It’s a big day in a bird’s life when he first begins to fly. His mother senses his readiness as he squirms, stretches his neck, and twitches his wings. She may lure him from the nest by holding a tempting tidbit a short distance away, or she may encourage him to take to the air with a gentle nudge. In either case, he flaps for his life on that maiden flight and, because of her prodding, is soon soaring off alone to explore the wide world around him.
Sad to say, birds have more sense than some human parents. Our feathered friends seem to know that the aim of caring for their young is to fit and furnish them to leave the nest, while many parents seem to be unaware that some day their children must leave home and make it on their own. They invest precious little time or effort in preparing them for an independent life. The kids suddenly find themselves as young men and women, facing the prospect of leaving home, ill-equipped to hold a job, handle their money, or succeed at their marriages. These are skills that must be learned, and the best way to learn them is from their parents in the home.
God handles this matter in his family framework. He provides us, his children, with the resources and the abilities we need to function successfully in the Christian life (2 Pet. 1:3). His indwelling Holy Spirit endows us with the abilities we must have for our respective responsibilities (1 Cor. 12:11). Then he trains us in his Word so that we shall be able to exercise those abilities profitably unto all good works (2 Tim. 3:16-17). We need to take our cue from the Master Homebuilder and help our children develop the ability to operate capably in their various roles in life.
One obvious way we strengthen their wings for flight is by letting them make an increasing number of decisions for themselves. Those decisions will be as significant as possible at each level of growth. At first they may be as simple as choosing the clothes they put on in the morning. But as they grow older they will be doing such things as choosing their own friends, earning and managing their own money, buying their own clothes, and deciding which extracurricular activities they wish to engage in. If we have taught them properly and they have learned the biblical principles by which decisions are to be made, we can trust them to choose wisely and grow to maturity through practice.
We all learn best by doing, but doing inevitably involves making some mistakes. Our children will make their share, and we should not become overly concerned about it. The Lord allows us to exercise our wills and learn by our errors, doesn’t he? He is always available to give direction and to help us do what is right, but he doesn’t smother our independence nor coerce us to conform. He lays the responsibility for our actions upon us. We should follow a similar course.
Our children’s lives will be filled with choices and decisions for which they will be responsible and for which they will pay the consequences. We must let them start with small choices and grow, rather than jump into the stream of life at age twenty-one with no decision-making experience, and slowly but surely sink. We will lengthen the cord of freedom with each passing year, and finally let go. That full release is often the hardest part. The unwillingness of parents to cut their children loose has wrecked more young marriages than most of us would care to admit.
One of our children came up with a perceptive insight as he got ready to spend his first night away from home at a friend’s house. At just seven years of age, he was suffering some apprehension over this new adventure. We could almost see the wheels turning in his head when suddenly it all came out: “I understand,” he said, “when I was a baby you put me in the nursery. When I got a little bigger I went to the older nursery, then to the Beginners’ Department. Then one day I spent a day away from home, now a night, someday a whole week, then a month. And when I’m a man I’ll be able to stay away from my mom and dad.” He saw it almost clearer than we did. Parents, start lengthening the cord and preparing your children for freedom.
Now, in addition to this growing liberty to make decisions, there are several specific areas of understanding and responsibility, crucial to successful living, which should be taught in the home. The parents who train their children in these four areas are laying the groundwork for future happiness. Each area deserves far more consideration than we can give it here, but we shall seek to establish at least a few basic principles for each.
If we want our children to grow into mature, dependable adults, we will need to give them personal responsibilities. Happy people are people who have something to offer. They know they belong; they fit in; they are worthwhile members of the unit rather than dead weight. The Lord sets the pace again by assuring his children of their importance in the family. Every member of the body of Christ has a function to perform. Peter said, “God has given each of you some special abilities; be sure to use them to help each other. . . .” (1 Pet. 4:10, TLB). We would do well to follow his example.
Those who sit idly by thinking the world owes them something are usually miserable, maladjusted people who hate themselves and cannot get along with others. And most of them never learned the dignity of work when they were growing up. One college student frankly admitted to me, “I wish my parents had given me more responsibilities and work to do when I was younger. Now I’m fighting to correct my bad habits of laziness and lack of self-discipline.” So teach your children the blessings and benefits of honest labor. Use the Scriptures. God has a great deal to say about the subject (e.g. Gen. 2:15; 3:19; Prov. 6:6-11; 10:4-5; Eph. 4:28; 1 Thess. 4:11-12; 2 Thess. 3:10-12; 1 Tim. 5:8).
Then put the Scripture into action by letting your children contribute in tangible ways around the house. Give them jobs to do, chores for which they are responsible--not necessarily for money, but just as their share in the smooth operation of the household. Even small children can keep their rooms tidy and empty the wastebaskets. As they get older they can make their beds, set the table, clear the table, help with the dishes, sweep the patio or garage, push the vacuum, carry out the trash cans, help with the yard work, wash windows, wash the car, and a host of other things that need to be done. Not only will it teach them how to work, but it will take some of the pressure off mom and dad and free them to give a little more attention to being the kind of parents they ought to be. You might also want to encourage them to seek other jobs outside the home, like delivering newspapers, mowing lawns, running errands, sacking groceries, or baby-sitting. Some of the greatest men and women in our nation’s history learned the discipline of work when they were young.
There are several guidelines we need to follow, however, when teaching our children to work.
1. Show them how to do the job you are asking them to do. Sometimes we take for granted that our children know things we have never taught them, and then we scold them for not doing it the way we want it done. A few minutes of instruction will eliminate that tension. And while you are instructing them, instill in them a deep appreciation for a job done properly. Solomon said it: “Whatever you do, do well . . .” (Eccl. 9:10, TLB). Everybody’s time has been wasted if the job has to be done over.
2. Teach them to work hard and happily. That seems to be what Paul had in mind when he said, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Col. 3:23, NIV). When they go to work for someone else their time will not be their own. It will belong to their employer. If they use every minute of it profitably and take genuine pleasure in doing the job well, they will be sought after and paid well. A number of businessmen have complained to me in despair, “I just cannot find people who want to work.” Young people who have learned to enjoy working are at a distinct advantage in the job market. But more important still, the Lord is honored when we give a job our best with a cheerful spirit. All necessary work is really work for him and should be performed with that in mind, whether the boss is looking or not.
3. Teach them to think while they work. If they keep their wits about them they will be less apt to make costly mistakes or cause serious injuries. With their minds in gear, they may see more efficient ways of doing the job, or see other things that need to be done so that they can fill their working hours honestly and productively. This resourcefulness, carefully cultivated at home, will often bring advancement in the working world.
4. Teach them to finish their jobs. Some people’s lives are littered with unfinished tasks, incomplete projects, and shattered dreams. They hop from job to job, unable to find happiness in any vocation. They may even lack the willpower to stick at making their marriages work and run home to mama at the first sign of trouble. They never learned to find satisfaction in staying with a task to the end. Their parents let them quit whenever the going got tough and they are still quitting. If your child begins a project, even something of his own choosing like making a model airplane or painting a picture, encourage him to finish it.
Applying these simple principles should go a long way toward preparing your children to take care of their needs in life. It may be wise to add one word of warning, however. Don’t expect perfection. Even though we want the job done right, we must remember that children are still children. We can expect them to perform according to their capabilities, but to demand more will be frustrating and discouraging to them. It is distressing for a child never to be able to please. Compliment the acceptable aspect of the job even if it isn’t perfect. Let him know you are grateful for his effort.
The logical sequel to learning the dignity of work is learning how to manage the money we earn. There is nothing sinful about making money. In fact, we cannot live without it. And since its proper use will be vital to our children for meeting their physical needs, maintaining their personal self-esteem, and making their marriages succeed, we owe them some instruction in this area.
In order to learn how to handle it, they first must have some. Their money will come from two primary sources, the first being an allowance. If parents can possibly afford it, they ought to give their children a small amount of money each week as a base for this learning experience. An allowance is not pay for doing chores. Chores are their contribution to the household team just as mom’s and dad’s are. An allowance is their share of the family income, and the amount they receive will vary with their age. Second, they may supplement their allowance with odd jobs, either at home or outside the home. If a child wants to earn extra money by doing things around the house beyond the call of duty, let him. If you are going to pay someone else to do it anyway, why not keep the money in the family?
Now that they have some money, teach them to use it to the glory of the Lord. Three general principles should help.
1. Teach them to give a generous portion to the Lord’s work. They cannot afford to miss the exciting benefits God heaps on faithful stewards. Try this promise on for size: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap” (Luke 6:38a, NIV). It’s not that we give to get. That kind of selfishness squelches the joy of it all. We give to glorify God. But he appreciates our obedience so much that he recycles our gifts back to us in increasingly abundant ways. “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Cor. 9:6, NIV). If we really believed that word from God, the ten percent we hear so much about might become just the small beginning of a great new adventure with him. Even if your toddler only gets a dime a week, teach him to give a generous portion of it back to the Lord.
2. Teach your children to save as much as they need for future plans. Those famous “easy payments” have destroyed far too many marriages. How much more sensible it is to earn interest on our money by saving for the depreciable items we need. And the time for our children to learn that is when they are young. Insist that they put a portion of their money in a savings account. It will bring them immeasurable personal satisfaction to save for that new bicycle, or to have that money for camp when the anticipated week arrives. And what will make their college education more meaningful than paying for some of it with money they themselves have saved?
3. Teach them to spend the rest with wisdom and gratitude. The gratitude part is not too difficult. They can usually thank the Lord for the joy of having money to spend. But wisdom is a little more difficult. That involves sorting out their wants from their needs. It’s their money, and they can spend it on personal pleasures if they desire. But if they spend it all on frivolous non-necessities the first day, they may have to do without some of the things they need for the rest of the week. That’s alright. Let them live with the consequences of their actions until the next dole is due. Experience is a great teacher. And it’s far better to learn this lesson with nickels and dimes than with boats and campers and similar items that cost thousands of dollars.
Wisdom also involves buying at the best price. Teach them how to shop to get the most for their money. Take them to the stores with you and show them how to compare. Wisdom also means avoiding waste. I remember having dinner at the home of a very wealthy Christian businessman. Before we sat down to eat the steaks he had just barbecued, he took a pair of tongs and dropped the pieces of burning charcoal into a bucket of water one by one so he could use them the next time he cooked out. I began to realize why the Lord could trust him with so much money. I had known that he gave a good portion of it back to his church, and now it was obvious that he didn’t waste very much of it either.
Seeing that your children have a moderate amount of money and teaching them how to use it will circumvent two damaging pitfalls. The first is the indignity of having to beg you for every penny they need, and that is damaging to their self-esteem. The second, probably far worse, is the indulgence of getting everything they want. Somebody has quipped, “Money isn’t everything in life, but it sure helps you keep in touch with your kids.” Parents who try to maintain contact with their children by giving them material things usually suffer the recurring heartache of an ungrateful child, for things that come easily are not valued very highly. Such parents often raise young husbands who buy what they please while their families are in need, or wives who ruin their husbands financially with their lust for material things. Allow your child the luxury of wanting something, waiting and planning for it, then working and saving for it. When he gets it he will be more inclined to thank the Lord for it, value it highly, and use it wisely. You will have done him a great favor.
That title may be somewhat misleading, for it is not really our place to choose our child’s occupation. Some parents have tried it. They have already decided that their children are going to follow in their footsteps or enter the family business. Others assume that their children are going on to college to prepare for some prestigious profession. Still others feel threatened by higher education and so pressure their children to choose a trade and start making a living. But we have no right to tell our children how God wants them to support themselves and their families. That decision is between them and the Lord. Our responsibility is to lead them to total commitment to Jesus Christ, then encourage them to seek his will in this most important decision of life.
From their earliest days our children should be assured that God has a plan for their lives, and that the very best kind of life requires finding and following that plan. Somehow or other too many kids have gotten the notion that God’s path will be the most miserable, most difficult, and least rewarding way to go. So they decide to go their own way and do their own thing. But we can show them from Scripture, reinforced by illustrations from lives around us, that deciding for themselves is a dead-end street. “Before every man there lies a wide and pleasant road that seems right but ends in death” (Prov. 14:12, TLB). Doing the will of God, on the other hand, brings joy and blessing (cf. James 1:25). At some point in their young lives they will need to yield themselves to Christ and say, “I want to follow his plan for my life.” The example of our own submission to the will of God, in addition to the tender instruction we offer, will do much to bring them to this place of surrender to him.
Once that decision is made, the task of planning their life’s vocation is greatly simplified. It is now a matter of helping them discover and do the will of God. Whatever they choose out of the thousands of job options open to them, it will be because God has called them to it and because it is the most strategic slot for them to use their God-given abilities for his glory. With that in mind, here are a few principles to guide you.
1. Prayerfully look for their areas of interest and strength, then suggest ways to use them vocationally. For instance, here is a boy with a keen interest in airplanes and an unusual aptitude for mechanics. Suggest something like, “You could make a great missionary pilot someday.” God may use that seed thought to provide direction in years to come. Life is a drudgery when we are not doing what we like to do or what we are suited to do. God wants us where our talents will be utilized and our deepest longings satisfied.
2. Expose them to outstanding Christians who have lived their lives in the light of their commitment to Christ. Whether they are businessmen or missionaries, great athletes or great preachers, they will have a profound influence on your children. Their presence in your home and around your table will challenge your kids to make their lives count for Christ.
3. Always hold out professional Christian service as a live option for your children. While God needs committed Christians in every walk of life, the need for pastors, missionaries, and Christian educators is staggering. It certainly isn’t God’s will for every Christian to enter one of these professions. And they are no higher on God’s scale than being his man or woman in the shop or office, if that is his will. But the overwhelming shortage of Christian workers would indicate that somebody isn’t listening to God’s call to vocational Christian service. Maybe parents are not talking about these needs nor emphasizing their utmost importance.
4. Encourage your children to attend a good Christian school for at least one year. No matter what vocation they believe God is leading them into, their courses in Bible, their contact with Christian leaders, and their opportunities for Christian service will help to make them more effective ambassadors of Jesus Christ for the rest of their lives.
The songwriter tells us that love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage. But to quote another old song, “It ain’t necessarily so!” Some couples are at war. Their parents never did a thing to prepare them for the most intimate and important relationship of life. They may have actually given them a formula for failure by setting a faulty example. If we want to teach our little birds to fly right, we will need to grasp a few basic principles to guide us in training them for marriage.
1. Be open and informal about sex from their earliest days. Wholesome attitudes about sex are an indispensable ingredient of a happy marriage, and we implant those attitudes from their diaper days on. God designed sex as an important part of life, and the cost of ignorance about it is high--fear, humiliation, unwanted pregnancy, venereal disease, and broken homes.
Begin by calling parts of the body and bodily functions by their proper names. Camouflaging them with euphemisms passed down from one generation to the next implies that they are somehow shameful or dirty. And when the questions about sex begin to come, don’t greet them with either shock or stony silence. In simple and direct language, tell the child what he wants to know and needs to know at his age. There is no need for an hour-long lecture on all the details of reproduction when your three-year-old asks where babies come from. But neither is there any excuse for a Christian parent to avoid the issue or fabricate some wild yarn. Tell him God makes the baby grow in a special place inside his mother. If he is inquisitive enough to ask how the baby got there in the first place, tell him daddy plants the seed there in love. The Bible isn’t squeamish about the subject. Why should we be?
Our space is limited here, but a visit to your local Christian bookstore will not only uncover some excellent books to help you teach your children about sex, it will expose you to some excellent materials to put in their hands at each stage of their development, right up through marriage.
2. Teach them their proper sexual roles in life. Men are not superior to women as some would accuse the Bible of teaching but their functions are obviously different. God makes each of our children the sex he wants them to be for the unique job he wants them to accomplish in life. Instill in them a deep satisfaction for the role he has assigned them. Then explain to them the unusual changes that take place in their bodies at puberty and how those changes fit into God’s beautiful plan for them when they marry.
Mothers need to teach their daughters how to be good wives and homemakers, how to show their husbands their respect and admiration, and how to permeate the home with a cheerful spirit (Eph. 5:22-24, 33; Prov. 31:10-31). Fathers need to teach their sons to be good husbands, how to determine their wives’ needs and meet them tenderly and unselfishly (Eph. 5:25-32). The best teacher is a good example. Mothers and fathers who engage in daily sparring matches or shouting meets will hardly rear good marriage partners.
3. Show them how to find God’s choice of a mate. Although God calls some people to celibacy for special kinds of service, the normal pattern is to marry (Gen. 2:18). It is important for our children to know that if God wants them to marry, he has the perfect mate already picked out and in preparation somewhere in this world. Finding that very special one will result in their greatest possible joy. But how do they do it? They will begin by preparing themselves for the one of God’s choosing, especially by cultivating a Christ-like character and an unselfish interest in others. Then they will look for opportunities to date as many different Christians as they can. If they begin going steady and limit themselves to one person too soon, they may never meet God’s first choice. And if they date unbelievers, they expose themselves to the potential danger of an emotional involvement that will ultimately dishonor the Lord.
On their dates, they will maintain biblical standards and conduct themselves with purity. The sex drive is one of the most powerful forces in life, and it increases intensely before our children are ready to assume the responsibilities of marriage. When they get involved on a physical level they often allow themselves to be swept into marriage prematurely or with the wrong person, much to their deepening distress. So they must plan their dates purposely to avoid tempting situations. And they must covenant with God that they will not kiss passionately, fondle each other’s bodies, or do anything else that might lead them into sin. Mothers should explain to daughters how their manner of dress and conduct affects the opposite sex. Fathers should teach their sons to respect the personal dignity and sensitive feelings of the girls they date.
Furthermore, on their dates they will explore each other’s personalities. Courting is not a device to win a mate by carefully masking our faults. It is a time to talk about areas of agreement and disagreement, to grapple with difficulties and work them out together by applying the principles of God’s Word. The mate of God’s choosing will not try to rationalize problems away, but will face them squarely and work at solving them biblically. As the right person emerges there will be a growing oneness of soul and spirit and a deepening bond of dedication to Christ. And when the crucial moment arrives, our little birds will be ready to fly. What a joyous day it will be when they give themselves to the mate of God’s choice and begin to lay the foundations of a new godly generation. The loss we feel is more than compensated by our gratitude to God for his goodness and grace in bringing us successfully to this milestone.
4. When they leave the nest, agree together on a few ground rules. Some tense situations have arisen between parents and their married children because matters such as these were never discussed. For one thing, while you will always be available to help them when they need you, they basically are on their own. You will be delighted to offer advice on how to balance their budget, how to keep Sue’s cake from flopping, how Sam can cope with his wife’s moods, and similar problems. But the option of crying on mama’s and daddy’s shoulders after every little squabble is definitely not open to them.
For another thing, as grandparents you will thoroughly enjoy baby-sitting with your grandchildren, but you should not be taken advantage of. You do have your own lives to lead, and your lives should not revolve around those little ones, as precious as they are to you. You expect to be called far enough in advance to make the necessary plans, and you have the right to say “no” without lengthy explanations if you so desire.
Finally, there will be times when you will enjoy doing things for them and giving things to them. But you taught them how to work and how to handle their money. You will not permit them to sponge off you, nor should they expect you to bail them out of every financial scrape. You love them dearly and will pray for them faithfully, but they are no longer under your authority. You will respect that divine order of things and not interfere in their lives (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:5). They should respect it and not allow themselves to remain dependent upon you any longer. They must learn to grow together in God’s grace. And the joy of the Lord will be with you both.