Humans have a natural proclivity for creating a routine. Once we find something that works, we tend to do it over and over again.
This concept applies to parenting. Regardless of how many children are in the family, it is easier to adopt a one-size-fits-all strategy to parenting. We may think, “I tried this approach with my firstborn and it worked, so now I’ll try that with every other child in the family.”
The trouble with that approach is that our children are different—often completely different. My wife and I have three children and we are not sure how much more different all three could be from each other. As we have mused about their differences, we’ve also wondered how much we might have contributed to those differences.
When our children have made mistakes, we’ve reflected over what we’ve done in our parenting that may have led to those mistakes. And when our children have been responsive and responsible, it has been somewhat natural to think that our parenting has been largely responsible for their success.
I’ve known parents who could have won an award for bringing up a precious, responsive Christian child. But in the very same family, another child is unresponsive and rebellious. The fact is, God is the creator of our children. As in everything else that God has created, he has chosen diversity.
I think a lot can be learned about how God chose to create the differences in our children by reading the biblical passages about the first two children born of a man and a woman. We don’t know a great deal about these two children, but in Genesis 4:2, we learn that “Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.” These two boys were remarkably different, yet they grew up with virtually no outside influences. No television. No public schools. No peer pressure. Initially, it was just them and their parents. But one was a shepherd and the other a farmer. How could these vast differences in vocational choices occur?
Furthermore, the two sons chose different approaches with respect to what they gave God. Verse 3 says that Cain brought some of the fruit of the soil as an offering, whereas Abel brought “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.” Two boys. Same parents. Great differences.
The point is, our children are created by God and made in his image. We are the stewards of our children, but they are made in God’s, not our, image. They are free to make their own choices. They have their own personalities. We have the profound and sacred responsibility to “bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4), but as parents, we cannot determine the personality of our children.
We can force them to pursue certain careers, but our children may later resent whatever pressure we apply. And we cannot make them have a relationship with God. Those are all God’s work. What we can and should do is love them, provide guidance and direction, and lead them intentionally toward Jesus. We can and should spend time talking to them about Jesus and reading to them from the Bible. We can and should pray with and for them. We can consistently lead them into a community where others are seeking God’s will.
But whether they choose at this time to respond to our instruction is not something we have control over. If you have several children, one may be responsive and the other may not. How that works is a mystery to me, but not to God. There is no formula for ensuring that our children grow up as we would hope for them to.
The lesson in all this is that we cannot take the credit for ourselves when it appears our children have developed a healthy love for and responsiveness to Jesus. Nor should we despair when our children do not seem to be responding to Jesus. What we can consistently do is thank God for the gift of stewardship of his children, and pray for wisdom and courage as we engage in the incredible adventure called parenting.