Parenting. It strikes fear in the hearts of some, joy in others. Everyone has heard the old saying, “There are two things you don’t talk about at parties, politics and religion.” Parenting could easily be added to that list.

Parenting styles change from generation to generation. They can be drastically different, even between siblings as they raise their own children. Who’s to say if there is a right or wrong way when it comes to raising children these days? And how do you know what approach to take with which child? The answer is you don’t, not until you get into the thick of it. That is the challenge of parenting. That is where the fear and the joy come in.

What will influence my parenting style?

My wife and I have raised three girls. And we definitely experienced challenges (and a lot of joy) along the way. As a father, one thing I have realized is no matter what parenting style you adopt, we all are influenced by the same factors in our lives, and we all have similar goals for our children.

The biggest influence on how children are raised is how their parents were raised.

Most of the time, parents do not realize how much of an influence that has on their own parenting. Oftentimes, parents will try to either recreate or completely change what they had growing up based on their experience as a child. Either way, everyone has their own style. In a two-parent household, those styles and desires should be discussed and agreed upon as much as possible prior to getting into the thick of it.

Why is the concept of parenting so important?

Have you ever started a new job, and on the first day, your boss says, “Around here, we figure it out as we go, so good luck”? What if, instead, you were told, “You will be in six weeks of training before you start work. We want to give you the greatest chance for success”?

Parenting is exactly the same. We have all heard heartbreaking stories about children growing up without parental involvement, support, or instruction—children left to figure it out as they go. But then, there are children with parents that are committed to doing all they can to give their child the greatest chance for success. Neither one of those is a guarantee that the child will or will not achieve his or her potential, but one of them certainly has a better chance.

How can I pave the way for my children?

The initial challenge of parenting, when your child is young, is to figure out how your style fits with your child in a way that serves him or her best. That may sound strange that you are serving your child with your parenting. Some parents have the idea that they simply need to prepare their children to be contributing members of society, and what they do with the rest of their lives is up to them.

The Bible has some great wisdom on parenting. One of those passages is Proverbs 22:6 (NIV): “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old, they will not turn from it.” The first half of that verse is a huge challenge to parents.

First, what is “the way they should go”? Many people misinterpret this as simply a belief in Christ, and if they start their children off with that belief, they will not turn from it. We all have seen children grow up in families with strong faith and still decide to turn away from God. So, that is not the promise in this verse.

“The way they should go” is a personal thing. It might be interpreted as “the way each individual child should go.” Children have their own way of learning and their own desires, skills, abilities, and gifts from God. The challenge is learning what those things are and using them to help propel your child into the life God has planned for him or her in His kingdom.

Can I parent every child exactly the same?

If your children are all exactly the same, then yes. But since they are not, some adjustments have to be made. When you serve your child with your parenting, it may be that you are rewarding them for a job well done, teaching them about Jesus, or enforcing some kind of discipline.

Since every child is different, those rewards, learning styles, or types of discipline will need to be adjusted to be as effective as possible. For example, giving a look of disapproval to one child might make him melt and want to do better. That same look to another child might get a response of “What’s wrong with your face?” Sometimes it is obvious where adjustments are needed. Sometimes it takes more time to figure it out. Sometimes it is just trial and error. Most of all, it takes patience.

Contrary to what some people believe, parents are still in charge and still have authority over their children, but don’t be afraid to serve your child with your parenting. Do the work to help your child get started off on “the way he should go.”

Parenting can be the hardest, scariest, most challenging, most painful, rewarding, joyful, exciting, breathtaking, and most blessed job in the world! Don’t be afraid to talk about it at parties!

For other practical ways you can create a strong foundation for your children, check out Three Ways to Build a Firm Foundation for Your Kids.

If you are looking for practical tools for parenting and other important areas of life, check out Life at the Table, coming in March of 2019.