Parenting: Stewardship in and through Family
Dr. James George Venmoney
Institutions like family, community and society play a significant role in fostering the holistic development of their members. Among these, the family is an important organization that enhances wholesome growth. In a family the individuals are either formed or deformed through the web of relationships. Family, the basic unit of the society, has its roots in the created order of God which provides the platform to its members to be stewards to the old, present and new generations.
The word ‘family’ is derived from the word familus, which means each member is committed to serve others, thus signifying the stewardship trait. When all the family members realize this fact, and apply the servant model, they become the agents of enrichment and empowerment. In a family, all the members are duty bound to facilitate healing and meaning through mutual respect and acceptance. And thereby they make a significant contribution for the well-being of the family system and become stewards to one another.
In its fundamental nature, the family encapsulates marriage between a man and a woman based on covenantal love. In a marriage, couples are expected to empower each other through caring and loving. Marriage presupposes lots of demands from couples, yet it gives many rewards when they accomplish their stewardship significantly. Through love, care, correction, companionship, sexual fulfilment, emotional nurturing and responsible parenthood the basic principles of stewardship are being fulfilled in the family. More than the gender stereotypes of traditional work, couples should divide the work based on their skill. It should be openly discussed and decided to avoid conflicts.
However, in the total discussion of stewardship in and through family, this article is primarily limited to the parenting dimension. The family is the significant institution which plays a predominant role in the personality development of children. It is the prime centre for learning where a child's life is formed or deformed depending on the nature of relationships and parental approaches. Even the human personality is developed through the web of relationships, and the role of ‘significant others’ is a major factor in this regard. Their approach influences them positively or negatively at different levels and in diverse ways.
God entrusted the act of creation to human beings, and therefore begetting and upbringing children are their primary response to the divine call. Parents are the visible expressions of the invisible God; and in family children should receive warmth, forgiveness and unconditional acceptance from their parents. Parents, who have experienced the unconditional love from God, can only impart the similar level to their children. Parents must be agents of this divine love to enhance wholesome growth. They must provide adequate space and right platform in the family for sharing. As representatives of God, parents must be a true guide, and coach in the context of their different life threatening encounters. To be an effective growth nurturer to their children, parents must understand the unique characteristics, hazards and developmental task of each stage of their children. Despite this they also have a significant role in children's socialization process and in imparting moral standards, through a model life. Through loving interventions parents can facilitate healing and meaning to their children. The biblical foundation on stewardship of parenting provides a solid parameter to be a ‘good enough parent.’ However, in the contemporary society stewardship of parenting is at risk due to impact of media, inadequate parental attention due to increasing work pressure of parents and their over-indulgence of children’s affairs. This leaves a scar in their personal development at different levels and stands as a challenge to secure foundation of their children.
The analysis of the parenting structure of Judeo-Christian faith communities focuses on the principle that child rearing must be framed and focused in relationship with God. As human beings are the co-creators with God, parents have to rear their children on behalf of God. It indicates that parents are accountable in shaping the children in accordance with the plan and purpose of God. Parents must identify the uniqueness of their child as well as the unique purpose of God. Father and mother should join together in accomplishing this unique role. It has been noted that from the earliest nomadic times, the Hebrew family or home was the prime centre for learning, where parents were the first teachers to the children.
Thus, the family contributes significantly to the child in order to grow in the fullness of God. Jesus and Paul taught that children are to be recognized and respected. Martin Luther, the chief proponent of Reformation supports the view that “parents are the apostles and teachers to their children.” Parents are the divine instruments and “families are one of God’s communities where the story of God’s truth and love creates the knowledge, the experience and the life of faith.” A model family could be formed through the steadfast vigilance and quality of parenting. However, in the contemporary context this biblical principle is often challenged and the post-modern culture resembles that, it is neither child-friendly nor parent-friendly.
The significant contributions of parents in the life of many biblical characters as a steward are highlighted in the Bible. Moses, Samuel and John the Baptist are few examples which disclose the vibrant and healthy family environment in shaping their life formation particularly their spirituality. Jochebed and Amram identified the uniqueness of Moses at the time of his birth and risked their life for Moses even in a hostile environment. In the context of political, social and religious oppression of Pharaoh, Moses’ parents were searching alternatives and risking their life for the sake of their offspring. It can be further assumed that Jochebed used the given opportunity not only for feeding but also for teaching Moses his true identity as a Hebrew, about the God of Hebrew, and the people of God. Parents should prepare the children to connect with the Supreme Being who is the source of all blessing and this is a true sign of stewardship.
Samuel was the other Old Testament hero who was nurtured by his mother, another example for stewardship. Hannah being a good steward could transmit her quality of life, aspiration for God and the real state of the spiritual decline of the nation to her son. She stands as an epic character in the history of Israel through her revolutionary response, which is offering her son, Samuel. Her life reveals that each generation sets the goal for the next generation. Here, her approach was an ideal Christian stewardship. For Hannah it was not only her family, but the whole society was in the desperate need of a redeemer.
God revealed, Himself as father (parent) in different parts of the Bible (Deuteronomy 1:31; 32:6; 2 Samuel 7:1-17). God has been portrayed as the father to the fatherless in Psalms (Psalm 68:5). Isaiah prophesies about Jesus to be the everlasting father (Isaiah 9:6). In the Lord's Prayer, God is presented as the ‘Father in heaven.’ Parenthood (fatherhood and motherhood) is resembled in the character of God in many ways, which also includes love and discipline. The virtue of love of divine, not only reveals the creative, sustaining, guiding, providing, and nurturing dimension of God,
but also demands the parents to facilitate the same virtues to their children. When these divine qualities are reflected in parents, they are becoming co-creators with God in building their children. Disciplining is another virtue of God, used for the correction of His people. God’s discipline is manifested out of his love towards the people, primarily intended for their change and correction. According to Hebrews, “the Lord disciplines those He loves and punishes everyone He accepts as a son.” God allows certain disciplinary processes for the betterment of His people. Parents are responsible to maintain the disciplinary actions and loving corrections for their children. Solomon writes, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” (Proverbs 13:24). Through the right discipline, parents mould the children in accordance with the divine pattern and God’s standard. It has been said that discipline is for the children, whereas punishment is to the children. Authoritarian and exasperation approaches are examples of wrong parenting which ultimately contribute for unhealthy development in children. The biblical vision is not about advocating exasperation and annoyance while dealing the children, rather we should remember the exhortation to the parents: “fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4).