In our previous post on relational parenting, we talked about the vertical dimension: child and God. Now we’re talking about the horizontal plane: parent-child. The idea of parental presence is one aspect of the theology of parenting we didn’t address in depth earlier, but it comes out in this point as we talk about the relational aspect of parenting. Both biblically and anecdotally, presence in parenting is key. We see in the Bible that God’s presence is vital. God is omnipresent, he is everywhere in the universe. The first man and the first woman lived continually in his presence until they rebelled, at which time they were expelled from God’s presence. Jesus, when he came, manifested God’s presence among us once again, and through the Holy Spirit reintroduces us to God’s presence, and we’ll live in God’s presence in all eternity.
Parents, likewise, need to be present with their children. At first, this is primarily physical; they literally need to be with their children 24/7 to nurture and protect them. Gradually, the presence is more emotional and spiritual, but physical presence remains important. In Equipping for Life, we talk about the scourge of fatherlessness in our society. Even in intact families, fathers often spend too little time with their children because of the demands of work or other factors. We believe presence is vital in parenting. Even when our children are grown, we can still be present with them when they need us, and hopefully the character and values we instilled in them will be with them for the rest of their lives.
What about a father’s presence with his children? Why is the father’s presence so important?
Andreas: I come from a family where my father left my mother when I was 18 (my parents subsequently got divorced), but already during my teenage years my father was largely absent. That left a huge hole in my life. I’ve already talked about the scourge of fatherlessness in our society. In our book, we share some staggering statistics about the negative consequences of a father’s absence in the lives of his children. Positively, a father is to be a spiritual leader and role model in many ways. Especially his sons have a need to spend time with him, to look up to him, to learn from him—to be equipped for life. His daughters, too, need him to affirm them and make them feel special and loved. As a man, I’ve come to realize that family need not just be a priority for me, my heart needs to be fully in and with my family. I need to care deeply for each member of my family and show a genuine interest in various details in my children’s lives. That’s how they know that I love them and that I’m totally engaged with their lives.
Turning to mothers, why is it vital that the mother is present with her children?
Margaret: First, the question is relevant because today it is often not necessarily considered to be a priority for a mother to be with her children. Feminism has had an indelible impact on our society. Today, women are not necessarily aware of that and fall into roles that are now culturally acceptable but fall outside of the realm of God’s ordained order. So, it is an important question, and the answer is essentially that this is the way God planned it at the beginning. We all know instances where a mother is not present, and as a result there is often a hole felt in her child’s life. Not only is it God’s design for a mother to nurture her child, statistics—not to mention anecdotal evidence—amply confirms this.
How does the father’s and mother’s presence relate to the presence of peers in our children’s lives?
Andreas: The book of Proverbs says that the man who walks with the wise will grow wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm. (We say this to our children so often they could cite the passage in their sleep!) As parents, we have a vital interest in who our children’s friends (and even acquaintances) are. The goal is to help our children develop character and discernment so that they choose quality friends. As a young man or woman grows in maturity and begins using technological devices, texting and posting on social media are extremely influential. These end up dictating a child’s life as everyone well knows.
Margaret: So, the transition to the use of technology should be handled with utmost care and supervision. Some parents advise delving into it as soon as the child begins to ask questions about it and there being complete transparency with the parents and proper boundaries are set to limit time usage and access to appropriate content. Others urge waiting until a later age. We’ve preferred an approach that incorporates a balance of caution and parental involvement in the transition and to train the child. We will talk more about this later. The influence of “friends” is significantly affected by social media. Hopefully, as the result of a good relationship with your child, they will be receptive and trust you. Along those lines, we’ve always tried to keep lines of communication open and know our children’s friends. One way to do that is to keep your house open and host events. We love to have kid magnets at our home—we have a basketball hoop, fire-pit in the back, and try to make our place a fun place to be—and our son’s friends love to come over to play.