Uncovering the assumptions and behaviors of disengaged parenting
“It’s just a phase—he will grow out of it.” “That’s just what teenagers do—she’ll mature.” “All kids are this way—there’s not really anything we can do to change that.” “They have to be able to make decisions for themselves.”
These and others are the statements we make to give ourselves permission to disengage as parents. Today’s culture and the typical family tells us it’s normal for kids to:
- Lock themselves up in their rooms
- Avoid close relationships with parents
- Have prolonged rebellion or bad attitudes
- Be sexually active before marriage
Since we believe these behaviors are “normal,” we tend to disengage—to become passive parents. We essentially leave our kids to themselves to make their own mistakes and learn their own lessons. Sometimes we’re tired. Sometimes we don’t really know how to deal with an issue. Sometimes career or other interests distract us. Whatever the reason, passive parenting is disastrous.
One of the best biblical illustrations of passive parenting is Eli, a priest of the Lord at Shiloh. His story is found in 1 Samuel 1-4, and the most outstanding statement about his parenting is 1 Samuel 3:13 when God said he would judge Eli’s house because he failed to “restrain” his sons.
The story is simple and powerful. Eli was an indulgent man, somewhat lazy, and rather content with status quo. He had two sons whom the Bible calls “sons of Belial”—God’s way of saying they were wicked, ungodly men. They abused the work of God and His people. They perverted themselves and others. And they were living dishonestly and publicly shaming the name of God.
Eli’s response was minimal. He talked passively with them a time or two, but took no other action. His inaction—his parental passivity—cost him and his family dearly. Let’s examine Eli’s passive parenting pitfalls and learn from his mistakes.
Passive Parents Defer Parenting and Spiritual Development to Institutions and Environments—Though Eli brought up his sons in the service of the Lord, at the house of the Lord, they grew to despise God and His truth. Mere environmental changes—like church, school, or youth group—are no guarantees that our children will live honorably. How often Christian parents place their children in healthy environments only to disengage and expect the institution to take over. This just doesn’t work.
This is especially easy to do for families serving in the ministry. After all, Eli could have rationalized “what better place to rear children than in the service of the Lord?” But neglect and passivity have disastrous consequences no matter the vocation of the parents.
Wise parents take personal responsibility to introduce their children personally to God. They fully engage in displaying a personal walk and a spiritual life, expecting healthy environments and supporting institutions to only complement what they are already teaching and modeling.
Passive Parents Excuse Their Own Sin and Their Children’s—Eli basically rationalized his own sin as well as his sons’. He didn’t want to change. He was benefitting from his sons’ dishonesty. The only reason he even talked to them about their sin was that the people complained to him, not because they dishonored God.
Sometimes we tolerate sin in our children’s lives because we don’t want to give up our own. They know it, and we know it. In so doing, we dishonor God and passively endorse our children doing the same.
Wise parents deal with their own sin first, then they humbly and sincerely lead their children to do the same. They have a zero tolerance for dishonoring God—both in themselves and their children. They don’t rationalize; they repent.
Passive Parents Avoid Confrontation and Responsibility—They see everyone else at fault—the teacher, the pastor, the youth pastor, the other kids, the church, the school, etc.; but they don’t see their own responsibility or the choices of their children at the root. Passive parents blame everyone and everything else but themselves or their own children. There’s always another place to “point the spotlight.”
Eli never really confronted his sons or took responsibility for his passivity or their sin. He never forced them to face the reality of their sin. The Bible word restrain means to weaken or dim or diminish—like putting out a light. Eli should have removed his sons from influence and diminished their ability to carry on in their ways.
Wise parents own their children’s failures. They first inspect their own hearts and ask God to expose parental failures like neglect, inconsistency, or anger. Then they help their children take personal responsibility for their actions. They don’t defend or allow their children to blame others. And they always support those who will help them biblically address problems, no matter how embarrassing a situation might be. Embarrassment is a small price to pay for the restoration of a life or the salvaging of a future.
Passive Parents Have the Truth but Don’t Apply It to the Heart—They sit in church week after week, hearing the preaching of God’s Word, but not really listening. Like pearls falling in the street, the truth is all around them, but it never penetrates the heart or impacts the lifestyle. The Word never leaves church with them. It never changes things at home.
Eli and his sons were in the ministry—surrounded by the truth on a daily basis, but it never penetrated deep into the heart. There was a huge gap between God’s truth and real life. What God said and how Eli lived were two very different things.
Wise parents always live with the ever-present reality of honoring God everywhere, all the time, in every way possible. It’s not a church thing. It’s not a Sunday thing. It’s a whole life thing. It’s a heart thing. Their Christian lives are 24/7 and living God’s way is an ever-present reality.
Stay tuned for part two of this article…