There are tens of thousands of people who come to Canada as caregivers and many of them are mothers. They leave with the hopes of opening the door to a better life and one day being able to sponsor their family to join them here. One of those caregivers recently asked me what the Bible says about how to be a good parent when thousands of miles might separate mother and child. How can I parent my own children while working as a nanny?
Let me first start by acknowledging that I’ve never done it! I’m always cautious to give advice in an area where I haven’t “walked a mile in the other person’s shoes.” I’ve learned some things about parenting an adult daughter who lives at university in another city, but that’s really quite different. Let me offer some tentative advice about how I see the Bible addressing this topic.
1. The fundamentals of parenting don’t change. The Bible’s commands and principles aren’t just for ideal circumstances. Regardless of the living situation, children are still blessed for honouring their parents (Ephesians 6:1-3) and parents are still charged with providing for the child’s discipline and instruction in the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). If you’re not present, you need to think through not just who will feed and care for your children, but also whether there is someone who will discipline and instruct them. And the role of the local church, the family of God, in your child’s life becomes even more important.
2. Make the most of the opportunities you have. Even though you can’t do everything that you would do if you were with your child, that doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything. Hannah left her son, Samuel, in the prophet Eli’s care when the boy was very young (1 Samuel 1:27-28). But every year when she was able to visit, she would bring a robe for him as an expression of her love (1 Samuel 2:18-19). Because of the separation, your child needs affirmation of your love all the more, but they also need your spiritual input. When you write or call, maybe you could make a habit of sharing a verse or a Bible story. And pray with them; don’t just talk to them.
3. Help your child grieve your loss. With all that you’re sacrificing to make a better life for your family, it would be easy to be hurt if your child isn’t brimming with gratefulness for all your hard work. And there may come a day when your children does thank you. But in the meantime, it’s important to help your child grieve the loss that your separation brings. You’re not the only one paying a big price for the sake of an idealized future. Your child feels your loss and misses what only your presence can provide. To ignore or minimize this, forces your child to bury painful feelings rather than process them in healthy ways. Buried feelings turn bitter and eventually come out in destructive ways.
4. Understand the dynamics of influence. Some parents expect children to obey them, “Because I said so.” And there is a sense in which our position as parents should be honoured for its own sake. But leading our children purely on the basis of our authority is not the pattern of the Bible. Our heavenly Father leads by grace. In 1 John 4:19, for instance, it says, “We love because he first loved us.” His love for us motivates our obedience to Him. The same is true for our children. Obedience problems are often rooted in relationship problems. Separation from our children strains the relationship and that strain will likely lead to obedience issues. If we recognize that, it helps remind us not to just look at work on the obedience but the relationship from which obedience flows.
5. Focus more on the gospel than behaviour. The goal of a Christian parent isn’t just that their child ‘acts Christian’ but actually becomes a Christian. We don’t want our children to just listen to us, but ultimately to listen to God. He’s a better parent than we could ever be – and He can be with them when we can’t. When a child trusts in Jesus, the Holy Spirit begins to change them from the inside out. If your limited influence as a parent focuses only on the child’s behaviour, then you miss out the impact that God might have in transforming them.
If you need help in making sure you understand the gospel in a way that you can share it with your child or encouragement in how to have a spiritual influence in your child’s life, you might want to take a look at these two articles.
LEADING CHILDREN TO JESUS
GET THE FOUNDATION STRAIGHT
May God give all of us help in the difficult task of raising our children!
In awe of Him,