Shouldering Responsibility for Family Care
“FATHERS, do not be irritating your children, but go on bringing them up in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.” (Ephesians 6:4) With those inspired words, the apostle Paul clearly placed the responsibility for family care where it belongs—on the father’s shoulders.
In most families the father is not alone in caring for his children. His wife, the mother of his children, gladly shares the load with her husband. Thus, King Solomon declared: “Listen, my son, to the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother.”—Proverbs 1:8.
Material and Spiritual Care
Parents who love their children do not intentionally neglect them. Indeed, for Christians to do so would be tantamount to renouncing their faith, as we conclude from Paul’s words to Timothy: “Certainly if anyone does not provide for those who are his own, and especially for those who are members of his household, he has disowned the faith and is worse than a person without faith.” (1 Timothy 5:8) Christians realize that raising children in “the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah” requires much more than providing for them in a material way.
Consider Moses’ exhortation to the nation of Israel when they were camped on the plains of Moab, just before they entered the Promised Land. There he reiterated God’s laws to them and instructed them: “You must apply these words of mine to your heart and your soul.” (Deuteronomy 11:18) Earlier he had reminded them that they should love Jehovah with all their heart, soul, and vital force, adding: “These words that I am commanding you today must prove to be on your heart.” (Deuteronomy 6:5, 6) It was vital for Israelite parents to allow the words of God’s Law to penetrate their hearts. With hearts brimful of spiritual appreciation, Israelite parents could effectively obey Moses’ next words: “You must inculcate them [the words of God’s Law] 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.”—Deuteronomy 6:7; 11:19; compare Matthew 12:34, 35.
Notice that fathers were to “inculcate” those words in their children and “speak of them.” Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines “inculcate” as “to teach and impress by frequent repetitions or admonitions.” When parents spoke about God’s Law daily—morning, noon, and night—this conveyed much to their children. As the youngsters sensed the love that their parents had for God’s Law, they in turn were influenced to develop a closeness to Jehovah. (Deuteronomy 6:24, 25) Interestingly, Moses specifically instructed fathers to teach their children ‘when they sat in their house.’ Such teaching was a part of family care. But what of today?
“When You Sit in Your House”
“It’s not easy,” explains Janet, a Christian mother of four.* “You need persistence,” agrees Paul, her husband. Like many other Witness parents, Paul and Janet endeavor to study the Bible with their children at least once a week. “We try to have our family Bible discussion every Monday evening at a set time,” Paul explains, admitting: “But it doesn’t always work.” As an appointed elder in his congregation, he has sometimes been called away to deal with urgent matters. His two eldest children serve as full-time ministers. They find that evenings are productive times for contacting people in the ministry. Thus, as a family, they have adjusted the time for their family study. “We sometimes have our study immediately after our evening meal,” Paul explains.
Even though parents wisely demonstrate flexibility in the timing of their family study, they try to maintain its regularity. “If the time of our study has to be changed,” notes daughter Clare, “Dad always puts the new time on the fridge door, so that we all know when it will be.”
Gathering for a regular family Bible study also provides a fine opportunity for the younger members of the family to share their concerns and problems with their parents. Such a study works well when it is not so rigid that youngsters simply read answers to the questions asked in the Bible textbook they use. “Our family study is a forum for discussion,” explains Martin who has two sons. “When you get together once a week to discuss a Scriptural subject, you find out how your family is doing spiritually,” he comments. “All sorts of things come out in the discussion. You learn what is happening at school, and more interestingly, you find out what attitudes your children are developing.” His wife, Sandra, agrees and feels that she too derives much from the family study. “While my husband is conducting the study,” she relates, “I learn a lot by listening to the way my sons answer his questions.” Then Sandra tailors her comments to help her boys. She enjoys the study more because she is actively involved. Yes, family study periods offer parents insight into their children’s thinking.—Proverbs 16:23; 20:5.
Be Adaptable and Persevere
When the time comes for your family study, you may find that one child may be alert and interested, whereas another needs coaxing to concentrate and benefit. One Christian mother comments: “That’s family life! You know what you should do as a parent. So when you get on with it, Jehovah helps and brings results.”
A youngster’s attention span may vary greatly according to his age. The discerning parent takes this into account. One couple has five children, ranging in age from 6 to the 20’s. The father, Michael, says: “Give the youngest the opportunity to answer the questions first. Then let the older children add the details and bring in points they have prepared.” This way of dealing discerningly with their children enables parents to teach the value of considering others. “One of our sons may understand,” notes Martin, “but the other boy needs much help to get the point. I find that the study session becomes a training ground for demonstrating Christian patience and other fruits of the spirit.”—Galatians 5:22, 23; Philippians 2:4.
Be prepared to adapt to your children’s varying abilities and levels of growth. Simon and Mark, now teenagers, found that when they were younger, they really enjoyed studying the book The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived with their parents. “Our father had us act out different parts just like a play,” they recall. Their father remembers getting down on his hands and knees to act out the parable of the neighborly Samaritan with his sons. (Luke 10:30-35) “It was realistic and much fun.”
Many children buck against the routine of a family study. Should this stop parents from conducting the study when planned? No, certainly not. “Foolishness is tied up with the heart of a boy [or, girl],” acknowledges Proverbs 22:15. One single mother thought that she was failing as conductor of the family study when, on many occasions, distractions seemed to disrupt the session. But she persevered. Now her children have great respect for her and have come to value the love and concern that she showed by persisting in conducting a regular family study.
Helping “Fatherless” Boys and Girls
Christian elders are to “shepherd the flock of God.” (1 Peter 5:2, 3) Periodic visits to the families in their congregations offer them opportunities to commend parents who shoulder their Christian responsibilities. On whose shoulders does the responsibility for teaching the children of single parents lie? Never forget that the responsibility for instructing the children rests with the parent.
Christian prudence will help elders avoid compromising situations that could arise if they were to assume the role of a missing parent. Though two brothers may be able to visit a Christian sister who is a single parent, they will at all times be circumspect in what they arrange in the way of support for the family study arrangement. Occasionally, an invitation to the children (and, indeed, the single parent) to join the elder’s own family study may prove upbuilding and practical. However, never forget that Jehovah is our great heavenly Father. He is surely present to guide and help the mother when she conducts a study with her children, even though she does so alone.
What about the situation where a young person is spiritually-minded, but his parents manifest little or no concern for their spiritual responsibilities? Jehovah’s faithful servants need never become downhearted. “To you [Jehovah God] the unfortunate one, the fatherless boy, commits himself,” sang the psalmist. “You yourself have become his helper.” (Psalm 10:14) In turn, loving elders in the congregation will do their best to encourage the parents as they care for their children. They may suggest a family discussion and then attend to offer some practical suggestions on how to study together. They will not, of course, take away the responsibility of the parents, on whose shoulders it Scripturally rests.
Children whose parents do not embrace the faith need much support. Including them in your family study may prove beneficial if that is acceptable to their parents. Robert, now a grown-up with a family of his own, attended Christian meetings with his parents when he was only three years old. He had fond memories of those meetings even after his parents stopped associating with the Christian congregation. When he was ten, he met a Witness boy who took him along to the meetings. The Witness boy’s parents gladly took Robert under their wing as a spiritual orphan and later studied with him. Thanks to this loving care, he made rapid progress and now enjoys serving as an elder in the congregation.
Even when parents oppose the progress of their children, the children are not alone. Jehovah remains a faithful heavenly Father. “A father of fatherless boys . . . is God in his holy dwelling,” declares Psalm 68:5. Spiritually fatherless boys and girls know that they can turn to him in prayer, and he will sustain them. (Psalm 55:22; 146:9) Jehovah’s motherlike organization diligently fulfills its responsibility to prepare delightful spiritual meals served through its publications and at the meetings of the more than 85,000 Christian congregations worldwide. Thus, with spiritual help from our Father, Jehovah, and his motherlike organization, even the “fatherless” will enjoy some measure of Bible study.
Christian parents who conduct regular family Bible studies with their children deserve commendation. Single parents who persevere in training their youngsters in Jehovah’s ways merit special attention and praise for their efforts. (Proverbs 22:6) All who show concern for spiritually fatherless children know that this pleases our heavenly Father, Jehovah. Caring for a family’s spiritual needs is a heavy responsibility. But ‘do not give up, for in due season you will reap if you do not tire out.’—Galatians 6:9.
Some names have been changed.
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A family study provides a fine opportunity for the younger members to share their concerns with their parents
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