Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction; pay attention, and gain understanding. I give you sound learning, so do not forsake my teaching. When I was a boy in my father’s house, still tender, and an only child of my mother, he taught me and said, "Lay hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands and you will live." —Proverbs 4:1–4
We become what we were raised to be. Much of the process is unconscious. It happens naturally as we grow up and go about life.
I like baseball and hunting. When I was just a boy, even before I was old enough to carry a gun myself, I went hunting with my dad, grandpa, and a couple of uncles. It was just something our family did. It was the same with baseball. My grandfather bought me one of my first baseball gloves. I used to go to his house to watch ball games. My dad coached my brothers and me for years. Little by little, without fanfare or awareness, I became an enthusiast for the woods and the ballpark. I have now passed on that same enthusiasm to my own kids.
Our parenting style is something we were developing when we were still little kids. We didn’t think about it, we didn’t reflect on it, and we didn’t consciously develop it. We became the parents we are today by the parenting style we were raised under when we were two years old, five years old, thirteen years old, and eighteen years old. We were parented to be parents.
Such a reality is at the same time both frightening and exciting. It is frightening because if the parenting style we were raised under was not sound, our parenting style won’t be either. If our parents were neglectful or abusive, there is a good chance we will treat our kids in the same way. On the other hand, if our parents’ style was healthy, then our style likely will be as well. If we were loved and nurtured, we will tend to practice that same kind of care toward our own children.
In Proverbs 4:1–4, when Solomon is passing on instruction to his son, he draws from his own experience as a boy and the parenting care he received from his mom and dad. When he refers to himself as tender and the only child of his mother, you can picture Bathsheba’s gentle care for him. When he refers to being a boy when his father taught him, you can see David sitting at the dinner table, saying, "Son," and then passing on some words of fatherly care and advice. Now, as an adult, Solomon draws from that experience and practices the same level of care with his own son.
When we become adults, we generally parent like our parents, but we don’t have to be locked into a certain pattern. If our parents had an unhealthy style, we don’t have to parent as they did, and we don’t have to engage our kids the way our parents did us. As adults, we can reflect. We can think and say, "You know, I like the way my parents handled some situations but not the way they handled others." We can decide to be more patient, compassionate or involved than we perceive our parents to have been.Dr. Phil McGraw says there are two common ways of reflecting the parenting style of our parents. One, we parent our own children just the way they parented us. If they hollered at the kids for any infraction, then we probably will as well. The second response is to react against the way our parents raised us. If we regard our parents as having been too strict, we may become overly lenient (Family First, p. 67).
I think the important thing to realize is this . . . we have a choice in the kind of parents we will be. With proper reflection, dependence upon the Word, prayer, and continued mentoring from and accountability to older Christian parents with a proven track record in parenting, we can incorporate the very best of our parents’ style into our own approach to parenting. We can enhance our parenting legacy with the instruction of our parents and the ongoing instruction we can receive from other Christian people God puts in our lives.
(This essay is from Roaring Lions, Cracking Rocks and Other Gems from Proverbs)