Better than ‘The Bank Account’: Some Thoughts on Parenting

I have a four-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son, which makes me what’s known as an expert. So, with that out of the way . . .

Being a dad is seriously challenging. Navigating the maze of different parenting ‘styles’ is hard enough–being faithful to my scriptural responsibilities is impossible for this sinner-dad, and I am constantly crying out for grace. (and in the moments I am not crying out for God’s help, I am utterly failing at my task).

No one wants to be the strict, harsh, demanding, authoritarian, stereotype of a parent. I’ve heard that we should try to encourage as much as we correct, so that our children are not always hearing correction, and concluding that they’re “never good enough”. The analogy is like that of a bank account. If you are constantly criticizing, that’s like taking an emotional/relational withdrawal. Encouragement is like a deposit. If you only make withdrawals, there’s nothing left in the account, and an account always bordering on broke is a strained relationship. Make enough repeated deposits to keep a healthy balance.

So far, so good, right?

Just today I had a conversation with another dad about his five-year-old, and I saw beyond the analogy. I think we can do better than The Bank Account.

Encouragement/Criticism as the primary modes of relating to our children is a pretty managerial style relationship. It posits the child as an individual with certain behaviors, and his parents as individuals who are trying to influence those behaviors. Encourage the good behavior (and do that a lot, find stuff to encourage), and correct the bad (which can seem like it is happening ALL THE TIME.)

Here’s my question: How is this any different than an employer trying to get better productivity out of an employee? ‘Sandwiching’ his criticisms with praise as part of a performance review?

The fundamental aspect of the parent/child relationship that I want to cultivate more than behavior modification is the relationship as a good and delightful thing in itself. This means not just saying things, positive or negative, to influence their behavior, but creating shared experiences with them that they enjoy, such that I enjoy them as my children, and they enjoy  me as their dad. Reading books together, because they enjoy it, and I enjoy it, and we enjoy each other. Singing songs together as we cultivate a shared love of melody and each other. Adventures. Talks. Wrestling matches. Prayers. Meals. Snuggles. Encouragement and discipline become one more shared experience within a relationship that is defined fundamentally by delight in one another for our own sakes’, not for the sake of some outcome we are hoping to achieve. I don’t want my child to get addicted to my encouragement nor discouraged by my correction–I want them to enjoy me as their dad, and receive all communication from me as flowing from that more essential basis for relating.

Delighting in my kids takes (will take) work. And additionally I have to help them develop an affection for me. It means dying to myself and the things I naturally enjoy, to cultivate this kind of delight. Not reading my own book, so I can read one with them. Rasslin’ when I wish I could be resting.

Lewis famously said, “it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors”. I’m starting to see my children as potential
“everlasting splendors”, immortals whom I’ve been given the task of parenting. Moving beyond the bank account framework is more difficult, but more rewarding, and more faithful to who we both are as good creatures made in the image of God. God help me to love my children!

Review: Shepherding a Child’s Heart

Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp

I need help raising children!

This book came recommended from my father-in-law as the best book on parenting he’s ever read, getting to the heart of the issues like no other child-raising methodology does. I finally read it, with 2 children of my own, ages 3 and 1, and I concur – this is the kind of parent I want to be.

Tripp sets forth a high standard for parenting: “One of the most important callings God has given parents is to display the greatness, goodness, and glory of the God for whom they are made.” (p. xii) A most insightful penetrating paragraph explains it like this: “Parenting is your primary calling. Parenting will mean that you can’t do all the things that you could otherwise do. It will affect your golf handicap. It may mean your home does not look like a picture from Better Homes and Gardens. It will impact your career and ascent on the corporate ladder… It will modify the amount of time you have for bowling, hunting, television, or how many books you read. It will mean that you can’t develop every interest that comes along. The costs are high.” (97) We will answer to God for how we exercised our responsibility to raise our children according to His commands. This is the bedrock truth of parenting. One of the most challenging parts for me, was the truth that we can’t just tell them what to do, we have to model it in our own lives. We must be a display for them of someone who loves and delights in God from the heart, and is devoted above all things to His glory. Otherwise we end up raising hypocrites just like we.

Tripp then lays out his thesis. The heart is more important than the behavior, because behavior flows from the heart. One of the keys is this: “You must help your child ask the questions that will expose that attitude of the heart that resulted in wrong behavior.” (5) On the other hand, you must also have your goal to win their heart to Christ (again, not just conform their behavior to christian standards).

The two main methods for this are Communication, and The Rod. For me, the chapters on communication were incredibly helpful. “The finest art of communication is not learning how to express your thoughts. It is learning how to draw out the thoughts of another. Your objective in communication must be to understand your child, not simply to have your child understand you. Many parents never learn these skills. They never discover how to help their children articulate their thoughts and feelings.” (73)

“Honest, thorough, truly biblical communication is expensive. Insightful and penetrating conversations take time… Children do not pour their hearts out or open themselves up on a demand schedule… In those times, when their conscience is stirred, you need to talk. This may require dropping everything else to seize a critical moment. You must become a good listener.” (90)

Elsewhere in the book he discusses: the sinful nature of all children; the nature of a parent’s authority; exposes and details bad parenting goals and methods; how to properly use the rod in discipline; and finally lays out specific “objectives” and “procedures” for three stages of a child’s development.

This was by far the most helpful book on parenting I’ve ever read. I will be revisiting it again as my children grow and the challenges increase. My father-in-law said one of the most helpful things was to have his wife read it, so they could be on the same page when discussing their children. Interestingly, a pastor also told me that he found this book helpful in shepherding the hearts of the people in his church.

I will definitely be reading this book again in the future. I highly recommend it to anyone with children.