If you tell a mother of an infant under one that it’s not biblical to be child-centered, she might look at you in disbelief and perhaps amusement instead of reverent awe. Not child centered? Her very waking hours are determined by her child’s wake/sleep cycle. Her biggest spiritual challenge in life might be at that moment learning to be content with four hours of uninterrupted sleep each night, or working through the logistics of going any place while still meeting the feeding, sleeping, and diapering needs of her child.
I think I know what people are saying when they talk about being “child centered” versus being “God centered” or “parent centered.” We do our brains a disservice if we stop thinking after we agree being “child centered” is bad. I’m pretty certain when we talk about being child centered, we’re often creating a false dichotomy and fuzzy thinking.
We might want to consider instead how the Bible defines love, which seems at the heart of the problem we can identify but can’t quite define. Actually, there are several reasons a person might have a problem, and the good news is that we can define the problem biblically. The bad news is that all of us are in danger of thinking wrongly about what love means and how we implement it in our lives.
- Being Child-Centered might mean that a parent is making her children a greater priority than her husband. We see this idea indirectly in that children leave the home when they grow up (for this reason shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife). It is a deceptively simple criterion. Certain seasons of life demand that the priority be temporarily reversed, but often getting priorities wrong is a habitual problem. For example, if my child throws up just as I’m going out on a date with my husband, my child needs attention more than husband at that moment. Taking care of the sick child takes a higher priority than going out with my husband. On the other hand, At some point, if I will not go on a weekend trip with my husband because I cannot bear to be without my children for a few days, I may be placing my relationship with my children above that of my husband. Yet again, we need wisdom.
- Child-Centered might mean I am confusing “loving my child” with wanting my child to be happy with me and understand why I do what I do. Instead, I need to remember that biblical chastening (however you define it) is by nature unpleasant, according to Hebrews 12. Furthermore, we need to remember that sometimes it is loving to let my child cry, instead of taking away the source of tears (spare not for his crying)
- Child centered might mean a parent is using her children as an excuse to not love the local church. In this case, the problem isn’t merely that she loves her children too much, but that she loves the church too little. It’s quite possible to love both at the same time!
- Child centered might mean a parent is immature in wanting to avoid all pain, inconvenience, or flexibility
- Finally, child centered might really be differences in personality, differences within the freedom God gives. Some children might have legitimate needs that I don’t understand. Some mothers parent far more precisely than I might, leading to differences that aren’t necessarily sin differences.
- There may be more. Have I missed some?
First, that in our zeal not to be child-centered, we must not quash the God-given emotional bond with our children and the natural desire to sacrifice for their good. It is enough to be aware of the emotional tug and use it for God’s glory, without being at the mercy of our emotions.
Second, that in our zeal not to be child-centered, we must avoid being critical or impatient with younger mothers and families who are still wrestling with schedules and such. Remember that we are commanded to take care of the needs of our family. Not to do so, God’s Word says, makes me worse than an infidel. Harsh language. Furthermore, remember that Paul acknowledges the reality (and rightness) that family responsibilities sometimes come before “church” responsibilities. Again, we have to be wise. It’s easy to get this out of balance, but we do have evidence from God’s Word that taking care of one’s family can be a righteous reason for putting aside some spiritual activities that we might otherwise do.
Still I’m working through this.