God’s word tells us to “train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6). I have leaned on this verse so many times in the last 21 years as I raised my own children. Don’t miss the point that this isn’t a request or a suggestion, but rather it’s a command. But that command is followed immediately by a promise from God. And he always keeps his promises. The tough part for me as a mom is the in-between the “train up” part that I was doing, and the “when he is old” part that God promised. While I’d love to believe that “he will not depart from it” means that my child won’t ever walk away from God’s word and my training, I know that that’s not necessarily true. So, I lean in to God’s promise that he/she won’t depart from it permanently. That if and when they do depart from God’s word, they will return to it. Cling to it. Rest in it. Hopefully, we parents will all will be able to see the “when he is old” part, and rejoice that our child walks in the word and faith, but we may not actually see it with our earthly eyes. This is when we have to trust God most. HE made the promise, and HE will keep it. We will have no control over God’s end of this bargain.
So what do we do? We focus on the command that God gave US as parents: train them up. Here’s where it gets sticky. This can be interpreted in so many ways. Obviously, we are to train them up in His word. Read the bible to your child. Take them to church with you. I prefer to see them sitting, squirming, talking, coloring, whining, and/or crying in the pew with you. (But please feel free to take them out when you feel it’s necessary for your peace, and the peace of those around you!) Surround them with Godly influences in your family. Show them God’s light shining from you in your interactions with others. Sign them up for playdates with Godly friends, for social gatherings at church, and even for drop-off events such as Pre-school and Vacation Bible School, IF THEY ARE READY. (I have very strong opinions regarding the IF THEY ARE READY part since I am helping so many children un-stress from years of “school pressure”.)
As we are planting the seeds of the gospel in our children, we also need to train them up in character traits. The fruits of the spirit come immediately to mind. Can you train a 3-year-old to be patient? Well……a little. Can you train your children to be kind to one another? Uhhhhh, I’ll get back to you on that one after I see how my college kids treat each other when they come home for Spring Break! But the point here is that we CAN and we MUST and we DO teach them to grow in the fruits of the spirit, a little bit at a time until they can own them themselves, cultivating them independently, without our intentional direction, but always with our example.
What about training up our children in knowledge or academics? Are we being called to TEACH our children ourselves? In a word, yes. From the first breath they take, you begin teaching them. You teach them language. You teach them how to dress themselves and tie their shoes and use a fork. You teach them colors and numbers and the boundaries of your yard and the dangers of strangers and their address and phone number. But at some point you may think it’s time to farm out some of that teaching. And there are many options for that. I mentioned Pre-school and Vacation Bible school above. You can also choose non-religious preschools. When they are old enough, you have traditional public school options, magnet school options, charter school options, private school options, Montessori school options, Waldorf school options, and Homeschool options (kitchen table, Christian and non-Christian curriculum, co-ops, hybrid 2-3 days/week, unschooling, online, etc.). And you, as the parent, have to make a decision. It’s a tough one for sure. How do you discern?
I don’t believe God ever intended for us to be our child’s only teacher in this world. But we ARE to be discerning about who we allow and invite to teach them, what we allow and invite others to teach them, where we allow and invite others to teach them, and how we allow and invite others to teach them. Keep in mind that the official teacher is not the only “teacher” in any given environment. You MUST take into account bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, the writers of the curriculum being utilized to teach, other students, other parents, the cashier at Target, television shows, news reports, the Youtube “star”, etc. They will ALL teach your child something.
God gave this child to YOU. And he has allowed YOU to know this child better than anyone else on this earth. And he has obligated YOU to make the best decisions for this child, based on your knowledge and experience and circumstances at any given moment. Fortunately, He has also allowed you to change your mind, based on your knowledge and experience and circumstances at any given moment. And best of all, He has allowed GRACE for our failings, because He loves your child, HIS CHILD, even more than you do. And He loves you. He will never leave you or forsake you. Even when you want to pack up that adorable little bundle of joy he gifted you with and mark it RETURN TO SENDER!
Parenting is not for the faint of heart. It’s a tough gig. And it’s a long one. I remember when I was around 48 and was experiencing a particular worry over one of my teen children, I asked my own mother when I could stop worrying about my kids. She replied, “I’ll let you know when it happens to me.” I know that my mother worried about her children until her last breath. We will never stop worrying about, praying over and for, loving, and rejoicing over these precious gifts that God entrusted us with. I pray that we all live to see the “will not depart from it” part of God’s promise.