As a homeschooler, I picked up the mistaken belief that parents are responsible for how their children turn out. And to be honest, there is some truth to that idea.
However, the New Testament doesn’t actually teach that parents are responsible for their children’s decisions. Nor does it promise that, if we teach our children correctly, they will always become Godly people.
In fact, when we look at the Perfect Father of All—God—we find that:
- One-third of His angels rebelled against Him
- His first two humans rebelled against Him, resulting in His Son’s death
- The Israelites, His chosen people and His wife, rebelled against Him over and over
- In fact, every single one of the humans He made has sinned and fallen short of His glory
Now hold it a minute! God didn’t do a very good job training His children! They all turned out bad!
But somehow, we think that with the proper techniques, we can one-up God.
(Those proper techniques? You’ll find them in Ephesians, starting in chapter 7.)
You Are Responsible for You
When it comes down to the bottom line, we are each responsible for ourselves. When we get to Judgment Day, God will judge me for my behavior. Not my parents.
Conversely, if I have children, God will judge me for my behavior and how I trained them. They will receive their own judgment for their works.
It’s very interesting to note the difference between the Old and New Testaments when it comes to parenting. The Old Testament is filled with verses about passing down the faith, about training your children, about multi-generational blessings and curses.
But did you know that there are only two verses in the New Testament with direct child training instructions? Here they are:
“You fathers, don’t provoke your children to wrath, but nurture them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)
“Fathers, don’t provoke your children, so that they won’t be discouraged.” (Colossians 3:21)
That’s basically it. There are other verses from which we can draw wisdom about child training, but these are the only two that give specific instructions about how to train children.
Notice that these verses don’t focus on the outcome. Instead, they focus on the process: training in the ways of the Lord, and not doing things that will make your children angry and discouraged. They don’t say that the children of Godly fathers will not be angry or discouraged.
The conservative homeschool movement had narcissistic characteristics. One characteristic is that parents were taught to see their children as extensions of themselves. And so parents tried to take responsibility for how their kids turned out.
But God never gave them that responsibility.
When Things Go Wrong
Now, does this mean that the parents can do whatever they want without responsibility for the outcome?
Jesus specifically addressed this kind of situation:
“…whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him that a huge millstone should be hung around his neck, and that he should be sunk in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of occasions of stumbling! For it must be that the occasions come, but woe to that person through whom the occasion comes!” (Matthew 18:6-7)
God does give parents—specifically fathers—the responsibility to train their children in His ways. He also specifically tells the fathers not to place stumbling blocks in front of their children, causing them to become angry and discouraged.
When parents fail to follow God’s instructions, and cause their children to stray from God, God will hold them responsible. And woe to those parents who do so! Jesus indicates that He has severe punishment for them.
I’m not talking about being perfect and never making mistakes. God knows that we are human and do the wrong thing sometimes. Fortunately, He also made children very resilient.
However, there is one important key here: if you do mess up, admit it and apologize!
If there’s one thing that will cause your children to become angry and discouraged, it’s failing to acknowledge when you’re wrong, when you hurt them, when you make a mistake.
When Things Go Right
Since God holds fathers responsible for the process, they cannot justify their actions with “the ends justify the means”. It doesn’t matter how well the children turned out: if the father provoked them to anger and discouragement, placed stumbling blocks in front of them, or failed to give them the spiritual training they needed, he is still in the wrong!
The outcome does not justify the process.
Responsibility Leads to Control
There is only one way to actually control how your children turn out. That is to control your children. Rigidly.
So, when a parent takes responsibility for his or her children’s outcome, he or she will likely end up controlling (or trying to control) the children. In other words, taking responsibility for how your children turn out will lead you to be a control freak.
Unfortunately, God made each of us to have free will and make our own decisions. Quite frankly, He didn’t give you the resources to properly control your children. You can’t read their minds; you can’t see the future results of your actions; and you can’t be with them at all times.
Interestingly enough, God can. Yet, He doesn’t. Because rigid control actually drives apart the controller and the one controlled.
Control does not produce love. Control produces fear, especially when that control comes from a fallible human. I can trust that everything God does is good. But I cannot trust my fallible father in the same way. I know he wants the best for me, but that doesn’t mean that all his advice and decisions will be best for me.
And so, paradoxically, control will result in children who either never grow up mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, or who rebel. If the children even start to do things differently than their parents desire, it will lead to a spiral of conflict. The parents will feel that their control is slipping, so they will try to “tighten their grip”. This will result in the children feeling even more restricted and controlled, so they will resist even more. The parents, frightened to see their children slipping away, will respond by trying to crack down all the more.
It’s Not Your Fault
So now I would like to address those parents did do the right thing, yet have seen your children turn away from God: it’s not your responsibility.
If, before God, you know that you did your human best to train your children, yet they still turned out wrong, you do not need to feel responsible. Yes, you will mourn their decisions. But you do not need to blame yourself for those decisions.
You may feel that somehow, if you could have just said the right thing at the right time, you could have communicated the truth that would have set them on the right course. But we all know that you can speak truth till you’re blue in the face and some people will never understand it.
If you know of specific things you did that hurt your children or caused them to stumble, repent. Ask God and, if possible, your children for forgiveness. As time goes along, if you realize that a decision you made or position you took was wrong, admit it. And show love to your children, even if you don’t agree with their decisions.
Just remember: you are not responsible for your children’s decisions. You are responsible for your decisions.