What’s the best parenting advice you have received?

Years before I became a mother, I wrote a news article for Forward in Christ in which I interviewed a dad who described his nightly ritual of blessing his young daughter before she went to sleep. He noted, “Blessing your child is not hocus pocus. When I bless Kayla, I am asking the Lord to keep my daughter in the faith forever. It’s another tool that I can use to demonstrate my love for Christ and for my child, based on the love that Christ showed for me.”

That idea resonated with me, and after my daughter was born, I began blessing her each night. I’ve continued the ritual with my sons as well.

Do you have a piece of parenting advice that has stuck with you through the years? If so, please share it with us! Send your advice to fic@wels.net.

And that dad I interviewed? When I started compiling authors for this column, I knew I wanted him to be a part of it. So, you can find his advice below. He’s contributing author Dan Nommensen.

Nicole Balza is staff editor of Heart to heart: Parent conversations, Forward in Christ magazine’s monthly parenting column. She and her husband, Rob, have three children ranging in age from 5 to 13.

There have been a number of people in life who have either demonstrated or shared this important piece of parenting advice that I have kept on my heart.  In our confessional Lutheran understanding of Scripture, we treasure a right understanding of the importance of God’s law and gospel. Yet I must admit that my tendency is to lean on the law side of my parenting approach.  The encouragement that I have received, and try to pass on to others, is not to neglect the importance of the gospel.  The pure understanding that I am forgiven, a saint, a new creation through the work of Christ is what sets my heart looking for ways to demonstrate my love for God—not because I have to, should, or must, but because I can’t help but look for opportunities to be thankful.  This is our treasure!  Don’t leave it to a chance understanding for your kids.

Live in joy with your children and be intentional in sharing the gospel with them so they too can be motivated by Christ’s love.

Dan Nommensen and his wife, Kelly, have a teenage daughter and son.

Sam and I have given this some real thought. Independent of each other, we both wrote down the same  parenting  advice my father gave us early  in our parenting journey:

“Don’t sweat the small stuff, and pretty much everything is small stuff.”

Such a seemingly simple saying and yet so full of wisdom!

Mary Clemons and her husband, Sam, have three children and seven grandchildren.

Here’s mine. I got it from a priest named Zechariah (Luke 1).

Take your child in your arms every night and speak into their heart the truth.

Don’t be afraid to tell them what this world is really like. It’s dark and deadly outside, Zechariah said (cf. Luke 1:79). Then show them God’s Son who has come to dispel the darkness. His love arises for us like the sun each day, bright and warm. Say something like, “Tomorrow, my child, you will awaken to a bright new day in God’s love.” Let it be the lullaby of their life that wraps them up secure each night no matter what the darkness.

I’m borrowing metaphors and images from Zechariah’s great canticle and imagining the scene there where he sings by the Spirit, saying, “You, my child” (Luke 1:76). Luke marks it in Scripture as a truly Spirit-led parenting moment.

Jonathan Bourman and his wife, Melanie, have a six-year-old daughter.

Stand firm, even if it’s not popular

“You sure make parenting hard!”

That’s the statement I heard from another parent as I finished explaining to my young child that we were running to the grocery store. My child didn’t want to stop playing, but we needed to go. My friend insisted that a child should not have to do something he didn’t want to do if it wasn’t fun for him. I calmly replied that a quick run for milk was just one of those things we sometimes do as part of a family. No surprise that as we were walking to the car, my son screamed, “You’re not a fun mommy!” Wow. Pop that aspiration!

This was not the first time, nor would it be the last, that my parenting would be undermined. While the circumstances were not terribly important, the principles were. I have seen firsthand that sticking to principles in the early years has payoffs in the later years. It was important for my son to hear and learn some important lessons.

He needed to know that how other people’s families run was not his concern. He did not need to hear his mother pass judgment on someone else’s parenting. Whatever I may have thought privately was not the business or worry of children. As a classroom teacher, it was often evident when children heard gossip from their parents’ lips. What my children needed to know were the rules for our family and our house. Other kids’ parents were quite often more fun and less strict than my husband and I were. Entering a parenting popularity contest ensures somebody is going to win at the cost of somebody else losing.

Dealing with contrary forces outside our home was at times difficult as well. Many times we found no need to address the undermining with our children because our stance was clear and consistent. Our children were smart enough not to waste their breath. Sometimes we did find it necessary to affirm our rules to other adults in light of their questions or actions. We tried to point out what we did without becoming defensive or critical. Again, our concern was with our own family, not theirs. On occasion, it was made clear that the house rules of another family were in direct or dangerous conflict with ours. This passive form of undermining sometimes resulted in limiting exposure to these homes or children. It meant opening our home to social interaction with our children’s friends. This had the unintended reward of getting to know and love our children’s community.

People are more receptive with your parenting choices when you show love, especially to their children. When we were asked why our children got along or why they were respectful, the door was open for a joyful testimony to the goodness of God’s love and forgiveness.

Mary Clemons lives in Los Angeles, California, with her husband, Sam. They have three children and seven grandchildren.

Encouraging our daughters to be strong women of faith

When my father caught wind of my plan to “witness” to our neighbors, he sat me down for a discussion. He was happy to hear that I wanted to witness my faith, but he wanted me to examine my methods. As earnest as only an eight-year-old pastor’s daughter can be, I had launched into a listing of errors in Catholic dogma. My father gently but sternly informed me that this was not witnessing; rather, it was arguing. He in no way wished to squash my desire to share the Word, but he wanted to direct my thoughts and words toward a more loving sharing of my faith. How wise of God to put this headstrong girl into a faith-filled, Bible-based, evangelism-minded family.

My own strong-willed daughters are strong women of faith and starting to raise daughters of their own. Looking back, I have come face-to-face with an undeniable conclusion. I did little. God did much.

God gifted me with a Christian husband who entered the ministry as our children were starting school. Not all WELS churches have schools, but at each church we served, we had one. Even in our first small parish on the East Coast, our children attended a WELS one-room school. The amazing woman of faith who taught our children there has continued to be an example to our children and now our grandchildren.

Our daughters have had some incredible role models in each church we attended. They noticed some; we noticed others. We talked about them. They were living textbooks. In one large urban congregation, there were a number of single mothers. They were charged with the religious education in their homes. It was truly humbling to see the sacrificial efforts they made to ensure their children knew their Savior.

If you don’t have a Lutheran elementary school, take advantage of what your congregation does have to offer. Supplement religious education with age-appropriate materials available through Northwestern Publishing House. Take time to emphasize the many women of faith in the Bible. Point out the Marys, Marthas, and Hannahs in your own congregation.

Give your daughter the tools to lovingly defend her faith. Have conversations about controversial and uncomfortable topics and apply God’s Word to them. Help your daughter stand strong in the face of today’s moral ambiguity. Sometimes God’s Word is very clear on a topic. On others it may be a matter of opinion, taste, or even tradition. Try to discern which is which and pick your battles accordingly. When you raise strong women of faith, they may very well have strong opinions. Exercise caution when you find yourself on the other side of the fence in matters of adiaphora, that is, things not directed by Scripture.

The most important thing I can recommend is prayer. I have had many conversations with God about the trials peculiar to girls and women in our society. My prayer is that we encourage the women around us in faith so that they might lift each other up. I have seen this trait carried on with my daughters as they make applications of their faith in their daily lives. They are strong supporters of other women and their walks with God. We women need to do this for each other and our daughters.

Mary Clemons lives in Los Angeles, California, with her husband, Sam. They have three children and seven grandchildren.

The years are short, but the days are long

The years are short but the days are long.

Even as a little girl, I knew I wanted to be a mommy. When that day finally came, I was over the moon. We brought our precious baby boy home, and he started to cry and cry and cry. An overbearing relative told me that the baby could feel my nervousness. We had just moved, and since this was 1978, there was no Internet, and long distance calls to friends and family were expensive. I felt so alone and bewildered that this experience was not the Hallmark moment I had envisioned. The days were long. How foolish of me not to quickly turn to the living, breathing help available at my new church. Eventually I sought the counsel of wonderful Christian mothers who had dealt with colic and ear infections.

But I quickly fell head first into the quagmire of parental self-doubt when I met my very first “Supermom.” Her house was always tidy, her children immaculate. They sang hymns in four-part harmony at bedtime. And so I agonized over inviting other moms into our modest and quite often messy home. This was brought home to me rather forcibly after an attempted burglary on our house. The burglars had gotten into our basement but had not gained access to the first floor. A police officer who joined the investigation as it was ending looked around that unburgaled first floor with a horrified expression and said, “Look what they did to your house!” My own mother gently reminded me that nobody does everything. Something usually gives. And the days were very long.

God granted me a wonderful friend who truly loved all children and welcomed them into her totally child-centric home. You can imagine the wonderful jumble of planned activities and the spaces for unplanned creative play. She was totally engaged with the children who entered. My children never wanted to leave her house. And so I felt guilty that I didn’t let my children paint in the living room or drop playdough on the carpet. Guilt vied with yearning as I snuck furtive looks at the clock to see if it was bedtime for kiddies. I was sure that her days were as long as mine, but she was enjoying hers more.

My husband and I thought it was important that we invite children and adults who were not invited elsewhere to our home. As I was explaining this yet again before an Easter dinner, one of my children asked rather wistfully, “Are we ever gonna have just our family for holidays?” I felt I had somehow fallen short in the mommy role. The days were long, and some dinners were extremely long.

And suddenly they were grown, with children of their own. We watch in humble gratefulness as we see our children as loving and already wise Christian parents who continually seek to improve. We admire their willingness to learn from others and marvel at how many seek their counsel. We applaud their prioritization of Christian values in the face of popular parenting myths. We support their efforts to spread the Word to the uninformed or excluded through their love for the marginalized and disenfranchised. We meet the diverse friends they have gathered as family and embrace them as our own. We praise the Lord for his people and his Word in this yet unfinished parenting journey.

The days were long but the years are short.

Mary Clemons lives in Los Angeles, Calif., with her husband, Sam. They have three grown children and seven grandchildren.

Shaping responsible behavior takes time

Shaping responsible, Christ-like behavior in children takes time.

Somehow my father added several hours to his already busy day to drive me around to selected classmates’ homes. The trips were made so I could render apologies to them and their parents. I had shared something inappropriate with several students and been caught. Part of making the situation right involved my dad giving up his valuable time to make sure I followed through on my tour of atonement. Later that night I gave the eighth-grade valedictory speech at my grade school. I’m pretty sure I had a red face as I shared “The value of a Christian education.”

This is only one example of how my parents were tasked with trying to raise children who would behave responsibly. There were five of us, but I’m pretty sure I gave them the most practice.

No matter how hectic the pace of their daily lives, they not only addressed irresponsible behavior but gave us opportunities to foster responsibility. There was an assumption that we were competent beyond our own expectations—and most of the time we lived up to them.

Take three city buses to get to school? You can do it! And we did.

Go to college and pay for it yourself? Sure, why not?

Travel abroad on your own dime and come home in one piece? Piece of cake!

Shaping responsible behavior takes the kind of faith that realizes our children are just on loan to us from their true Father.

My own children were tasked with daily chores that were part of their preparation for real life. Self-esteem starts with knowing you are a child of God, and conquering skills is an important addition.

Responsible behavior grows when responsibility is given to a child. In my years in the classroom I observed well-meaning parents cripple their children’s growth by assuming responsibilities that could have been given to their children. I was reminded of this myself when I was about to pick up my grandchild’s breakfast dish. My son said kindly, “Never do for a toddler what a toddler can do for herself.”

Follow-through on responsibilities is important. Very early on our children knew that bringing needed books home from school was their responsibility. The first time our daughter forgot a book she knew that even though we lived next door and had a key to the school, we weren’t going to go and get that book for her. It was a hard pill for all of us to swallow but one that would help achieve the desired effect.

At one of the Lutheran schools in which I taught, a very basic lunch was provided for children who forgot theirs. We knew something about the parents when we saw a child pick up that unglamorous lunch without a request to call home. And we saw the growth in responsible behavior as that same child remembered to bring his own lunch in the future.

The motivation for this never-ending job of raising responsible children is simple, powerful, and comes with a promise. Children in our care are a gift from God, and they actually come with instructions: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

Talking about homosexuality: Follow Jesus’ example

Even difficult topics can be broached with Scripture as our guide, and the issue of same-sex relationships is no exception. Christian parents are often caught unprepared to give an answer to an inquiring child. But God’s Word has a definitive approach.

If your inclination is to start with Scripture’s unequivocal stance against same-sex coupling, stop and remember Christ’s example. First, we are told repeatedly that God wishes for all to be saved. We are commanded many times to love our neighbor. If your viewpoint towards the weaknesses of others is one of self-righteous condemnation, stop and adjust your attitude. If you have been tolerant of other sinful lifestyles yet find this one intolerable, stop and realize your own bias. If you gossip about people—especially in front of impressionable children, stop and train your tongue to speak well of others.

Christ led with an attitude of love and compassion and we can aspire to do no less. John 8:3-11 is an example of the way Jesus handled a real-life situation. Jesus was preaching in the temple courts when a group of Pharisees brought a woman in front of the group. There was no doubt as to her sin of adultery as she had been caught in the act. These men of God wanted Jesus to pronounce punishment on her in this very public forum. When pushed for an answer, Jesus reminded these sanctimonious Pharisees of their own sin. He then waited until he and the woman were alone. He didn’t condemn her to death as had been suggested. He told her to go and leave her life of sin. What relief she must have felt when she realized her life had been spared! And how much more receptive she must have been when a simple directive was given by her Savior. No invectives, no finger pointing, just truth.

Discussions with children arising from organic events are usually more effective than contrived lectures. Today’s social climate provides plenty of openings on this issue. Age-appropriate answers to honest questions don’t need to be lengthy. We take our cue from God’s commands and lovingly apply them.

When Jesus met Zaccheus and recognized his many sins, he could have had him dragged from his perch in the tree. As a tax collector, Zaccheus would not have received much empathy from the crowd. Instead Jesus did something that gave the crowd fodder for gossip. Jesus told Zaccheus he wanted to go to his house. In so doing he honored Zaccheus with his presence and took him to a private place to talk about his erring ways. No public ridicule, no cheap shots, rather a one-on-one talk in Zaccheus’ own home. Facing the Savior’s love, he changed.

We remind our children of God’s love and of his desire for all people to be saved. We recognize this sinful inclination as a cross to bear. We acknowledge the forgiveness for all sins—including our own—and praise God for his goodness.

We give life to our words by our loving interactions with all people. Being motivated by the gospel opens doors that could otherwise be closed by the sting of the law. Friendship without compromising our beliefs gives truth to our love for all of God’s people. Our brothers and sisters who struggle with these wrongful desires often have an aching need to worship. We must own our uneasiness with those who are different and pray for guidance and a heart for souls.

Children learn far more from our actions than our words. Walk in love. Stand firm in the Word. Give thanks for a forgiving Savior.

Teaching children to navigate the world as Christians

Raising children to have compassion for this tainted world without undue fear and feeling love for God’s blemished people without prejudice is a monumental task. Scripture gives us guidelines, not a “Dos & Don’ts” list for living in this world yet not being of the world.

It is this perilous journey that my husband and I saw as we raised our children. Or as my very wise Christian father said to me, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” We wanted to raise our children to function as children of God and lights in this world without falling prey to its sinful temptations.

Scripture makes it clear that God is to be first in our lives. This will most likely evidence itself in the priorities we model for our children. The frequency of God’s name and Word may range from mealtime prayers to regular devotions and Bible study. Connecting our children to God’s Word outside of the home is also a directive from Scripture. Studies show that what we do as opposed to what we say has a greater impact on children. Consequently, living our Christianity as parents, husbands, and wives becomes our children’s textbook. Our hunger for God’s Word and the application of its tenets are a powerful example.

In 1 Corinthians 9:22 Paul tells us that he became all thing to all people so that some might be saved. His fellow disciple John wrote that we are not of the world. The balance of being approachable Christians versus being different in a way that others know we are Christians is difficult in application. A sense of inclusion for all of God’s people is engendered when we reserve judgment and open our arms instead. For some families, a child who has successfully straddled these two worlds might include an MLC professor; an openly Christian neuro-intensive care nurse; and a pink-haired, pierced, and tatooed behaviorist for autistic children who is on her church’s Board of Education.

Self-righteous segregation is not a good witness tool. Neither is allowing our children to participate in questionable activities for the sake of fitting in. In John 15:19, Christ tells his disciples, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own: but because you are not of the world, I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” Helping our children cope with the reality of the persecution and mockery of Christians in this world is the inevitable, yet necessary, role of the Christian parent.

When we as parents have a sense of true joy in our faith, it evidences itself in our parenting and in our homes. A guilt-ridden sense of obedience can produce fearful, resentful children who are quick to rid themselves of what they perceive as an unloving church or system of values.

A hurting world out there needs what we have. A gospel-filled heart teaches our children by example how to navigate this world, how to live a godly life, and how to share this good news with others.

Parenting ground rules

My husband and I were both raised in Christian homes, which made for many similar views on parenting. We were not, however, raised in the exact same home. So there were just as many differences.

My husband grew up with one studious sister and a stressed single parent who was a university professor. Their idea of fun around the dinner table was discussing comparative wars at the time of the Incas. I was raised in a two-parent parsonage with five raucous siblings. A good time at our house involved counting how many grapes we could stuff in our mouths. The list of variables in any home is endless. When two people come together to form a family, they bring their pasts. This includes the way they were parented. The sooner my husband and I were able to respect those differences, the better off we were in coming to a common parenting style.

The ground rules that we came to after much trial and error were actually fairly few:

  • Hash out differences away from the children, and present a united front in the presence of the children.
  • When differences arise, compromise may entail trying each other’s method.
  • If an impasse occurs, always defer to Scripture when possible.
  • Use great parents as resources. Fellow church members are a wonderful reference library. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice.

Having said this, our children definitely knew that Dad was the “good cop” and Mom was the “bad cop.” They tried to play us against each other occasionally but were usually caught at that nefarious game. Children feel most secure when parents work together. God put the structure in place, and I reminded my children of that often. My rough paraphrase was, “Dad’s the king, I’m the queen, and you’re the serfs. You don’t get a vote, but we take care of you.”

Blended families face a whole different set of difficulties when it comes to parenting styles. There are now multiple people with a voice in the matter. The general principles still apply, however. Respect for the other persons involved while putting God’s will above all may not make everybody happy but is the best way to go.

We aren’t born knowing how to parent. If we were blessed to have fine Christian parents, we are truly blessed. We can certainly take away some great lessons. But think about it. We’re required to have a license to drive. Yet we’re allowed to have children without a permit or a written test. It just figures that when you try to get two sinful human beings together on the same page, there are bound to be disagreements about the rules of the road. The best roadmap is always Scripture.

Holding our children accountable

If you were to ask my now grown children, they would tell you that my husband and I held them responsible any time they were caught in gross disobedience. They might even tell you that we held them responsible for small and imagined infractions.

What they don’t know is that there were times when one of us wanted to believe our children’s versions of events rather than that of the accuser. Against all reason, common sense, and sometimes our conscience, we wanted to diminish or dismiss a major offense.

One incident in particular came to haunt me. My son had been reported to have been extremely unkind to a child, “Jack,” in my care. Jack was a very challenging child in terms of behavior and had himself bullied other children in my presence. When I questioned my child, he assured me that he had done nothing wrong. I accepted my son’s version of events even though I had nagging doubts.

As the day wore on, I noticed that my son got very quiet and had no appetite for lunch—this from a child with a voracious appetite. He then told me he had a tummy ache. Fortunately, my son was not a very accomplished liar. His guilt was written all over his little face and had even started to manifest itself in his body.

Reality finally hit me in the face. I asked my son if something was bothering him. He tearfully confessed that he was indeed guilty of the unkindness. The words rushed out of his mouth as though he’d been holding them in. He wanted to apologize immediately to the child he had wronged. I, too, wanted to apologize. I felt terrible that I had not believed Jack and had done him such an injustice.

Later, when I paused to reflect on this whole incident, I realized the great disservice I had done to my son. By not holding him accountable, I had denied him the chance to repent and then feel the healing balm of forgiveness.

Had I denied my child forgiveness? If you were to have asked me if I would refuse to forgive my child, I would’ve protested. And if you had asked me if I would tell my child God did not forgive him, I would’ve been appalled. And yet, that’s the promise I was withholding from my child when I did not firmly and lovingly turn him to face his sin. For without acknowledging his trespass, he carried it as a burden of guilt. I was complicit in strapping that burden on him. Only when he laid it down did he feel the relief only repentance and forgiveness can bring.

In the following years, I would have occasion to remember this incident. The remembrance was not of my son’s misdeed but mine. It helped me to be firm in my resolve to hold my children accountable. When a friend told me she didn’t think I was an “advocate” for my children, I shared this story with her. When we as parents advocate for the truth, it may sometimes mean we are faced with our child’s transgression. When that happens, we have the greatest answer to any sin, forgiveness.