There are many parents of older children who are carrying a load of guilt as they go about their daily activities. These are the parents of children who did not turn out in adulthood as the parents had visualized during their upbringing. These parents are feeling that they were bad parents who did a poor job of raising their children.
The truth is that when God created us, he created us with the ability to make our own choices. God does not choose for us and neither can we choose for our children. Just as God tries to teach us and persuade us, so we in turn try to teach and persuade our children. Ultimately, we are each judged individually based on the choices we have made.
Why, then, do we have the verse in the Bible upon which this column is based? Why does the Bible say, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it"(Proverbs 22:6)? It is because God wants us to do all we can to train a child in a way that the child will want to live a righteous life. However, a child is not truly trained until he/she automatically acts according to the principles being taught. Telling is not teaching. A child must determine for self the principles upon which his/her life will be based. We may think we have trained the child, but in reality the child may not be truly trained. If the child is truly trained, that child will not depart from those truths learned. However, ultimately it is the choice of the child as to whether he/she can be trained.
When a child is small, it is easy to force a child to behave correctly as we perceive correct behavior. That does not mean that the child is convinced that the behavior being required is best. Children often obey out of fear, not really believing what they are being told. For instance, we can require a child to say, “I’m sorry,” but that child may not be sorry at all. What else would a three-foot tall child do when being confronted by a six-foot adult? The child may or may not learn later the reason for being sorry. Even though the child obeyed, there may have been no sincerity involved.
There is no such thing as a perfect parent. We do what we can with the tools we have at the time. However, God holds us responsible for doing our best with those tools and for continuing to learn about childrearing to obtain more tools. We, as parents, are judged according to our intent and actions as parents. Children are judged according to the choices they make. As we think back through history, we can see those who came from what we would think of as really bad homes, yet they turned out to be real contributors to society. It is just as true that children can be raised in good homes and not turn out as expected.
What is the answer, then, to the task of parents? It is to love our children with a self-sacrificial love, and do the best we possibly can. We try to make sure they have a spiritual foundation as well as a good foundation in mental, physical, and social growth. We need to continue to pray for them as long as we live. We need to remember, however, that even God’s children do not always turn out the way He wants. He wants the children He has entrusted to our care to be His obedient children and loves them even more than we do. We are not in this task alone. We pray that they will make the right choices.