'Blame bad parents for Britain's ills' said the chief inspector of schools and social care. Sir Michael Wilshaw continued, "If we believe that the family is the great educator – and I certainly do believe that – and the community the great support system, then we as a society should worry deeply about the hollowing out and fragmentation of both.”
As Christians, we do believe it is an extraordinary privilege and responsibility to be given the stewardship of children. It is right to consider how we teach and nurture our children, while also admitting that sometimes we are desperate, tired and at our wit's end!
To help us think more about what it means to be a parent and how to consider how to be better parents, a number of us attended the Parenting Course at Christ Church Mayfair over three Monday evenings this Autumn. Ann Benton, author, former teacher, pastor's wife, mother and grandmother came to lead the course. She was refreshingly down to earth, practical, and funny, while leading an extremely useful series of evening aimed at helping "parents have the confidence to be parents". She continually reminded us that it is within the pages of the Bible that we find the pointers to the best way to live. She broadly underlined three basic principles of parenting:
- loving authority
- loving discipline
- loving relationship
When these three things are in balance, good parenting naturally results. Remove any one of them - and, as we all know we are failing sinners we know that we never have them in perfect balance - and we may encounter mounting problems.
I asked a few folk who attended what some of their other 'highlights' from the course were. Aside from the general gratefulness at having time to share perspectives, experiences and ideas with other parents around the table, there were lots of really practical things to try which were great. Here are some of the most common responses:
Loosen up and have fun as parents
'Ann gave me confidence in what I was already doing right which sometimes I wasn't always so sure of.'
'Our children are a gift from the Lord, and ultimately our children are His, not ours. It was so encouraging to be given some help and encouragement in our care of them.'
Reasons why children disobey
'Discipline won't work if you haven't worked at having a strong relationship with your child - have fun with them! create traditions and memories! - and keep that going so you have that to fall back on when your child hits the teenage years.'
'I found the emphasis on 'catch them while they are good' particularly helpful. The craziness of motherhood and looking after little children can so easily descend to - don't touch that, don't climb on that, don't..., no...no...no... etc. with a lot of the communication verging on the 'negative'. So encourage good behaviour by noticing it when it happens. I have noticed a difference already.'
Discipline without relationship leads to rebellion
'The key to tackling problems with children is the parents. Model a heart that loves the Lord, model patience and kindness and your child is likely to follow your example. At the same time just loving our children covers a multitude of sins and children are very forgiving - so don't despair when you get things wrong, just keep trying!'
'Parents should exercise loving discipline to train their child to take responsibility for their actions and to learn that there is great happiness in choosing the right course of action for its own sake (not because they will get a sticker, a sweet, a treat if they do it!). Talk to them about right and wrong.'
Routines are my friend
'I was particularly struck by the idea of seasonal (annual) routines alongside the daily ones. Having things that we do together when it snows, for example, or a day out we repeat each year when the leaves begin to change in the Autumn. I hadn't thought of how helpful these larger traditions - which take years to really build up - are to building a sense of family.'
For my own part, I was so struck by how Ann was simply full of the joy of parenting. I think we all found that enthusiasm infectious. As one father said: 'It was gold dust!' If you weren't able to make the course, but this post leaves you wanting a bit more, you could read Ann's book Aren't They Lovely When They're Asleep? which is available on our bookstall.