I’ve never been much of a fighter. But on this night, the showdown was set. All I needed was an infamous Michael Buffer intro and a bell.
On one end of the table, the champ, undefeated and unmatched…me.
On the opposite end, the challenger, my youngest son, unproven but strong-willed. I should add he’s three. But that’s a minor detail. Let’s keep moving.
By this time, dinner was over and I asked Tiffani and Noah, my oldest son, to leave. This was between me, Micah, and the green beans. You see, Tiffani and I had realized a few weeks back our boys’ food palette lacked color. So we decided to liven it up. We added greens and reds and yellows. Tiffani cooked up some true masterpieces. In conjunction with our color infusion, we implemented a rule: you didn’t have to make a happy plate, but you could not leave the table without trying one bite of everything.
Fair enough, right?
My youngest son refused to touch anything green. In fact, on this night he refused to touch anything period.
It was time for me to take a stand.
The game plan was straightforward. It involved no yelling, forcing or manipulating. Just a calm assertion of my will. No one would leave the table until he took a bite of his green beans. That simple. I would stay all night if necessary.
But it wouldn’t be.
I wrote the book on being strong-willed and defiant. And with 31 years of tweaking and refining, Micah was overmatched. No chance he would last longer than 30 minutes.
Three hours later, I gave up.
Part of me wanted to reward Micah for displaying such unrelenting defiance. But I had too much pride for that. So, instead, I took him to his bed. At this point, the clock had rolled past 10. I was exhausted and fell asleep the moment my head touched the pillow.
A few hours later, I heard Micah crying. The time? 3 a.m. When I walked in his room, his cries stopped and he said, “I’m hungry.”
This experience marked the first time I realized I needed help. Until this point, my parenting strategies generally worked. Of course, my kids disobeyed but never had something so surprisingly and completely exploded in my face.
Every parent inevitably faces this moment. It might come early like mine or years later. Your kid continues to do that thing. You know you must intervene, but every tool in your parenting arsenal has failed. And you’re desperate for help. Some advice, some strategy or technique, anything that will make a difference.
And truth is, with tens of thousands of self-help parenting guides out there, one probably exists that will help.
But I want to suggest that a self-help guide is the last thing you need. What you (and I) need is a bigger vision for parenting, something that goes deeper and reaches farther than a strategy. You need a perspective, a mindset, a framework that leads to lasting change.
And here, I suggest, is where you must turn to God and his principles. Scripture doesn’t provide any step-by-step guides. But scattered throughout are nuggets of truth, principles that can transform your kids.
These principles will help you go beyond guides and actually transform your kids.
Your children might listen to your words, but they will model your actions.
Don’t store up treasures on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroy them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
As a parent, you need to understand something. Your children will figure you out. They will know your character flaws and your spiritual weaknesses. You can front and try to hide them, but your kids will figure it out eventually.
And it’s just fine this way.
When you yell at Sally out of frustration, you have an opportunity to realize your own flaws and change. But equally as important, you have an opportunity to bring the gospel to your living room. By humbly confessing your flaws to your children, you leave a crazy valuable impression on them.
You have the primary responsibility for teaching your children about God.
Attention, Israel! God, our God! God the one and only! Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got! Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. (Deuteronomy 6:4-6)
Parents, God has given you the task of developing an awareness of him. You will paint for your kids their first and most lasting image of God. Your words, actions, decisions, everything contributes to your kids’ picture of Vocabulary doesn’t exist to effectively portray the importance of this truth.
You cannot hand this reality off to your church or your school. No youth pastor or teacher can take this baton from you and carry it across the finish line. It’s yours alone to hold.
This is a large weight to carry, but remember you aren’t responsible for the changing. You’re a tool. God is the craftsman. But even a novice woodworker knows some tools do the job more effectively than others.
The skinny here is all about willingness. Will you allow God to take the reins, to mold and shape you into a powerful tool that reflects his power and majesty and beauty to your kids?
Children need rules and boundaries, but rules are incapable of transformation.
The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son… (Romans 8:3)
As parents, we don’t want kids who conform to a particular set of rules. We want kids who become a particular kind of person. Rules and boundaries are vital, especially early in the game. But rules are incapable of transformation.
This is my big beef with self-help parenting books. Again, chances are one exist that works for your child. And if all else fails, you can use the trifecta of power tools fear (“Clean your room or else…”), reward (“Clean your room and you can watch TV”) or shame (“You haven’t cleaned your room yet? I’m so disappointed in you”) to coerce obedience.
But no strategy or technique can transform your child. It’s easy to assume that obedient kids are also have transformed ones. And that’s not necessarily true. As Paul says in the verse above, the law is incapable of accomplishing what Christ did on the cross. Rather than conformity to rules, you need to look at the condition of your child’s heart.
Good parenting focuses more on motives than behaviors.
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! (Galatians 5:22-23)
Let’s call a spade a spade. Parenting is a grind. I’ve met a few parents who love the heck out of every part. Raising kids comes naturally to them. But all the ones I met also have a “way too much energy, do you have Red Bull on tap” vibe. I’m not entirely convinced they’re human.
I’m not diminishing the love I have for my kids. I’m just keeping it real. Raising kids is no easy task. Some days they will act something close to angelic. Others days, something a little less holy.
You rise above the ups-and-downs with a long-term vision. No single incident defines your kid, nor does it indict you as a parent. Every day, you plant seeds of wisdom, grace and hope. You water them in love, affection and acceptance. And you trust that in time, God will birth something beautiful from the heart of your child.
You are not responsible for the results.
So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:20-21)
My greatest fear is that one of my kids will intentionally leave the nest without their faith. But when I dig into the motives behind my fear, I find that I believe I’m responsible for changing my kid. \
Parents, I want to communicate this clearly: the results are not your responsibility.
You and I are powerless, in fact, to change our kids. Parents who raise godly kids believe this. Ironic, I know. But if you believe you’re in charge of making little Johnny love Jesus, you will parent out of fear. Your “nos” will far outweigh your “yeses,” because fear-based parenting tries to force kids towards Jesus by scaring them out of hell. And while this might work short-term. It’s terribly ineffective long-term.
The path away from hell doesn’t necessarily lead towards God.
Discipline is necessary, yes. But when you throw off the impossible burden of changing your kids, you’re freed to extend more grace and mercy. And nothing is more essential to good, godly parenting than a strong foundation of grace.
I would love to hear from you. Do you know of a godly principle that leads to transformed kids? Leave a comment below.
Grace and peace, friends.
Frank is lead writer and editor for the blog at Bayside church. He is also a husband, father and Jesus-follower. Occasionally he plays golf. Often he drinks coffee.