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Good Parenting Goes Beyond Keeping Kids Happy

Photo of Emily RichardsonEmily Richardson | Bio

Emily Richardson

Emily is a pastor’s wife to her best friend, Matt, as well as a stay-at-home/homeschool mama to Judah and Savannah. She's incredibly passionate about teaching biblical literacy to the women in their church and through her writing. She also co-hosts the Talk Bible To Me podcast through The Bold Movement for the purpose of training women how to study and understand Scripture. When  not busy doing all these things, you’ll probably find her in a cozy corner with a good book and a coffee.

What is good parenting according to the Bible? A lot of parents may assume that the point of parenting is to help their kids be happy at all times. Yet good parenting according to the Bible looks more like lovingly training our kids to know God and follow him. Good parenting means discipling your kids (Deut. 6:6-7). And part of discipling your kids means discipline—training them to know what’s right and wrong and correcting them when they’re making destructive choices. Good parenting goes much deeper than just keeping kids happy.

We all want our kids to be happy, but what if I told you that pursuing happiness is becoming a danger to our children?

You’ll have to hear me out for minute—I can explain.

Parenting has taken a downward shift over the last few decades. While it’s true that every generation of parents has their flaws and there isn’t one perfect generation that’s gotten everything right, still for most of human history, parents have been the authority and children have been raised to obey them. I have seen a shift taking place where, in many families, the children have begun having most of the say in how the home is run, and the parents grudgingly oblige.

A Reversal of Authority

Look around you. Closely watch the families in America and you’ll see it: a child throwing a tantrum and Mom handing out promises left and right just to try to hush the fit. A teen speaking disrespectfully to her dad as both parents laugh and say, “Oh, kids these days.” Sure, these instances have probably taken place for centuries but the difference is that today, it’s becoming the norm.

This isn’t just happening in non-Christian families. It’s in our churches, maybe even in our own homes, and I don’t think it’s because the parents don’t care about how their children are behaving. I believe we have a generation of parents that have caught on to this idea that happiness is the goal for their children, and they’re doing whatever it takes to get to this goal, even if it means sacrificing their own authority so that their children are satisfied.

“…a generation of parents that have caught on to this idea that happiness is the goal for their children…even if it means sacrificing their own authority…”

Maybe they are creating this goal, consciously or unconsciously, because they are reacting against the way they were parented. Let’s face it. Many of us grew up in legalistic homes. Lots of rules. Not much grace. And what was our response? “I don’t ever want to parent my children the way I was raised.” “My children deserve the life I never received.” Maybe your parents wanted law and order, so naturally you decided that the main thing you want is for your children to be happy.

Pursuing Something Firm, Not Fleeting

So, what’s the issue with happiness? There’s nothing wrong with the emotion itself. The issue is in the fact that we’re making the goal an emotion, which means it’s fleeting and unstable. We have all experienced the truth that constant happiness is not actually attainable. Yet many of us are doing everything we can to avoid letting our kids feel anything else. Happiness becomes the standard we set for our kids.

But just as it is with every other area of our lives as Christ followers, we have to ask: what is God’s standard for us as parents and for our children? What is our real God-given role as mothers and fathers? As we delve into what the Bible says, we’ll see that our role as parents goes a lot deeper than just helping our kids stay happy.

Good parenting: “What is our real God-given role as mothers and fathers?”

Take a minute to read Hebrews 12:7-11, and then let’s break it down verse by verse.

“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” (Heb. 12:7-8, ESV)

One of the major markers of a loving parent has to do with discipline. Our culture tends to want to cut this word out of our parenting vocabulary. Now, being gentle with our kids is also important; I strive daily to be gentle and calm with my own, as hard as that can be some days. But we can go so far away from conflict that we end up shying away from any form of discipline, leaving the child in control of the way in which things are dealt. The focus is often on the child’s feelings instead of behavior correction or character development. If my form of discipline causes my child to cry, then I should avoid it at all costs, right? Not exactly.

The Goal of Discipline

The Greek word here for discipline connotes education or training. I think it’s important to keep that in mind when understanding the real meaning of discipline. Most of the time, discipline is meant to be intentional instead of reactionary. And the main goal of discipline should always be to educate and train our children in the way of the Lord, and the Hebrews 12 passage tells us that God’s form of discipline requires endurance. This means he expects his children to go through difficult situations that probably won’t feel very good in the moment—but which will help us along in that biblical education and training. God even goes so far as to say that if we don’t go through his discipline, we aren’t actually his children. Yikes.

Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?” (Heb. 12:9, ESV)

Good parenting: “We have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them.”

This one’s for the kids. It’s not only expected in Scripture that a parent will discipline their child, it’s also implied that a child will then respect their parents. I believe this is one of those circular things. When a parent disciplines their child with the goal of training and educating, I believe the child will naturally respect their parents. A child will never verbally tell you they want boundaries, but boundaries create safety.

Every child, no matter their age, desires to be protected by someone, especially Mom and Dad. But if Mom and Dad don’t create those boundaries through discipline, how will the child ever learn respect? If a child cannot learn the basics of respecting and obeying their mother and father whom they physically interact with, how will they come to learn to respect and obey their Heavenly Father whom they can completely ignore if they so desire?

For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.” (Heb. 12:10, ESV)

Good parenting: “For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.”

This is the key verse. Fathers and mothers discipline to the best of our ability, though we don’t know our child’s future or how they’ll turn out. We can only pray that they will come to know the Lord and that we will help lead them there through the way we raise them. We hope that everything we do is for their good. But the second half of this verse shows God’s intentions for discipline. It’s that we may share in his happiness…oops, nope. Happiness is not the goal.

That we may share in his holiness.

Holiness is the goal.

A Better Goal for Our Kids

And the world will hate to hear that, because we live in a culture that sees holiness as something which is haughty and distasteful. Over the years, the definition of the word “holy” has been skewed so much that many of us have forgotten the true, biblical meaning. Holy doesn’t mean self-righteous or impractically saintly. What the word means is “set apart.” Holiness means we don’t follow the world in its self-destructive ways. We don’t love the things of this world. Holiness means we seek God’s heart and God’s standards above all else, even if that means sacrificing our temporary happiness.

So, when it comes to parenting our children according to God’s standards, this means that our goal for them is not to conform them to the image of the world, but to the image of God. This completely changes the way we make decisions for our kids, and trust me, the world will scoff at this idea of desiring holiness for our children. It flies in the face of the cultural standards today. But let me walk us through the final verse in this Hebrews 12 passage, so that you might catch a glimpse of why this is worth it.

For the moment, all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Heb. 12:11, ESV)

Good parenting: “For the moment, all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”

Training our children God’s way “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” What does this mean? It means that when we train our children according to the Word of God, when we correctly discipline them, when they come to respect us as their parents and therefore come to respect God as their Creator, all this opens the door for them to come to a full understanding of righteousness, of being made right before God. And what kind of fruit is righteousness?

Peaceful fruit.

In a world where kids are more stressed and overwhelmed and anxious than ever before, we have the chance to give our kids the gift of peace, because they’ll have the understanding that they don’t have to do or be anything in order to gain God’s acceptance. They only have to receive his grace, put their faith in him, and let him lead. And do you know what naturally befalls someone who holds this kind of peace? Happiness.

My friends, when we raise our kids God’s way, the original unattainable goal of making our kids happy becomes a beautiful by-product.

Good parenting: “When we raise our kids God’s way, the original unattainable goal of making our kids happy becomes a beautiful by-product.”

I’m not saying that raising them biblically will make them happy all the time, but they will know a much deeper happiness than the worldly one. That happiness won’t be rooted in their experiences or their valuables or their accolades. It will be rooted in Christ and his steadfast love for them.

What more could we want for our kids?