One of the temptations young parents face is the temptation of wanting to learn some “techniques,” some 1,2,3 tricks for sure-fire success. When you feel lost, it is easy to want to resort to easy solutions. If you already feel like you are in over your head, why would you seek out solutions that are over your head? This is why, to reapply an observation from Peter Drucker, they are more concerned about doing things rightly than about doing the right thing.
What is the right thing then? Before answering the question, it is important to note that things can be over our heads for different reasons. The obvious way is that it might be really complicated, like trying to explain advanced calculus to a third grader. But there is another kind of teaching that feels like it is “over our head.” That is the way of the Spirit when we want to operate in the way of the flesh. Turn the other cheek? What kind of sense does that make? But notice that he lack of understanding here has nothing to do with complexity.
So what is the right thing in parenting little ones?
In most instances, bringing up daughters also includes bringing up sons at more or less the same time, and this means that someone has to manage the interaction. Boys and girls discover their differences early on, and in many cases, they discover that they don’t like those differences all that much. And they say so.
Parents have to provide translation services, as well as mediation services, and many forms of preventative maintenance go into this process as well.
While boys have to be taught to be protective of their sisters, girls have to be taught to expect that protection. This has to be done in a way that does not inculcate a pampered “entitlement” mindset, but more like a grounding in the way the permanent things are. The differences between the sexes are just there, like gravity.
Boys should be taught that they are to protect their sisters “from the dragon,” and the very first thing this means is that they must refrain from turning into the dragon themselves. When the protector turns into the very thing that protection is needed from, the result for the girl involved is nightmarish. The things you assumed as fixed and given turn on you; one thing morphs into another. When a brother is being annoying (say, for a wild hypothetical), his sister is dealing with two things, not one. The first thing is the annoyance itself — what she would be dealing with if her sister or a friend at school were being annoying.
God gives parents assurance in two ways. The first can be called proverbial assurance, and the second kind is grounded in the promises. Suppose husband and wife are talking about their daughter, now only eight-years-old, and mom is worried about whether or not she will “turn out.” As her husband tries to reassure her, they keep coming back to the question, “but how do we know?”
The first level of assurance simply concerns her general upbringing — if we wanted to speak of it crassly, we would talk about “the odds.” These are all factors that sociologists could point to and factor in — intact families, no divorce, good education, loving environment, and so forth. Kids from backgrounds like this do a lot more thriving than kids who don’t have any of it. These factors work the same whether we are talking about decent pagans, Mormons, or evangelicals. If kids grow up with mom as a crackhead, and dad an alcoholic, and they receive no education, and spend a lot of time on the streets, it screws them up. This kind of protection for children is a function of common grace, and simple common sense helps us understand it.
I call this level of assurance proverbial because the book of Proverbs does not give us head-for-head commitments and promises. They are proverbs. A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and sometimes you wind up in Congress banning light bulbs for the rest of us. But as a general rule, hard work leads to wealth, and laziness to poverty, only not in every instance. Sometimes a stitch in time doesn’t save nine. Nevertheless, it remains true that it is a worthwhile endeavor to build communities that are kind to children, and which provide them a good place in which to thrive. If we do that, more of them will do that.
The process of bringing up daughters should be understood as a process of glorification. Just as manhood is where boyhood should be aimed, so also womanhood is where girlhood should be aimed. Before undertaking any task, it unreasonable to begin without knowledge of what the completion of the task ought to look like. Human life is teleological, which means that it is going somewhere. We go there family by family, and generation by generation, which means that because the journey is bigger than all of us, we really need a map. We are on a road trip, and not out for an aimless Sunday drive.
To the extent that we understand the map, we can replicate the larger journey in our own experience. Just as every marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church, so also every family with daughters should be a picture of church history, from Pentecost to the Second Coming. When Jesus comes again, He will come in glory. Our wedding ceremonies are therefore eschatological parables.
The Scriptures teach that men have a point, which is to find out what St. George would have done in this situation, and then do it. The theme of Scripture, as a friend mentioned to me recently, is “kill the dragon, get the girl.” But when he gets the girl, he is not getting a little china doll for the mantelpiece. He is receiving substantial glory; he is being glorified with the weight of glory. When a man gets the girl, it is his coronation day.
“A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband: But she that maketh ashamed is as rottenness in his bones” (Prov. 12:4).
But of course this is a fallen world, and if a man marries a foolish woman, if he marries a ditz, it is his consternation day. It makes a difference whether she was brought up to be a golden crown or a plastic tiara.
1. You believe the heel of the loaf of bread has more nutrients in it because it is browner.
2. You think that kids were made for the living room and not the living room for the kids.
3. You believe that being a disciplinarian consists of using repeated commands in a professional bossy voice.
4. You think that telling stories at the dinner table is weird.
5. You think that laughter at the dinner table is even weirder.
6. You possess a bag of carob chips, which you put into cookies made out of trail mix.
7. You place a high value on “teaching them a work ethic,” but that value is not nearly as high as your “slave labor is great ethic.”
8. You don’t want them to know any dumb music.
9. You think dessert is for sissies.
10. You want them to learn to appreciate you without you ever appreciating them.
I grant that “train” may not be the best translation for the crucial verb in Prov. 22:6. May I suggest (dynamic equivalence) “baptize”?
The verb is hanak. It is the verb from which we get the derivative Hanukkah, which means dedication or consecration. It refers to inauguration or dedication, usually in a cultic setting. The dedication of Solomon’s altar took seven days (2 Chron. 7:9). The temple of Ezra’s day was consecrated in a similar way (Ezra 6:17). It can even be used of the dedication of private houses (Dt. 20:5). The rededication of the Temple in the Maccabean period gave that holiday the name used for it today.
So, admittedly, train is not the best translation, but a better translation hardly weakens the point I am seeking to make.
As it happens, Justin Taylor just posted on a similar topic. You can read his careful treatment here.
Yesterday, I compared the promises of God concerning our children to His promises to answer our prayers. I did not want to say that they are exactly parallel in every respect, but simply to illustrate how we can understand what appears to be a universal promise with non-universal fulfillment. My point there was that, whatever it is, it is not God’s problem.
One correspondent asks how my understanding of this comports with certain sub-promises of the covenant that are clearly general, and not universal. For example, God gave many promises concerning barrenness, poverty, and disease, and yet there were faithful covenant members (of whom the world was not worthy) who did not individually enjoy the blessings of those promises being fulfilled. So why do I take the promises concerning our children as head-for-head promises, and not as statistically relevant generalizations?
In the course of an infant baptism, why do I say “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”? Why do I not look at the hapless parents and say, “Good luck to you two. 23 Black it is.”? The second question I ask them is “Do you trust in God’s covenant promises in his/her behalf, and do you look in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ for his/her salvation, as you do for your own”? If I do not have warrant to ask them that question, and they do not have warrant to answer it affirmatively, then I most certainly do not have warrant to baptize anybody.
So why do I believe that these promises are set forth for Christian parents in such a way as to invite all Christian parents (as we say in logic, distributively) to believe the promises concerning their children? Before giving the reasons, let me distance myself from a robust liturgical faith in the promises and an anemic real-world timidity concerning them. That’s called outrunning your own headlights. If you’re doing that, you are driving way too fast, and you’re now in the dark.
Because of the condition of our sinful world, words from God’s law are frequently “hard words.” But, for the same reason, but in a different sense, words of gospel and promise are even harder.
In my books on family, I have often emphasized that the rearing of godly children is not accomplished “by works,” but rather “by faith.” And this leads, naturally, to the standard questions about the relationship between faith and works.
This presents a problem of practical theology. How are we to understand our need to believe such promises, and how can we do it without veering into presumption? Here is an example of one such promise:
“But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children; To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them” (Ps. 103:17-18).
May Christian parents resolve, by the grace of God, to keep covenant in the sense described here, remmbering God’s commandments to do them? May they then rest in the promise that God’s mercy will extend to their children’s children, from everlasting to everlasting? I would say that this passage, and many others, are an invitation from a gracious God to believe Him for the salvation of our children.
The promises that God gives to all Christian parents (and which, in our paedobaptist tradition, they all acknowledge at the baptismal font) stand in an analogous position as do the promises of answered prayer that God gives to all Christians.