As a new father, I’m looking for good material on parenting. I starting by reading a classic book on parenting by Tedd Tripp called Shepherding a Child’s Heart. In Chapter 2, he describes the shaping influences of a child which include the following: Structure of Family Life, Family Values, Family Role, Family Response to Failure, Family History, and Family Conflict Resolution.
I wanted to highlight the last portion of the chapter that deals with the “Mistakes in Understanding Shaping Influences.” Keep in mind, I am not speaking from experience (since I have none), but relaying and elaborating on the thoughts of Tedd Tripp. Here addresses two mistakes that are made in understanding the shaping influences of life:
1. Seeing shaping influences deterministically: It is the error of assuming that the child is a helpless victim of the circumstances in which he/she was raised.
2. Denial: It is the mistake of saying the child is unaffected by his or her early childhood experience.
For this blog, we will focus our attention on this faulty attitude of determinism in parents. It seems as though many Christians think that putting their child in the best moral scenario will secure their future and protect them from any harm or waywardness. But this is not the case.
Tripp says, “You make a grave mistake if you conclude that childrearing is nothing more than providing the best possible shaping influences for your children… [Parents] figure that if they can protect and shelter him well enough, if they can always be positive with him, if they can send him to Christian schools or if they can home school, if they can provide the best possible childhood experience, then their child will turn out okay.” (15).
Though external circumstances should never be ignored, we must not think that any individual or child relinquishes responsibility for their choices.
Rebellion and Responsibility: Tripp describes the responsibility that children bear upon themselves despite their upbringing. “Your son or daughter responds according to the Godward focus of his or her life. If our child knows and loves God… then he will respond constructively to your shaping efforts. If our child does not know and love God, but tries to satisfy his soul’s thirst by drinking from a “cistern that cannot hold water…” (Jeremiah 2:13), our child may rebel against your best efforts. You must do all that God has called you to do but the outcome is more complex than whether you have done the right things in the right way. Your children are responsible for the way they respond to your parenting” (15).
This obviously does not negate the fact that parents should work to raise their children in the fear and knowledge of God. But Tripp is emphasizing that the battle for our children is won at the heart level, and not merely providing “safe” environment. This helps us better understand that rebellion comes from a heart that is hostile to God and will only obey God and obey parents rightly if it is a heart that submits to Christ first.
“Determinism makes parents conclude that good shaping influences will automatically produce good children. This often bears bitter fruit later in life… They think if they had made a little better home, things would have turned out okay. They forget that the child is never determined solely by the shaping influences of life. Remember that Proverbs 4:23 instructs you that the heart is the fountain from which life flows. Your child’s heart determines how he/she responds to your parenting” (16)
Some times we fail “to consider the fact that human beings are creatures who are directed by the orientation of their hearts. The child is not inert during childhood. Your children interact with life” (16).
As parents it is our goal to be a godly shaping influence to our children, but that goal is accomplished primarily through preaching the Gospel to them daily.
This is not to downplay parent’s responsibility, but it is to rightly understand the place and power of shaping influences. We are not slaves to our history and upbringing. How our parents raised us cannot be used as an excuse on judgment day for why we rejected the Gospel. This guards us from thinking that our protective environment will shield them and will automatically make them godly, perfect children who will not experience any trouble, problems, or sin.
We need to emphasize to our children that they are responsible for responding to or rejecting the Gospel given by mommy and daddy.
Yes, shaping influences are important. But they cannot be used as excuses to free our children from the responsibility of their choices. Also, they cannot claim slavery to shaping influences as if the Spirit of God cannot change their hearts and transform their lives. We must not think that God is not able to break them out of their societal mold and shape them into Christ-likeness.
I will give Art Azurdia the last word on this: “There are some Christians who think that the goal of Christian parenting is to do everything in their power to keep their children disengaged from the world. I would submit to you that the burden of Christian parents must always be to prepare our children to engage the world with a mind filled with the Scriptures, a heart aflame with love for Jesus Christ, and a courage that has been endowed with the Spirit of the living God. The sphere of our mission is the world, friends.” (Art Azurdia)