A few months ago, my husband decided to touch up the scuff marks on our kitchen walls. He retrieved a small bucket of paint from the garage, set it down on the counter, and wrenched open the top. When he had finished, he placed the bucket back on the counter and reapplied the seal. Only this time, things didn’t go as planned. Underneath the weight of his hand, the paint bucket shifted and slid. Before we knew it, the bucket skidded off the counter and sprayed across our hardwoods. We couldn’t grab the towels fast enough, as the beige paint pooled in a giant circle on the center of our kitchen floor.
Most days, my husband is very careful with his words. We are not people who curse. But in that moment, as the paint flooded across the floor, my husband yelled a “certain word” over and over again. It wasn’t a terrible word, but it wasn’t one we want our children repeating either. So I crossed my fingers and hoped our son was too engrossed in his Disney Jr. to notice his father’s rant.
Seconds after my husband gained his composure, we heard a tiny voice from the living room, an echo, of everything my husband had just unleashed.
You don’t have to be a parent very long to know that kids are sponges. They absorb everything we say and do, which means our examples have a powerful effect. I was doubly reminded of this truth the other day, when I read the following words from Horace Bushnell, a Christian educator from the 1800’s:
“Your character is a stream, a river, flowing down upon your children, hour by hour. What you do here and there to carry an opposing influence is, at best, only a ripple that you make on the surface of the stream. It reveals the sweep of the current; nothing more. If you expect your children to go with the ripple, instead of the stream, you will be disappointed.”
These words highlight a common misconception among parents. It’s so easy to believe—or should I say hope—that our kids will do as we say and not as we do. But Bushnell is right. Our overall character is the current of our parenting. It is the primary influence that sweeps through the hearts of our children. Whatever we say to the contrary is only a ripple at best.
This is especially true of faith. As the wife of a pastor, I watch parents drive their children to church every Sunday, like clockwork. They might even enroll their children in a Christian school. But if Jesus isn’t woven into the fabric of their family, their kids will detect a very mixed message.
As parents, the way we speak to our spouses, the way we treat those who hurt us (or our children), the way we handle our finances, or our anger, or our struggles—these day-to-day behaviors will shape our children far more than any sermon. Kids see right through our words, and they’re not about to believe something we don’t seem to believe ourselves.
However, I say all of this as a parent who fails. My faith is not perfect, and neither is my example. Thankfully, Christian parents are not left to do this parenting thing alone. We have a helper. He’s called the Holy Spirit, and he heals and restores the cracks in our parenting. Yes, we should do our best, but we can also count on the Holy Spirit to stand in that gap between the parents we are and the parents we want to be.
So I encourage you to take an honest look at your parenting and ask yourself: What is the current of my parenting? What is the river of my character?
And then, surrender it all to God. He can help you.