Here’s how my husband puts it: The goal is not to get your children to conform to the standard. The goal is to get them to love the standard. If you can’t get them to love the standard, lower the standard.
Getting them to conform is relatively easy when they are little. But once they have grown up, if they don’t love it, they will abandon it. This can explain why some teenagers leave the church and fall in love with the world. They conformed until they were seventeen or eighteen because they had to. But the standard was never internalized, never loved.
That strange command about not boiling a kid in its mother’s milk applies here (Exodus 23:18-20). The milk is intended for life and should not be used as an instrument of death. We should bring our children up to be nourished by the milk of the Word, the milk of family life, the milk of worship and obedience to God. But if we turn up the heat too high, we will not nourish them, but destroy them.
Parents can chase their children away by creating high standards that they think are required of God: table rules, bedtime rules, play rules, comb-your-hair-and-clean-your-room rules, chore lists extraordinaire, shine-your-shoes-and-sit-still rules for church, and on and on. Some may be good and necessary, but many can be over-reaching the mark which turns out to be falling short of the mark.
Yes, it’s lovely to see a family all neat and clean and in order. But at what cost? Does Dad yell at them at the breakfast table? Does Mom scold them all the way to church? I’m telling you, God hates it and so do the children. Rather a row of squirmy kids with mismatched socks who are happy and love their parents than a battalion of persecuted and long-faced misery counting the minutes until church is over.
When the kids are feeling persecuted this way, parents are the ones who need to change, not the kids. That is why lowering the standard for the kids is actually raising the bar for the parents.