion.
- First, it isn’t just their problem alone. It’s our problem. Unhealthy environments create all kinds of difficulties that society will be required to deal with sooner or later.
- Secondly, not only is it the right thing to do but it is also the financially expedient thing to do. It costs a lot more money to fix a problem than it does to prevent them.
It costs much less to give a child hope, encouragement, faith and self-disciplinary skills than it does to house them either in prison or at your home until they’re 30. It costs far less to teach younger parents how to care for their child’s health and well-being than it does to deal with life-long eating and behavioral disorders. It costs less to show care, mercy, a gracious spirit, and an empowering process of help now rather than continue to see a growing segment of our society staying under the burden of assumed failure, social disconnection, or financial ineptness.
In Colossians 3:20 it says, “Children must obey their parents. This pleases the Lord.”
Beloved, this may sound good on paper; however, if the parents are unwilling, ill-prepared, or just simply ignorant, it becomes foundationally problematic for children to learn the right things at all. It becomes clear that because they have learned the wrong things, they will continue the cycle of hurt or harm when they have children themselves. That alone should answer the question of how we have arrived at this situation of families falling apart and the last two generations of children taking way too long to grow up… if they grow up at all. Peace.