Gardner Spring, a Presbyterian minster in New York from the 1800’s wrote the following convicting words about parenting.
“’Be what you wish your child to be,’ the saying goes. So much is accomplished by example. It influences children long before instruction can inform, or authority can bind. ‘Rules constrain; example is alluring. Rules compel; example persuades. Rules are dead law, example a living law.’ Next to the law of conscience, example is the first law with which children are acquainted, and it often remains their strongest motive to action after all others are forgotten.
“Children are imitative beings, and they quickly understand what they see and hear. The example of an affectionate and watchful parent is a powerful influence. No child is too young to be the accurate observer of its parent’s conduct, and to be purified or contaminated, by that example. However unwittingly, we are constantly molding our children’s minds, habit, and character by the power of our example.
“Who among us desires for our children to be unyielding, overbearing, contemptuous, unkind, unfriendly, or discourteous? But if they discover these in us our example will govern their conduct.
“Perhaps most to the point in this very affluent society: We do not want our children to be afraid of work or hardship, so why do we ourselves pursue fashion and leisure? The message quickly forms in their minds: My parents do not consider hard work, or diligence, or ‘redeeming the time,’ to be reputable or pleasurable. They are satisfied with an easy life. With such a message, is it likely that our children will aspire to energy, usefulness and accomplishment?
“We want our children to be honorable and completely truthful. We want them to be punctual and thorough. But if they hear us extolling these virtues and know that instead we bend the truth and are disorganized and careless, will not our conduct rump our preaching?
“We want our children to carefully choose their friends and conversation. But what I we are careless in this regard? What are the pleasures of modern society? Judging from the reality of the popular market today, they lie somewhere on a spectrum that stretches from popular entertainment to gambling, to drunkenness to pornography to prostitution. And now, perhaps more than ever, all of these lie in some form waiting to entice our children. Must we give them an easy opening – right into our own live and homes?
“Example rules. Do we express careless doubts about the truth of God’s word and the power of the gospel? Do we not reverence the Sabbath? Do we neglect regular worship? Are we ‘conformed to this world?’ Are we careless about tying ourselves to the body of believers? Is our object to be rich, splendid, and honored by all? If so, will we have any ground for disappointment if our example defeats our instructions?
“We are always acting in the presence of our children, so let us do it in such a righteous way that they are tempted to imitate us.”
From: Hints for Parents, Gardner Spring and Tedd Tripp, Shepherd Press, 2004.