It’s one of the great realities of life: We don’t get to pick our parents. Yet even though all human parents make mistakes, we can always learn things—good or bad—from them. Circumstances change and technology advances, but aspects of character such as honesty, compassion and diligence remain timeless values to be taught to succeeding generations.
When it comes to parents, I’m fortunate. I had two loving, God-fearing parents who taught me and my siblings the basics of life and spiritual values that would sustain us throughout the ups and downs that are part of everyone’s life.
Though my father is deceased and my mother is now in her golden years, what they taught me has shaped my life, my children’s lives and, hopefully, my grandchildren’s lives for the better. While I can’t possibly document everything they did and how they taught me, here are three key lessons.
How many times have you overheard a parent telling a young child, “You have to do it because I say so!”? While there are times when a parent has to insist on a particular course of action for his or her child, I don’t recall my parents ever using this common line.
What I do recall is their saying, “We do this because …” and “You need to do this because. …” Instead of emphasizing their authority over me, they functioned more as loving advisers, educating me about why I needed to do certain things.
Don’t get me wrong; they taught me that they were the authority figures, but they didn’t harp on this point.
The “you need to do this because” approach fostered respect and appreciation for them, because I knew they were educating me and looking out for my best interests. It is interesting that God instructed the ancient Israelites to use this same approach in teaching their children why they observed one of His annual festivals. “And you shall tell your son in that day, saying, ‘This is done because of what the LORD did for me when I came up from Egypt’” (Exodus 13:8, emphasis added throughout).
The word because was used quite often by God as He explained why He was going to bless someone (Genesis 22:16-17) or turn away from people (Deuteronomy 31:18), or why someone should be punished (Joshua 7:15), or why He would strengthen another nation against Israel (Judges 3:12). Furthermore, extensive explanations of the consequences of obedience or disobedience to God’s laws, and the results of repentance for having broken them, are given by God in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28.
If the Creator God, the being with the most authority in the universe, can take the time to educate grown-ups on the consequences of their actions, shouldn’t parents do the same for their children?
Using authority for good—being a loving authority figure—is a challenging proposition for parents. Yet it is vital to a child’s education both now and in the future so he or she can learn life’s lessons and, later, be a good parent.
Most of my childhood was spent on 4½ acres of land on which my parents built a home. They also fenced the property so we could have a milk cow, chickens and a large garden. With this much land and so much to care for, my brother and I were soon involved in the daily chores. When we were old enough, we took over the task of milking our cow every morning and evening as well as feeding the chickens, gathering eggs, cutting the grass and helping take care of the garden.
Our parents were hard workers, and they taught us children to work. But it wasn’t all work. There was a balance between work and play. I have fond memories of playing sports with the neighborhood children and on my school teams, spending time on weekends with other youth from church, and playing games with my siblings, parents and grandparents.
Why is it so important for children to learn to work? It helps them focus on their schoolwork, and this character trait will serve them well when they grow up, find employment and earn money to support themselves and their families.
Perhaps this is why God inspired Solomon to write, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).
Later, the apostle Paul emphasized the importance of working to members of the congregation in Thessalonica, saying, “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). The apostle’s instruction to the members was to “aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands” (1 Thessalonians 4:11).
In addition to providing for ourselves and our families, working hard makes it possible for us to share what we have earned with others. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), but it is hard to do this if we can’t even support ourselves.
What is so important about charity? Giving to others helps us become like God, who “gives to all life, breath, and all things” (Acts 17:25). He is the One “who gives us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17).
“Our family was unusual because I had a brother who was disabled. During the years while I was growing up, I watched our parents provide for all his needs. But they didn’t just care for him—they also served their church, their families and the community. I’ve heard many good sermons that describe the virtue of service. My dad and mom set an example of service in action that was more powerful than words. Their approach to life helped me to understand that the world isn’t ‘just about me.’”—Renee M.
“Although I remember thinking it was unfair when I was a child, now that I’m an adult I’m very thankful that my parents didn’t allow me to talk back. Whining and spewing justifications simply were not allowed. Even more, they were considered punishable offenses. As I look back, I realize that being required to control my tongue was the first step in learning how to control my emotions.”—Kim G.
“Many of my Sundays as a kid were spent working with my parents. Not at our house, but at the houses of elderly women. Living in the heart of Appalachia, poverty was the norm and there were many widows in need of a helping hand. Some of them were from our local congregation but many were not affiliated with our church in any way. As a child, I just thought that we had an excessive number of widows that were our friends, and we just enjoyed helping them out. They tried to pay my parents with a dozen eggs from their chicken coop, a pie or a piece of hard candy for their skinny little boy. What they didn’t realize was that the payment I received was in the lesson that ‘pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble’ (James 1:27). My parents were a living example of this, and I hope that we are all teaching this lesson to future generations as well.”—David G.
As I grew up, I learned how to respect others by watching my parents. My education in this area began with the way they treated me. My parents didn’t yell at me when I did something wrong. Occasionally, Dad would raise his voice a bit if he didn’t think I was paying attention (and he was usually correct!), but this wasn’t the normal way he communicated with me and my siblings.
My parents treated me with respect and expected me to do the same to them. As I was growing up, I was expected to say, “Yes, ma’am,” No, ma’am,” “Yes, sir,” and “No, sir” to them and other adults. While this terminology is now out of favor and considered disrespectful in some areas, when and where I grew up, it was simply a way to show respect to adults.
In addition to teaching me to respect them, my parents taught me to respect and care for my brother and sister. As the oldest child, I was expected to watch out for them and treat them fairly when Mom and Dad were away. We children were also expected to respect each other. We weren’t allowed to yell at each other. We had our disagreements, but we had to be civil to each other.
I also learned how to respect others by watching how my parents communicated with others—especially when there was a problem or disagreement. In these cases, my parents always listened to the other person, patiently explained their perspective and tried to find a solution that was mutually acceptable.
As I matured, I came to realize that showing respect to others was something God instructs us to do. God told the ancient Israelites, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18), and Christ referred to this instruction as the second great commandment after loving God with all our heart and soul and mind (Matthew 22:35-40). Building on this foundation, the apostle Peter wrote, “Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17).
The subject of parenting is vast, and there is much to learn. If you’d like additional information that is practical and biblically based, see the articles in the “Parenting” section of LifeHopeandTruth.com and the “Encourage, Equip & Inspire” parenting resource, which features lessons to help children choose and live God’s way of life.