Navigating the Parental River


Whenever I’m asked advice about parenting, I get a little nervous. I’m not exactly sure why, but I think it’s because deep down I know children come with no guarantees. God’s Word supplies us with principles and commands for raising kids, but in the end, every child is an individual who may or may not follow in the footsteps of our faith.

Some good parents have had their hearts broken by a rebel while some bad parents have been unwittingly blessed with a child devoted to God.

After all, God himself knows what it’s like to be the Father of rebellious children: “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: ‘Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me.’” (Isaiah 1:2) We aren’t responsible for the spiritual condition of our children; however, we are ultimately responsible to God for the way in which we parent our children.

So, whenever I speak to parents about the child-rearing process, I often share my thoughts about carefully navigating the various stages of childhood development. With Father’s Day not too distant in our rearview mirrors, I thought I’d mention three different roles you as a father must take on during your child’s life.

Before I get to that, let me remind you of what parenting is: it’s the process of teaching and training your children to leave your home and establish their own and to live godly, productive lives for the glory of God. In a nutshell, Dad, your job is to work yourself out of a job. Unless that goal is clear and the destination is kept in focus, it’s easy to get off course.

God’s Word supplies us with principles and commands for raising kids, but in the end, every child is an individual who may or may not follow in the footsteps of our faith.

As children grow up and mature, what they need from parents dramatically changes. I like to compare it to rafting down a great river. Let’s call it the Parental River. Some parts are calm and still, and the water flows slow and deep. But over time the current picks up and gradually you enter more troubled water. The Parental River can suddenly narrow its descent and things quickly turn dicey! Because families are in a constant state of flux, it’s important to have a basic understanding of your role in each stage of your child’s life.

The Manager

Dad, during childhood your primary role is that of a manager. It’s your responsibility to limit your children’s choices. They’re not equipped to make decisions between too many options. In other words, you offer A or B, maybe even C; but don’t take them down the cereal aisle to choose one out of a hundred, you may be there for a long time.

You also should never attempt to rationalize with them. Children need concrete rules and structure. The first thing your child needs to learn is the meaning of the word “no.” They must learn that you are the boss. You tell them what to do, and then make sure they do it. This is the stage where you must break their will, especially when they’re defiant. Giving in to a defiant child sets them up for failure and you for a broken heart.

The Coach

During your child’s adolescent years, your role changes to that of a coach. Your responsibilities involve teaching, guiding, conditioning, and encouraging. This difficult stage can present great challenges and often requires great courage. Unfortunately, at this stage in the river many dads abandon ship and leave the job to mom, teachers or pastors. But you have to make up your mind to be involved in your child’s life whether he likes it or not.

There will be times when you have to make some tough choices. A coach has to be tough on his players to get the most out of them. He has to hold that line of discipline so that his players can be the best they can be.

The Consultant

Our three are now grown and have families of their own. My wife and I enjoy relationships with them as fellow adults as basically their consultants. We’re there for them if they need advice or prayer.

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In summary, as you progress down the Parental River, give your children more responsibility and broader choices. It’s frustrating to see fathers reverse these stages. He tries to explain and rationalize with a little child about why they should eat their peas or go to bed at a certain time. But then when those same youngsters enter adolescence, he becomes a manager and expects his teen to do something just because he said to do it.

I think some fathers do this because they feel threatened by their kids, or they crave their kid’s approval to the point where they cave on convictions. They still need to know you’re the boss, but this stage demands honest communication and scriptural answers. Simply throwing your weight around the house like a drill instructor will only breed resentment in your child. This is where alienation of affection takes place and all of sudden you’re in the middle of some class 5 rapids!

Much more could be said about this, but this is the gist of it: fathers need to carefully navigate the various stages of the Parental River. It will not only help you get them safely to their destination; it will also make the trip more exciting and enjoyable.

Fathers need to carefully navigate the various stages of the Parental River