Train up a child in the way he should go. Even when he is old he will not depart from it.
Last year in Bible Study we discussed this verse. My Bible Study leader explained that the phrase “in the way he should go” means “according to his bent.” This verse is telling parents to train up their children according to their own personality and skills. Though I had never heard this interpretation before, it resonated with me. This is the way my parents raised me.
I was blessed to grow up in a Christian home by two godly, loving parents who both had been given the gift of salvation when they were children. They had three kids and they treated us all differently. Of course, the foundation of biblical principles was the same for all of us, but how they were applied were different. They raised each of us according to our own bent. I believe that their intentional parenting in this way helped us to be the best ourself we could be.
Now I am the mother, blessed with four very different children. I want my children to become who God intends for them to be. I want to train them according to the personality and skills God has given each of them. So I took some time last week to contemplate what my parents did to raise us according to our bent so that I could glean from this wisdom. So here’s what my parents did and what I want to do too-
1. Get to know the kids. Spend time with them, watch them, listen to them so as to understand their personality, love language, dreams, skills, interests, strengths and weaknesses.
My dad would take me on dates where we talked and talked and he listened and listened. My mother would ask me how my day went when she picked me up from school every afternoon and she listened attentively to my long replies. They both invested time so that they knew me well and as a result, our relationship was deep and meaningful.
2. Assign tasks and deliver discipline according to their strengths and weaknesses.
My mother knew that I did well with being in charge over a domain. So my chore growing up (from the time I was about 7 until I left home for college at 18) was cleaning the kitchen. My mother left that entire domain to me and I could complete the task anytime I wanted after dinner, as long as it was clean by the time my mother woke up the next morning. Later, she gave my sister to me as my assistant. In giving me a domain over which I was entirely responsible, she not only got some household help, but she also trained me in responsibility, time management, and people management skills (once my sister started helping).
In discipline, my mother knew us well enough that my siblings were grounded from television and I was grounded from the telephone. Also, my sister received more mercy than I did. My mother explained later (though I thought this was terribly unfair!) that my sister responded well to grace, but I needed clear, strong, consistent boundaries. She was right of course. (Not too smart, Self.)
3. Take the time to instill good habits.
They trained me to tell the truth, to show compassion, to put others ahead of myself, to eat vegetables with every meal, to clean up after myself, to do my work before I play, to read my Bible every day. They did this by modeling these, expecting these out of me, using discipline (where appropriate), and through lots and lots of discussions. I have my fair share of struggle with sin and selfishness (ask my mom- there are some ways in children that just can’t be trained out!), but I am thankful for these good habits that make living a disciplined, godly life a little easier at times.
4. Teach God’s Word diligently.
We never had family devotions regularly, but I could see their love for God and for His Word through their daily actions and words. We spoke about Him often. Their advice was founded upon biblical principles. They served in church as Sunday School teachers- my mom to children and my dad to adults. When they would speak of their own lives, God would come up inevitably. I remember when my dad would take me on dates- out to eat- when I got a little older, I would talk and he would listen. Then I would notice that he was done with his food and I had not yet touched mine. So I would think of what I could ask my dad so that he would talk for awhile and I could eat (he was a quiet man) and I always knew what could get him talking the longest was some theological question. So we had many theological discussions on our dates. My first introduction to deep theological issues was from my dad. And I still hold most of his opinions myself to this day.
5. Be an example both in practical life skills and in biblical principles.
Through how they lived, they trained me practically and spiritually how to live. I learned how to set a table, put on a party, how to teach Sunday School, how to handle stress by making lists (I am a pretty obsessive list maker still- I even sometimes write a list of all the lists I want to write!), how to study the Bible, how to serve others, how to be a godly and loving mother and wife, how to pray, and how to apologize when in the wrong.
I have a lot to live up to. I am thankful that in my weakness, my Savior is strong. His grace and mercy covers me in my failings. For as I look at this list, it is truly God who does these things and my parents were just a reflection of Him.
- He knew me and knows me better than anyone else- even better than my parents. He formed me in my mother’s womb. He gave me the skills and talents I posses and gave me the personality that I have. Psalm 139
- God has given me tasks and lessons in life according to who He created me to be and according to who He wants me to be. He is the one who prepared the good works in advance for me to do. Ephesians 2:10
The good habits my parents instilled in me were inspired by His Word and His principles. It was God who enabled me to do the good things that formed the habits. I Peter 4:11
- My parents taught me God’s Word and it is the Holy Spirit who teaches us all. He enlightens our eyes and hearts to see and understand and know His truth. John 14:26
- Jesus is the ultimate example and model and we can see Him in action in the gospels and we can see God’s work throughout the Scriptures and throughout history. I Peter 2:21
What an amazing God we serve!