Christians often emphasize the role of parents in child rearing by saying that the influence of a child’s parents is much greater than the influence of other people in the child’s life. The Bible certainly supports this point (Ephesians 6:1-4) but what is the nature of this quantitative judgment? What do we mean when we say the parents’ influence is greater?
Sometimes the quantitative judgment is based on the fact that the amount of time that children spend with their parents is typically greater than the amount of time they spend with other adults. Here I would just like to suggest that the quantitative judgment is based on more than that: It is also (and probably fundamentally) based on ethical authority.
I noticed this point as I was reading Germain Grisez’s and Russell Shaw’s Beyond the New Morality, where they make the following statement:
Every child is brought up with a certain moral viewpoint, which is conveyed to him as much by action as by words. Small children take for granted the rightness of the morality in which they are being raised; they may not obey it, but it does not even occur to them to deny its reality and validity. At some point in adolescence or youth, however, most individuals in our culture become aware that they can either keep, amend, or even replace the moral outlook in which they were brought up.
These options are extremely important, because the framework of one’s whole life is at stake.1
Consider two observations: First, children, upon getting older and reflecting, have the ability to reject the morality of their parents, but this does not mitigate the parents’ initial influence. The perspective from which grown children see theirs decisions—even the decision whether to hold onto their parents’ morality—is one that has been determined in many ways by their parents. A moral viewpoint, set by parents, is the ground from which a child will begin to consider rejecting that viewpoint.
A parent will “train up a child” in some way. The question is whether it will be “in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6).
Second, given that parents naturally hold the position of ethical authority described by Grisez and Shaw, then parents are likely to introduce a great deal of confusion into the lives of their children by handing the children over to caretakers who (1) spend more time with the children than the parents do and (2) have a different ethical perspective from that of the parents.
No wonder that the biblical pattern for parenting indicates that it is a full-time job:
Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled (Titus 2:3-5, emp. added).
Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1974, xiii. ↩