What is both deeply satisfying and profoundly exhausting, and seems like it will never end? If you answered “child-rearing,” it’s a sure bet that you are or were a parent. The ever-shortened nights, the joyful wonder at your child’s latest discoveries, the agonizing worry that something could be wrong with them, and the frustration of trying to find time alone with your spouse...well, the person who invented the term “emotional roller-coaster” must have been a parent.
Where is God in child-rearing? I suggest that one place that He shows up is as a God of Providence, that is, the God who achieves His purposes while wisely providing what we and our children need. It is His unlimited capacity to achieve His purposes in our universe, nations, churches, families, and personal lives, all while not diminishing the reality of human freedom
There are several ways to misunderstand God’s providence and to develop poor parenting styles. First, we may imagine that God’s providence makes Him a divine dispensary: He gives us what we want when we want it. That attitude can lead to the permissive parenting style, a way of parenting that indulges.
Second, at the other extreme, wrongly understanding God’s providence may lead us to the faulty belief that He is the divine dictator who orders us around with commands to “suck it up and obey!” That kind of authoritarian parenting neither serves us as parents, nor our children, any better than does the permissive parenting that lets the kids have all the lollipops they want. Neither extreme in parenting is a good image of a God who acts providentially for their and our good.
A healthy understanding of God’s providence in child-rearing instead leads to a third and healthier style of parenting, usually called the “authoritative” style where parents act lovingly, firmly, and consistently. We neither indulge nor harshly dictate because that is not God’s way of providence. We know, instead, that God is achieving His purposes in and through our families, as well as our world, nations, and institutions. Our privilege is to help our children discover the joy of living obediently in God’s world, knowing the providence of God, and the best way to do that is through an authoritative, as opposed to permissive or authoritarian, parenting style.