I’ve been thinking about what makes someone a good parent – or better yet, what we should consider good parenting skills. I’m finding there aren’t any hard, fast rules that determine whether your child turns out to be a Nobel Peace Prize winner or an ax murderer. And most kids end up somewhere in between anyway. A couple of books have brought this question to my attention.
The first was that fun little book Freakonomics. One of the chapters attempts to determine the bearing of different parenting styles on children. What the authors find is that socio-economic status has significant bearing in a specialized way. Children in middle to upper income families do better because of the opportunities that money gives them. Intelligence has little to do with it. For example, a child who reads children’s books in his/her home is likely to do well in life. But it’s not because they read better than another child. It’s because a child whose parents have enough money to buy children’s books are also going to have enough money to buy piano lessons, art lessons, etiquette classes, a private school education, etc. Baby Einstein videos don’t do much for your kid, but a parent willing to spend the money on those videos will most likely spend that same type of money on other things to make sure their children succeed. Interesting point. But it says nothing of spiritual or character formation.
The other two books were religious. The first was George Barna’s Revolutionary Parenting. This book was pretty adamant that a particular type of parent turns out spiritual “champions” on a regular basis. The type of parent? Evangelical and conservative. That wasn’t that surprising either – Barna is an evangelical. The point was that these parents modeled a Christian lifestyle for their children and gave them multiple chances for response. But I began to think about many of the Christians I know today…and whole lot of them were not brought up in a Christian home at all. And the more serious ones had a horrible upbringing. Maybe that’s because they actually understand the gravity of salvation since they were so far from God to begin with. Or maybe they understood the ravaging effect of sin in a more personal way. There is some truth to the idea that great sinners make great Christians. So Barna’s approach leaves out a whole lot of people.
The final book was Tony Dungy’s Quiet Strength. In the second chapter or so, Dungy talks about the exceptional example his parents provided for him. They were strong, church-attending Christians and both had higher level educational training. Both were teachers. By our society’s standards, that’s the one-two punch. It’s easy to talk about how great his parents must have been and that surely this was the reason for Dungy’s successful coaching career. But the last paragraph of the chapter throws a wrench in that scenario. Dungy stated that it wasn’t until years later as an adult that he made a commitment to Christ. Huh? Wait a minute. If anybody should have been a great Christian from the start it should have been Dungy. He had Christianity and education. But it didn’t impact him as much as we assume (or hope) it would.
So what am I trying to say? As parents we have to believe that our parenting makes a difference. Otherwise, it’s an overwhelming task. By secular standards, socio-economic status determines our success in life. But for Christians, it has to be more than that. Yet in both of the Christian books I described, the spiritual formation of any child goes beyond what even the best parents can do. In fact, some Christian parents who do everything right, end up driving their children away from God. As much as parents would like to believe that model parenting matters (and it can certainly help things), ultimately each person on this planet has to recognize the pursuit of God in their life and be willing to respond. I’ve come to understand that there is no way I can really introduce my children to God. Now, I can surely model the importance of personal relationship before them. I can also place them in environments where the Holy Spirit can draw them to him. But in the end, that’s between my children and God. And there’s nothing I can do about that.
But there’s hope. I also believe that God will go to the same extremes that he has done with me and my wife in order to develop a relationship with my children. God doesn’t pursue a relationship with my children because I want him to. He pursues them because he wants to. And his desire for their salvation far outweighs any hopes I may have for my children. So I don’t model Christianity because it’s important for them to see it. I model it because my Christianity is important to me. And as God pursues them, one day their Christianity will be important to them as well. Not as a cultural condition, but as a genuine love response to the overwhelming goodness of their Creator.