Train a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not turn from it. (Proverbs 22:6)
Parenthood is an awesome responsibility, for which most of us feel somewhat under-prepared. Fortunately there is plenty of advice available, whether it’s from our own parents, friends with children of a similar (or slightly older) age, parenting books, or internet forums.
The Bible has its own slant on parenthood. There are several examples of bad parenting: the favouritism that Jacob showed towards his youngest son Joseph (Genesis 37:3,4), and the lack of discipline that made David’s son Adonijah fatally cocksure (I Kings 1,2). Christian parents will want to do better (Ephesians 6:4). The book of Proverbs contains a good deal of practical wisdom. Children are not naturally good; they need hands-on parenting to enable them to fulfil their potential (Proverbs 22:15). The Bible doesn’t shrink from recommending corporal punishment either, if necessary (Proverbs 23:13,14); these days we may prefer sanctions that are less physical, but the discipline we enforce should be no less strict. The end result should be a son (or daughter) to be proud of (Proverbs 23:24,25).
It is important, though, to remember that these are proverbs, not promises; they are generalisations, not cast-iron guarantees. There will always be some children who thrive despite poor parenting, and others who turn out badly despite being loved and cherished. Surely God is the perfect Father to His people (Hosea 11:1-5), training and disciplining them as well as caring for them – yet they rebelled and went astray. So He knows what it feels like when a child goes ‘off the rails’. Under such circumstances also, He is the model parent: loving and patient, always available, and ready to welcome the prodigal back home (Luke 15:11-24).