Sometimes we wonder why our children act as they do. And we ask ourselves as their parents, “What could I have done better? Where did I go wrong?” Parents, I ask you, have you ever tried learning from Jesus how to parent, how to bring up your children? You smile and reply, “How can we do that … Jesus never experienced parenthood.”
Let us take a look at Jesus’ life and his approach in terms of perceiving problems, setting goals, and helping a person grow and develop his/her potential. As parents we tend to want to see immediate results in our efforts to improve our child’s behavior, while Jesus takes the long-term approach, opting for lasting change which takes time. We parents tend to reward or punish our children based on external results, while Jesus encouraged behavioral change, step by step, slow by slow, focusing on the internal process rather than the observable outcome.
As parents we want our children to fit into societal norms, while Jesus valued attunement with God and the righteous way of life. Many times we assume and/or believe that we know how our children feel, that we know their concerns, reasonings, and needs. Jesus, on the other hand, did not assume, he asked and listened, not only to what was said but what was left unsaid, he was able to ‘read between the lines’. He would examine all sides of a person including why they believed or felt and behaved as they did.
The youth, and, yes, even us parents at times, often gloss over Jesus’ pronouncements as ‘really, nice sayings’ without seeing them as jewels of wisdom. There is a very interesting and provocative book, Jesus on Parenting, by Christian author Dr. Teresa Whitehurst. Dr. Whitehurst presents Jesus’ life and teachings in ways that can help enable us parents to, little by little, come to view and respond to our children as Jesus would. I want to share some of her thoughts – and my thoughts – with you. These “learnings” are taken from her book, Chapter 3, in which she discusses what we parents should learn from the Beatitudes.
Lesson 1: Like the disciples, we are invited to learn from Jesus’ teachings and let God transform us. Jesus invited, he did not demand or dictate to others what they should or must do. Children can sense whether their parents are sincere and loving in matters of discipline, or whether the discipline springs merely from the parent wanting to fulfill the societal norm of being in control. Our job is to plant the seeds of Christian conduct and morality, to remove the weeds that may arise, to prune the bad (anything that limits spiritual growth) – not only in our children, but most importantly, in ourselves.
Lesson 2: The beauty of the Beatitudes brings out the best in us. Dr. Whitehurst advises parents to ask themselves: If you begin to align yourself with the character attributes that Jesus teaches in the Beatitudes, how would these changes affect you? How would they affect your child? Do your children see the best in you?
Lesson 3: You must unlearn the old before you can learn the new. Changing one’s behavior patterns is difficult; it is easier to begin rightly. However, we parents need to remember that part of the change desired – whether in our children or ourselves – involves unlearning the old or the bad before we can replace it with the desired new. It’s tough to practice patience when confronted with a child throwing a temper tantrum. It’s tough to remain calm when your teenage daughter forgets her curfew hour and arrives the following morning. It’s tough not to plot revenge when your ten-year old son comes home from school, dirty and crying, with tales of being picked on by the class bully. Never forget, our children absorb our behavior, even without our teaching them. Unlearning requires that we examine even our most taken-for-granted beliefs and behavior, our hidden biases and our secret anger at the world. I believe parenting takes a conscious effort on our part to be open to our own personal unlearning in order to be able to imbibe and practice Jesus’ teachings. Only then will our children change, too.
Lesson 4: Strive to be like God, not to be God. Jesus urged his followers to take his teachings seriously and strive toward the ideal. He never told them that they could be a god! This attitude of striving toward the ideal reminds me of a proverb: Good is not Good where Better is expected. Certainly, this is good advice to all of us parents, advice we should take to heart and remember when we are having an especially difficult confrontation with our wayward youth who just knows that his way is better. We are not gods, even though we might want to be!
Lesson 5: Take some time to reflect on Jesus’ teachings and pray about them. Consider them one by one as to how they impact your life now, and how you would like them to make a difference in your life and the life of your family and children. Many times when we are in the midst of problems and difficulties, we need to remember the words in Psalm 46:11: “Be still and know that I am God.”
Lesson 6: Be patient. God is not finished with you yet! Do you suppose that after his Sermon on the Mount Jesus expected his listeners to be immediately transformed? If he had, I don’t believe he would have urged them to pray regularly that God would not lead them into temptation and would forgive their wrongdoings. Character building is a process that takes time, patience and perseverance involving attitudes, values, and habits. But Jesus knew that such transformation and change can take place with the help of the Holy Spirit.
It certainly is a challenge to learn from Jesus that parenting is more about ourselves than about our children. We have a lot of work to do on ourselves before we can expect to be good role models for our children. Raising children is such an awesome responsibility, isn’t it! But, we must admit, you and I, that parenting is a lot of fun, excitement and joy, too. And in the end, it is all worthwhile!
Source Reading: Jesus on Parenting by Dr. Teresa Whitehurst. (OMF Literature Inc., Manila, Phils. c2003)