A few days ago, we started a series of posts we’re calling “Parental Duties,” in which we’ll slowly work our way through J.C. Ryle’s paper called “The Duties of Parents,” which was written in the mid 1800’s. We saw that Ryle began by counseling parents to “train them in the way they should go, and not in the way that they would.”
Some might take this reminder of children’s sinfulness to be too pessimistic, and they might be concerned that parents with a sin-stained view of their children would become too harsh and militaristic in their parenting. Perhaps Ryle had that potential pitfall in mind as he wrote the second section of his paper called “Tenderness, Affection and Patience.” He summarizes this section by advising parents, “Train up your child with all tenderness, affection, and patience. I do not mean that you are to spoil him, but I do mean that you should let him see that you love him.”
Using many helpful illustrations, Ryle drives home the point that parenting must be marked by warmness and love. “Few,” he writes, “are to be found, even among grown-up people, who are not more easy to draw than to drive.” Parents will find themselves beating their heads against a wall if they try to “drive” their children, by pushing, forcing, or callously intimidating their children into obedience and godliness. Such tactics might result in children who are externally obedient or submissive (though it often produces the opposite). But even if they do submit, it will be for the wrong reasons. They will be like the dog who has learned not to tug on the leash out of fear of his master’s firm hand, but who runs away the moment the leash is removed….But if parents show gentleness, compassion, and care for their children, they will find it far more easy to “draw” their children into the lifestyle they are already modeling.
Ryle also points out that parents “must not expect all things at once. We must remember what children are, and teach them as they are able to bear.” Nothing tests the patience of a person quite like parenting….But as parents, we must recall God’s patience with us. How often has he lovingly called us to repentance, disciplined us, forgiven us,…and then seen us run back to the same old sins we just renounced? If He is a patient Parent, we ought to be as well.
So…even as we are aware of our children’s depravity and tendency toward sin, let’s not be distant, harsh, or calloused in our parenting. “Love should be the silver thread that runs through all your conduct. Kindness, gentleness, long-suffering, forbearance, patience, sympathy,…these are the cords by which a child may be led most easily.”