I vividly remember the PSA that came on TV during my childhood. Between Saturday morning cartoon episodes came a commercial sponsored by Partnership for a Drug Free America with the famous tagline: “Parents who use drugs have children who use drugs.” The scene unfolds with a teenage boy propped up in bed as his dad startles him with a box of weed asking, “Are these your drugs? Where did you get it? Who taught you how to do this stuff?” The son answers in angst, “You! Alright?! I learned it by watching you.” The father looks down, shameful and forlorn as a voice speaks the tagline.
That commercial always stood out to me, if not for its direct message then for its dramatic appeal. I remember thinking, “Does the dad really smoke weed in front of his kid and not think that it will affect him in some way? ” I was just a kid myself and blindly unaware of some of the harsh realities of other children’s experiences at home.
What struck me then, and strikes me even more so now as a parent myself, is how much of what children learn is by the example they observe. My husband and I recently noticed our children copying phrases we say or certain mannerisms we exhibit that we never set out to teach them. Just the other day I overheard my oldest daughter scold our son with an emphatically stern tone, “No sir!” when he took her toy, just like I do when I reprimand him for wrongdoing. What to Expect When You’re Expecting left out the chapter on “Your Kids Will Watch Your Every Word and Move.”
As I became more aware of the pairs of little eyes in my home observing my husband and me, I started to pray that the Lord would help my life teach, not just by the words I say, but by the things I do and the way in which I do them. I asked for the Holy Spirit to grant me discernment concerning how I live out my faith in front of my kids, and I was reminded of Paul’s words to the church at Corinth when he said, “Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). This simple phrase became the model of discipleship for me, not just for those I disciple in my local church, but especially for those I disciple at home.
Discipling our children at home
I learned that there are many helpful practices that will benefit my children’s discipleship, but here are three general ways that Christian parenting is a means of discipleship.
If we seek to lead our children in what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, then we must follow Jesus ourselves.
1. Continually draw near to God
When Paul tells the church at Corinth to imitate him, he only exhorts them to do so as he imitates Christ. This is key. If we seek to lead our children in what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, then we must follow Jesus ourselves. This means that we seek first his Kingdom and righteousness, and that our children know this about us. We are not given into materialistic pursuits or selfish gain. Our children see us in the Word and devoted to prayer, looking to the eternal inheritance that comes to us through our living hope in Jesus Christ. As they watch us do this, we pray for God to help them follow our lead in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.
2. Establish core values
Our children will value what we value. If church attendance is not a priority for us, then we should not be surprised if it is not valued by our kids when they leave our home. If God’s Word remains on a shelf in our home, then we should not be surprised if it doesn’t reach the center of our children’s hearts. Establish some core values of the home. What are some “As for me and my house” values that will be offered in service to the Lord and will be instructive for our children at home?
3. Develop essential habits
What are some essential habits that will become the fabric of our homes? What do we want our children to remember about home? Scripture reading, prayer, seeking and offering forgiveness when needed, shared meals around the table, pursuing peace, serving others, bearing witness to the gospel, offering hospitality, and so many other practices are wonderful habits to develop in the home. There is not a formula or a list to follow. God’s Word will guide us in developing healthy, life-giving habits that will have lasting impact in our homes.
Our children are watching us. What is our life teaching them? Can we honestly say, “Imitate me?” When our children eventually leave home, may they know Christ and walk in his truth because, in part, they saw it modeled by us.