You may not be a parent. Perhaps you are an aunt or uncle. Perhaps you are a family friend. Maybe you are a frustrated grandparent. In any case, you need to know these rules so that you can help those who are parenting. Because of the breakdown of families, the increase of single-parent households, and the rise of shared-parenting, the need for parenting rules to help simplify and define what parenting is all about is needed now more than ever before. Churches are feeling it. Schools are feeling it. Workplaces are feeling it. But most especially, kids are feeling it. Despite the “No-one’s-gonna-tell-me-what-to-do” culture we swim in, the truth is, we are happier when we know what the rules are and how to keep them. These 12 Rules of Parenting are not original. I can’t claim that they are only the result of my experiences as a father of four children – because I have learned them along the way, gleaned them from successful parents, and discovered many of them by making mistakes. Parenting happens from a biological connection, but it also happens from a spiritual one as well – and, I hope to argue – the best parenting is a mixture of both. Thus, even if you’re not a biological parent, you still have a role to play in shaping the next generation in a parenting fashion, and, these 12 rules will help you to do it better.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. Psalm 127:4-5
The strength of any parenting is in the strength of the marriage. Many parents become so tired, consumed, and distracted by the parenting of their children that they neglect their relationship with each other. “Mummy guilt” is one of the easiest forms of manipulation that kids somehow figure it out pretty quickly. But those parents who commit to deepening their love for each other and prioritising each other ahead of their children’s unrelenting demands for attention – without genuinely neglecting their children, have a better chance of being impervious to such false-guilt. Added to this, and perhaps most importantly, children draw upon the security that comes from having a mum and dad who truly love each other and aren’t afraid to show it. Besides all these benefits, one day, your kids are going to leave home and that’s when you’ll have each other. It’s a tragedy that this often catches parents off-guard and they then discover that they have become cohabitting strangers. And by the way, if you’ve ever looked after someone else’s kids while they took time to get re-acquainted on a date-night, you’ve played a vital role in their healthy parenting!
In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. Ephesians 5:28
It’s vital for parents to present a united front before their children. Disagreeing in front of the children – especially about decisions which effect them – fosters insecurity in children and creates the potential for the child to manipulate their parents and leverage their disagreement. Divorced parents are particularly vulnerable to this. This makes it all the more important parents to communicate well before interacting with their children to ensure that their children realise they are dealing with a united team who can not be played off one against another.
complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Philippians 2:2
Time spent together at the dinner table is not just about eating. It’s about together. It’s a sacred space and a sacred time together that too few families prioritise. Digital devices should be banned from the dining room at dinner time. Conversation should be encouraged. Questions should be asked. Dreams should be explored. Parents should listen and show that they are taking an interest in what their children tell them. Guests should be made welcome at the dinner table. Prayers should be said. Thanks should be given. Jokes should be told. The family dinner table should be free from clutter and involve the children in helping to set, clear, and clean the table (see rule #6).
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you. ¶ Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Psalm 128:2-3
Consistency makes boundaries clear and its these boundaries which help provide the strength and the security that children need. This most practically involves having a consistent bedtime for your children. This is, according to psychologist Jordan Peterson, the single greatest factor in the treatment of a person’s mental health. Setting this as a lifestyle for a child from their earliest years is one of the greatest gifts any parent can give their child. Dr. Peterson tells of an occasion when he and wife were part of a couple’s club where they would each take it in turn to look after each others kids so that another couple could enjoy a date-night. A new couple to their club dropped off their 3-year-old boy and announced that he doesn’t stay in bed after bedtime and that they usually put a Sesame Street video on for him and wait for him to fall asleep on the couch. Dr. Peterson tells that as this father shared this information, he thought to himself, “There is no way I’m going to reward a 3-year-old with his favourite video for doing the wrong thing!” After putting the 3-year-old to bed in a cot he was not used to, he found, just as the father had said, that the boy wanted to get up and watch Elmo videos. Dr. Peterson came into the room again to settle the young boy and gently stroked his head as he re-assured him that it was bedtime. This was resisted for about 40 minutes or so, but eventually the Psychologist won. Upon collecting their son, the date-nighted couple were none too surprised to learn that their son actually went to sleep without his Sesame Street video time!
As with the dinner table, digital devices should not be allowed to interfere with a child’s bedtime. As Brad Huddleston has pointed out in his book, Digital Cocaine, using a smart-phone in bed at bedtime before trying to sleep is one of the surest ways to promote insomnia by over-stimulating the brain of a child/teenager! Consistency isn’t just about regular bedtimes, it’s also about regular meal-times, regular get up times, and about the house rules parents expect their children to keep. And perhaps most importantly, parental consistency reinforces to a child that when their parent/s say “No” they always mean: No.
The sum of your word is truth,
and every one of your righteous rules endures forever. Psalm 119:160
Many parents make the classic mistake of thinking that their mission as parents is to make their children happy. It’s not. The mission of parenting is holiness. This is most often thought of as a purely ‘religious’ word, but holiness simply means different, uncommon, beyond ordinary. The mission of parents is therefore to raise children who are different (in a good and positive way). Because the best parenting is a combination of practical and spiritual input, it seeks to raise children who are familiar with reality (see Rule #9) and also aware of the God who made them and just how beautiful, beneficent, and bounteous He is (which will shape their moral and ethical choices). As we state in our Child Dedication Ceremony, the role of parents is to raise children who will at the most appropriate age choose for themselves to follow the Saviour and live to serve Him. Thus, the wise parent doesn’t over-react to their child’s poor choices or lapses in judgment because their parental mission is long-term, not superficial or short-term. They realise that even when they make a decision that causes their child to respond unhappily in the short-term, in the long-term, their child will be the beneficiary of their parents’ decision.
Did He not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking?Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. Malachi 2:15
As a child grows and develops they are increasingly challenged and given more responsibility. Parents need to appreciate that: Responsibility produces responsible people. This is why parents need to orientate their children to principle of effort before reward. This might also be stated as, “Work first, play later.” At meal time, each child needs to be given a responsibility appropriate to their age. Sure, it’s quicker, tidier, and more efficient for a parent to cook the meal, clear any clutter from the table, set the table, clear the dishes and cutlery from the table, put the condiments back in the pantry, wash the dishes, dry the dishes, put the dishes and cutlery away. But it’s more important that parents train their children to be involved in each of these sacred tasks. Children need to learn that life is unfair and fair at the same time. It is ‘unfair’ that life requires something of them and it is ‘fair’ that life rewards effort. This is why a child’s participation in sport is so important. It necessarily requires training and skills development which clearly demonstrate this life principle of effort before reward. The same can be said of learning a musical instrument.
As a child ages, their responsibilities must increase. This reinforces the notion that everyone in the family helps. This is why ‘pocket money’ shouldn’t be treated merely as an allowance. Pocket-money is a reward. It comes after effort. This effort might include ensuring their bedroom is tidy before bedtime; their homework is done on time; their towel is hanging up in the bathroom (not lying on their bedroom floor); their toys are put away (see rule#8). Each of these conditions reinforces the reality of life that effort comes before reward.
From the fruit of his mouth a man is satisfied with good,
and the work of a man’s hand comes back to him. Proverbs 12:14
While Rule #2 states that parents shouldn’t disagree in front of their children about their children, especially when this turns into a fight, parents need to model for their children how to navigate a hostile world where disagreements will happen. This is why parenting involves arguing not fighting. An argument is a legal term. It involves making a case with sound reasons. When the matter is not about the raising of their children, there are times, as their children age, that parents should be open in front of their children about things they disagree about. These disagreements might be trivial. For example, Kim and I disagree about which AFL football is best. She barracks for Hawthorn, whereas I barrack for the best team in the league. Or, these disagreements might be more serious – such as, changing careers, purchasing an expensive something, planning for a significant birthday. An argument is quite different to a quarrel. Firstly, an argument involves listening and understanding. It is the stating of reasons not just opinions. Unlike a fight, where heat is directed at the other person and how stupid* they are, an argument is made after permission is granted by the listener. An argument is complete when both sides of the case have been stated, clarified, and understood. This completion does not necessarily involve resolving to agree – although, it often does.
We now live in a world where disagreement has come to mean hate. Today’s children are already swimming in this misconception of reality. Just look at what’s happening to Tongan-Australian Rugby Union player, Issy Folau at the moment! This makes the task of parental arguing all the more important for it to be modelled to their children.
The one who states his case first seems right,
until the other comes and examines him. Proverbs 18:17
Parents soon discover that their children are watching them closely. The old and dumbest saying ever devised, “Do I say, not as I do!” was even referred to by Jesus who described the poor example of the religious leaders of His day (Matt. 23:3) and is tragically still promoted by too many parents as they scold their teens for spending too much time on their phones as they themselves waste too much of their own day/s on instagram, facebook, twitter and snapchat! Children get very confused when they hear their parents tell them to put their toys away while their parents wallow in clutter of their own making. When someone becomes a parent, they become a role model. “Tidy your bedroom” sounds different to a child when they see that Mum or Dad puts their things away and tidies up in their own bedroom. Parents, put your toys away, then your children are more likely to put theirs away too.
How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye. Luke 6:42
But there is possibly a bigger issue involved with this rule though which involves how we care for our things. Some people have a very low view of things. It’s as if they confuse the care of things for materialism. One of the first edicts God gave to the first man, Adam, was to ‘look after everything‘ (Gen. 1:28). It was after God had made everything, that it says, “And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day” (Gen. 1:31). There was ancient heresy which infiltrated the thinking of many early Christians which taught that the material world was evil and only the spiritual realm was good (“Gnosticism”). In many respects much of its faulty theology still permeates the thinking of many people. But God has made this universe good – which necessarily includes material stuff – things. Of course you don’t even have to be influenced by Gnosticism to be careless about your things since we now live in such a disposable world where even those things, such as kitchen appliances, used to cost a lot of money now cost far less. But a proper understanding of our God-given calling to look after the things God has given us means we water our plants, mow our grass, wash our cars, clean our desks, fold our clothes, and wash our dinner plates.
I recently heard an educational consultant, who was a former school principal, state that one of the cruelest things that many schools are doing to children these days is giving everyone a ribbon or an award. He shared how many of these children leave school only to discover that life is a meritocracy – where it rewards those who have merited it – because they applied for a part-time job at their local supermarket and had their application rejected. Parenting involves helping children to adjust to the real world where consequences happen when bad choices are made, or preparation is inadequate, or they lose. In fact, learning how to lose well may be one of the greatest character gifts a parent can give their child! Parenting a child to cope with consequences even involves those awkward moments when a child forgets their school lunch (again). Should their parent drive to school with their child’s lunch to rescue them from a food-free lunchtime (again)?
On the seventh day the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they said, “Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spoke to him, and he did not listen to us. How then can we say to him the child is dead? He may do himself some harm.” Second Samuel 12:18
Parents can not be watching their children all the time, but Someone is. When I was growing up, one of the verses I heard quoted more than any other was “Be sure your sin will find you out!” (Num. 32:23) It was meant to remind me that even though my parents didn’t know what mischief I had gotten up to, God did! The thought that God is watching all the time can either be a great comfort or a great distress. For me it proved to be the former. It helped me to understand that even when no-one else cares, God does. Even when no-one else notices, God does. Even when no-one else would listen to me, God will.
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence? Psalm 139:7
When we dedicate a baby to the Lord in our church, we state the role of their parents is to make faith in Christ seem natural and reasonable so that at the appropriate age the child will accept responsibility for their own relationship with God so that prayer, Bible reading, church attendance is a delight not merely a duty.
You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deuteronomy 6:7
Prayer should be something that children grow up hearing. When children are very young, these prayers can be memorable. “Thank You Lord for the world so sweet. Thank You Lord for the food we eat. Thank you Lord for the birds that sing. Thank You Lord for everything! Amen.” As children age, they should be encouraged to join in the family prayer-time and pray as well. Regular family prayer-times can be before meals, before saying good-bye, on the way to church, last thing before bed-time. Children need to hear their parents praying and especially praying together.
And He told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. Luke 18:1
Parents need to read to their children. This cannot start early enough. Reading to children stimulates their imagination. God has ordained that eternal truth be communicated through the medium of text within books.
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” Exodus 17:14
Even in a world of video games and social media, books still shape children’s minds powerfully. As parents teach their children how to concentrate and read a book they are setting them up for almost unlimited learning potential. By reading history, biographies, great novels, children come to realise that this world is a big place! They can also see the invisible hand of God on the events of human history which in turn helps them to recognise the same hand on their own lives.