Your Role as Parents
1-3. (a) What effect can the birth of a baby have on parents? (b) Why is it important for both father and mother to understand their roles as parents?
IN LIFE many events affect us to a very limited degree. Others have a major and lasting effect. The birth of a child is clearly one of the latter. For a husband and wife, life will never be the same thereafter. Though very small, the new personality in the home will make itself felt with a voice and a presence that cannot be ignored.
2 Life for the parents should be richer and happier. But it does present a challenge, and, for the finest results, that challenge needs to be met by both parents. It took both of you to produce the child, and both of you will play a vital role in your baby’s development from birth onward. The need for sincere, united—and humble—cooperation was never greater.
3 Understanding the role of each parent and how these roles can harmonize should help greatly in meeting the needs of your baby, producing happy results. Balance is needed. Even though the mind strives to be reasonable, emotions often push things off balance. We may tend to go to extremes, from too little to too much, and back again to too little. It is desirable for the father to exercise his headship, but, if he overdoes it, he becomes overbearing. It is good for the mother to share in training and disciplining the children, but to take over these duties to the exclusion of the father undermines the family structure. Good is good, but a good thing may become bad if carried to an extreme.—Philippians 4:5.
THE MOTHER’S CRUCIAL ROLE
4. What are some things that a baby needs from its mother?
4 A newborn baby is totally dependent on its mother for its immediate needs. If she lovingly supplies these needs the baby feels secure. (Psalm 22:9, 10) It must be well fed and kept clean and warm; but supplying physical needs is not enough. Emotional needs are just as important. If the baby does not receive love, it becomes insecure. A mother can soon learn to tell how great the need really is when her infant calls for attention. But if its cries are consistently ignored it may become ill. If it is emotionally deprived over a period of time it may be stunted emotionally for the rest of its life.
5-7. According to recent research, how is a baby affected by its mother’s love and attention?
5 Experiments in many different places have confirmed this fact: Babies become sick and even die if deprived of love, as expressed through talking and touching, stroking and cuddling. (Compare Isaiah 66:12; 1 Thessalonians 2:7.) Though others may do this, the mother, in whose womb the baby came to life and was nurtured for the first months of life, is beyond all question the one most logically suited to do this. There is a natural interaction that takes place between mother and child. Her instinctive desire to hold the newborn baby close to her is matched by the infant’s instinctive searching for her breast.
6 Research has shown that the brain of an infant is very active and that mental development is promoted when its senses of feeling, hearing, seeing and smelling are stimulated. When an infant nurses, it perceives the warmth and smell of the mother’s skin. It looks almost continuously at her face as she feeds it. It hears not only her voice as she talks or sings to it but also her heartbeat, a sound that it heard while yet in the womb. In a Norwegian publication, child psychologist Anne-Marit Duve observes:
“Since the activity of the pupils clearly shows the degree of brain activity, we have reason to believe that a high degree of skin stimulation, a high degree of contact—not the least the contact connected with nursing—can stimulate the mental activity, which in turn can lead to greater intellectual capacity in adulthood.”
7 So, when the baby frequently feels the mother’s touch, as she picks it up, cuddles it or bathes and dries it, the stimulation it receives plays an important part in its development and what it will be like in later life. While getting up at night and spending time in soothing a crying infant may not be the most enjoyable pastime, the knowledge of the later benefits can compensate considerably for the loss of sleep.
LEARNING LOVE BY BEING LOVED
8-10. (a) What does a baby learn from its mother’s love? (b) Why is this important?
8 The baby’s being loved is vitally important for its emotional development. It learns to love by being loved, by exposure to examples of love. Speaking of love for God, 1 John 4:19 says, “We love, because he first loved us.” The initial lessons in love fall mainly to the mother. A mother bends over a baby in its bed, puts her hand on its chest and jiggles it gently as she puts her face close to the baby’s and says, ‘I see you! I see you!’ The baby, of course, doesn’t know the words (which really aren’t particularly logical anyway). But it wriggles and coos with delight, for it recognizes that the playful hand and the tone of voice are clearly saying to it, ‘I love you! I love you!’ It is reassured and feels secure.
9 Babies and small children who are shown love appreciate it, and, in imitation of that love, they practice it, putting small arms around the mother’s neck and giving enthusiastic kisses. They are pleased with the heartwarming emotional response they reap from their mother as a result. They begin to learn the vital lesson that there is happiness in giving love as well as in receiving it, that by sowing love they reap it in return. (Acts 20:35; Luke 6:38) Evidence shows that if an early attachment to the mother is not made, later on the child may find it very difficult to make deep attachments and commitments to others.
10 Since children start learning immediately after birth, the first few years are the most vital ones. During those years the mother’s love is crucial. If she succeeds in showing and teaching love—not indulgence—she can do lasting good; if she fails she can do lasting harm. Being a good mother is one of the most challenging and rewarding jobs a woman can have. Despite all its strains and demands, what “career” occupation that the world offers can begin to approach it in significance and lasting satisfaction?
THE VITAL ROLE OF THE FATHER
11. (a) How can the father establish his role in the child’s mind? (b) Why is this vital?
11 It is natural that in early infancy the mother plays a more prominent role in the child’s life. But from the baby’s birth onward the father should also be a part of the baby’s world. Even when the child is still an infant, the father can and should get involved, caring for the baby at times, playing with it, comforting it when it cries. In this way the father gets established in the child’s mind. The father’s role should gradually come to take on greater prominence as time passes. If he waits too long to begin, it can be the start of a problem that surfaces especially when the child becomes a teen-ager and discipline becomes more difficult. The teen-age son especially may need his father’s help. But if a good relationship has not been established before, the gulf produced over a period of years cannot be bridged in a few weeks.
12, 13. (a) What is the father’s role in the family? (b) How can a father’s fulfilling his responsibilities in the right way affect his children’s view of authority?
12 Whether the child is a boy or a girl, the influence of the father’s masculine qualities can make a vital contribution to the development of a rounded-out, balanced personality. God’s Word shows that the father is to be the head of the family. He is responsible to provide materially for them. (1 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Timothy 5:8) Yet, “not by bread alone does man live but by every expression of Jehovah’s mouth does man live.” As regards his children, the father is also commanded to “go on bringing them up in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.” (Deuteronomy 8:3; Ephesians 6:4) While natural affection for his offspring should motivate him, it is, above all, a sense of responsibility to his Creator that should move him to do his best to fulfill the divine commission that is his.
13 Along with the warmth, tenderness and compassion that a mother expresses, the father can contribute a stabilizing influence, one of strength and of wise direction. The way he handles his God-given assignment can have a marked effect on his children’s later attitude toward authority, both human and divine, as to whether they respect it and how well they can work under another’s direction without chafing or rebelling.
14. What effect can the father’s good example have on his son or daughter?
14 If he has a son, the father’s example and handling of matters can do much to determine whether the boy grows up to be a weak, indecisive person, or one who is manly, steady, showing courage of conviction and a willingness to shoulder responsibility. It can affect the kind of husband or father the son eventually becomes—a rigid, unreasoning, harsh one, or one who is balanced, discerning and kind. If there is a daughter in the family, her father’s influence and relationship can affect her whole outlook on the male sex and either contribute to or hinder her future success in marriage. The effect of this paternal influence begins from infancy.
15, 16. (a) What responsibility of teaching does the Bible place on a father? (b) How can this be discharged?
15 The extensiveness of the father’s responsibility to teach is shown in God’s instructions to his people at Deuteronomy 6:6, 7: “These words that I am commanding you today must prove to be on your heart; and you must inculcate them in your son and speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road and when you lie down and when you get up.”
16 Not just the words themselves that are found in God’s Word but also the message they convey must be impressed daily on the child’s mind. Opportunities are always there. Flowers in a garden, insects in the air, birds or squirrels in the trees, seashells on the beach, pinecones in the mountains, stars twinkling in the night sky—all these wonders speak of the Creator, and you should interpret to your children the meaning of their utterances. The psalmist says: “The heavens are declaring the glory of God; and of the work of his hands the expanse is telling. One day after another day causes speech to bubble forth, and one night after another night shows forth knowledge.” (Psalm 19:1, 2) By being alert to use these things, and especially to draw upon the daily affairs of life in illustrating and emphasizing right principles and in showing the wisdom and benefit of God’s counsel, the father can build up in the mind and heart of his child the most essential basis for the future: the conviction not only that God is, but that ‘he rewards those who earnestly seek him.’—Hebrews 11:6.
17, 18. (a) How should a father discipline his children? (b) What is more effective than the making of many rules?
17 Discipline is also part of the father’s role. “What son is he that a father does not discipline?” is the question asked at Hebrews 12:7. But it is his obligation to do this in a way that does not go to extremes, overcorrecting to the point of irritation or even harassment. To fathers, God’s Word says, “Do not be exasperating your children, so that they do not become downhearted.” (Colossians 3:21) Restrictions are necessary, but sometimes we can multiply and expand rules until they become burdensome and discouraging.
18 The Pharisees of ancient times were lovers of rules; they accumulated heaps of them and produced crops of hypocrites. It is a human failing to think that problems can be solved simply by making additional rules; but life’s experiences make plain that reaching the heart is the real key. So be sparing on rules; try instead to instill principles, aiming in the direction that God himself does: “I will put my laws in their mind, and in their hearts I shall write them.”—Hebrews 8:10.
FATHER AND MOTHER ARE PARTNERS
19. What might be done to ensure good communication in the home?
19 The father usually makes the living, and when he comes home from work he may be tired, and he still may have other duties to perform. But he should make time for his wife and for his children. He must communicate with his family, set aside time for family discussions and family projects, for family fun or outings. In this way family unity and solidarity are built up. Perhaps before the children came he and his wife spent much time outside the home. But for them to keep on in that way, running here and there and possibly keeping late hours, would not be living up to the responsibility of parenthood. It would be very unfair to their offspring. Sooner or later, the parents would pay the price for their lack of regularity and of responsibility. Like adults, children fare better when their life has a basic stability and regularity; this contributes to mental, physical and emotional health. The daily routine of family life will have its full complement of ups and downs without parents needlessly adding to these.—Compare Matthew 6:34; Colossians 4:5.
20. When it comes to disciplining children, what can parents do so that they will be united in their efforts?
20 The father and the mother should cooperate in dealing with the children, teaching them, setting limits for them, disciplining them, loving them. ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ (Mark 3:25) Parents do well to discuss the discipline to be followed; they can then avoid having their children witness any disunity regarding discipline. To do otherwise could invite the children to try to ‘divide and conquer.’ True, it may happen that on some occasion a parent will react hastily or in anger and administer discipline that is extreme, or, when all the facts are considered, perhaps was really not called for at all. It may be possible for the parents to talk about it privately and then the parent who acted unwisely may choose personally to rectify matters with the child. Or, where this private talk is not possible, the parent who feels that to support the mate would mean supporting an injustice may say something like, ‘I understand why you feel angry, and I would feel the same way. But there may be something you weren’t aware of, and that is . . .’ thereafter clarifying whatever may have been overlooked. This can have a calming influence without showing division or disagreement in the presence of the disciplined child. As the inspired proverb says: “By presumptuousness one only causes a struggle, but with those consulting together there is wisdom.”—Proverbs 13:10; see also Ecclesiastes 7:8.
21. Should discipline be left up to only one parent? Why or why not?
21 The Hebrew Scriptures show disciplining to be a dual role: “Listen, my son, to the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother.” The Christian Greek Scriptures do likewise: “Children, be obedient to your parents in union with the Lord, for this is righteous.” Sometimes the father views disciplining the children as his wife’s job. Or, a wife may take the opposite view and do no more than threaten a misbehaving child with ‘Just wait till your father gets home!’ But if there is to be family happiness, and each parent is to receive the children’s love and respect, the duty needs to be shared.—Proverbs 1:8; Ephesians 6:1.
22. What should be avoided when handling a child’s requests, and why?
22 Children need to see their parents’ united cooperation in this and the willingness of each to shoulder his or her responsibility. If a begging child always hears his father say, ‘Go ask your mother,’ or the mother invariably passes the decision back to the father, then the parent who finds that the request requires him (or her) to answer “No” is cast in the role of villain. Of course, there may be circumstances where the father may say, ‘Yes, you can go outside for a while—but check first with your mother to see when supper will be ready.’ Or the mother at times may feel that, while some request does not seem objectionable to her, her husband should express himself on the matter. But both will be alert to see that in no way do they encourage or allow the child to pit one parent against the other to gain his objective. The wise wife will also guard against using her share of authority in a competitive way, trying through indulgence to gain the major share of the child’s affection at her husband’s expense.
23. In a family, is decision-making necessarily limited to the father?
23 Actually, in family decisions each member may have areas where his decision merits special consideration. The father has the responsibility of deciding on questions involving the overall welfare of the family, often deciding these after discussion with the others and giving consideration to their wishes and preferences. The mother may make the decisions regarding the kitchen and many other household matters. (Proverbs 31:11, 27) As they grow up, children might be allowed to make certain decisions about their play areas, some choice of clothing, or some other personal things. But there should be enough parental oversight to see that sound principles are followed, the children’s safety is not endangered and the rights of others are not infringed upon. This can give children a gradual start in decision-making.
IS HONORING YOU PARENTS EASY?
24. The fact that children are to honor their father and their mother places what responsibility on parents?
24 Children are told, “Honor your father and your mother.” (Ephesians 6:2; Exodus 20:12) For them to do this is also honoring God’s commandment. Do you make it easy for them? Wife, you are told to honor and respect your husband. Isn’t it very hard for you to do so if he makes little or no effort to live up to what God’s Word requires of him? Husband, you are to cherish and honor your wife as your loved helpmate. Isn’t it difficult, if she is not helpful? Make it easy then for your children to obey God’s command that they honor you, their parents. Earn their respect by providing a peaceful home, a good set of standards, good examples in your own conduct, sound teaching and training, and loving discipline when needed.
25. What problems can arise when parents are not united as to how the children should be trained?
25 “Two are better than one,” observed King Solomon, “because they have a good reward for their hard work.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9) When two people walk together and one falls, the other is there to help him up. So, too, in the family the husband and wife can support and encourage each other in their respective roles. In so many areas of parenthood those roles overlap, and this is good for the unity of the family. Children should bring the parents closer together, uniting them in a common training work. But sometimes divisive questions may arise over how the child is to be trained and disciplined. Sometimes a wife showers so much attention on the child that her husband feels neglected, even resentful. This can affect his attitude toward the child. He may be cool toward it, or he may, instead, shower affection on it but lessen his attention to his wife. A high price is paid when the husband or the wife gets off balance.
26. What might be done to keep an older child from feeling jealous when the mother must devote much of her time to a new baby?
26 Yet another problem may arise when a new baby arrives and there is already an older child. The mother must spend a great deal of time with the new baby. To keep the older child from feeling neglected and jealous, the father might give extra attention to the older child.
27. When one of the marriage mates is an unbeliever, how can children be helped spiritually?
27 Certainly two are better than one, but one is better than none. It may be that the mother is the one who, by circumstance, must bring up the children without a father’s help. Or, the father may face this same challenge. Many times homes are religiously divided, in that one parent, as a servant of Jehovah God, has full faith in the counsel of the Bible, and the other parent does not. Where the dedicated Christian is the husband, he, as the family head, has more control of the course to be followed in the training and disciplining of the children. Nevertheless, he may need to show great patience, self-control and endurance; he should be firm where a serious issue exists, yet reasonable and kind even though under provocation, and be flexible wherever circumstances will allow. If the believer is the wife, and hence subject to the husband, the way she proceeds will depend greatly on his attitude. Is he merely not interested in the Bible, or does he oppose his wife’s practice of her beliefs and her endeavors to teach them to the children? If he opposes her, she must depend on the course the apostle outlined: By the wife’s exemplary care of her duties and her respectful attitude, her husband “may be won without a word.” She will also use what opportunities are available to her to train her children in Bible principles.—1 Peter 3:1-4.
THE HOME ENVIRONMENT
28, 29. What kind of home environment is desirable, and why?
28 The role of both parents is to provide a home atmosphere of love. If this is felt by the children, their uncertainties or mistakes will not pile up inside of them because they are afraid to tell their parents. They know they can communicate and be understood, and that matters will be handled with loving concern. (Compare 1 John 4:17-19; Hebrews 4:15, 16.) Home will be not only a shelter but also a haven. Parental affection will make the children’s spirits grow and flourish.
29 You cannot put a sponge into vinegar and expect it to fill with water. It can absorb only what surrounds it. The sponge will absorb water only if it is submerged in it. Children, too, absorb their surroundings. They sense the attitudes and observe the things practiced around them, and these they absorb like sponges. Children sense your feelings, whether these are nervous tensions or relaxed peacefulness. Even babies absorb the qualities of the home atmosphere, so one of faith, love, spirituality and reliance on Jehovah God is invaluable.
30. What questions might parents ask themselves to determine whether they are providing fine guidance for their children?
30 Ask yourself: What standards do you expect your child to meet? Do both of you parents measure up to them? What does your family stand for? What kind of examples for the child are you? Do you complain, find fault, criticize others, dwell on negative thoughts? Is that the kind of children you want? Or, do you have high standards for your family, live up to them, and expect your children to do likewise? Do they understand that to belong to this family certain requirements are to be met, certain conduct is acceptable, and certain actions and attitudes are not? Children want to feel the security of belonging, so let them feel your approval and acceptance when they meet the family standards. People have a way of living up to what is expected of them. Rate your child bad and he’ll probably prove you right. Expect good from him, and you encourage him to live up to that.
31. What should always back up parental direction?
31 People are judged by their actions more than by their words. Children, too, may not give as much attention to words as to actions and they are often alert to detect any hypocrisy. Too many words may confuse children. Make sure your words are backed up by your practice of them.—1 John 3:18.
32. Whose counsel should always be followed?
32 Whether you are a father or a mother, your role is a challenging one. But the challenge can be met with happy results by following the counsel of the Giver of life. Carry out your assigned role conscientiously, as unto Him. (Colossians 3:17) Avoid extremes, keep your balance and “let your reasonableness become known to all,” including your children.—Philippians 4:5.
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The mother’s look and touch and tone of voice tell her baby, “I love you”
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Do you plan activities with your children?