Monday, January 19, 2009

Stewardship Of Parenthood

Stewardship of Parenthood

Parenting is difficult. It can also be a very complex issue, especially in this challenging and competitive modern society. With ungodly influences and societal pressures all around us, saying that it is difficult is in fact an understatement. It takes great diligence! Godly parenting is not meant for the selfish and definitely not for the faint hearted, as its responsibilities are staggering and its rewards, can be dubious and distant at times and even in certain cases, only heavenly. However, as a child of God, we are called to be stewards of all that He has put under our care and we believe that parenting, is one of the higher, if not, the highest form of stewardship calling.

When the religious zealots of His days asked Jesus which commandment was the most important, Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt.22:37-40). Hence, the call to godly parenting is nothing lest but a call and responsibility to prepare and nurture our children to walk diligently in these two commandments.

In this study, we will narrow down the essentials of parenting into two main responsibilities; one, to set the pathway for the heart of our children to pursue God and second, to nurture them with a healthy heart that love to love God and His people; so as to fulfill these two utmost commandments given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ.

We want to lay good foundation in their lives so that our children’s hearts will always respond well towards God’s love and able to transfer their ultimate hope and security to Him. We also want to develop in them a trusting and forgiving heart. When others fail them, we want our children to have the mercy and compassion to offer grace and forgiveness to them, in other words, to be full of hope always.

Romancing Our Child’s Heart

When we talk about romance, we mean - to woo, to draw or to attract for the purpose of winning the heart. But sadly, many parents do not know how to romance their child’s heart for God. In fact, in many Christian homes today, children are turning their backs on God, with their love and affections captured by the world. Maybe protection, preparation and even Christian training and grounding of biblical knowledge are not the key essentials of nurturing our children in a godly manner. Perhaps it is time for us as parents to reexamine and reassess the whole realm and dimension of parenting. To stop coming up with another set of formula or principles for parenting, instead, to start exploring and inviting a new way of thinking with regards to parenting, or even more radically, a new way of thinking with regards to living.

Jesus came into the world not to storm our hearts with law and religious regulations, with many dos and don'ts. Wisely, He came to woo and draw us to Himself and to win our uncompelled heart “God demonstrates His love towards us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom.5:8). If we want to learn from our great mentor, then we need to learn how to parent from the inside out instead of outside in. We must learn from Jesus on how to connect to our children at their heart’s level, for the purpose of redemption.

In our society today and particularly in this Internet age, I think it would be very naive of us to think that we can simply protect our children from peer pressures and temptations that they face, especially in their adolescent years, through imposing a rigid discipline or family lifestyle onto them. Such strategy is almost impossible to carry out; perhaps, we should change our strategy to out-romance the competitions we face that are vying for our children’s attention, rather than to build a wall around them in our futile bid to ‘protect’ them. Unconditional, sacrificial love and grace might be a better way to quench any kind of rebellion before it arises in their heart.

Remember, we are not the only ones who want to win and capture our children’s hearts. The evil one, through the century, has been working very hard to progressively lure our children away using all kinds of media such as unsupervised TV programs & DVDs, addictive & mindless computer games, unsupervised Internet surfing, rock & new age music, erotic & ungodly magazines, etc. His objective is to deceive, entrap and enslave their hearts – and to succeed in capturing them the younger the better. If our focus is always on imposing laws and regulations, while theirs is always on offering love and freedom, guess who will win the war? And the truth is, there is no way we can completely protect our children from such seductions unless we choose to live a life of isolation and loneliness. However, we can try to out romance the competition so that our children will make the right response that will keep their hearts pleasing to the Lord in the day of testing. If we have won their hearts, their moral choices will come from within and it will be easier for them to make the right choices. Although it is necessary to protect and prevent to a certain level, we cannot fully control their choices. So instead of fighting with them regarding their likes and dislikes such as their choice of clothing, music, friends, etc, we might be better off fighting for their hearts.

Expecting compliance from children is never a form of wise parenting. “Perfect” behavior can only be enforced for a while, but eventually every child will emerge from the parent’s control. Moreover, statistics have shown that children whose spirits have been beaten down for years as a result of forced compliance often bear fruits of rebellion. Overzealous control can be counterproductive, provoking the children to wrath and yielding results that are exactly the opposite of what we desire. The Bible warned us on this “Fathers, do not irritate and provoke your children to wrath [so not to exasperate them to resentment], but rear them [tenderly] in the training and discipline and the counsel and admonition of the Lord” (Eph.6:4 AMB). Discipline imposed from outside-in will eventually be defeated when it is not matched by desire from within. Ultimately, we believe it is our “heart set” that determines how we will respond to the testing and temptations of life. Thus, our main objective as parents is to win our children for Jesus, show them the love of God, so that by having a passionate heart sold out for Him, their love for things of the world will ultimately diminish.

In fact, in Prov.22:6, the words “train up” in its original root meaning was, “the plate”. Accordingly, to “train up a child in the way he should go” literally means to develop or create a thirst or hunger in the child, so that he will view running after God as so palatable a choice that he will have the desire to follow Him. The question is - are we proactive in creating an environment and lifestyle at home that offers God as a tantalizing choice for our children?

Time – Quantity vs. Quality

Some parents make a distinction between quality and quantity time. They are often heard saying, 'what kids really need is quality time'. However, we believe relationship rhythm does not work that way. A child’s heart is not a container into which we can choose to pour romance and love only at our convenience. A child’s heart is more like a garden. The soil needs to be cultivated and the timing must be right. Sometimes a child may need to spend an entire day with us before he opens up and shares with us what is really in his heart. This is the rhythm of relationship, for the ‘music’ to flow beautifully; we need the time and effort to learn its beats and tempo. If our timing is off and we missed the beat, the music is lost and the relationship repudiated. Quality time is born out of tremendous amount of quantity time spent together. To have quality time with our kids, we need to first have lots of ordinary quantity time with them to romance their hearts.

No child will be satisfied with a rationed amount of so-called quality time from the parents. They need to feel that their parents are always there and available for them. If this is considered asking too much from the parents, then we as parents should ask ourselves how we would feel, if God our heavenly Father, only gives us a rationed amount of His time instead of always being available for us. Busyness is often the excuse we use to create our own desired lifestyle, however, be careful that what is seen as only busyness in our eyes can be viewed as a sin of neglect in God's eyes.

Sensitivity requires patience, patience requires time, and consequently time spent together is the essential ingredient for any relationship to succeed. And to achieve sincere intimacy with a child, we must be with them whole-heartedly, in every aspect, not just making a physical presence. Romancing requires sincere contact of hearts and both hearts must be open and receptive. What a child reads in his parent’s heart is the key to unlocking the door to either a beautiful relationship or a tragedy. Moreover, we believe that long before children can read words, they can already read hearts. Sincerity is very much like the fragrance to emotions, it can’t be seen nor touched but its scent can be picked up by the child’s emotions. Many parents may say that they would gladly lay down their lives for their children, but unfortunately, that is often not what their children can perceive. Love is not love unless it is communicated and received. Many parents love their children, yet sadly, there are many children who go to bed feeling unloved. Perhaps, that is the reason why there are so many rebellious kids in our society today, seeking attention and love. And probably, it is time that we as parents, start to unlearn and relearn how to communicate love effectively to our children. Children need daily healthy doses of love from us and they spell love as T-I-M-E.

Contrary to many parents’ beliefs (especially in this affluent society that we live in), extravagant presents and pampering escapades that we painstakingly prepared for our kids, can actually pale in comparison with our devoted time spent with them. To make matter worse, due to the little time many parents have for their children and their excessive concerns over their kids’ “success” in life, their presence in their children’s lives can be perceived as more judgmental than supportive, more pressurizing than enjoyable, for our conversation with them is always about their school works rather than their emotional needs. Time spent together which is supposed to be pleasure has become pressure. Parents, if we are not diligent to win the hearts of our children and fill their emotional love tanks, they will eventually get them filled up somewhere else, and possibly respond to other kinds of false romances, which can be potentially disastrous. And as the age-old saying goes “If we don't win their hearts today, they will break our hearts tomorrow”.

Discipline to Transform

In Hebrews 5:8, it says that Jesus “learned obedience”. This indicates that obedience needs to be taught and teaching it requires discipline. If even Jesus needs to submit to discipline, how much more do we and our precious yet imperfect children needs to. To spoil our children is neither kindness nor love “He who spares his rod hates his son. But he who love him discipline him promptly” (Prov.13:24). The unhappiest children are the ones who have no discipline in their lives. They are also the most insecure – because a child needs to be given boundaries to feel secure. However, for discipline to be effective, we must combine it with lots of love. There is a saying: “Rules without relationship lead to rebellion. And its love that makes living within the rules, or limits, tolerable and desirable”.

The more a child feels loved, the easier it is to discipline that child. If children feel genuinely loved by their parents, they will be more responsive to their guidance in all areas of their lives. In fact, the child must feel fully loved before we can administer discipline, in order for them to accept it without resentment and hostility. If not, it will be rebellion rather than transformation. When a child does not feel loved, he will perceive the discipline and guidance from his parents as selfishness, and will view parental discipline as an imposition and hence resent it. Worst of all, they may eventually grow up opposing all authorities in life. Helping children to learn to live within boundaries is an essential part of parenting. It helps to prepare them to live as responsible adults in the society.

However, children are likely to rebel against discipline when their emotional tanks are empty. When children struggle with doubts of their parents’ love and thus rebel against any parental discipline, they will most likely grow up as adults who struggle, rebel and resist any form of authority, and eventually, even the authority and discipline of God. Therefore, in order to produce the best possible results, we should be diligent to practice and communicate unconditional love to our children before any discipline. We love them regardless of what they look like; regardless of what our expectations are for them; and most difficult of all, regardless of their behavior. A child’s emotional love tank must be filled before any effective training or discipline can take place. Most of all, it is wise to give a child a conscious expression of love even after administering punishment.

According to research, much of the violence among teens in the today’s society is rooted in the lack of love in their lives. Love has to do with connection, acceptance and nurture. Connection requires physical presence and meaningful communication. Acceptance implies unconditional love regardless of their behavior. Nurturing is feeding the spirit and soul with encouragement and comfort. The opposite of connection is abandonment or neglect. In fact, many unresolved anger in the adult life can be rooted in the tears of neglect in their childhood. The opposite of acceptance is rejection and the opposite of nurturing is abuse – physical or verbal. Any child who feels neglected, rejected and abused will certainly struggle with self-worth, insecurity, meaning and purpose in life. Thus, punishing a child apart from purposeful disobedience is risky. We must assess the situation carefully before administering discipline and punishment.

A child is egocentric. He is not aware of his parents’ need to feel loved by him. We often think that a child should try to earn our love through good behavior, but this is just not possible. In fact, he will often test out our love for him by his behavior. The main cause of misbehavior is an empty emotional tank, an unmet emotional need. Thus, it does not make sense to demand good behavior from a child without first making sure he feels loved.

What does my child want when he misbehaves? What can I do to correct his behavior? What kind of discipline and punishment should I enforce on the child? These are the questions that parents often ask themselves. Many failed to recognize that a child who misbehaves has a need. To overlook the need behind the misbehavior can prevent us from doing the right thing. In addition, it is extremely difficult to motivate and discipline a child unless he first feels genuinely loved and cared for.

In Col.1:16, it says that “For by Him all things are created…all things are created through Him and for Him”. ‘Him’ refers to Christ and Christ is Love. Accordingly, we are created by Love, through Love and for Love. Because we are created by Love, through Love and for Love, our greatest need is love and thus will only grow healthily in Love. As parents, our stewardship is to nurture, groom and train up our child in God’s love.

Passive-Aggressive Behavior & Closed Spirit
Every human being is born with a spirit, soul and body (1Thess.5:23) in order to function. Our spirit is our innermost sensation, quite similar to our conscience. And it is in this realm that we have true and intimate fellowship with one another, for our deepest relationships are built on the spirit level. The soul would include our intellect, will and emotions, and our body is our physical make up. Together, these three formed our total being.

When a person is offended, hurt or wounded, his spirit closes, and this in turn closes his soul and body. If our spirits are open, so are our souls and bodies. In other words, when the spirits of two persons are open, they will enjoy interaction with each other emotionally (soul) and physically through touch (body). However, if their spirits are closed, they will usually avoid all forms of communication. In other words, the spirit determines the outcome for the soul and body and all three forms usually move in tandem. Thus, one who has a closed spirit tends to be more reserved, insecure, cold or not so cheerful with less true joy radiating. And the greater the offenses, hurt or wounds, the more they close up their spirits, affecting their souls and bodies in interacting with others.

If a child’s spirit is closed, he might develop passive-aggressive behavior. Passive – aggressive behavior is an expression of anger that gets back ‘passively’ at the offender, it is also known as implosive anger. Its purpose is to upset the figure of authority by having a subconscious determination to do exactly the opposite of what the figure of authority wants.

A child with passive-aggressive behavior likes to withdraw from others and is usually not very responsive to affections. Some may have the tendency to argue and resist when told to do something. They may also be contrary, refusing to like anything that the parents like and even seek friends who are the opposite of what their parents would want them to have. This form of behavior is also a major cause for them to abuse drugs and alcohol, have self-affliction and a primary reason for them to be sexually permissive.

Girls whose spirits are closed towards their parents can be easily taken advantage by men who shower them with love and concern. She may resist at first, not willing to compromise her values but yet she does not have the inner strength to stand firm if the men are persistent. As she has already closed her spirit to her parents, she can't take any more rejection. She has a great tendency to give in ultimately to gain affection which she is very much deprived of.

Boys have similar needs for affection. Some fathers never hug their sons because they think it is not manly. And some have caused their sons’ spirits to be so tightly closed that they reject any affection. This lack of affection may cause boys to find affection in ways that can even lead to sexual disorientation. Thus, if we are not sensitive to recognize when a child's spirit is closed, we can reap disastrous results.

A child is defenseless against parental anger. When we as parents are not diligent to grow in love and just dump our anger on our child to discipline him without considering much about his emotions, it goes right down inside the child. If we do that often enough and the child has no outlet, this bottled-up anger will result in a closed spirit and will probably manifest as passive – aggressive behavior. It is better to allow a child to express anger verbally rather than behaviorally. For they may not share or recognize within themselves the cause of their own behavioral pattern.

As parents, we might at times need to learn to swallow our pride and allow our kids to voice their frustrations. Humility is a major key to reopen a person’s spirit and heal passive-aggressive behavior. We should avoid passive-aggressive behavior at all costs and recognize that a hardened, resistant attitude is extremely detrimental in children. Listen to them calmly and let them express their anger verbally. It may not be pleasant to hear their anger, but it is preferable for them to act out the anger. When a child can see that his parents are willing to understand how he feels, it makes him gain a sense of importance and realization that he is valuable. Sometimes, this is all it takes to reopen a child's spirit, for many children are craving that someday, someone will understand what they are feeling and how they are hurting. However, many parents are not sensitive of the children’s feelings and demanded right attitudes from them at all costs. This can cause the child to suppress his emotion of resentment and bitterness and ultimately lead to the development of closed spirit and passive - aggressive behavior.

Attachment - Paving the pathway for our children’s relationships to God

Proper attachments with our parents develop us as children and affect us in our adult life. With each new day, scientists and psychiatrists are increasingly discovering just how dependent a child’s developing brain is on its mother’s sensitive, attuned and responsive care. The earliest association and relationship in our children’s formative years are profoundly important. They literally shaped the brain’s chemical processes that are responsible for how we control our impulses, calm our emotions and develop our memories of our childhood.

John Bowlby is a psychoanalyst and believed that a child’s mental health and behavioral problems could be attributed to early childhood experience. He has developed what is known as the attachment behavioral system. He believes that early childhood experiences affect the way children relate to others in the future. His theory of attachment suggests that children come into the world biologically pre-programmed to form attachments with others, because this will help them to survive. If a child grew up with secure attachment, he feels secure, loved and self-confident. He is playful, happy, curious, sociable, and displays a basic sense of trust in himself and others. On the other hand, if a child has an insecure attachment, he develops fear and anxiety in his emotions. He will be very clingy, defiant, defensive, angry, and wary of others and displays a basic sense of distrust in himself and others.

We believe he is right. Relationship defines the quality of our lives. God had wired us for attachment from the very beginning, right in the Garden of Eden. We were created for intimacy with Him and with one another. When we are there for the common daily interaction with our children, they will develop a secure attachment behavior and will be in a better state to learn how to deal with their emotions and that of others. They are more comfortable with relationships and have a fairly positive view of themselves and trust that others are also available and trustworthy. As a result, they do not avoid deep, satisfying relationships and are willing to accept the risks involved loving another person. In addition, when the kids grow up feeling they are loved, they will be able to respond and identify with the loving God and believe that He is loving, responsive and always there for them, not rejecting and distant. If they can rest and feel secure in their earthly parents’ unconditional and sacrificial love, it will be easier for them to develop their faith and surrender their lives into the loving hands of our heavenly Father. However, if as kids, they were wounded and suffered distrust from the earthly parental love that they received, they will unconsciously struggle emotionally to fully trust in the divine love of our Heavenly Father.

Bowlby also claimed that mothering is almost useless if it is delayed until after the child is two and a half to three years old or for most children, if delayed till after the child is 12 months old, ie. there is a critical period for mothering. If the attachment figure is broken or disrupted during the critical first two years of a child’s life, the child will suffer irreversible long-term consequences of this maternal deprivation. This could result in long term cognitive, social and emotional difficulties for the child.

According to his studies, Bowlby believed that the relationship between the infant and its mother during the first five years of its life are most crucial to socialization. He believed that disruption of this primary relationship could lead to a higher incidence of juvenile delinquency, emotional difficulties and antisocial behavior. To support his hypothesis, he studied 44 adolescent juvenile delinquents in a child guidance clinic. His aim is to investigate the effects of maternal deprivation on people in order to see whether delinquents have suffered deprivation. According to the Maternal Deprivation Hypothesis, breaking the maternal bond with the child during the early stages of its life is likely to have serious effects on its intellectual, social and emotional development.

Bowlby interviewed 44 adolescents who were referred to a child protection program in London because of stealing- i.e. they were thieves. He then selected another group of 44 children to act as ‘controls’. ‘Controls’ are individuals who were referred to the clinic because of emotional problems, but did not commit any crimes. He asked the children from both groups to state whether they have suffered maternal deprivation and for how long.

Results: More than half of the juvenile thieves have been separated from their mothers for a period longer than six months during the first five years of their lives. In the control group, only two have experienced such a separation. He also found that several of the young thieves (32%) have shown 'affectionless psychopathy' (ie: they were unable to care or feel affection for others) none of the children in the control group were affectionless psychopaths. The implications of this finding are vast – if this is true, maybe we as parents should re-examine our stewardship as parents before God.

Deep down inside every child's inner world is a multitude of needs, questions and longing. Are you there for me? Can I really count on you? Do you really care? What do I need to do to get your attention? These are questions of attachment and the children need their parents to be there for them, to provide positive answers to these questions, to make them feel secure and loved. If these questions are not answered positively, then their psychological, relational and even spiritual foundations will be shaken and affected. The children need their parents to be there for their highs and lows, their good and bad moments, and everything else in-between. Unfortunately, as modern preoccupied parents, we often rush through the day missing out on many precious choice moments to meet the needs of our children, moments that are never to be repeated and retrieved.

Secure Attachment - The Great emotional immunizer

People who have healthy immune systems are physically stronger even though they have equal chance of being exposed to all kinds of flu viruses and harmful bacteria. Nevertheless, they are less susceptible to sicknesses. And even if they do fall sick, they generally stand a higher chance of recovery and usually get well faster than those with poor immune systems. Likewise, people with secure attachment styles can face all kinds of emotional problems and get wounded, hurt, rejected and so on, but they are more resilient and thus able to recuperate from their emotional wounds faster. When they do get upset and wounded in relationships, they are not as severely damaged as their insecure counterparts and they calm down more quickly. Most importantly, after experiencing the pain, they are generally able to grow from it and emerge stronger emotionally. Their secure attachment behavior have equipped and prepared them to be able to find meaning and purpose even in the midst of sufferings or crisis. Their emotional immune system gets strengthened and emotional health often begets physical as well as spiritual health “A merry heart does good like medicine...” (Prov.17:22). Thus, secure attachment sets the foundation for health – spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

Secure attachment also helps to smoothen the teenage rebellion period. If our relationships with our children are sensitive, open and loving, woven together with strong bonding, we will be more resilient to weather the storms of teen rebellion and those awkward years that follow. But if our relationships with our children are poor, each mistrusting the other, teenage rebellion can become an open warfare, and the years that follow can deteriorate into permanent estrangement.

Insecure Attachment

If children have insecure attachment, they are emotionally wounded and tend to develop ambivalent behavior. They desperately desire to cling to their parents yet at the same time, unconsciously want to punish them for leaving them. Thus, they tend to throw frequent tantrums, are uncooperative, defiant, clingy, dependent, moody, irritable, demanding and aggressive. And if parents, who are not sensitive to their needs, repeatedly fail to respond to these attachment behaviors, these children will soon develop a pattern of defensive behavior. They will hole themselves up at the emotional level so that they will not be hurt by anyone anymore. They will then unconsciously bury the need they feel for trust and intimacy, and begin to isolate themselves from their own feelings as well as the feelings of others. They will grow up not knowing how to meet the needs of others, especially the needs for closeness and intimacy because they are cut off from their own. And sadly, they will never again reach out to anyone for emotional comfort, for the fear of being rejected and hurt. Thus, before a more structured behavioral technique is used to help a defiant child, the parent – child relationship must first improve.

These children tend to replace their needs for others with the desire for things and they begin to see others as a means to an end (to get the material goods or things they want) rather than an end in itself. In fact, the origins of addictive behavioral patterns can be traced back to this process, known as the “replacement defense”. Consequently, it is very difficult for children with insecure attachment to identify themselves with a loving God. They may be able to do so at a rational and cognitive level, but deep down emotionally and subconsciously, they feel otherwise. They find it difficult to abandon themselves to trust God fully for they have experienced mistrust since childhood. Unconsciously, they harbor idols in their hearts. They will grow up believing in themselves more than they will believe in God.

Those with insecure attachment styles also handle relationships differently because they handle their emotions differently. People with insecure attachment are inclined to be attention seekers. They are possessive and selfish, yet at the same time, they avoid true intimacy and value success and power over relationships. They are prone to addictive behaviors like pornography, materialism, workaholism and so on, as these help them feel alive and serve as substitutes for true intimacy since they tend to deny or repress any negative feelings. They are also more inclined to feeling empty and hollow internally. They become entangled in relationships that have a lot of ups and downs and are excessively concerned about rejection and abandonment. As a result, they are easily consumed by whirlwind of emotions. There is a child in each of us, if the child grow up securely and was nurtured healthily in love, we will grow up to be healthy adults with sound emotions and be a blessing to others.

However, if the child in us grew up with insecure attachments, with wounds, hurt, neglect and rejection, etc, it will manifest in our adulthood. Consequently, we can be mature adults, yet we are always 'throwing tantrums', demanding for things to meet the emotional needs of the child in us.

In Japan, it was estimated that there are over one million young men who literally shut themselves in their rooms, sealing their windows and refusing to leave their rooms for months or even years -- withdrawing totally from society and becoming modern-day hermits. These people are not depressive or psychotic, neither are they classic agoraphobics (those who fear public spaces but welcome friends into their own homes), their conditions are also not diagnosed as being schizophrenic or having mental defects. What happened to them is that they simply shutdown emotionally. In Japan, this syndrome is known as Hikikomori (social withdrawal syndrome). Experts estimate that at least 60% of the Japanese populations are suffering from some symptoms of Hikikomori. It seems that it is a national pandemic. Some therapists diagnosed the key cause of Hikikomori to be the absence of enduring affection and evidence of emotional neglect from parent to child, that is, there is an incomplete attachment between a child and his parents.

Parenting & Mental Problems

When a child is growing up, nothing can replace a parent being around for him. This was revealed in an Institute of Mental Health survey of over 2,000 children in primary schools, as well as their parents, conducted over a three-year period in our nation.
Children who were looked after primarily by domestic maids or at daycare centers were twice as likely to develop mental health problems, compared to those cared for by their parents.
It is also fairly clear from the data collected from different parts of the world that -- the less time the children spent in group care before they hit three years of age, the better. Infants who spent as little as 12 hours a week in day nurseries showed slightly lower levels of social development and emotional regulation (less enthusiastic cooperation, concentration, social engagement and initiative) as toddlers. Studies also showed that the more time children spent in childcare, irrespective of its quality, the more aggressive and disobedient they were between two and six years of age, especially so for those in group care. That aggression disappeared by the time the child turned three but is back again when the child is four and a half years old and older. Those kids scored higher for aggression, disobedience and neediness. The mantra for childcare centers is usually quality care, and for the better ones, even more quality care, however that usually refers to quality in developing the children in having stronger cognitive and linguistic skills, but the children lack the psychological support from their parents. And ironically, the latter is more important than the former during the child’s formative years, as it is easier for an infant to catch up on cognitive skills later but he can't catch up on insecure attachment.

Some households are blessed with very good maids who are wonderful caregivers to their infants, but unfortunately, their stays are not permanent. If after three or four years the maid leaves, her departure can cause a big blow to the child as the child has formed an important attachment to her. Whenever a child is stressed he will always think about the consistent figures in his life that are a source of comfort to him. If a central caregiver consistently and periodically fades from a child’s life, the insecurity that the child felt can stretch into adulthood. The child may conclude that good things never last – ‘I can’t feel secure, even if things are good, they may be taken away’. In addition, children who always come back to a place where there are different people looking after them will definitely feel very insecure. Incidentally, a study (its results were presented at the National Health care Group’s Annual Scientific Congress) found that children with single, divorced, widowed or deceased mothers are three times as much at risk of developing mental health problems as other children.

Children grew up with maids as caregivers also tend to lose respect for authority as most parents will never allow a maid to exercise authority or discipline over their children nor will they expect their children to submit to the maid’s authority. Thus, many ended up being defiant, telling lies or throwing tantrums easily and this could affect their adult lives, in terms of their ability to submit to authorities and eventually even surrendering themselves fully to the authority of Christ.

We are not trying to make mothers feel guilty, but we felt that this has to be openly and honestly discussed. In Titus 2:3-5, one of the responsibilities of the older godly woman is to “admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers…” When we upset the economy of God, our lives will be upset.

Academic success vs. Spiritual success

Sadly, I think our society is returning to the Greek mentality. The emphasis of Greek thinking is education and knowledge. Aristotle (384-322 B.C) once said, “Educated men are as much superior to uneducated men as the living are to the dead.” The Greek generation viewed a man’s intellect as the highest expression of his existence and the noblest pursuit. Education was the means and the ends, the highest good, the most worthy goal in life. Luke observed “All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas” (Acts 17:21), and Paul summed it up simply “Greeks look for wisdom” (1Cor.1:22). On the contrary, Jewish emphasis has always been their relationship with God and their pursuit -- the revelation of God. Although their love for God has degenerated over the years and moved from a treasured relationship to fruitless religiosity, nevertheless, the whole culture has God as the center of their lives.

The emphasis for academic and social success in our society has been profound and subtle. Education and academic success has been heralded by Christians and non-Christians alike as the highest pursuit in life. Parents provoke their kids with too many enrichment classes and most children dare not voice out their displeasure because they wanted to please their parents. Many Christian parents will even sacrifice Sunday for extra tuitions and other enhancement classes instead of teaching them the principle of Sabbath (the theology of Sabbath is that God will provide and we should learn to rest in Him). And when exam period draws near, church attendance also become the least priority. What message are we sending to our children? Doesn’t our behavior speak of our true value & trust? Isn't it lamentable?

Parents will go through great lengths to inconvenient themselves to send their kids for tuition and extra lessons but will not do likewise to send their kids for bible study. They will drill their kids to make sure that they do well in the spelling test but will not take time to do scripture memory with them. They will spend time making sure all the homework and assessment papers have been completed but will not spend time praying with them and imparting spiritual and eternal values into their lives.

Certainly, education has a place in our lives, however, allowing it to play a role or serve as the foundation in our lives are two very different matters. Our relationship with God is the most basic need of all men; it is the true foundation for addressing any personal or societal problems. It is our relationship with God that produces individual transformation and individual transformation that produces societal changes. And ultimately, it is our relationship with God that leads us into our abundant life. It will be foolish of us to turn a role into a foundation. To live significantly and successfully on this earthly life, one has to first learn to live successful spiritually.

Father as Priest, Prophet & King

Many of us would acknowledge that superficial or abstract truth can never satisfy us. What satisfies us is the truth we can see or feel in a person. In a certain sense, God has committed to every father the responsibility to embody, as a person, the ultimate revelation of the Bible -- that of Fatherhood. In fact, every father represents God to his family. This is not an option! The question is, do we as fathers represent God rightly or wrongly? It is most important that the father be the romance leader in a home because most of the scriptures that addressed parenting point to the father.

In 1Cor.11:3, the Bible tells us that “the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is a man, and the head of Christ is God”. This means that in the same way that Christ represents God to the man, the man is responsible to represent Christ to his wife, and by implication, to his family. There are basically three main ministries of Christ in which the father should represent Him to his family: priest, prophet and king.

Father as Priest

A father's success as priest will determine his success as prophet and king. If he succeeds as priest, he will probably succeed in the other two ministries. But if he does not represent himself correctly to be the priest of his family, it will be difficult for him to be either the prophet or the king.

In Malachi 2:7, the prophets pointed out one main responsibility of the father as priest towards his family “The lips of a priest should keep knowledge, and people should seek the law from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts”. It is the priest’s responsibility to know the law of the Lord and to interpret it to the Lord's people. This also applies to a father as priest. His family should seek the word of the Lord from his mouth. And if the father fails in his duties, the Lord declares “My people are destroyed for the lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you from being priest for Me; because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children” (Hos.4:6). God is telling the priest, 'I expect you to feed my people with knowledge of the way of the Lord but you have rejected the knowledge yourself, as a result, I will no longer accept you as priest and even vow to forget your children.’ Forgotten by God? That has to be the ultimate estrangement and is definitely no laughing matter!

As priest of our family, we have the responsibility to teach our family the way of the Lord and like Job did, to bear up our children continuously before God in prayer. But when a father fails to fulfill his teaching and intercessory ministry as priest, God “will forget our children”, that is, our children will not be under His special watchful care. We see today how many children and youths are lost, aimless and under the captivity of Satan because they have no fathers to intercede for them.

Standing in the gap is a serious business “I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it...”(Eze.22:30). The bible says the eye of the Lord is seeking, seeking for someone who will stand in the gap for someone else. For when someone is away from God, there is a gap between him and God, and he is not able to fill that gap himself because of his weakness in the faith. When our child stray from God or yet to know God, we as parents are the best people to pray and stand in faith in the gap between our child and God. By praying and standing in the gap, we build a bridge for the weak child to come back to God.

In 1 Sam.12:23, Samuel recognized that being Judge of Israel, he has the responsibilities before God to stand in the gap for his people and teach them the way of the Lord “as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you; but I will teach you the good and the right way”. He acknowledge that he would sin against God if he did not pray and teach the way of the Lord to the children of Israel, because he was their leader and has the responsibilities to watch over them spiritually. Likewise, as fathers, we have the same responsibilities over our families as they are under our stewardship.

Father as Prophets

As priests we represent our family to God, but as prophets we represent God to our family. Unfortunately, as fathers we also have the potential to misrepresent God to our family. Being prophetic is not determined merely by what we say but more importantly, by what we do, ie: being an example. If the father is loving and responsible, it is easy for a child to picture a loving, caring and faithful God. However, if the father is critical, absent or irresponsible, the child will begin life with a negative image about God.

Every child is born into this world with an innate longing for love. The love of a mother is often depicted as sacrificial, beautiful and irreplaceable, but a mother’s love alone is not enough. There is a different quality to the love of a father. The love of the father imparts a sense of strength, of security, of being important and valuable. And when it is lacking in a child's life, it often results in deep inner wounds. This is often described as rejection – a sense of being unimportant and unwanted. Those who bore it will go through life with a sense of being incomplete, yet they never understand exactly what is missing.

Having a 'family altar' though is important but by itself will not necessarily do the job. It also depends on how the family spends the rest of their time together. It is the everyday mundane situations experienced together that provide the real communication and connection. And sometimes, the problem is not that the father does not love his children, rather, it is his failure to demonstrate it. Undemonstrated love cannot meet a child's emotional needs.

The symptoms of unmet emotional needs can be either passive or active. The passive symptoms could be depression, cynicism, and lack of motivation, hopelessness and even suicidal tendencies. The active symptoms could be in the form of frustrations, anger, rejecting authority, violence, criminality and even murder.

Father as King

As priest, the father represents his family to God. As prophet he represents God to his family. Finally as king, he governs his family on behalf of God. In 1Tim 3:4-5, Paul talked about the qualifications for being a leader in the church. And the most important area is the condition of the man's home, for the home is really like a miniature church. He “must manage his own family well...”. God is saying that only when one is committed to the success of the ‘little church’ at home, then can he be qualified for promotion to govern His bigger church in the body of Christ. The word 'manage' in Greek literally means 'to stand in front of'. It also contains various ideas including 'to rule', 'to protect' and 'to control'. Essentially, it means that the father as king is supposed to stand as the head of the home and put himself between his family and all the pressures and dangers of life. He should also go in front of them and set an example of godly living.

Last but not least, it was observed that the only characteristic that is prevalent among successfully raised children is -- their parents’ love for each other. The most important love we can give our children is not the direct love that we give them through our relationship with them, but the indirect love that we give them through our loving relationship with our spouse. Such love provides security, demonstrates oneness and points to a living picture of the love between Jesus Christ and his bride.

Importance of Family Foundation

Family is before the Church, society, nation and government. Therefore every success depends on the success of the family. The family should be a place for the development of our children’s well being. We are not suggesting that everyone should strive for perfection but at least we should strive to make it our priority. We cannot hand over the responsibilities of parenting so flippantly to another person or organization. Parents are anointed and entrusted with the grace of God to nurture and equip their children; we should not take this stewardship lightly.
In Deut 28, the first 14 verses list all the blessings that will come on God's people if they obey Him and the remaining 54 verses list the curses that will come on them if they disobey Him. In verse 41 especially, it says that “you shall beget sons and daughters but they shall not be yours; for they shall go into captivity”, it describes the curses that will come on the children if the parents fail in their primary obligations.

In countless families today, the children no longer belong to their parents because they are estranged from one another. God warned us that if that happens, the children would “go into captivity”. Today, many children are in Satan’s captivity – drugs, immorality and illicit sex, materialism and various types of bondages and activities. Those who are enslaved by these things are in captivity, just as the children of the Israel are in captivity in other nations.
There are many voices today that are crying out for the church to be socially relevant. There is no other area in society that the church can have a greater opportunity to become socially relevant than in the area of family life. For this reason, God says that we have to rule our own household well before we can rule His church. The church today needs to present a clear message to the world -- depicting the Christian family as what God intended it to be, delivering a message that defines the roles of husbands, wives and children accurately for the world.
There are so much emphasis and prayers these days focusing on revival. We believe one mark of true revival will be when families acknowledge and accept their roles & responsibilities as stewards seriously, in the fear of the Lord, so that they can truly be the light and salt to the darkened world. When revival starts in the family, it will ripple through the whole church and ultimately, to the whole body of Christ.

In the Book of Malachi, it closes with an exhortation to “remember the law of Moses”, a promise of family restoration before Christ second coming “Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord...He will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their father”, and a warning, “lest I come and strike the earth with a curse” (Mal.4:4-6). Simply, it means we are called to remember His command , live a life of obedience and to take our call seriously lest we be judged.

Much is working against this God-ordained institution in today's world. One thing is certain, God gives us children and He demands stewardship from us. He desires the parents to set a pathway for their children to know Him and plans to work through the parents to make the children more like Him. God has a wonderful plan, a mission and a destiny for each of our kids. Let us be an instrument and an agent in our children's life journeys, to see them walk in God's ordained destiny for them.

We would like to humbly share our parenting experience and seriously pray that it can be an encouragement to you. In 1996, my wife gave birth to Rachael, our only daughter. I was working in a church then and my salary was just over $1,000 a month. My monthly home mortgage payment was already $500 and after taking care of the mortgage, tithing and paying for other fixed expenses like utility bills, we have very little left to survive and could barely put food on the table. Yet, it was then that we felt the Holy Spirit dealing with us on the issue of parental stewardship. So by faith, my wife stopped work to be a full time housewife, to take care of our daughter. In addition, in 1997, the Spirit led me out from my pastoral work in the church to live our lives by faith, going without a fixed monthly salary. Twelve years have passed and our lives are still lived like daily miracles, we can only testify that God is wonderfully faithful and good to us. By His marvelous grace, He has blessed us and seen us through many impossible situations and endeavored. Many may ask, does that guarantee that your child will be perfect and godly? My answer is no. God is our perfect parent, yet even then, Adam chose to sin. Everyone is born with a free will, and as long as Satan is the “god of this age” (2Cor 4:4), “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1Jn 5:19), and hence the warfare of the heart is on and will continue to go on. The issue is not how good or effective we are as parents but how responsible and diligent we are as stewards before God, so that we can face Him unashamed, with a clear conscience of having done our best, when the day comes for us to see Him face to face. When ‘our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God.” 1 John 3:21

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, as God's beloved children, let us be diligent and embrace the high calling of parenting seriously, to arise and shine to set the pace and standard for Christ in our generation!

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