Article Jun 15, 2018

How dads at the ERLC think about parenting

What have been some of the surprises about parenthood?

Daniel Darling: One of the most surprising things about parenting is just the genuine sense of inadequacy you feel. Going into the parenting experience, I assumed (with great pride) that I’d be a really good father, given my upbringing with a good dad and my life as a Christian. But there is such a gulf between knowing what good parenting is and actually doing it. When your kids are here and you are responsible for them, it’s a humbling and holy thing. And yet, it’s awesome. It’s amazing how God gives you such a deep love for your kids. So the inadequacy and the love combine to make you reliant on the Spirit for strength and grace.

Andrew Walker: The level of joyful contentment. Our culture constantly speculates on what brings joy and satisfaction to life. For me, seeing my daughters laugh and play brings indescribable joy. When the Scriptures speak of children being a blessing, those words become profoundly meaningful in the context of family life. You do not need earthly riches for joy or contentment; all you need is a commitment to pursuing God’s will for how he designed the family to function.

Brent Leatherwood: Watching my children discover things for the first time has been a wonderful surprise. I expected that helping them pass different benchmarks would be a source of pride, but the process that entails, and and then seeing their eyes light up as they figure something out, has truly melted my heart.

At the same time, I’ve been surprised by how much culture competes with us for their attention. There’s an adage that says, “If you aren’t discipling your children, culture will,” and that is absolutely the case.

Finally, our experience has reconfirmed just how strong my wife is and how much our marriage forms a beautiful framework for raising our children. Her abilities as a guide and nurturer for our two daughters and son neatly complement my own roles as protector and supporter. I knew that was God’s plan heading into our marriage but it’s been so reassuring to see God’s elegant design for family up close.

How are you practically trying to demonstrate God’s reality to your children?

DD: I hope our kids are seeing the reality of God’s work in our own lives, even in light of many mistakes and flaws on our part. One of the things we try to do is to point out the reality of God in Christ in the everyday things. So, when we have a financial situation or some burden or struggle in one of our kids’ lives, we try to help them see it as an opportunity to wait and trust in God. And we also try, as the children of Israel were commanded to do, to remember. We tell our kids how God has worked in our own lives, how he has worked through history, and that they can have confidence that he is working now.

Also—and this so simple and yet crucial—we bring them to church every week. The weekly rhythms of worship are forming their hearts in ways they don’t even understand now.

AW: I echo what Dan said above. Weekly church attendance is absolutely crucial. We prioritize it, and we tell our daughters why we do—to help them see the blessing of being part of God’s family.

I also speak a lot about how God designed the family. I want them to understand that their lives and their experience as a family member are not arbitrary.

BL: We really value community in our home, and we try to demonstrate the reality of God’s people and his care for others by welcoming individuals and families into our home on a routine basis and serving those who are in need through our church (1 Pet. 4:9). We’re seeking to display good stewardship for our children with the resources we have and lay a foundation for a heart of service in each of them.

Both Andrew and Dan are absolutely right about making church central in our lives. My wife and I make it a priority to serve in the church, and we’re physically there several times a week. We want church engagement to be part of the natural rhythm of their lives, and we use those opportunities to talk about why church is such an incredible gift from God to us as believers.

What are some ways that you are intentionally discipling your children?

DD: We do this in a variety of ways. We feel it's really important to catechize our kids. So we use some great tools that help us walk our kids through Scripture and doctrine in a way they understand. We also try to sing hymns from time to time. We mostly do this around meals, so we may do it in the morning before school or at dinner.

We also think it's important to use spontaneous moments to press in the gospel. So when our kids are having conflict or there is a moment that just lends itself to teaching, we teach. Sometimes we use the calendar, for example, big holidays. Sometimes we use the news cycle.

AW: Most nights, we use a children’s catechism to teach them elementary principles of theology. We pray and sing together, too. None of it is complex. All it takes is persistence. More than anything, though, is that we talk about God, Jesus, sin, and repentance a lot. We want these categories baked into their little minds.

BL: We’re in the season where we are laying foundations for our children. With them being so young, we are focusing on a persistent prayer life and using music to reinforce biblical themes. These work out in a few ways that build upon one another.

Like Dan and Andrew, we pray with them every night before bed. I also like to use our time in the car together to talk about who we should pray for and why we should pray for them. Recently, we’ve started reciting the Lord’s Prayer and just talking about what each line means for us (as a heads up, explaining “debtor” to a four year old isn’t easy!).

Throughout the day, music is playing in our home. Sometimes it’s modern Christian music, bluegrass-style hymns, or children’s songs. The songs afford us an opportunity to circle back on particular themes that we want to highlight, and it’s amazing how easily children memorize verses when put to music.

How has your understanding of God as Father informed how you parent your children?

DD: It’s so sobering. I’m freshly aware that my kids conception of a father is shaped by me. I tremble at that because of my many failures. I’m the only version of Dad they have, so I want to get this right.

And yet I’m also aware that God is fathering my kids even as he fathers me. He’s filling in my gaps, he cares for them more than I do, and he has not made a mistake in assigning me to be their dad.

AW: Fathers have impact, whether for good or ill. It is impossible for a father not to dictate how their children understand God as Father, and that can be a very happy understanding, or a miserable one. I also have a greater understanding of unconditional love and grace. Nothing, nothing can nullify my relationship with my daughters. They will forever be my children. In the same way, God’s role as Father is eternal.

BL: It’s impossible to quantify how much our children have added to my own relationship with God. They’ve provided me with a more complete understanding of his own sacrificial, unconditional love for me. In turn, I want to always show them the grace, discipline, and favor he has shown me.

Similarly, as I read through Scripture, it’s abundantly clear how much God guides us. I want to be a parent who serves as a helpful shepherd for their hearts and dreams. Whether it’s prioritizing reading, limiting screen time, or creating opportunities for them to have a hands-on experience with something, I want them to have meaningful guide rails that shape their success.

What has been one of the hardest things about fatherhood so far?

DD: One of the hardest things is to die to self. This is more acute as their father because it requires me to constantly sacrifice, for my wife, for my kids, when I’d rather choose my own comfort.

It’s also hard to trust. As my kids get older, I am always fearful of what could happen to them, and yet I know I’m to release them to his care and to live on mission for him in the world.

AW: Learning patience. When children disobey or disrupt plans, it is easy to see parenting as a burden. It is in those moments that one has to crucify their frustrations and understand the divine calling of faithful presence and corrective love.

BL: I’d agree with both Dan and Andrew and add that, for us, consistency is something we’re trying to get better at across the board. Instead of being hot and cold with various things, we’re trying to build healthy habits and routines that will hopefully become second nature to our children. Unfortunately, life does its best to get in the way of the formation of those, and my wife and I recognize we have to be better about shutting out the world for the sake of our children’s well being.

How do you seek to grow as a father?

DD: It’s really about being in the Word and in prayer. I pray more now than I ever have in my life. My inadequacies force me to my knees. I also try to ask questions of other fathers who are a few miles ahead of me on this parenting journey. I’ve found a few faithful dads at our church who are founts of spiritual wisdom. In addition, I try to read. I often read biographies and learn from men and women, good and bad. And I try to read books on theology and parenting to help shape me.

AW: One of the most significant things in my growth as a father happened recently. I was upset with my oldest daughter (age 7) and proceeded to berate her about a decision she made. I was justified in being upset, but then I brought up my frustration once again, which crushed her little spirit. In her school, she’s learned that once someone is forgiven, it is not right to continue to hold someone’s sin over them. My daughter relayed how I had crushed her by bringing up her sin again. When I learned how I had hurt her, I was crushed. I asked my daughter for forgiveness. The lesson? I want my daughter to understand her father is a sinner and needs forgiveness and grace. The whole episode was a good moment of learning the importance of humility as a father.

BL: I’ll pick up and emphasize something Andrew said recently that I wholeheartedly agree with. As a father, it’s not enough to merely be present. I have to engage. What I mean by that is, instead of reading a book while my children play, I need to set it aside, get down on their level, crawl into their little world, and be present right alongside them. Showing them that I value their imagination and want to help them play with their toys, I think, lends them the support they need to flourish. And, ultimately, that’s my objective as a father. I want them to flourish in God’s plans for their lives, and I’m the instrument God has providentially given to help them do just that.

ERLC2018