Guiding Young Hearts: Nurturing Godliness in Our Children

Navigating the journey of parenthood can often feel like a bustling zoo combined with a bustling dance floor, especially in a home like ours filled with five children, two dogs, two cats, and one ever-helpful “Alexa.” Amidst this joyful chaos, my wife, Julia, and I have found a deep sense of tranquility.

Over the years, we’ve recognized that while it’s our duty to provide the best nurturing environment for our children, their ultimate paths are not in our hands. We are the gardeners tending to the soil, but we do not decide the flower’s bloom. This understanding brought about a serene shift in our parenting, focusing on our present responsibilities rather than the uncertain future.

Nearly fifteen years ago, this paradigm shift profoundly transformed our family discussions. Our dialogues transitioned from pointing out our children’s shortcomings to exploring our own roles in shaping their lives.

This paradigm shift sparked noticeable changes in our parenting approach. Reflecting on our household atmosphere, we identified areas of improvement. We embraced Scriptures related to parenting and family and found Proverbs 22:6 as our starting point:

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Unpacking this verse brought us to three pivotal parenting transitions: from telling to training, from what should not be to what should be, and from focusing on the young years to looking toward the old years. These shifts harmonize with broad biblical themes, making Proverbs 22:6 an excellent compass for our parenting journey.

Training Over Telling

Our first parental shift involved acknowledging ourselves as mentors, not just narrators. We found that the usual phrases of “How many times have I told you…” or “Don’t make me have to tell you again,” were often ineffective.

In these instances, we shifted from expressing frustration at their perceived disobedience to seeking innovative methods to stir their curiosity and understanding. This trainer mindset has its roots deeply embedded in the life and teachings of Jesus. Jesus didn’t just command his disciples to pray; he demonstrated prayer, explained its importance, showed them how to pray, and encouraged them to persist (Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16; Matthew 7:7–11; Mark 9:29; Luke 11:2–4; Luke 18:1).

Embracing this training approach meant we committed to refraining from disciplining our children for actions they hadn’t been taught about yet. Yes, it sometimes led to awkward public moments when we realized, “We haven’t covered that one at home yet!” However, this shift towards training clearly communicated to our children that we were their steadfast allies in their journey towards maturity.

Should Go, Not Shouldn’t Go

In many households, a chorus of “no’s” often dominates the familial symphony. However, a narrative filled with don’ts does not adequately prepare children for future challenges (Colossians 2:21–23). Our goal became to reflect the nature of our heavenly Father who, in the Garden of Eden, first told Adam and Eve about all the trees from which they could eat before mentioning the one tree they shouldn’t touch (Genesis 2:16).

This pivot led to the creation of “The Bradner Family Creed,” seven values that guide our family life. Our creed provides a positive vision, allowing us to focus on cultivating, modeling, and celebrating these values rather than continually issuing prohibitions.

Old, Not Young

Lastly, visualizing our children as adults helps us to play the long game in our parenting, guarding against winning minor skirmishes but losing the overarching war. We aspire to parent in a way that our children want to maintain a relationship with us even when they aren’t obligated to.

Shaping our children for the future begins now, while they’re still young. We aim to create a welcoming environment that they would want to return to, even after they’ve left the nest. If our children are to hear us utter the phrase, “How many times have I told you…,” we hope it’s followed by, “…how much I love you and consider it an honor to be your parent?”

This does not mean we have abdicated our authority or duty to guide and correct our children. We simply aim to foster a lifetime of meaningful dialogue and growth. As noted by Henry Drummond, “You will find that the people who influence you are the people who believe in you.”

In our quest to play the long game, we want to avoid the phrase, “That’s not what we believe/think/do in this family,” without any further discussion. While it’s a parent’s privilege to teach what’s right, this shouldn’t result in a dismissive attitude towards the child’s perspective (Proverbs 18:2). Instead, engaging in thoughtful conversations builds a stronger foundation for the years to come.

A Worthwhile Journey

Reflecting back, these subtle shifts in our parenting have had an immense impact. Parenting isn’t a stroll in the park, and neither is growing up. But by channeling our energy into creating a God-centered and life-affirming environment for our children today, we can positively influence their tomorrow. Sometimes, the most impactful transformations come from just a few shifts in perspective.