How to Fail as a Parent

Children don’t come with an owner’s manual, but sometimes we act like they did.

Over the years, I’ve spoken with more than one brokenhearted parent whose child had “gone bad.” Invariably, they would ask, “What did we do wrong? We raised them right, took them to church, had family devotions, prayed with them, but now they’ve turned their backs on everything we believe.”

Then they usually trotted out the “Owner’s Manual for Christian Parents” verse: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6, NIV).

Let me repeat: there is no owner’s manual for raising children.

Despite the mountain of Christian parenting books suggesting otherwise, there are no rock-solid, ironclad principles that will guarantee your daughter (or son) will follow Jesus Christ.

Over the last 35 years I’ve seen children who were raised in the best possible conditions, with families who loved Christ, and did everything “right” and yet those children have turned their backs on the Christian faith. On the other hand, I’ve seen children whose parents were unbelievers, yet some of those kids turned out to be vibrant Christians.

When I was a pastor, we ran an AWANA program and on Tuesday nights I would visit the families of  the children who attended. One night I sat on a front porch of a little girl whose dad had no use for Jesus Christ or the church.

As we talked, the little girl sat beside us, listening.

When the conversation began to turn toward the Scriptures and Jesus Christ, the little girl quietly got up and walked into the house. A few seconds later she came out with her own Bible and handed it to me.

That little girl wanted her daddy to know Jesus Christ.

On the other hand, I remember working quite a few young people who came from “model” Christian homes.  They knew all the right words to say, but had little or no desire for spiritual things. These kids grew up under the hearing of the Word of God, but many walked away from the faith.

So what went wrong?

Perhaps nothing.

Sometimes we forget that our children are born with minds and wills of their own. We can’t program them as if they were computers.

As men, we like things laid out in orderly steps. We like to get out our tools and fix things. We want a blueprint, an owner’s manual, a step-by-step guide that will tell us how to make sure our kids turn out right. And often we fall into the trap of looking at the Bible—and particularly the book of Proverbs—as just such an owners’ manual. We think if we do all the “right” things, then our children will automatically turn out the way we want them to.

It doesn’t work that way.

Have you ever noticed in Scripture how many godly parents lost their children?

Adam and Eve, Eli the Priest, Samuel, and David, to name a few.

So what should a dad do?

A good start would be to pray for your children.

A lot.

James tells us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5, NIV). God expects us to seek his face daily for our children and for the wisdom to raise them.

Children don’t come with an owner’s manual. And if we treat them as if they did, we are laying the foundation for failure.


So if Proverbs 22:6 isn’t a promise that our children will not depart from the faith, what does it mean? Continue the discussion by adding a comment below.

[Photo credit: ©Eric Hood/]

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