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!

“The God Who Scatters Beauty Profusely”

91P3kogTi2LThe question may be asked, Why should the gifts and capacities just mentioned be thought of as belonging to the image of God? The answer is that in all of these capacities man is like God, and therefore images him. Man’s rational powers, for example, reflect God’s reason, and enable man now, in a sense, to think God’s thoughts after him. Man’s moral sensitivity reflects something of the moral nature of God, who is the supreme determiner of right and wrong. Our capacity for fellowshiping with God in worship reflects the fellowship that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have with each other. Our ability to respond to God and to fellow human beings imitates God’s ability nd willingness to respond to us when we pray to him. Our ability to make decisions reflects in a small way the supreme directing power of him “who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will”. Our sense of beauty is a feeble reflection of the God who scatters beauty profusely over snow-crowned peaks, lake-jeweled valleys, and awe-inspiring sunsets. Our gift of speech is an imitation of him who constantly speaks to us, both in his world and in his word. And our gift of song echoes the God who rejoices over us with singing.

Created in God’s Image p. 71

 

“Not to Contrast Men with Animals”

91P3kogTi2LAnthony Hoekema on what it means for man to be made in the image of God:

Since Christ was totally without sin, in Christ we see the image of God in its perfection. As a skillful teacher uses visual aids to help his or her pupils understand what is being taught, so God the Father has given us in Jesus Christ a visual example of what the image of God is. There is no better way of seeing the image of God than to look at Jesus Christ. What we see and hear in Christ is what God intended for man.

If this is so, then the best way to learn what the image of God is is not to contrast man with animals, as has often been done, and then to fine the divine image to consist in those qualities, abilities, and gifts that man has in distinction from the animals. Rather, we must learn to know what the image of God is by looking at Jesus Christ. What must therefore be at the center of the image of God is not characteristics like the ability to reason or the ability to make decisions (important as such abilities may be for the proper functioning of the image of God), but rather that which was central in the life of Christ: love for God and love for man. If it is true that Christ perfectly images God, then the heart of the image of God must be love. For no man ever loved as Christ loved.

Created in God’s Image p. 22