By Sarah Hamaker, Crosswalk.com
The short answer to the headline question is no—bad parenting certainly does not lead to “bad” kids. This runs counter to what the world will say, that we as parents can “make” our children bad by the things we do or don’t do. Why? Because there are countless stories of kids with God-fearing parents who choose to walk the pathway that leads to destruction, and there are countless stories of kids with sin-loving parents who choose to walk in truth and righteousness.
However, as Christians, we realize our children are born with a sinful nature, one that, from their first breath, will fight for dominance in their lives. Because of this sinful nature, our darling baby screws up her face and screams bloody murder if we don’t feed her quickly enough. It’s because of this sinful nature that our delightful toddler wallops his older sister with a toy truck because she was in his way. No one taught the baby or toddler to misbehave—they do because they want what they want when they want it.
That’s not to say there are some parenting mistakes we can make that could push our children to choose the wrong path. But before we discuss those parenting missteps, let’s first get something straight—we as parents are NOT responsible for our children’s choices, including their decisions to do the wrong thing or walk in sin. If your child is unrepentant in their sin right now, it’s the child’s choice to be so. I know it hurts our hearts when our children deliberately pick bad things, friends, or a lifestyle unbecoming to Christians, but we are not ultimately responsible for their salvation. That is entirely God’s domain, and the more we can allow him to work on our children’s hearts through the Holy Spirit, the more we can focus on what we are called to do as parents—to point the way to Christ and to show our children as unconditional a love as possible. (My article “8 Ways to Love Your Unrepentant Child” gives suggestions on loving your wayward kid.)
Here are seven parenting mistakes we can make that might nudge our children or teenagers to pick a path away from God.
1. Expecting Perfection
Do your actions indicate you expect your children never to mess up? We must be careful not to expect perfect behavior 24/7 from our kids. Here are some questions to see if you inadvertently want perfection:
- Do you give grace when your child tries to do the right thing but fails?
- Do you expect your teen to figure out how to overcome misbehavior independently?
- Are you frustrated when your child can’t seem to stop making a bad habit?
Here’s a Bible verse to help you kick perfection to the curb: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.” Philippians 3:12-15, ESV
2. Not Training Your Kids
This is a very common misstep parents make—we forget that not every child has the willpower to simply stop doing something wrong. A good portion of our role as parents is helping our kids learn better ways to handle emotions, such as anger. We also need to teach them the skills needed to stop misbehaviors. If we don’t recognize we have to disciple our children by teaching them how to overcome anger or clean their room, then we could push them away from us—and our faith.
Here’s a Bible verse to help you see the importance of training your kids: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4, ESV
3. Focusing on Outcomes, Not the Heart
When we put all of our energy into appearances but neglect to help our kids do the heart work necessary as Christians, then our children could find the bad things more attractive. We must be more concerned about their inner selves than their outward obedience. Yes, we want our kids to obey, but we also want their hearts to want to obey.
Here’s a Bible verse to help you focus on the heart over outward appearances: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Colossians 3:2, ESV
4. Holding on Tight to Your Teens
When our kids turn 13, sometimes we panic—we suddenly see the stakes of their misbehaviors growing ever larger, which can cause us to tighten our grip when we should be loosening our hold. During middle school, we begin to slip into the role of mentor, allowing these nearly-grown children to make their own decisions as well as mistakes. This can be hard, but it’s a necessary step in their development and in ours as parents. We need to take steps back instead of hovering ever closer to them.
Here’s a Bible verse about letting go as our children grow: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6, ESV
5. Being a Hypocrite
Teenagers especially have a nose for uncovering hypocrisy, so we must be doubly careful not to tell them to walk the straight and narrow but are dabbling in sin on the side ourselves. We must take care to practice what we preach and, in so doing, share our struggles and our successes with our children, especially our teens.
Here’s a Bible verse to help you remember not to be a hypocrite: “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” James 1:26, ESV
6. Overreacting to Mistakes
Sometimes, we as parents react too strongly to a child’s misbehavior (think saying, “You’re grounded until you’re 18” to a fourth grader). When this becomes a pattern rather than an occasional goof, it can create a feeling of hopelessness in our kids, making them more prone to give up and not care about behaving.
Here’s a Bible verse about controlling our emotions to keep us from overreacting: “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” Proverbs 16:32, ESV
7. Withholding Forgiveness and Grace
Our children will make mistakes, sometimes massive ones, but we must find it in our hearts to forgive them. This doesn’t mean the child in question gets away with something or doesn’t experience the consequences of his actions. But we must forgive and offer grace as Christ does with our own sin.
Here’s a Bible verse to help you recall the forgiveness we’ve been granted as believers: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32, ESV
God has given parents a vital role in molding our children, but that doesn’t extend to ensuring our children’s salvation. When we leave the heart work to the Holy Spirit, we can help our children grow in their faith while guiding them over the rocky paths.
Sarah Hamaker is a national speaker and award-winning author who loves writing romantic suspense books “where the hero and heroine fall in love while running for their lives.” She’s also a wife, mother of four teenagers, a therapeutic foster mom, a UMFS Foster Parent Ambassador, and podcaster (The Romantic Side of Suspense podcast). She coaches writers, speakers, and parents with an encouraging and commonsense approach. Visit her online at sarahhamakerfiction.com.