Monday, July 17, 2017

What Augustine’s ‘Confessions’ Taught Me About Parenting

As I read Augustine’s Confessions this week, I felt a similar conviction. The great theologian pulled a “grandpa trick,” critiquing my parenting through storytelling. As he wrote about his own parents’ successes and failures, I knew he was graciously warning me against their errors. My soul smarted as I realized my own shortcomings, but Augustine’s wounds are faithful and his counsel sound.

 

When my first newborn child trembled in my hands, all my convictions about parenting suddenly shook too. I longed for wise counsel. Later on, when I was experiencing excessive conflict with my 1-year-old, I turned to my parents for advice.

“Just love her,” my father said. For whatever reason, this cut me to the quick. I realized I was making my daughter my project instead of pouring out Christ’s love on her.

As I read Augustine’s Confessions this week, I felt a similar conviction. The great theologian pulled a “grandpa trick,” critiquing my parenting through storytelling. As he wrote about his own parents’ successes and failures, I knew he was graciously warning me against their errors. My soul smarted as I realized my own shortcomings, but Augustine’s wounds are faithful and his counsel sound. Let me share some of it with you.

1. Overlook some faults, even though at another age they must be addressed.

Augustine reflects:

What then was my sin? Was it that I hung upon the breast and cried? For should I now so do for food suitable to my age, justly should I be laughed at and reproved . . . but since I could not understand reproof, custom and reason forbade me to be reproved. . . .We bear gently with all this, not as being no or slight evils, but because they will disappear as years increase. (15–16, italics added)

As Augustine explains, reason and custom teach us not to discipline children for something they are too immature to understand. Scripture agrees. God acts mercifully, because he knows our frame, that we are but dust (Ps. 103:1–14). Do you know where your child is developmentally? Are you shocked and overly harsh when your 2-year-old refuses to share? Do you take stressors into account and treat your kids with greater mercy when they are overtired, overstimulated, or hungry?  Age-appropriate standards allow us to demonstrate God’s mercy and patience toward our children.

2. Don’t steer your children toward the idols of glory or riches.

In reflecting on the goals of his educators, Augustine lamented:

People didn’t examine the purpose to which I was putting what I learned, unless that purpose was to sate insatiable greed for what was in reality poverty aplenty and degrading glory. (17, 19)

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