"It needs more than ever to be stressed that the best and truest educators are parents under God. The greatest school is the family. In learning, no act of teaching in any school or university compares to the routine task of mothers in teaching a babe who speaks no language the mother tongue in so short a time. No other task in education is equal to this. The moral training of the children, the discipline of good habits, is an inheritance from the parents to the children which surpasses all other. The family is the first and basic school of man." ~ R. J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law, p. 185
I often tell parents that one of the positive by-products of teaching your children how to think Biblically (teaching them God's law-word) rather than what to think is that, as they mature, they can be one of the many counselors the Bible suggests a person needs to make sound decisions.
One of the most dangerous things you can do as a parent is to teach your children to think Biblically. Why? Because, once you establish that their chief duty in life is to "Fear God and keep His commandments" (Eccles. 12:13), you have communicated the truth that you and they are under the authority of God and governed by the same standard. That automatically invalidates any parental assertion, "My word is law," and that obedience to the parent must be carried out blindly, without question. This puts a tremendous onus on parents to ensure that the rules they are mandating are, in fact, correctly lined up with God's Word explicitly or implicitly.1
The goal of education is to prepare useful citizens for the Kingdom of God.2 Part of being useful is to be self-consciously and deliberately maneuvering through life, weighing one's actions and decisions by God's unchanging standard. When parents (or elders for that matter) demand blind obedience and fail to provide a Biblical apologetic for their mandates, they may create a practiced hypocrisy in those under them. Very early on, children learn what things are most important to their elders, and they can become quite adept at giving lip-service in compliance while their hearts remain unchanged.
We continually instruct children that they must honor their father and mother. We point out that while they are quite young, this means obedience to instruction and correction. As they mature we must expand on what honoring one's parents means.3 If we do not do so as they transition into adulthood, they will never learn how to exercise dominion, and we will never learn how to interact respectfully with the young adults (and eventually mature adults) who are our offspring. Despite the best of intentions, many parents who were rebellious in their youth determine that they will make sure that their children will not sin rather than help them deal with the sins that are inevitable in the process of their sanctification. Better to embrace the calling to teach them how to make Biblical decisions, rather than trying to construct family life in such a way as to prevent all transgressions at all costs.4
The Appeals Process
There must be built into the relationship the means by which children can appeal parental decisions. Part of the parents' duty is to ensure that the means of appeal does not automatically bring about punitive actions against the child. A plan must be in place (and adhered to by parents) that prevents flare-ups, shouting, and harsh words. If we deny this to our children, we have subverted the message of the Scriptures. Aren't our prayers to our Heavenly Father appeals to alter circumstances? By reading God's Word we hear from Him, and in response to our prayers, the Holy Spirit communicates to us. If we fail to establish this principle in our relationship with our growing children, we may be exasperating them (Eph. 6:4) and causing them to stumble (Mark 9:42).5
Not all children will want to take the steps necessary for genuine interaction with their parents because it may entail shouting, misunderstanding, and discipline. Often they opt for telling one parent (usually the mom) their grievance(s) and she communicates the upset to their dad. I fell into this trap more than once and I can honestly say nothing very good came out of it. I ended up in the middle of the disagreement and resolution didn't occur because both sides were filtering their opinions and emotions through me. It was a lose-lose situation.
As the expression goes, third time is a charm. By the time my third child was experiencing differences of opinion with her father, I was weary of my previous unsuccessful interventional approach. So I prepared the ground on both sides, dad and child, and encouraged each to express their concerns with the other without me as intermediary, and really listen to each other without assigning the worst of motives to the other person.
Yes, voices were often raised and tears often flowed. Sleep was often deprived because these cathartic moments usually became late night encounters. The situations did not always resolve immediately and there were times when one person would not speak to the other. But, as long as each party in the dispute was honest, and didn't conceal hidden gripes and grievances, resolution eventually occurred.6
This policy of open communication is the precursor to conflict resolution in families. Should the problems seem insurmountable, other trusted, believing friends can help keep the molehill from turning into Mt. Everest! On some occasions, I have appealed for assistance to my adult children, and have been grateful that they contributed to the discussion from a Biblical foundation.
Of course, none of this is a workable solution if God's law is not the foundation upon which a person or family operates. Just using "Bible talk" or frequent quoting of the Fifth Commandment while leaving out the other points of the law is not useful for restoration.
Whereas it is true that the father heads the household, it is under the guidelines of servant-leadership (Mark 10:42-44) and being the foot-washer in imitation of Jesus (John 13:1-17). Both parents need to emulate our Savior, who provided an excellent model for effective teaching and discipleship.
Jesus made ample use of stories, analogies, reproofs, and corrections in His dealings with others. He stated who He was and left it for them to follow or reject Him. He presented to His listeners a confident and unswerving allegiance to God's Word. If parents would emulate how Jesus nurtured His disciples, they would be way ahead of the game in discipling their own children.
Jesus made frequent use of questions, inviting His disciples to reason things out in a context of Biblical thought (Mark 8:29, Luke 15:4). He presented Truth and allowed them to come to their own conclusions. Some understood sooner than others (like Nicodemus), and some never embraced His message at all (Judas).
What If My Child Wants to ...?
A mother recently mentioned to me that one of her daughters expressed interest in someday joining the military. This caused some alarm on her part as she tried to figure out why her daughter had such a desire. Based on how this homeschooled child was being raised, this announcement really took her mother off guard.
In an attempt to help her relate to what her daughter shared, I asked her to consider possible reasons the girl might say this. Mom responded that she thought that her daughter might consider that being a soldier was exciting. As we talked this through, I inquired if as a child she ever had similar desires. She recalled that there was a time in her youth when she was jealous of the chores her brother was given as opposed to those she was assigned -- his seemed like more fun. She told her mother that she wanted to mow the lawn. However, when she finally took a stab at mowing, she was more than willing to return to the chores that were her responsibility. I pointed out that drawing from her own experience could be useful in helping her to understand her daughter.
I suggested that she hear her daughter out and discover what about the military was appealing to her. Since the girl is ten years old, and in no danger of being accepted by any recruiter any time soon, I pointed out she had time to teach a Biblical perspective on women in the military, including the obvious physical and emotional differences between men and women, the underreported cases of sexual abuse within military ranks, how being enlisted affects a woman having and running a family, and those Scriptural references that speak specifically to this issue.
She could simply tell her daughter, "No. Women shouldn't be soldiers! Stop talking like that!" Or, she could engage her daughter to approach this subject in such a way that her daughter comes to a sound conclusion after an extended time of consideration and reflection.7
Those of us who have taken on the role of teacher for our children need to be on our guard to give them the space and opportunity to reach sound conclusions while they are still immature and naive in some areas. If we don't encourage working out differences of opinion while our children are living under our roof, they will be handicapped when they venture out into the broader society and potentially absorb some of the poison of humanism. Instead of "butting heads," the potential for helping them reach sound conclusions is augmented if a process already exists within the family to express disagreement and talk subjects out in a God-honoring way.
Teaching is a risky business. What if your students do not really learn the truths you wish to convey? Worse yet, what if they come up with the "wrong" conclusions about what you instructed-perspectives quite different from your own?
If you are a teacher in a day school setting, you might file this under the category of the cost of doing business. But if you are a home educator, your graduates don't migrate away only to return for periodic school reunions. As a parent/teacher you get to see them and interact with them on a regular basis for the rest of your life. You may even be playing with their children someday!
It is precisely for this reason that the homeschool needs to be the place where all things are taught from and related to the Word of God. As in the parable of the sower, the home schooling parent is responsible for sowing good seed and must be more concerned with sowing than on the ground the seed lands. Nowhere in that parable does Jesus hold the sower responsible for the ground on which the seeds end up. If your children don't see eye-to-eye on all matters and concerns, it isn't a failure on the part of the parent/teacher. By the same token, if children see everything in alignment with their parents without any deviation or disparity, it could mean that both parent and child are mistaken. My point is what they end up thinking does not validate or invalidate the teaching you provided. What we are called to be is faithful; the regenerating and sanctifying work in their lives is under the control and jurisdiction of the Holy Spirit.
I have very definite views on current events that my adult children don't always agree with. Rather than avoid discussion about these topics, we often have lively debates that result in potent food for thought. Rarely do we alter our positions entirely, but I am continually amazed at how well-reasoned their arguments are. Just recently, after one such dialogue with my son via email, I inquired, "How did you get to be so smart?" His reply, "My teacher made me think too much!!"
R. J. Rushdoony exemplified teaching the Word of God rather than merely transmitting his own conclusions. His writings and lectures did not have persuasion as a focus. No, his work and mission were much more vital than that. He was convinced that if he presented the Word of God faithfully, the Holy Spirit would lead his listeners into all Truth. We homeschooling parents can learn a lot from him, not only from his message (the Bible speaks to all areas of life and thought), but also from his method (unabashedly premising all perspectives from an orthodox, Biblical perspective). In the end, that's the kind of legacy that is worth recording on one's lifetime resume-we were found faithful in raising our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
1. The stewardship responsibility of parents is not given to flawless people. Those who are in the process of being sanctified are the ones training and instructing the children God has given them. This should give all parents a greater impetus to know and apply the law-word of God throughout all areas of their lives. The reality that they, as parents, are not without error should drive them to make sure they are on solid-ground with the rules and regulations of their households. God's blessings should not be anticipated if they operate any other way.
2. See Andrea Schwartz, "Parent Directed Christian Education," Lessons Learned from Years of Homeschooling (Vallecito, CA: Chalcedon Foundation, 2006), 5.
3. A young child demonstrates honor of parents by obedience and compliance. As a person grows into adulthood, embracing the self-discipline that comes about with a practiced application of God's law-word, honoring becomes respecting decisions and preferences while communicating differences of opinion in a respectful way. Romans 12:10 should be the overriding guideline in dealing with conflict.
4. By means of analogy: Teaching a child phonics is a much more effective and long-term approach to reading rather than attempting to teach them each word in the language. Phonics provides a system to approach unfamiliar words. In a like manner, teaching how to approach life within Biblical guidelines is a more Kingdom-driven approach than attempting to teach all potential circumstances they will encounter in their lives.
5. This appeals process serves as a safeguard against parents going too far (becoming dictatorial) in imposing extra-Biblical requirements on their children. Tyranny on the part of superiors will certainly provoke God's wrath.
6. Conflict resolution is something that is valuable to learn and practice between husbands and wives, eliminating the shouting and crying so as to better prepare them to deal with the real and expected conflicts that occur with children. Like so many other areas of parenting, a teachable spirit makes this process smoother.
7. One of my children was determined that she was going to be an astronaut. I knew that that was not likely to happen, but instead of squelching the desire, I used it as an opportunity to let her study and research all she could about the subject, even arranging a tour of NASA in our area. In the process she learned quite a bit regarding aeronautics, rockets, the history of flight, and more. I'm not sure she remembers when the desire for space travel abated, but instead of telling her she was wrong, I allowed her to make that decision on her own.-(Oh, how I wish I had practiced this more with my children in other areas, rather than concluding for them that their ideas were wrong!)