Raising Children in the Gospel: Responses to Two Controversial Questions
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1. Is it a must to be a full-time mother?
The answer to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is: “Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.” Whether to be a full-time mother or not, or how long it should last, the primary purpose of both questions should be “to glorify God.” In general, when we give account to God, we should have no unpeaceful or sorrowful feelings. It is necessary to support that being a full-time mother is a good choice, but not an absolute choice. Especially when one is already a full-time mom, or a full-time mom in a pastor’s family, or a full-time mom who has potential to become a pastor, do not make absolute suggestions; otherwise it would make others think they are not spiritual enough when they are not able to become a full-time mother. Every mom has a mentality of “not loving the children enough,” and if one is blamed by not being full-time, she will suffer from more charge and weakness.
In my personal opinion, being a full-time mom is a good choice when the condition is stable. Of course, it depends on your own definition of “stable condition.” For instance, it was not until I had my own real estate possession that I became a full-time mom, nor until my monthly income reached a certain level. Personally, I think financial status is not the condition most closely connected to raising children. As a person who has Christian belief, one should know that the saying, "The economic base determines the superstructure," is wrong. I have two kids who have had great care and live in a good environment, no matter in hospital or at home.
It makes me think that our Lord was born in a manger, and he had to run away from persecutions afterwards. When someone wanted to follow him, he said, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). For us, it is not a lack of material conditions, but an overwhelming by them, because people have distorted the understanding of happiness away from the gospel, and left everything in endless pursuit of materials, thus never feeling fulfilled. Indeed, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again” (John 4:13).
In my personal observation, food, housing, and clothing are the three aspects that people pay attention to nowadays and have become the main part of our spending. But the Bible says, “But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Timothy 6:8). I’ve seen many kids from non-believers’ families who have been provided with quality housing, expensive clothing, and delicate food, while spiritually consuming trash from Satan.
Besides the material conditions, we are not willing to be a full-time mom because we are afraid to be denied by this world. Many are questioning: how can women have status when they do not work? If one does not work, does not keep contact with the society, isn’t she isolated? With so many years devoted to academia, a master graduate ends up taking care of children at home, what a failure! You give up such a good job, what a pity! If I stay at home and take care of the children, how could I face my parents and my parents-in-law?
A mom who shared her experience of choosing to be a full-time mom, when facing all the negative criticism, firmly answered: “As long as God approves of me with my choice. If I want to get people’s approval, I will lose his.” Hopefully every brother and sister can see the truth in this spirit! We have children, “gentiles” have children as well, but our goal is to raise elites for God’s kingdom.
Recently I heard there are mothers complaining the hardship of raising children, desiring an end of this era, and a return to work. My husband and I felt deep sorrow. The Bible says that Christ’s yoke is easy and light. If we do not take the mind of leading our children to God’s kingdom and making efforts for it, how can we face the final end of our children’s souls when God comes to judge the world? Our children are not ours; they are just born by us, and they belong to God. We are extremely careful when we take care of other’s children, let alone the children of God.
Of course, as I’ve mentioned above, being a full-time mom is not an absolute choice, but it is only in special cases that we should make another choice. In addition, we do not have to stick to the dogma if a mother’s working time is not a lot; or when the kids already go to Christian schools, mothers can also take some work such as serving in church, or work to financially support the family. Generally, everyone has a different situation, and when we make a decision, we should come back to “to glorify God.”
2. Whether to live with seniors [parents] or not during pregnancy.
Regarding staying with seniors during the postpartum period or even longer and the parenting issue, my personal opinion is to seek an agreement between couples first. If a husband and wife cannot reach an agreement, the wife should submit to her husband. We suggest that it is best for parents to raise their children on their own. It is a right, as well as a responsibility, that God gives us, so do not hastily pass it on to others.
Couples can freely learn to raise children according to the rules of the Bible when being parents for the first time. There will be difficulties, but they’ll be solved with the help of pastors and elder families. The joy and the thankfulness during the process cannot be experienced after giving the children to seniors. Besides, according to my observation, most non-believing seniors will focus on food, clothing, and secular education. This is undoubtedly separated from parenting in the gospel, and it will increase children’s egocentricity. Parents should avoid wasting energy in these wars when it is possible.
If there are suitable people in church who can help provide care after delivery, it does not hurt to ask. Considering the love of seniors towards their grandchildren, it might hurt the seniors if they get completely turned down. A good way is to invite them to come over and visit after the basic rules of children’s behavior have been established. I asked people from the church to come over and help each time I gave birth. Of course their work should be paid. We did this because on one hand, both our parents could not come for some special reasons; on the other hand, we wanted to invite them after the establishment of basic rules for our children, in order to avoid unnecessary conflict. The practical suggestion is: ask if they can wait for two weeks before coming to visit. Considering the husband has a nursing leave of around ten days, it is better to get the general situation in order before inviting seniors to come over.
When it comes to the situation of staying longer with the seniors, the couple should first have an agreement on parenting that will then be expressed to the seniors. The practical way is: if it is paternal seniors who are staying with the couple, the husband should convey the idea of parenting. If it is maternal seniors who are staying, the wife should take the work. Pay attention to hold on to the main authority of parenting firmly with love and kindness. The seniors may be unwilling, but when they see the children can grow better with your rules, they will accept your authority. Of course when looking at the issue from a gospel point of view, we should be burdened for our seniors’ souls, and preach to them, instead of fighting over children. Our focus is not the children, but souls, for our struggle is not against flesh and blood.
Dealing with this controversial issue, it should be excessively supported that everything should be around the gospel, and for the benefit of the gospel. It takes extra wisdom to deal with the issue with non-believing seniors. They may bare a lot of differences on parenting during their stay. However, if the bareness does not come from the reformed life, everything will become bitterness and it will introduce difficulty to preaching. Another essential point is that when they are not in Christ, they cannot understand the mystery of being one flesh as a couple. They usually only focus on their own children, and have a tense relationship with their son-in-law or daughter-in-law. It is not only harmful to preaching the gospel, but also harmful to parenting, as well as the relationship between the couple. The third important thing is that, when the seniors see their children devoting a large amount of time to faith, they will express their contention and disapproval. When this situation lasts long, as weak people, we cannot avoid breach, and it is toxic for our devotion to service. Particular attention to this should be given for preachers’ families. In this specific aspect, men are weaker than women. We hope brothers who are facing this problem can conquer the temptation by praying continuously.
The reason for bringing up the above suggestions is that seniors should have their own life. If they are asked to take care of children, they will lose the freedom of enjoying their own life. It is always seen that only one person of the seniors is staying with the children and taking care of them. As Christians, we know that it is inappropriate for a couple to deprive [each other]. Therefore, we should not make our parents separate for a long time either.
If the seniors fully respect the couple’s leading authority on parenting, and both sides are willing to live together, especially when it comes to the situation that only one part of the seniors is in good health, it is ok to stay together. The seniors can give some help with housework, which may grant the couple extra time for parenting and serving. It is also convenient to preach to the senior. To summarize, it all depends on if our motivation is for the benefit of the gospel.
Of course, when it comes to [financially] supporting the seniors, we should take up our responsibility. We should never turn our back on them because of the issues above.
Our Lord told us that everything we do in the world should pay the cost (see Luke 14:28-33). For these two controversial issues, we also will pay our cost when we make a decision. Being a full-time mother, the cost may be disapproval from the world. Living together with the seniors, the cost may be extra effort to reform children’s spiritual character.
Of course, when only one person in the couple believes in God, regarding the two issues above, if the non-believer does not work according to the instruction of the Bible, the believer should not be worried. We should keep faith in God, as he has his blessings. What we need to do is to pray for the family with extra kindness and patience from God. All of our waiting and hope depends on the Lord! Who can know the future? Who says the Lord won’t use families like that? It is likely that the Lord will not only use them, but also exalt them!
All in all, during the entire process of conceiving, delivering, and educating [children], we should rely on God as a whole. Knowing some knowledge and some general rules is good, but it is not the foundation for raising children. When it deviates from the gospel of the cross, knowledge can only make people arrogant. Only God can make our children grow. As parents, we can only build them up with God’s word, pray for them, and entrust them to God. Only with the cross of salvation, the presence of God, and the supply of God’s grace, can we and our descendants triumph.