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Our Children: Gifts of God in a Hostile Environment

The Bible tells us that children are a blessing from God, and most couples readily welcome them into their families. Human reproduction is one of life's most treasured and memorable experiences. Consider how God intended for this beautiful event to transpire.

United in marriage, a husband and wife determine that they would like to have a child. Similar to God's preparation for His family, which was done prior to the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34; Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:20), this couple prepares for their child through education and establishing a means of supporting the new life they want to bring into the world. They are now ready to conceive a baby.

With tender words and affection the two embrace each other in love, culminating in sexual climax. The father's sperm starts to make its way into the mother's ovum and a new life begins. At this moment of conception a unique genetic package comes into existence that contains everything this person will become-from gender, height, foot size and eye color to health factors he or she is predisposed to experience. 

imageGrowth and development after conception are rapid. Within 18 days a new heartbeat begins. At around three weeks, eyes, a spinal cord and a digestive system are forming. After a month and a half, brain waves are detectable. By about two months, fingers and toes are beginning to show, and by the 18th week the fetus is moving and kicking.

Approximately nine months after conception the child is ready to be born. The baby moves into position to enter the birth canal as the mother's body undergoes changes that will allow the child to exit her womb. The mother then labors in childbirth and a new life comes into the world.

Realizing all the tender love, preparation, doctor's visits, healthy eating and physical effort expended in the process, a husband and wife triumphantly glow with happiness at the healthy arrival of their child. This joyous occasion can also signal the beginning of a new generation as children become parents, parents become grandparents, and grandparents become great-grandparents.

And with all the special attention we place on the birth of a child-something understandably appropriate-do we realize the significance to God? From His perspective, a new life that began at conception has now entered the world with the potential to become part of His eternal family (John 1:12).

This child will need training and instruction from his or her parents in how to live in harmony with God's laws of love. God knows it is best that this child grow up with both biological parents. God also knows that it will take time and effort for parents to fulfill this crucial responsibility.

Will parents rise to the task? This is the purpose for this portion of the booklet-to encourage you and help you understand how you can fulfill God's expectation of you as a parent. In this chapter we'll also consider the state of parenting in the Western world.

imageInnocent victims

As children grow up, they are heavily influenced by the things they see and the conditions in which they live. Their values are shaped by their experiences and the perspectives of their parents. Regrettably, children do not get to pick their parents, nor do they have control over where they are born. They don't know whether they will be taught God's eternal values or whether they will struggle to get by with what they learn on their own.

Sadly, the world today is a hostile, toxic environment for children-even in nations where there is greater economic prosperity.

In the United States, in a report dated Oct. 26, 2004, the Barna Group found that most adults agree that "the nation's children are not being adequately prepared for life." Fewer than one out of five of the more than 1,000 adults surveyed "believes that children under the age of 13 are being 'superbly' or 'pretty well' prepared for life emotionally, physically, spiritually, intellectually or physically." The study further reported that "fewer than one out of every twenty adults believe that America's youngsters are receiving above average preparation in all five of those areas of life."

The subjective perspective of adults in the above survey is proven true when children enter school. Psychologist Robert Evans, who also worked as a teacher, notes in his book that "more and more children arrive at school less ready to learn-not less intelligent; less ready to be students. Teachers in all sorts of schools face a decline in fundamentals they used to take for granted: attendance, attention, courtesy, industry, motivation, responsibility . . .

"Students are more difficult to reach and teach, their concentration and perseverance more fragile, their language and behavior more provocative" (Family Matters: How Schools Can Cope With the Crisis in Childrearing, 2004, pp. xiii-xiv).

Teachers report that children today often arrive at school seemingly incapable of following directions, of listening while someone else speaks, of sharing toys. Some can't tolerate not being the center of attention.

Many adults perceive teens as disrespectful of adults. "In survey after survey, two-thirds of Americans, when asked what comes to mind when they think about teenagers, choose adjectives like rude, irresponsible, and wild; for younger children they choose lacking discipline and spoiled. Forty-one percent complain that teenagers have poor work habits; nearly 90 percent feel that it is rare for youth to treat people with respect" (Evans, p. 5).

As students leave school, the social problems they had there often turn into problems for society at large. Societies are unlikely to thrive for long in conditions where people do not have the skills to cooperate and respectfully work together.

The problem, of course, is not with the children themselves. They are not less intelligent or less capable of learning than were children a decade or two ago. The problem lies with the parents who deliver their children to the doorsteps of the school.

According to Evans, the cause for today's crisis in child rearing "lies at home with parents, who are suffering a widespread loss of confidence and competence. Its deeper causes are economic and cultural-changes in the way we work and in our national values that undermine the developmental mission of families and schools alike" (p. xi, emphasis added).

Cultural choices affecting children

Sexual immorality and economic concerns are perhaps the two greatest factors affecting the outcomes of child rearing in Western nations. The results of these two factors have wreaked considerable damage on children.

As we saw in previous chapters, disobedience to God's instructions regarding sexual conduct has led to the destruction of many marriages. In the wake of destroyed marriages, children also suffer emotionally and economically.

The tragic consequences of poor choices and decisions are being reaped by adults, children and our societies at large. This principle of cause and effect cannot be broken or avoided. As the proverb says, "A curse without cause shall not alight" (Proverbs 26:2). And there most definitely is a reason for today's suffering that is related to STDs, broken marriages and children not being properly trained.

Dissecting the mountain of data that is available regarding social trends, we come to the inescapable conclusion that breaking God's laws leads to misery and unhappiness. Couples who live together prior to marriage-presumably to try it out to see if they are "sexually compatible"-don't find the secure relationships they are looking for in marriage.

Reporting on the modern phenomenon of living together prior to marriage, also called cohabiting, David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead of the National Marriage Project wrote: "Cohabitation does not reduce the likelihood of eventual divorce; in fact, it may lead to a higher divorce risk. Although the association was stronger a decade or two ago and has diminished in the younger generations, virtually all research on the topic has determined that the chances of divorce ending a marriage preceded by cohabitation are significantly greater than for a marriage not preceded by cohabitation" (January 1999, www.smartmarriages.com/ cohabit.aspl).

The reason living together undermines marriage is obvious-there is no firm commitment to the relationship. Living together cheapens sex and the institution for which it was uniquely and solely designed-marriage.

Yet the number of people doing it is staggering. Professor Popenoe and Dr. Whitehead report: "It is estimated that about a quarter of unmarried women between the ages of 25 and 39 are currently living with a partner and about half have lived at some time with an unmarried partner (the data are typically reported for women but not for men). Over half of all first marriages are now preceded by cohabitation, compared to virtually none earlier in the century" (ibid.).

But ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance of these effects and God's instructions is hurting all of us!

The importance of both parents

When couples dissolve their marriages, they often justify their divorces with the reasoning that it is better for their children to see them happy rather than fighting with each other. Yet except in rare cases such as abuse or immoral behavior, the better decision is usually for couples to work out their differences, live in accordance with God's instructions for marriage and remain together for the sake of their children.

When marriages dissolve, children are deprived, at least for a significant amount of time, of one of their biological parents. And this deprivation exacts a penalty. God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16), and so do children.

Children need both of their parents because each parent helps a child understand masculinity and femininity. Husbands can model honorable behavior from the male perspective. Wives can do so from the female perspective. Yet within the United States, "more than one-quarter of all families with children are headed by single parents, overwhelmingly mothers. More than 40 percent of American children do not currently live with their biological fathers" (Evans, p. 61).

Although it has been generally assumed that fathers weren't really needed as parenting figures (the presumption being that mothers could raise children just as well without a father in the home), research continues to show that the presence of fathers is crucial.

image"As a statistical matter, the active presence of a father is a significant factor in helping girls avoid premature sex and pregnancy and develop a sense of independence and self-assertion . . . A twenty-six year longitudinal study of the relationship between parenting in early childhood and the capacity of children to experience sympathy and compassion for others as adults astonished the researchers.

"They found that the most important factor of all the ones they surveyed was paternal involvement in child care. Not maternal, paternal. A fascinating study of young adults found that those who were emotionally close to their fathers lived, on the whole, happier and more satisfied lives, regardless of their feelings toward their mothers" (Evans, p. 48).

Of course, the Fifth Commandment teaches us that we are to honor both our father and our mother (Exodus 20:12). God never intended for children, parents or courts to have to decide between the two. One of the best gifts parents can give their children is to be happily married to each other.

Dual-career families

Today in many modern nations it has become common for both a husband and wife to work outside the home. The reasons for doing so often include the perceived need for greater income and the mistaken assumption that having a career outside the home is more important than rearing children.

While citizens of European countries have in general chosen to work fewer hours and have more time to spend with their families, Americans have tended toward working more and more hours with less time off to spend with family.

In the United States, "roughly 75 percent of mothers with children under eighteen now work outside the home and those with very young children work every bit as long as other parents . . . When mothers join the workforce, the time they spend in primary child care drops from an average of twelve hours per week to fewer than six" (Evans, p. 72).

The average time a working parent spends with preadolescent children is barely half an hour a day (Evans, p. 78). "By the time children reach adolescence, this meager amount dwindles further; the typical father and teenager may spend no more than three minutes per day alone together" (ibid.).

It's impossible for parents to properly train and influence their children if they don't spend time with them. Time is a precious and necessary ingredient for successful parenting.

The daycare dilemma

As dual-career parents head off to work, they commonly drop off their preschool-age children at daycare facilities-places where employees are among the lowest-paid and least-trained in all industries. Yet parents trust these facilities to take care of their most precious resource-their children.

The problems with most daycare facilities are well known. While studies show that high-quality daycare does not seem to harm children, other studies have found a correlation between the amount of time a child spends in daycare with his or her later aggression and disobedience in school.

Health is another problem for children in daycare. Parents often bring sick children to daycare-where they infect others-because they can't or don't want to take a day off work. Further, when mothers work outside the home, their children often measure less ready for school-in other words, they are developmentally delayed.

Daycare studies are always done with the assumption that what is being provided is high-quality daycare. But all daycare is not high quality. Why? Poor pay and demanding conditions are two of the major problems. Who would take care of screaming, demanding children when he or she could take any other job for the same amount of pay and less grief?

Childcare facilities with large numbers of children are simply unable to provide the sustained, personal, one-on-one attention that is so necessary for the healthy development of children.

Why have Americans embraced such changes that harm children? According to Dr. Evans, it is because of rampant individualism. We think of "the individual as the basic unit rather than the family itself" (p. 128).

"Rampant individualism" is a nicer way of describing the human perspective than what Paul wrote regarding the outlook people would have in the last days. Of this time, Paul wrote that "men will be lovers of themselves . . ." (2 Timothy 3:2). Rather than focusing on what is best for our children and best for society, Paul said people would focus on their own perceived needs and wants.

"What's missing from too many American households is, as journalist Caitlin Flanagan puts it, 'the one thing you can't buy-the presence of someone who cares deeply and principally about that home and the people who live in it; who is willing to spend [time] thinking about what those people are going to eat and what clothes they will need for which occasions'" (Evans, p. 137).

Economic needs are commonly cited as the reason children are placed in daycare facilities. The reality, however, is that many times most of the money earned ends up being spent on the daycare itself and eating out because no one has been at home to prepare a meal.

Even though true financial gains can sometimes be obtained, a commendable number of parents have now given their children's needs the highest priority and are choosing a lower standard of living so they can have a higher standard of family. While some mothers remain at home with their children to accomplish this, others are finding work when their husband is at home with the children or doing work that can be done from home.

The suffering being experienced by so many today is reversible. We and our children do not have to be victims. Being a good parent means putting our children's needs ahead of our own desires. If you have children, why not give them what they want and need-a positive, encouraging home where they are taught God's standards by both of their biological parents living together in peace?

In the next chapter, we'll consider how parents can effectively teach their children God's timeless truths.

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