Because life begins at conception, I proudly call myself a father of three even though my third son isn’t yet born. His arrival is imminent, however, since my wife is due in early November.
Part of fighting for a culture of life is using language that reflects the reality of the person and the worth of unborn babies. Hence, I’m a father of three and I have been since our precious child was conceived. A father of three boys, to be exact.
My oldest son is 4-1/2 years old, and my middle son is about 2-1/2; taken together that’s about 7 years’ worth of parenting experience. This still puts me in the “rookie” or “new” parent category. So, while I don’t plan to dispense ex-cathedra edicts on how you should parent, I do want to share some lessons I’ve learned so far, with the hope that it benefits those who are parents and those who aspire to be.
Just the other night my oldest read out loud to us — his parents and his brother — the Bible story for the night before we put them to bed. It was rewarding and memorable, a tangible return on investment from the past 4+ years we have been reading to him every night. So, my first big piece of advice is this: It’s never too early to start reading to your kids. In particular, for Christian parents, reading the Bible. I can’t say I remember exactly when we started a “bedtime Bible story routine” with our first son, but it was in his first few months. I think we kicked it off as soon as we were putting him down in the crib or around the time he started sleeping through the night.
We’ve used a variety of different children’s bibles or bible-story books, but here are two that we have worn out (both by Kevin DeYoung). The first is The Biggest Story ABC, which covers the entire storyline of Scripture — bite-size biblical theology in illustrated and alphabetized form. Along with getting the Gospel right, it also teaches your young ones their ABCs, a true win-win. When our sons got a little older, we moved on to The Biggest Story Bible Storybook, which re-tells major portions of Scripture in an accessible way for little ears.
Deuteronomy 6:6-7, ESV, reminds us that this is exactly what God expects of parents:
“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
In obedience to this command, and along with the Bible “story” books, we regularly read the Bible itself, usually focusing on Psalms and short portions from the Gospels. It’s important for you to find a routine that works, whether that is after dinner at the table, in the morning, or when we do it — before bed.
And don’t just read the Bible! Read lots and lots and lots of books to your kids. It opens their minds, teaches them the fun of learning and language, provides endless entertainment, and equips them for the future.
Right up there with reading is singing. Again, for Christian families, let me encourage regular hymn singing. As with reading, you have to do it for your kids for years before they can join in with you, but don’t underestimate them! Our two-year-old is now quite capable of belting out “Christ Our Hope in Life and Death” while our four-year-old can sing “It Is Well With My Soul” from first to last. Along with singing to the boys before bed, we have made a somewhat regular habit of keeping the boys with us at the start of church services so they can join in the singing or sometimes rushing up to grab them from nursery/childcare and get them back into the service for the last song.
You might be surprised — singing the same songs to your kids over and over again also works wonders on your own heart. During the final few months of my wife’s second pregnancy, our son had more or less stopped growing in the womb. This made things tense, to say the least. Each night, then, as I put our firstborn down to bed, and sang “It Is Well With My Soul,” I was confronted and comforted by the words that came out of my mouth. Was it really well with my soul? Would I truly be able to trust God when “sorrows like sea billows roll?” Did I believe, deep down, that “whatever my lot” I could still say, “It is well, it is well with my soul?” Singing hymns to my children challenged me to grow in my own trust in God.
Music is a gift from God to all of His children. In Ephesians 5:18-19 we are commanded to “be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.”
As parents, we bless our children when we obey this command, in both singing to them and teaching them to sing songs of praise to their God. Don’t worry about if you’re a good singer or not — I promise you, your kids don’t care. Want to parent well? Sing to your kids.
This may sound simple, but it bears repeating. Just like when Coach Lombardi wanted to “get back to basics,” he held up a football in front of his team and said, “This is a football,” so too parents (myself included) need to be reminded of this basic parenting fundamental: play with your children.
Fathers, don’t be too proud to get down on the floor with your boys. Wrestle with them. Be the “horsey.” Give them a ride on your back. Tickle them until they start crying from laughing so hard. Have sword fights. Turn empty cardboard boxes into rocket ships. Put your phones down and pick the kids up.
While I don’t have any girls (yet!) all three of these pieces of advice — to read, sing, and play — with your kids apply to boys and girls! As a father of boys, I wanted to give that last bit of advice to men — but it’s not a gendered concept. It’s just as good for mothers to play with their sons or play with their daughters. That said, Christian fathers have a special duty to pass on Christian masculinity to their sons, and one way to model that well is by doing just what I said — get on their level and just have fun together. It shows your sons that you care.
In Matthew 7:9-11, Jesus reflects on the comparative (unmeasurable) goodness of our heavenly Father. He asks, rhetorically,
“Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
One of the simple, enduring gifts you can give your children is your time, time spent playing with them. You would be surprised how much you can learn about your kids when you pursue unstructured, imaginative play time. You get to know them and how their minds work. They get to see you laugh and relax. So whatever else you do, make sure to play with your kids.
Being a parent is hard. Being a father in a day and age that increasingly denounces godly masculinity is hard, too (and the same goes for mothers in a culture that denigrates godly womanhood and motherhood).
But God, our Father, provides the grace and strength that Christian parents need to raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Amazingly, this provision comes through His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. The Christian faith is truly a family affair.
While there are more things than these three that I’ve learned as a father of three, these have been crucial pillars of my parenting program thus far and I plan to continue doing them for as long as the Lord allows. Read (the Bible), sing (hymns), and play with your kids. They will benefit from it — and you will too.
Follow William on Twitter! @William_E_Wolfe
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