“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6). The goal of Christian parenting is not merely that our children would submit to the standard; our goal in Christian parenting is that our children would love the standard. Just a few verses further down it says, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.” (Prov. 22:15) This means training our children in the way they should go takes work, and a lot of the most intense work is on the front end, in the early years.
So when children are young they need a great deal of instruction, correction, training, and discipline. When children are very young, they should not be given many choices or asked for their opinion. The primary goal of the early years is to teach joyful obedience. And we really must underline both words: joyful and obedient. To some, this kind of parenting may seem strict, but if anyone watched for a few minutes, they ought to get the impression that you’re having a blast.
Yes, it’s hard work: lots of teaching, lots of spanking, lots of do-overs and practicing, but there ought to be a big grin on your face because you’ve been given the gift of raising immortal souls. And if there’s a big grin on your face, it won’t be long before the kids are smiling and laughing with you. If you love the standard and know that you are giving your kids an amazing gift, pretty soon, they will love the standard too.
Somewhere in mid elementary school, the intense teaching gives way to occasional corrections, finally giving way to some point in high school, when you tell your son or daughter that they are free to do whatever they please. Unfortunately, many parents are negligent in the early years and then create significant problems by inverting this picture. If you’re indulgent in the early years, you will often find that you are terrified of the thought of that conversation in high school and many parents try to clamp down then. But that only creates more problems and tensions.
The goal is not to get your kids to submit to the standard; your goal is to get your kids to love the standard: to love Christ, to love His ways, to love His people all their days.