How do you encourage and advise Christian parents?
First, I want to encourage people that all of us feel inadequate at the front end and guilty at the back end of parenting. We think we're doing our best. We think we've hit upon a way to do this or that. Then 10 or 20 years into parenting we read a book, hear a talk, or observe another person and realize, "Whoa, that's a good idea. I never thought of that, and I never did that. What if I had done that?"
No matter how good we are as parents we wind up feeling inadequate and guilty at the end. The key for having hope and for picking up and pressing on is, first, the cross of Christ, and receiving the forgiveness for our inadequacies and our failures. Secondly—and this is really, really important—it's knowing that God rescues children from the worst of homes, homes way worse than yours.
I know lots of grown adult Christians who are productive, happy, godly and solidly married who came out of terrible homes. And that should be really good news to us parents. If God can take somebody from a broken home—several divorces maybe, unbelievable abuses, all kinds of neglect—and make it so that at age 42 they are productive, solid, believing, and worshiping, you can rest knowing that parenting isn't the bottom line. God is the bottom line.
And the fact that he rescues people from terrible situations should encourage us, not to create terrible situations, but to know that when we've done our best that's all we can do. God will forgive our shortfalls, and he can make up the difference in our kids lives.
What are some of the things you did in your own home?
I think the Bible is the main textbook on child rearing.
I'm not opposed to recommending books. I'm not going to name any right now, because I am so out of the loop that I probably wouldn't be able to name the ones that are best. I would encourage people to read the very best things being written and to get good counsel from their pastor.
But I am going to say without any fear of contradiction that the most important book to know in order to be a good parent is the Bible. That's because I think the main role of mom and dad is to model Christ and to model God.
Little children—one to three years old—don't know God yet in any kind of personal, theological way. They do know mom and dad. They know mom and dad intuitively, and they know mom and dad with their ears, eyes, and touch. And mom and dad should be modeling who God is to them already at age 1, 2, and 3. But how can they do that if they don't know God and don't know the Bible?
When I began raising my four sons, and now my daughter, knowing that God is a God of justice and God is a God of mercy, I concluded that I must mingle warm, sweet, tender mercies with justice, no-nonsense, awe, and wonder. The children should stand in awe of God and tremble at the prospect of hell. And they should love being with God. He is the most tender, kind, sweet, wonderful person to be around.
Both dad and mom should model God to them, but dad especially. There has to be enough lightning in their eyes and thunder in their voice when wrong and sin are committed that the children stand in awe of mom and dad. And there has to be enough hugging, kissing, playing and enjoyment that they just love to be around mom and dad.
And I didn't learn that from any book except the Bible. So my plea for parents is not to run off in panic to some other book, but also, alongside other books, to especially know their Bibles.
You should also watch other people parent. When I was a teenager, and especially after I met Noël and knew I was going to marry her in two and a half years, I watched like crazy what other marriages looked like and what other parents looked like.
I learned a lot by observing and saying, "That's good," and "That's not good." And I made decisions on the basis of what I had seen in the Bible and in my parents.
So I think watching other families, talking to mature parents, knowing your Bible and the character of God, and then supplementing that with the best literature that is being written would be good.
Should church discipline be used to correct poor parenting?
I think it depends on how abruptly and sensitively the issue is handled. I've walked through discipline issues with my own children at our church, and with others, and I think the point of discipline is to win people to obedience. Discipline should not be done to get rid of cantankerous or negligent people.
If the attitude is to come in alongside the men of the church, to help them, and to be patient with them—if that's the mindset, then I think there may be a time when a man is so recalcitrant and so unwilling to do his fatherly responsibilities that there should be a more disciplinary engagement.
So I would say, yes, discipline can be appropriate if it is preceded by and tempered by the right kind of helpfulness. The issue is that important. If a man says, "I will not pray at home with my children," that is a serious disobedience.