This is part two of a series of posts from J.C. Ryle's book, The Duties of Parents. It was first published in 1888, so it definitely has time-tested advice.
3. Train your children with an abiding persusion on your mind that much depends on you.
"...all this is God's merciful arrangement. He gives your child a mind that will receive impressions like moist clay. He gives them a disposition at the starting point of life to believe what you tell them and to take for granted what you advise them, and to trust your word rather than a stranger's. He gives you, in short, a golden opportunity of doing them good. See that the opportunity be not neglected and thrown away. Once let slip, it is gone forever."
These are challenging words to me! I can hear myself in my children's words...sometimes it makes me smile. Other times it makes me wince. I want to take advantage of the opporutnity to "do them good" by filling their hearts with Scripture and Biblical truth. We have been greatly helped by teaching our kids the children's catechism from the time they could speak. It is amazing how easily they can memorize things when they are young. Of course we want these truths to be imbedded in their hearts, so we try to talk a lot about Spiritual things in every context. It doesn't seem like they are listening sometimes, but we trust that God will bring the fruit in his time.
Whether it is the deliberate things we teach them about the Bible or God, or the unconscious things they pick up from us (the way we talk to/about each other) their clay-like hearts are being shaped.
4. Train with this thought continually before your eyes--that the soul of your child is the first thing to be considered.
"In every step you take about them, in every plan, and scheme, and arrangement that concerns them, do not leave out that mighty question, how will this affect their souls?"
There are so many aspects to this point: schooling, friends, actvities...but it is definitely a question that bears asking often and honestly: will this affect my children's souls in a positive or negative way? We are facing this more as the children get older. When they were small, our home was the center of their universe. Sesame Street was about the most dangerous influence they encountered! But as they are getting older this is a question that we need to ask a lot. The boys have several neighborhood friends that pose a challenge in this area. The television shows targeted at their age group are questionable at best. The things they can find (without even trying) on the computer are frightening. As parents, we have to limit the negative influences and maximize the positive ones. The struggle for me is that it takes a lot of time and effort to create positive, soul-nourishing experiences. It is easier to just let them watch a show or play outside with the neighborhood kids so that I can get my stuff done. But this isn't always what is best for their souls.
One positive thing that we have done is to purposely limit our evening commitments so that we can spend that time as a family. We have made the unpopular decision to forego baseball and softball this year in favor of having that time together. Last year, it seemed like we were all going different directions several nights of the week. It made family worship, and even dinner together, a huge challenge. The kids are disappointed, but we feel that is the best decision for all of us. We are hoping for some fun, soul-enriching times with friends from church and with each other instead.
There are many things that are culturally acceptable that might not be beneficial to the souls of my children. Sometimes it means going against the tide and making tough decisions. Ryle says, "The time is short--The fashion of this world passesth away. He that has trained his children for heaven, rather than for earth, --for God rather than for man--he is the parent that will be called wise at last."
Again, we thank God for his grace. We cannot even begin to fulfill the task of parenting these children without his daily mercy and grace. His mercies are new every morning.