Parenting should focus on humility
The best parenting advice I know is found in a book that is not about parenting. It is a book, however, about human nature, and it is necessarily true that if we do not understand human nature we cannot be good parents. The advice is found in chapter nine, book three, of the Christian classic, Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis.
Lewis is writing about pride, “The Great Sin,” and he says this:
“Pride can often be used to beat down the simpler vices. Teachers, in fact, often appeal to a boy’s pride, or, as they call it, his self-respect, to make him behave decently: many a man has overcome cowardice, or lust, or ill-temper by learning to think that they are beneath his dignity – that is, by Pride. The devil laughs. He is perfectly content to see you becoming chaste and brave and self-controlled provided, all the time,
he is setting up in you the Dictatorship of Pride – just as he would be quite content to see your chilblains cured if he was allowed, in return, to give you cancer. For Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.”
Although Lewis does not directly refer to parents here, what he says is very applicable to them.
Just as teachers may be tempted to appeal to a child’s pride to cure them of “simpler vices,” so parents may be tempted to do the same. If my observations are correct, some parents regularly indulge in this temptation and therefore raise children who seem to believe that the sun shines out of their nose and that every opinion they happen to have is worth its weight in platinum.
Christian parents (including myself) are just as prone to this kind of child-rearing than other parents, and perhaps even more so.
Christian parents have a very vested interest in getting their children to “behave” and sometimes seem to aim at that behaviour at the cost of all else, even the risk of the dictatorship of pride.
It may be that these parents themselves are caught up in that same dictatorship, which is why they need their children to behave – because they think it reflects well on them.
There are many problems with using the method of pride to get our children to behave, as Lewis indicates, but there is one problem that transcends them all.
It is stated very clearly by the Apostle James: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).
The grace of God only extends to those who recognize their sins and know that they are needy.
As Jesus also said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32).
Of course, parents should not be harsh with their children, nor should they try to humble them by treating them like dirt. These are not better alternatives. Instead, Christian parents, while unconditionally loving their children, should try to instill in them a deep sense of humility in constructive ways, including in their discipline.
Most importantly, they should do this with daily prayer for the wisdom and patience of God, which He has promised to give to those who ask.