- BFF Home
- About Us
- Life Truths
- RSS Feed
Click for information
Principles and Practices of Biblical Parenting
– Raising Godly Children –
Paul and Linda Bucknell
Enable parents to show God's love and truth to their own parents and in-laws during visits with each other.
The number of difficulties that arise from a visit from the parents and/or in-laws is rarely overestimated. In fact, we can honestly say that what should be a good and pleasant occasion often becomes a nightmare. A newly married couple rarely thinks about these issues. They are usually shocked by such a visit and feel powerless to change things. The experienced couple often prefers not to talk about these bad past memories. Let's reflect on God's Word as we try to discern what the issues are and how to overcome them.
Three important points help establish good relationships with your in-laws/parents. They are like steps. They are to be followed in order.
#1) Be Humble: Once for all cleanse away your sins
Good communication with our family is dependent upon how much we are able to apologize for our sins against our parents and clear up any past misunderstandings.
Past offenses and pride cause misunderstandings and arguments.
#2) Be Honoring: Consistently respect your parents
God commands us to honor our parents. We must remember that our parents are God-appointed. We assure them of our value for them by respecting them.
The relationship you have with your parents is most likely the one you will have with your children. So now is the time to change! Your children are learning how to relate to you by the way you relate to your parents.
#3) Be Honest: Patiently share and hold to God's standard with your parents.
Family harmony is dependent on how much God's love and truth shapes our relationship with our parents. Truth must be shared in a context of love and care to be accepted.
Whenever we tolerate a lesser standard than God's Word, we bring harm to our families, disobey God and keep God's love from being fully revealed in our lives.
These three steps are mentioned briefly here but will be explained in discussions later on.
Pause for Reflection: Have you sought harmony in your relationship with your parents? What steps have you taken? Which ones could use improvement?
We will be looking at how to be humble before, honor and honest with our parents in the following pages. Remember God's design is always the best. God knows how crucial it is to maintain good relationships with our parents but at the same time not to compromise the truth.
The fact of conflict between new parents and their own parents and in-laws is widely testified to in the different literatures of the world's cultures. Of particular note is the traditional Chinese culture. The struggles between the new wife and her mother-in-law are recorded in famous novels and are still being written in the family stories of modern times. In some ways the Confucian ethic made the problem worse by unbiblical principles perpetuated over long periods of time. Like a bent wheel, it will only get increasingly out of shape as time goes on.
We would be silly to think this problem only affects the Chinese culture, though. Cultures worldwide face this same difficulty. The longer an unbiblical principle becomes entrenched in a culture, the more havoc it wrecks on the family.
What seems ironic is that nobody thinks these family problems will occur in their family. But again and again family reunions become some of the bitterest times for families. One would think this tension would be hidden with the birth of a grandson. It is not. Let's think of why there is so much tension between new parents and their own parents.
If a couple seeking marriage wants to guarantee problems for their marriage, they should start by not getting their parents' approval for marriage. Young people are so naïve when it comes to understanding the importance of parental approval for their lives. Why is this so important?
Marriage unites not only a couple but also families. It is not just one person and one person. More is at stake. Only the more mature person can see this. God wants us to honor our parents. Parents are offended when their children decide marriage matters without sincerely seeking their agreement.
The young would be protected if they worked with their parents in the process of seeking a spouse rather than against them. This problem is made worse by the clash of modern ways with traditional ways to seek marriage partners. Parents no longer have confidence or understanding of how to properly relate to their children. Children do not expect their parents to have any real contribution to the process. This is a shame.
The intergenerational struggle is more clearly seen at marriage. If the young have pursued a marriage partner without their parents' approval, they have acted very impolitely and even foolishly before their parents. Instead of building up trust, they have given offense. The parents will disdain their child's decisions in the future. The grown child, meanwhile, will continue to ignore his parents' counsel. We can see that a wall of mistrust is placed between the newly married couple and their parents.
The young couple wrongly assumes that nothing much is wrong; time will heal all. They are very wrong in thinking that having a baby will make everything better. On the surface, this seems to be true. The couple is delighted in their child. The grandparents are happy for a new grandchild. But in fact, this scene will become the next showdown, a place of serious confrontation.
We will not go into this confrontation at this point, but we do want to stress the fact that the harm from their unapproved marriage has not gone away. The only way to begin to unravel the bitterness is to confess ones foolishness, admit ones faulty judgment and ask for forgiveness. Some people have learned to forgive; others haven't. For those who have learned to forgive, they will forgive and the relationships will move on. Otherwise bitterness will stay in their heart as a long lasting enemy. Truly God will forgive our sins and work through our difficult situations, but we cannot force a person to forgive.
Before moving on, just think of the value of a parent and child seeking a spouse together. The parents would give valuable insight to the inexperienced couple. They would help protect the young from foolish decisions that he/she might not understand. Since the in-laws are part of the process, they would be honored. They would see that their child really treasures their insight. This would build up a strong trusting relationship.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER (which is the first commandment with a promise), THAT IT MAY BE WELL WITH YOU, AND THAT YOU MAY LIVE LONG ON THE EARTH. (Ephesians 6:1-3)
Before marriage children must obey their parents. We should not make exceptions, since God didn't. Parents are parents whether they are Christians or not, wise or foolish. Children must learn to trust God to work through their parents. It is one of the great places God reveals His will. By contrast, the young person seeking his or her parents' advice shows great maturity. He is willing to delay marriage or end the relationship if necessary.
In the above verse we do see a situation that children are to obey their parents "in the Lord." God has made certain exceptions. Whenever the parents direct or force a child to do the wrong thing, then the child should refuse. In other words, a child should seek full compliance on everything in life even when it is not their preference, but they need to have a firm mind when the parent asks the child to disobey the Lord. If a child is consistent, then the parent will most likely not be offended by a child's insistence on obeying higher orders that are clearly seen in the scriptures.
Pause for Reflection: What do your parents think of your marriage? Did you ask them for permission? Did they agree?
Seeking a spouse might reveal another set of problems from earlier in life.
If you offended your parents during your marriage, it is highly probable that there is a whole set of improper and sinful habits that have been set up in your relationship with your parents in the past. One problem leads to another. Many little problems add up. Have these sins from the past been cleared up? If not properly confessed, then these sins will come back to haunt you. The story of Jacob in Genesis highlights this particular set of problems.
The Christian has the grace to be forgiven by God but also the command to forgive. If sins are not cleared out when growing up, the child thinks it better to act independently of his parent. This of course leads the child into sin. Sins always affect the relationship between people. If the child offends the parent, then he will naturally hide himself from his parent.
For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. (John 3:20)
Sins of youth will negatively impact the relationship a child has with his parents. Trust is built up by obedience. Mistrust is developed by youthful rebellion as seen in all the independent acts they have taken.
Every one needs to make sure that they have identified and apologized for any sins and resulting attitudes. The best way to do this is to write down a list of all the outstanding sins and offenses including wrong attitudes. Tell your parents that you have not properly valued their relationship with you but would like to do that starting now. Explain you have things that are in the way from the past. Although there are things your parents have done wrong to you too, do not mention these. Focus on your own wrongs.
It is best to confess them individually and then in the end ask for forgiveness for them all in one big swoop. "Will you forgive me for these things?" You might find it necessary to separate one or two areas out for further elaboration. An angry parent might not forgive you. Others will say it is not important. It is! Tell them how much it would mean to you. After this, whenever you sin against your parents, immediately apologize. This is the way to maintain an excellent relationship.
Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. (James 5:16)
Although these steps might seem to make it easier for your parents to oppress you, they in fact are essential to restoring a relationship and establishing the trust that is needed. Agreed, it is very humbling, but it is also what the Lord has instructed us to do. There is no greater way to honor your parents than to show them how much you desire a close relationship with them.
Pause for Reflection: Have you ever asked your parents to forgive you for your past sins? Has this included your bad attitudes?
We need to be aware that our relationships with our parents are not just 'our' problems as children. In many cases children react against the sins of their parents. We should not ask them to ask us for forgiveness; we should just forgive them. However, we are wise if we trace the patterns of sin that come down from our parents and grandparents.
Notice in Exodus 20 how God promises to pass on sin to the 3rd and 4th generations.
This means that the sins of the parents are passed down to the children. The reason this is being brought up at this point is that these very sins are often the ones that cause the worst problems in a person's life. These sins lay unresolved because they are not easily noticeable.
If a parent and child have similar sin patterns, then we should expect that they will have little tolerance for each other. For example, if the parent is given to bursts of anger, it is likely that the child will similarly express himself. It is hard for the parent and child to communicate well when they share similar sins. If the parent had anger problems and the child jealousy problems, then at least they could communicate with each other.
Therefore you are without excuse, every man of you who passes judgment, for in that you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. (Romans 2:1)
Paul here indicates that those with a sin problem often are able to see the problem in others but not in themselves. They are blind to their own guilt and sin. When we apply this to the parent and child, we discover that there is a tendency for the parent and child to have the same sin pattern. They easily notice the sin in the other but are blind to their own area of weakness. This situation magnifies misunderstandings because each considers the other irresponsible while in fact they cannot see their own fault. Both sides accuse the other and excuse themselves. Can you see how this can contribute to the lack of communication between the generations?
When parents come to visit their children and grandchildren, old animosities will revive themselves. The solution is not to change the parents. Honestly evaluate yourself with the help of your mate (they are always ready to help here!). We just need to remember that this process is not easily done. Expect to find many areas of sin that has affected responses and attitudes. As you work on eliminating and hating these sins, then you can begin understanding, pitying and having mercy on your parents.
Your parents' behavior might still be annoying. The change in our hearts will, however, remove the hatred and pride that would make this intolerable. We need to keep the parent/in-laws and child communicating with each other. I have personally seen God do this in my own life. It is almost impossible for some in my family to talk to one of my parents. Because I have forgiven and asked for forgiveness, God has given me an unbelievable amount of patience toward this parent. It has really changed the way I relate to my parents. Only after this line of communication is open can we possible address other misunderstandings such as crossing lines of authority.
Pause for Reflection: List five predominant sins of your parents. Ask your spouse if you have any traces of these in your own life. Remember to check attitudes as well as behavior.
When the grandparents visit their grandchildren, they must also visit their children. Many of them would rather not do this because of the problems mentioned above. God has used these cute little children to cause a family to come together when they otherwise wouldn' t. These reunions are opportunities to discover and overcome past sins. Many never see it as an opportunity but only as a point of tolerance.
If the past problems have been properly dealt with, or at least have begun to be dealt with, then the young couple can begin to understand and explain lines of authority. By this we mean what is originally mentioned in Genesis 2:24. God, Jesus and the Apostle Paul all state this concise but strong statement.
For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. (God stated in Genesis 2:24)
And said, 'FOR THIS CAUSE A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER, AND SHALL CLEAVE TO HIS WIFE; AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH'? (Jesus stated in Matthew 19:5)
FOR THIS CAUSE A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER, AND SHALL CLEAVE TO HIS WIFE; AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH . (Paul stated in Ephesians 5:31)
The 'leaving' and 'cleaving' principles are clearly laid out here. Unfortunately, there is no further explanation of what 'leaving' means. Whatever it is, it is essential to a good marriage just as the cleaving is. God sets up new married units by separating them from their parents. Like flower bulbs in the garden, they must be dug them up, pulled apart and then planted as separate plants. If left together, they will end up being unhealthy and small.
Many non-Christian parents do not understand this foundational principle for a good marriage and how it creates harmony in the family. The young couple is often afraid to bring up such issues. But if God's truth is not brought forward, then further troubles will develop. I am thankful that my parents try (it is hard for them too) to implement this principle. Our purpose here is not to address all the ins and outs of this scripture passage. That would take a book. Instead, we are trying to limit our conversation to situations that have to do with how the parents unduly affect the marriage of their children and the training of their grandchildren.
When the man gets married, he is forming a new unit. He is no longer bound to 'obey' his parents but only to honor them. Some cultures worsen this problem by equating obedience with honor. Obedience means to comply while honor means to give consideration to. Obedience requires doing what the one in authority asks. Honor means to respect and admire. In some cases, honor will lead to imitation because it is good but it does not require submission of the will to the wishes of another. The Confucian ethic has merged obedience and honor even for the married son.
The parents of this newly wed couple should respect this couple's freedom to rule themselves under God. They should not make decisions for the new couple. The wise newly married couple should delight in talking with their parents and gaining wisdom from them. Wise parents will release the couple (i.e. make the child leave) to manage their own affairs. Birds illustrate this when at a certain time the little birds are cast from their nests to live life on their own.
Both parents and their married children should know these principles. Some parents might threaten their children with loss of inheritance if they don't comply. The young husband must, however, not be dazed by this threat, but be willing to abide by God's truth and let the inheritance go if necessary. Sometimes the desire of inheritance figures into the newly married couple's willingness to 'go by their parents' decision. They must reject this threat as their basis of decision-making.
Trust is a much better way to go. Trust leads to harmony. The parents fear the children will abandon them. The newly married couple must assure their parents that will not happen. They will always honor them. If the young couple senses this pressure of manipulation, then they will pull back and become defensive. God' s design is the best way because it allows for relationships to grow through trust and love.
After all, everyone wants harmony. The married couple wants the support and company of their parents (when they are pleasant). The parents want to see their children and grandchildren. God wants to have it this way too.
Pause for Reflection: Have you ever thought about what 'leaving' practically means in your family? Have you left your parents' authority? Do they still control you? How? What kind of tension develops in these sessions?
There are other difficulties that interfere in the parent/in-law and new couple's relationships. Some have been obligated to their parents by loans or other business deals. Others have imperfect marriages. Some become dependent upon their parents to care for the grandchildren. Still other parents/in-laws of the young married couple have strong expectations that create a lot of stress on the couple. Some live together. In some places cultures and local laws put much pressure on certain families.
Some societies with strong modern philosophical influence demand that wives work. They often tend to limit the number of children a couple can have. Living circumstances for others become a big concern. They do not know how to leave. Special circumstances of divorce, adultery or separation also complicate God's design. Sickness or death can greatly impact a family and their circumstances. The loss of employment has caused havoc in some families often with a spouse living elsewhere to earn a living. Some parents like to control their grown children. In some of these cases they themselves were oppressed by their parents and feel it is now their turn! Usually these parents convince themselves that they are helping the young couple when they are really damaging them.
Pause for Reflection: What other circumstances in your life add to the confusion as you try to relate to your parents?
The key to understanding God's design is to compare the standards and expectations our parents have with God' s own standards. In all cases, God is to be trusted and obeyed. At times obedience calls for brave decisions, but they always must be based on God' s love and design. Only then will we find solutions. Otherwise, the sins of our generation will pass on to the next generation.
God has seen the potential problems of marriage from the start and effectively solved them. The problem can be better understood by thinking about Adam who lived 930 years. He was a very influential man to say the least. If he acted in authority over all his children and grandchildren, there would have been many frustrated families out there. He would rule over them for almost a millennium! Instead, God has arranged it so that when a couple gets married, the husband becomes the new head of his immediate family.
How did God solve this problem? He simply included in the institution of marriage a clause that required the new husband to become the new head of that new family under God' s authority. The groom leaves the jurisdiction of his father and mother and becomes the head of the new family. The man leaves both father and mother and cleaves to his wife.
God' s design is built in wisdom and conveyed to us in love. God not only has the knowledge of the best order for marriage but also desires to pass that on to us so that we can take advantage of it. Ignoring God' s teaching is like having a fruit tree with gorgeous fruit but not realizing that it is good to eat.
This command of God is not largely recognized or desired. Parents feel more secure doing it the way they were brought up. The parents should take the lead in explaining how these leave/cleave principles work out. Unfortunately, few children have such wise parents. Instead, the children, now grown up, need to both understand this truth and share with their parents how it needs to be worked out among them. This is awkward. If the new couple doesn' t clarify this truth with their parents, then the family will face disharmony. This situation can be even more sensitive with those who have recently come to know the Lord.
So how do grown children share this truth with their parents? They need to respect their parents and speak politely to them about God's better ways. Below are some questions that you can ask your parents to help them gently understand God's truths. At the same time, they will help you better understand your parents' experience and why they do things in certain ways. Use and improve them as God leads, but God' s truth does need to be implemented for the sake of your family.
This question does three things. Firstly it helps clarify the point of tension. Secondly, it reminds the parents of pressures they have had in the past. Thirdly, it enables the young couple to politely point out the pressure their parents' might be putting on them. Many parents dominate their married children because that is the way it always has been done. Tradition. More than likely the parents are either imitating their parents or reacting to them.
Here we are trying to help our parents see the inferiority of their method of insisting that their married children obey them. By recounting their past problems, we can begin to point out why this system doesn't work.
By this question we are both helping our parents identify the origin of what they do and begin to examine the inferiority of their method. The parent will probably not know why they used this method but will supplement their answer with their own thoughts or opinions. From this we can better know why it is important to them.
In order to have a good discussion, we need to know what our parents value. If we first suggest another way, they will feel threatened and become defensive and maybe accusatory. Perhaps they will mention the need to protect the children or to follow tradition. Others might suggest keeping harmony or peace in the family. Depending upon their answer, we can answer one of two ways. If they answer to protect the children or follow tradition, we should go on and ask the following questions.
Their answers will probably lead to the question in the following section. We need order, protection, strong families and good interpersonal relationships. Good relationships are not easy to find. If they are found, it is because they are going by God's command. Once they see the goal of keeping harmony or peace in the family, one should ask,
If I look around at the families around me under these circumstances, I get discouraged. In fact, only the keeping of God's Word brings this harmony. Recount a few examples that you know of in the same cultural situation to show how this method does not work. Ask if you can share how God's design foresaw these problems and provided a solution. Depending upon their background, one needs to phrase this question in different ways. If they are atheists or belong to an Asian religion, they might not clearly understand the concept of creator.
This is the key question leading to the description of God's better way. Hopefully they will be open to listening. They might not be. We will have to keep praying until they are more open. It is important that your answer is respectful and addresses your parents' concerns. Many of them think that it will steal your allegiance away from them. You need to explain the difference between obey and honor (see above). You hopefully should be able to share with them ways that you have honored them since you got married and became Christians. If you recently became Christians, tell them how you now respect them compared to before.
These questions are to help stimulate helpful and gentle conversation. We realize that this model cannot suit all situations. However, if the children do not bring the truth to light, they will face more misunderstandings. In this case, at least the parents know why you do what you do. Rarely would a conversation actually use these exact words. More importantly is the gentle flow of thought and the expression and goodness of truth.
Pause for Reflection: Have you needed to explain this 'cleaving' and 'leaving' truth with your parents? Have you done so? Was it easy or hard? Why?
What do we do if our parents still do not understand or are unwilling to talk about such issues? This is a tough question. Instead of challenging our parents, we should prayerfully go back and ask them if we have in any way offended them or caused them to think that we did not honor them. If so, we need to apologize and change where appropriate. All the offenses must be removed to the best of our ability. Don' t point out their faults. As you confess your faults, they are reminded of their own.
If one has rightly humbled oneself and cleared out possible points of misunderstanding, go back and see if they will hear you. Remind them how you have honored them. This will help assure them you really do respect them.
There will be times when we think our parents' expectations are wrong. They might be demanding parents who are ignorant of the spirit of love and service. They might want us to make lots of money. If we spot such attitudes, we need to humble ourselves because without God's work in our lives, we would hold to the same values. When I see my parents mistakes, I am often very humbled because I could see what I would be like if it wasn' t for His abundant grace.
If they are non-Christians, they cannot easily understand our new set of values. Yet, we see Jesus dealing with such people every day. Somehow His love and explanations would work together in many people and bring desirable changes. We must hope for our parents that they too will see Jesus in us and change.
We must realize that we will not be able to give into our parents' unreasonable or unbiblical demands and expectations. These manipulations have ruined families in the past and must be rejected. After prayer and counsel with an elder, the husband must gently explain that they cannot fulfill what his or her parents are demanding. Remember to clearly state the reason you cannot fulfill their demand.
For example, you might not have money to do certain things. Don't go into debt to do it even if it is embarrassing to state you don't have the money. Or they might want to hold, rock, or carry the new baby from day to night. For one or two days, this would not trouble the baby, but if their visit is extended, then the husband must explain why you do things differently.
If they insist on giving children candy day after day, you might ask them why do they like to do that? Help them understand how a friend's child lost all his teeth because of the sugar. They want to show love but often feel very limited in the ways they can show it. Give them alternatives. Explain your routine and the reason for it.
On the positive side, when they do something right, reassure them of its positive affects. For example, they might not think it very special when they walk their grandchild down to the swings, but heartily thank them and tell them how much it meant to that son or daughter. You might even encourage your child to draw them a thank you card.
If you feel frustrated over something that is happening between your parent/in-law and you or your child, follow these steps.
"God my Father, I want so much to honor You by honoring my parents. Please help me to understand them and help them so that they can see Your love through my life."
It is not always easy to identify. Don't worry. Trust God to show you as you seek Him in prayer. If you still can't figure it out, it might be good to write a chart of the times you sense that frustration and note what it is you have seen or heard just before those times.
Ask yourself a series of questions to better understand your parents. Has he or she always done this? What have they experienced in the past? We should remember that sometimes people act with reactions. They might not have had any candy in the past when little but considered it a very special treat. When they give it so regularly to your child now, you are very concerned.
You can ask your parent what it was like when they were little. Note if they are just imitating their past experiences (eating lots of candy) or reacting (doing the opposite of their experience - giving lots of candy). This is often true of the parent who was raised in poverty. They 'force' the goal of making money on their children, thinking it provides the solutions. Share with them how money doesn' t solve but creates a whole new set of problems.
Thank them a lot for their desire to give their grandchild the very best care. They are trying to help even if it is based on inaccurate information.
Give them an alternative so that they will change their ways. (Give 1 piece of candy each week rather than each day. Give a cracker instead of candy.)
- (a) If their 'way' is not harmful, patiently tolerate it and help our children tolerate it.
- (b) If their 'way' is physically not good, use books and authorities to help them understand the damage that 'way' will cause to the child if continued. Many do not understand.
- (c) If their 'way' goes against biblical principles, explain as a Christian that the Creator's ways are best. He demands that you obey Him. (Refuse lying, stealing, molesting or gambling. etc.)
If they try to force you to go their unbiblical way, explain the difference between honor and obedience. When you became a Christian, you were obligated to obey God. When you became married, you needed to leave their authority and cleave to your spouse. Gently explain that God's ways are best and explain as much as possible how God' s way in this particular case is better.
If the parents/in-laws are insisting on some unbiblical way or aggravating your wife in some bad way, the husband must intervene. He is to speak firmly but gently. He is always to be respectful. Explain the principles behind the problem. They might not understand God' s better way, but do your best to explain its abuses in the past and how God' s way is meant to bring the needed care and love to the family.
If your parents are staying with you, it might come to a confrontation. It might be best to first have an elder share with your parents the situation. Perhaps your parents have some problems with you, and you do not fully understand the situation. But if they are causing havoc in your home, the young husband will need to clearly share with them the new lines of authority.
Explain they are welcomed to share their insights (in fact you are to welcome their advice), but they are not to push you to obey. You might not be able to stop them from getting drunk, but they should not think that they should drink or cause disruption to the home. If their behavior is unacceptable, then you will have to limit your welcome to them. Perhaps a shorter time or you will visit them.
We all desperately want family harmony- unless it means change. What it comes down to is that many prefer having their own way rather than family harmony. But sometimes it is simply because they or we do not fully understand God' s ways. God' s ways are always best. Sometimes we need to stand up for God' s ways, otherwise we will pass on the sins to another generation. More rarely, thankfully, we need to actually insist on God' s ways over our parents' demands. We need to be determined to be a new generation for the Lord and set up high standards that will bring great blessing to our children and their children.