What is the Christian view of parenting? To be honest, there really isn’t one. Christians hold to a whole lot of different ideas, just as the rest of the world does. Some are strict, some more permissive. Some believe in attachment parenting, free-range parenting, or whatever the latest fad may be. Others rely on the advice and example of their own parents or of people they trust who are also raising children. We have differing philosophies of education and discipline as well, and we often disagree with one another about these things. This makes us as a group no different from people who aren’t Christians.
A Calling from God
And yet there is one difference. Christians believe that when we parent children, we are carrying out a very specific God-given responsibility, and we will have to give an account to God of the choices we make. Parenting is what we call a “vocation”—that is, a calling, a kind of work that God has given some of us to do. And that’s one more reason why we as Christian parents are so concerned about doing it well. (Not that everyone isn’t concerned about doing it well….)
“Masks” of God
Christians believe that in a very real way, God has placed us in his stead as we care for our children. God provides them with food and shelter; he normally does this through us, the parents. God intends them to be loved and educated and protected; parents are the ones God usually acts through. They are the “masks” God wears as he does his work.
When We Mess Up
This is an awesome responsibility, and of course we all get our parenting wrong, time and time again. We mess up; we get angry or impatient or make mistakes through ignorance or confusion. And some people do worse—much worse; they become abusive or neglect their children. That is a very serious sin, and God will not let it pass as if it didn’t matter (for more about the problem of why God allows evil to occur, see here).
When we mess up as parents, we seek God’s forgiveness, and we ought to seek our children’s forgiveness as well. Some families do better at this than others. Probably nobody escapes the traditional cry, “I’m never going to do THAT to MY children!” But ideally, Christian parents and children live with one another in love and practice forgiving one another.
Estranged Parents and Children
You may be thinking of a Christian family you know where parents and children are estranged from each other—where one member of a family no longer speaks to the others—where the rest of the family doesn’t even know if that person is dead or alive. This can happen. And when it does happen, it’s major heartbreak. Christianity doesn’t prevent family breakups, estranged children, or difficult relationships. And it’s not always clear where the fault lies—if indeed it lies with anyone. In a situation like this, we cry out to God for help. We also take comfort in Jesus’ story about a badly broken family, which you may recognize as the story of the prodigal son. The father in this story represents God himself; and if God can have parenting problems, so can we. But we also hope for God’s healing in our own painful situation.
Image of God
A final concern Christians have about parenting is that we know (or suspect, anyway) that how we behave as parents is likely to have an impact on how our children think of God. If we are controlling and judgmental, there’s a good chance they will start to think that God is the same way. If we are erratic or untrustworthy, they may have trouble trusting God as well. But if we are warm, loving and compassionate, there is hope that the truth about God’s own personality will shine through us to reach our children.
We really want to do our parenting well, for all the same reasons as you and for this reason also. And so we pray for God’s help. We know that we can’t do it alone. We need God’s help and the help of other people—like you. Thank you for whatever you do to make life a bit better for parents and children.