Some Thoughts on How to be a Parent

William Plumer’s booklet, “Thoughts on Religious Education and Early Piety,” continues to encourage and admonish me. After thinking about the “what” of parenting, he turns to the “how” – for “success in the work will depend very much on the way in which we attend to it.”

1. Don’t assume that your child has knowledge or virtue – “To have taught a child any truth at one time, is not conclusive evidence that it is acquainted with it now…Never forget that a little at a time, and often repeated, is the great secret of successful instruction in any branch of knowledge [especially] in reference to children, whose minds are weak, and whose power of attention is almost as nothing.” Plumer also comments, “Let all parents be careful lest they suppose their children more free from fault, and more given to commendable conduct, than is the fact…Never suppose that your children will voluntarily let you know the worst parts of their conduct and the worst features of their character. You are partial, and have not, in many cases, the means of observation or detection.”

2. Don’t separate what God has joined together: the rod and reproof – Plumer warns parents to discipline with wisdom and gentleness: “It is conceded that a great deal of wicked severity is often exercised even by parents; and that in all cases of discipline with the rod, a sound discretion and sober caution are necessary. Perhaps nothing engenders more wickedness in the soul of a child than the rash, hasty, undue, and especially unmerited use of this mode of correction. It ought never to be forgotten that a government of unmixed severity and rigor never did and never can subdue the human soul into a state of ingenuous and affectionate obedience. Parents may, and often do so chastise, as to alienate the affections and forfeit the confidence of their children. This is always done when the rod is used with passion.”

3. Tell stories – “There are very few children so heedless and dull as to refuse attention to a short and touching statement of facts – such as abound in Scripture…Most, if not all the doctrines and duties of revealed religion, with the errors and vices opposed to them, may be thus forcibly and vividly impressed on them.”

4. Speak with love – “Especially be affectionate in every endeavor to impart instruction…Some parents in giving instruction, especially religious instruction, [are] forbidding and doleful and gloomy. Instead of making their children feel that a delightful service is about to be engaged in, they make them feel as if something dreadful was about to be endured…The opposite course wins the affections, engages the attention, enlists the energies, renders the exercise pleasant, and secures the most important benefits…Let it not be forgotten, however, that authority is a means of doing good, put into the hands of parents for the purpose of being employed when necessary. There can be no well-regulated family where it is not understood that authoritative displeasure will be incurred by not conforming to wholesome and established usages…Remember Eli.

5. Let no one get between you and your authority over your children – “Of course it is madness for one parent to contravene the authority of the other.”

6. Persevere – “Long patience is necessary to him who would teach any class, and especially children. The seed sown may lie long before it will vegetate.”

7. Select your children’s friends wisely – “Bad company is worse than none. In an important sense, parents ought to be the companions of their children. Yet it is not to be supposed that they will deem it proper, in ordinary cases, to exclude them from the society of all those whose age corresponds with their own. Yet bad children will as certainly corrupt their mates, as bad men will their fellows.”

8. Buy good books for your children – Plumer states that there was no excuse in his day for not getting good reading material into the hands of children; how much more in our own day, with all the Christian publishers at work for us?

9. Be earnest and zealous – “Heartless efforts never produce great results…If your children discover in you a coldness and languour when you are laboring for their spiritual welfare, they will assuredly receive the impression that it is a matter of very slight importance. If you wish them to feel, feel yourself. If you would engage them, you yourself must be engaged.”

10. Unite precept and example –  “If the precept be omitted, conscience will not be duly informed, and must grope her way in the dark. If the example be omitted, the impression will gain ground that the precept is not intended for practice…He who gives the precept, scatters the seed. He who adds example, plows it in.”

11. Don’t turn your child into a mercenary – “Never hire your child to do its duty. To substitute the reward for the motive, and make present advantage the determining influence, where truth, honor, or religion, all sacred and imperative, should decide, is to breed monsters in the moral world.”

12. Don’t break your child’s spirit – “A broken-spirited man never laid and executed a plan of any difficulty, and requiring patience and perseverance. God, in subduing the rebellious to his gracious government, has formed no part of his plan on the principle of vanquishing by intimidation, or of winning by destroying all mental elasticity. On the contrary, the flow of soul and the vigor of thought are as remarkable in regeneration as perhaps any thing else…Doddridge’s paraphrase of Colossians 3:21 is, ‘And ye fathers, see to it that you do not so abuse the superiority of the relation, as, by a perverse and excessively severe conduct, to provoke your children to wrath, lest they be discouraged from attempting to please you, when it shall seem to be an impossible task; and be rendered unfit to pass through the world with advantage, when their spirits have been so unreasonably broken under an oppressive yoke in the earliest years of life.'”

13. Point your children to providence – “It is a principle well understood by all who thoroughly investigate the subject, that while stated lessons have some advantages, yet it is occasional remarks that have peculiar penetration, and force, and permanence. Their suitability and connection with passing events give them great power. But rest not satisfied with occasional efforts. Let the tenor of your conversation and intercourse with your children be such as continually to bring divine and eternal things before their minds. Some considerable portion of every Sabbath day ought to be sacred to this work. But bare Sabbath instruction will be apt to produce mere Sabbath Christians. He who feels the importance of religion, and knows the worth of souls, will be unwilling to keep silence except on the first day of the week.”

14. Be united – “If the father wishes one thing, and the mother another, and the teacher a third, what but folly and misery can be expected? The piety of even one of the parents, though a good thing in itself, does yet often secure but little good to the children, where both the parents are not perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”

15. Never forget the Holy Spirit – “He alone can render your labors effective, and your instructions permanently useful. God does so order things as most impressively to teach us that his Spirit is the sole agent of effectual and abiding good to the soul of man. Doubtless one fruitful source of the inefficiency which has crippled so many efforts for the salvation of men, is to be found in the low estimate had of the necessity and glory of the Spirit’s power in making the truth effectual. Those who honor the Holy Ghost by a Christian reliance on his saving energy, shall be honored of him by an abundant blessing on their well directed labors for the salvation of others, whether they be old or young. On the other hand, those who despise the Holy Ghost shall be lightly esteemed, and their works shall be as unfruitful and as unstable as the chaff of the summer threshing floor. It is not proposed to carry this discussion further than to say that the Holy Spirit shall be given to them who ask his almighty aid, while those who ask not, receive not, and the bad will be consumed in vain, yet, the bellows will be burned for naught.”

May the Lord enable us by His grace to put these principles into practice day by day. Being a parent should daily drive us to our knees, crying out to God, “Who is sufficient for these things?!” I thank God for Dr. Plumer’s wisdom. As I read more, I’ll try to post more in the future.




One response to this post.

  1. […] Some Thoughts on How to Be a Good Parent — The follow-up to an article I posted yesterday. This time, the parenting advice moves from the “what” to the “how”. Excellent wisdom from the early 19th century. […]


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