I read a wonderful blog post this week by one of my fellow Patheos peeps, Zeke Pipher, about the fallacy of formulaic parenting. According to Zeke, the formula many Christian parents try to plug in looks like this:
If I pray + read my Scriptures + discipline consistently + read the latest parenting book and follow its advice = then God will give me a child who is well-behaved and loves God.
What "The Formula" leaves out, of course, is the presence of sin. It's easy as a parent to recite, "All we like sheep have gone astray," but forget on a practical level that our little sheep aren't born as blank slates for us to scribble our directives or desires on. Children are born with a sin nature that parents have no control over. We have a huge role in developing them, yes. We're to discipline, love, encourage, chastise, correct, and direct them, yes. But we are not their Holy Spirits.
Appealing to a child's intellect and heart is well and good, as long as we realize we're appealing to a sinful intellect and a sinful heart. If we appeal to our child as though he is inherently good or, at the very least, neither good nor bad, we will be disappointed when he doesn't respond to our articulate pleas asking him to please stop acting like a Cretan. We'll either blame ourselves (for not being winning, compelling, or convincing enough), or our child (for being too stubborn, too self-willed, or too obstinate) when we forget that there is a third factor at work.
At Whole Mama, I often dialogue with mothers who are heavily burdened by a child who refuses to listen to their wise counsel. They try this method and that approach, but nothing "works." I sympathize and, yet, see the problem: They don't believe in sin. And if you don't believe in sin, a tremendous burden settles right between a parent's shoulder blades. Because if your child turns out rotten, skipping the sin piece means either their rottenness is your fault or your kid is just a bad apple.
What I tell these women, when I'm brave enough, is that their children act like reprobates because they are reprobates.
Not that I like the idea of my child being innately cursed any more than the next parent does, but I can't ignore the clarity of Scripture on this, and, let's face it, a child's sinful nature shows up so early and with such vehemence, it doesn't take much of a leap of faith to believe it.
The good news is, despite the glut of self-help books insinuating there is a man-made antidote for "being rotten," there is a cure for sin. This is why I don't want children who are cleaned up and acceptable on the outside, kids who are well-mannered and kind and know their circle of fifths, but who are unaware of the forces that they fight against and their need for living water. I want my children to recognize their rottenness as the curse of sin and know where to go for absolution. Talking their ear off ad infinitum isn't going to change them a whit until they understand that. And they will only understand that when Someone besides me speaks.