It’s not crazy to argue that the Bible might be the first popular guide to parenting. At least that’s what the Old Testament seems to be about. Starting families. Raising kids. Settling disputes between potential heirs. Leading people. Getting advice. Being a good son yourself.
Of course, there’s all sorts of parenting advice in the Bible that doesn’t hold up and all sorts of insane human behavior that has thankfully gone away (multiple wives, concubines, offering your own son for sacrifice, arranged marriages, etc). But one piece of advice does stand up. It’s Proverbs 22:6:
“Train a child according to his way; even when he grows old, he will not turn away from it.”
That’s a lowercase “his,” so that means not God’s way, but the child’s way. Meaning: Each kid is different and needs to be taught and loved and parented differently. Isn’t that the story of the Prodigal Son embodied? One son had trouble, the other was dutiful. Did the father treat them both the same? No, he gave them both what they needed, even if it didn’t make sense or seemed unfair at the time.
We must follow this model. It’d be simpler if we could come up with one parenting philosophy and just stick with it. One set of rules or one way of showing we love them, but that’s not what this difficult and complicated job requires. We have to figure out what each person—and that’s what kids are, their own person—needs and give it to them in the way they need it. We have to train them and teach them and connect with them on their terms, not ours.
Only then will our lessons and examples stick. Only then will we get through.