Author: Liping Yan Translated by: Jiming Lindal
Liping Yan was born in Mainland China and came to study in the US in September 1986. He has since worked in the geotechnical and earthquake engineering field relating to its design, management, and education.
I am a father of three grown-up boys. Looking back, I am so grateful that God's grace is abundant. I have received many blessings in raising three children and growing with them. I have loads of parenting lessons, but I only want to share a few insights with you, hoping to help those who are about to become fathers or have children at home.
I. Prioritize family and be a responsible and present father.
• Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. [Psalm 127:3]
• All your children will be taught by the Lord, and great will be their peace. 【Isaiah 54:13】
Raising children is God's command and His reward and blessing to man. Parents' sacred duty is to nurture and teach their children, which is crucial to establishing a good parent-child relationship.
The quality of a father-child relationship depends mainly on how much time a father spends with his children. As fathers, we often emphasize our work more than family and are absent from our children's lives.
Children's activities, such as sports training and competitions, rehearsals and performances of music programs, and back-to-school nights, are golden opportunities to strengthen the relationship between father and child. Don’t miss them!
I was a "workaholic" for a long time, working from dawn to night, day in and day out, and often working overtime on weekends. Eventually, I lost touch with my children’s lives, and they felt alienated from me. I had little influence over them, especially on my oldest; I deeply regret it! I was demanding and didn't build a strong bond with him because of the little time I spent with him. We had many conflicts when he was dating, choosing a college, and picking a career after graduation, and we were both affected.
However, I was involved a great deal in the study and extracurricular activities of the second and the youngest sons. For example, I was attentive to my second son's cello practice, and I took him to rehearsals and attended his orchestra performances whenever I could. I have a good relationship with him, and he will carefully consider my suggestions on his affairs. He had excellent grades and was accepted to prestigious universities such as UCLA and UC Berkeley when he applied to college. He wanted to go to UCLA, but I wished him to go to Berkeley. They are both great schools, and either is a good choice. Ultimately, he followed my advice and chose Berkeley, fulfilling my dream!
II. Reverently love the Lord and set a good example
• Whoever fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for their children, it will be a refuge.【Proverbs 14:26】
• He followed the ways of his father Asa and did not stray from them; he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.【2 Chronicles 20:32】
Good parenting means guiding children to understand the teachings of the Lord and His grace, obey God, and behave with dignity. Parents must reverently love the Lord and set a good example.
Maybe it is man's sinful nature to be lax with himself and strict with others. As we know, children are sensitive, sharp, and not easily fooled. Children know if their fathers use a double standard, one towards themselves and another towards their children. If there's inconsistency, it will significantly alter the images of their fathers in children's minds. But fathers who are strict with themselves have a substantial positive influence on their children.
To inspire my children to love reading, I placed books everywhere -- on the desks, by the bedside, on the coffee table, and I read them whenever I could. When friends visited me, we also talked about the books I read. The atmosphere I created impacted my children and fostered their enjoyment of reading.
When my children were still small, I taught them to be caring, help others with a joyful heart, and actively serve the community. I required the same for myself and regularly practiced them over the years, which my children saw with their eyes and remembered in their hearts. My example was vital in motivating them to follow in my footsteps.
My eldest volunteered in Mexico and Arizona Indian Reservations while in junior high school, teaching English and helping them build houses. My second child went to Cambodia and Bolivia to provide medical services. My youngest went on a summer mission trip to Taiwan and Mexico, leading the children there on a wonderful and meaningful vacation.
Aside from having a double standard, some fathers are used to being double-faced: a nice guy at work and socially, but a mean guy at home; decent in public, but vulgar at home. Children's tiny eyes watch us like cameras in the house, and they are perceptive and see our actions at home.
Our flawed characters will corrode their innocence. When they are young, they can’t rebel against us adults; but will despise and hate the double-faced man once they get older.
I often tell my children to do good and be kind and generous to others; I try to do the same. I used to vent about annoying people and things outside at home, and I couldn't help getting emotional and saying some unpleasant words. The kids looked at me, winked, and stuck their tongues out.
I realized what I was doing was not aligned with what I taught my children. I felt ashamed, and I appreciated their reminders. Later, I tried my best not to criticize others at home but to talk more about the virtues of others and their goodness and be grateful for these.
III. Watch the way you raise children and appropriately discipline them
• Because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son【Hebrews 12:6】
• Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.【 Ephesians 6:4】
When my children were small, I neglected to discipline them promptly. For example, when we had guests, my children would jump around on the sofa and chairs and climb on them. It was excessive, but the kids were still young, and I thought it was no big deal, so I let it go. I should have taught my children to be polite to guests and curb their excitement. When disciplining our children, we need to be firm but gentle.
The common mistake we make as fathers is disciplining our children based on our moods. When we are in good spirits, we see our children as cute, so even if they make mistakes, we will not discipline them. Everything is terrible when we are in a bad mood; even if our children make small mistakes, we will discipline them harshly. We belittle them in anger regardless of the occasion and place. Children are confused, and they become angry and resentful. They feel inadequate and lose heart, which will cast shadows on their lives later on.
As fathers, we must discipline our children according to the teachings of the Lord and watch how we discipline them. We must hold our children accountable, discipline them at the right time, and not indulge or spoil them. Don't follow your temper without principle, which sometimes leads to demanding and laissez-faire parenting. Instead, we must show and express our love for our children so that we can correct them in love, which is easier said than done. We must exercise our discernment daily, manage our emotions, and cultivate ourselves; let our daily discipline be a blessing for our children and bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
IV. Put yourself in your children’s shoes and be a trustworthy mentor and friend
• Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.【Galatians 6:1】
• Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.【Romans 12:16】
In many Chinese families of my generation, children tend to be closer to their mothers but somewhat estranged from and in fear of their fathers. I think the main reason is that fathers always preach to their children, and children hate preaching. We might as well "put ourselves into their shoes" and use language that speaks to them to express our thoughtful "small" truths.
I still remember that shortly after my youngest went to college, he called late one night to tell me that he couldn’t sleep because he had a girlfriend! His tone was excited! After hearing him, my anger arose. I wanted to scold him and tell him, "You should study hard since you just entered university, and falling in love will affect your studies."
From the back window of my study, I looked at the flower seedlings in the backyard under the moonlight and thought: Can pulling the seedlings help them grow? Will preaching work? I bit my tongue and suppressed the words that came to my mouth. I told him calmly that I understood. I talked to him again the next day and told him kindly: try to become friends first and build on that relationship.
Less than a year later, at another late night, he called to tell me that he couldn't sleep because he had broken up with his girlfriend! There were pains in his words! After hearing him, I was filled with compassion. I wanted to enlighten him in every way I could and say, "This blow is no big deal; focus on your study, and you will find a girlfriend in the future."
After calming down, I bit my tongue and told him gently, “I understand. I will pray for you.” Soon after, he returned home from school. When it came up, I clasped his already big hand and gave him a bear hug. I sensed that he felt my heart and got comfort and encouragement from me; I became his buddy.
V. Renew daily and be a wise communicator
• These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.【Deuteronomy 6:6-7】
• They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”【Acts 16:31】
The worst thing in a father's relationship with his children is the interruption of communication! Without communication, we cannot gain insight into their thoughts or actions; we cannot help them, influence them or correct them.
One awful tradition in Chinese families is patriarchy, where parents have the final word and refuse to communicate and discuss with their children fairly. When parents make mistakes, they do not admit them or apologize to their children, leading to communication barriers between parents and children and causing many problems.
The way you communicate with children changes as they get older. When they are small, we can play games with them and read them the children’s books and stories. When they grow up a little, we can accompany them to events and talk about the world around them. When they get even older, we can share a specific book, hang out, watch a movie, discuss current events, participate in community service, etc.
We need to be careful during every parent-child interaction. If there is a disagreement, we must focus on primary and principal issues and compromise on minor details to avoid a relationship breakdown, which will keep the communication channels open.
We shall diversify communication methods and ensure they are effective. After my children grew up, I found that my spoken English was not as good as theirs -- I could not express subtleties or convey deep meaning orally. I would then write them emails instead. I emailed them (bilingual in English and Chinese) almost every month for a long time. Emails were popular among them, and I often got a warm response. Now, the kids still miss the days I wrote them emails; I sometimes dig out those letters and am amazed at the exciting sparks of thought that occasionally popped up in them!
VI. Be centered on God, be a faithful beholder
• No discipline seems pleasant at the time but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.【Hebrews 12:11】
• Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.【Proverbs 22:6】
There are only a few short years children are entrusted to us and are with us, so we should cherish these days. But our lives must not be centered on them. We are centered on God to fulfill the mission in life that God has entrusted to us; We must do our best to manage the relationship between husband and wife, be the light and salt in the world, and be a blessing to others.
Parents who revolve around their children all day and pin all their hopes on them will put more pressure on them and will not win their respect or end well.
As fathers, we must work diligently and manage our careers conscientiously. We need to show our children a loving, joyful, fun, dependable, and benevolent father, which is essential and has a profound and lasting impact on their growth.
As our children grow older, we need to gradually let go and allow them to live independently and solve problems alone. With my kids, I went through this process. Once they entered middle school, I would discuss the selection of extracurricular activities, vacation arrangements, and college applications and majors with them so that they could make their own decisions and bear the consequences of their choices. My eldest son took a solo backpacking trip to Asia right after college. After I found out, although I was a little worried, I supported him and encouraged him to venture out. When my second son was in high school, he and his classmates took part in a trip to China to trace their roots, and he also received my strong support. Although they had setbacks and disappointments, I always believed God has a wonderful plan for their lives. I have often shown them that I am willing to be a cheerleader in their daring quest, cheering them on always.
We are all travelers in the world, and it is a tremendous grace that God has bestowed upon us our children to accompany us on the road of life for some time! Children will grow up and eventually leave us and walk on their paths of independence. We are successful as parents if our children leave us more and more steadily and vigorously while following God's will!