(Posted Feb 07, 2007)
There is a wealth of information available on all aspects of parenting. From books to journal articles to magazine write-ups to information available on the Internet to televised documentaries, new parents are certainly not starved of information.
However, for those not used to sifting through vast archives of available material, making sense of it all can be a formidable and sometimes even insurmountable task.
Our present generation’s fad of wanting quick answers to everything does not help matters – it is all too easy to seek out those materials that promise quick solutions to all parenting problems, to want to believe in claims of simple 10-step approaches that make your child smarter or sleep better or eat better or behaved better.
The truth is that bringing up a child is a lifelong commitment with no easy answers or one-size-fits-all quick-fix methods. It is in fact very hard work, but it is also great fun and the most rewarding job in the world.
Still, misinformation through inadequate education as to what parenting practices are actually in the best interests of the child is still sadly very widespread, even among Christians, with the internal challenge to be overcome here being sheer laziness.
Parents-to-be, especially Christian parents-to-be, need to recognise that their new role will be one of the most important ones they will ever play, and therefore requires their best efforts at self education.
Time needs to be set aside to read, to discuss and pray over parenting choices with spouses, to attend childbirth and parenting classes together as a couple. These are some of the basic ways in which couples can prepare themselves for parenthood.
So how do you sift through the vast amount of material available? If it is printed or online material, is it based on solid scientific research? Are its claims backed up by proper references that you can also check out and read if you want to? If you are reading an article on the Internet, is it published by a reputable website? For example, articles made available on the website of the World Health Organisation (WHO) or the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) or other university-based early childhood research centres can be considered reliable.
The other criterion to consider when evaluating any material you read or advice you are given is: Is it consistent with the principles by which we live as found in the Bible? Another way of looking at it is: Would Jesus do it?
New parents who have themselves been negatively affected by their own past childhood experiences may be scarred and require spiritual and emotional healing before they can overcome their hang ups.
Besides all the usual ways of educating themselves for parenthood such as reading, these parents (even if it involves only one – either the mother or the father-to-be) would be well advised to seek pastoral or professional Christian family counselling before the arrival of their newborn in order to avoid transferring their own hang ups onto their children.
Although lifestyle choices are in fact the result of individual attitudes, some of these choices would have been made some time ago and individuals do become trapped in certain lifestyles sometimes without really realising what has happened or actively choosing to remain where they are.
• Material comforts
The first lifestyle choice that significantly intrudes on parents’ ability to spend time with their children and typically results in leaving children for extended periods with other caregivers – maids, grandparents or babysitters – is materialism.
Parents – and in the Malaysian context this often includes either both mother and father or sometimes just father alone – feel compelled to work long hours to support a certain level of material comfort. This is true even for Christians, especially urban Christians who can easily become caught up in the race towards an ever more materialistic lifestyle.
Teachers in schools within the Klang Valley regularly testify that many problem-children have claimed that misbehaviour is the only thing that catches their parents attention.
Some parents even leave for work before their children wake up in the morning and get home after they have gone to bed; many others spend long hours in school only to come home to spend time on their own or with the maid; yet others spend the hours outside of school at childcare centers, seeing their parents only for brief periods when they pick them up and drop them places.
Parents often claim they have no choice but to work like this, but do they? Perhaps there may be a need to sell off one car or to live a more frugal lifestyle.
As Christians, we should be aware that material possessions are not everything anyway. If prospective parents really cannot afford not to work or to cut down on their working hours, perhaps they should consider delaying having children until they are more ready for the time commitment required to raise them well.
A second lifestyle choice that has the same final result as materialism is career mindedness. Some people are engrossed in their jobs, not for the love of money but for the job satisfaction or self-fulfilment it brings.
This is all well and good, as long as children are not in the picture. Having children means compromising on certain things, and spending long hours at work is certainly one of those things that need to be reconsidered.
Again, if prospective parents really feel that their career is of vital importance, then they should consider delaying having children until they are more ready for the time commitment required to raise them well.
• Too Much Church
A final lifestyle choice that again has the same final result as the two above but a quite different motivation is too much involvement in church or charity-like activities. The sincere motivation here is to serve and to help others, as opposed to selfishly pursuing individual gain – however, the end result is the same.
It is common knowledge that children of pastors and leaders are often the worst rebels. These children often grow up feeling that they are not as important as all those other people that father and/or mother are helping and consequently, many do turn away from the faith of their parents.
It is imperative that church leadership recognises that too many church activities that separate the parents from their children are damaging to the spiritual and emotional health of the family. Churches should instead rally around new (and existing) parents and organise programs that families can participate in together as a family. Pastoral visits to the home to support stay-at-home-moms should be a regular feature of church ministry.
Are current typical parenting practices among Christian parents putting our children at risk? At risk of stunted mental, emotional and spiritual development? At risk of losing their faith in the Lord altogether?
The blueprint for healthy Christian parenting is freely available. Children, especially the youngest ones, need their parents – especially their mothers at first but also their fathers a little later – to be with them all the time, to interact with them, to care for them and to just show them their love.