Values Are Your Most Important Parenting Tool
Think of all the different things one can value, good and bad, as ways to get the acceptance and love we need: communication, beauty, vivaciousness, domination, going along with the crowd, superficiality, politeness, humor, seductiveness, honesty, sexual conquest. And any of the following and more can be thought of as ways to achieve significance: punctuality, workaholism, diligence, wealth, power, deceit, frugality, competitiveness, precision, evasion of responsibility. One person develops an unspoken plan for achieving significance by compulsive work habits that will force his supervisors to respect him; another attempts to meet the deep need for relatedness by a series of superficial and promiscuous sexual relationships. A young teenager, despairing of real purpose for her life, tries to fill this gaping void with slavish conformity to her peer group. The kinds of goals we work toward range from the grandiose to the pathetic. One person yearns to be President or to possess a million dollars by age forty. Another lives day to day trying desperately to avoid criticism that would be devastating, or to receive the approval of others who are seen as respected and esteemed.
What we say about our goals or values is important, but our goals or values are probably most honestly and directly expressed in the choices we make. The father who says he values time with his children but never makes the choices necessary to spend that time with them is speaking clearly about his real values through his actions. People often seem blind to their own values. We know what we ought to value much more intimately than what we truly value.
Children are watching
Parents teach their values to their children most powerfully by the values they as parents live by. This is one of the most frightening facts about parenthood. Our children read us like a book for what we value. Our lives tell our children what we deem important and not important. Do we overdose on work and put little effort in friendship? Have we despaired of ever being significant and thus hide behind a sneering veneer of cynicism about our own vocation and those of others? Are we slaves to the approval of others and evidence little commitment to goals which are ours alone and for which we need no one else’s approval? Do we take greater joy in our material possessions than in service to the Lord? Do we always have time for television and other recreational pursuits and no time for community service? It behooves all of us to do an honest assessment of where our time is going and what this says about our values. Then we have to go the additional step and ask, “Is this what I want to teach my child to value; is this what really matters?”
We also communicate our values in our praise. Do we praise our children for grades they get, or for the skills that they are developing? For winning, or for using their gifts well? For being quiet, unobtrusive, and leaving us alone, or for doing something right even if it makes us uncomfortable? Do we praise our children for fitting in, for being popular, for going with the flow, or for showing strength, independence, and character even when, because of it, they are not as accepted by others as they might otherwise have been?
We need to think deliberately as Christians about the values we want our children to manifest. It is vital that we get down to the most fundamental levels of what we value, and make sure that we are always encouraging that in our children. A vibrant faith is their most fundamental need for the future. We try to shape our children to value such a faith by modeling that faith ourselves, by talking openly about how important that faith is, and by praising any manifestation of such a faith in our children. We often remind our children, “We really are proud that you are doing well in school (or piano, baseball, friendships, Bible school, etc.), but never forget (and help me to never forget) that the only thing that matters is whether you love God with your whole heart and are following Him in obedience. If you do that, your life will have value. Without that, nothing really matters. God is calling you right now to be a student (pianist, second baseman, etc.), and I think God is happy that you are doing well at that for Him!”
Adapted from How and When to Tell Your Kids About Sex. By Stanton L. and Brenna B. Jones. Published by NavPress. Copyright © 1993 by Stanton L. and Brenna B. Jones. Used with permission.