Reb Bradley of Family Ministries discovered the answer is more negative than he hoped and reflects on things he might have done differently with his adult children in this article.
It is VERY long, so allow me to summarize the key point of each of the mistakes he lists:
- Self-centered dreams (hopes for the children's and family's future that become a validation of us as parents or our source of significance)
- Family as an idol (preoccupation with results and seeking security and sense of wellbeing from our success as parents rather than from God)
- Emphasis on outward form (mistaking looking moral on the outside for having God's values on the inside ... I love his example of going to the grocery store to buy apples to tie on to your tree rather than letting them grow naturally with careful cultivation)
- Tendency to judge (condescending and belittling those who don't hold our subjective standards and consequent defensiveness because of imagined judgment from others, resulting in kids who are judgmental, feel condemned and are turned off to God because of our legalism)
- Over-dependence on authority and control (intimidating children into subjection rather than winning their hearts into submission, )
- Over-reliance on sheltering (being more concerned with keeping out the bad than putting in the good, which may teach kids that Christianity is a religion of don'ts rather than a relationship with the living God, and failure to face temptations alongside our children so we can coach them through it and equip them to face it on their own eventually, not with the goal of merely surviving the world but of reaching the lost)
- Formulaic parenting breaks down relationship (reliance on a formula or on performing the right steps rather than entering into the messiness of love, grace and dependence on God, which objectifies children, damages the depth of our relationship, loses their hearts and ability to be influenced and leaves only the ability to control the outside for a time)
Let me close with these powerful direct quotes from the article:
If we want to influence our children's hearts and not just their behavior, it will happen because of who we are, not what we do. We cannot simply implement loving actions in our homes -- we must truly love (1 Cor 13:3). We cannot merely recite Scripture to our families -- we must be those who look to the Word because it points to our wonderful Savior (John 5:39). And we especially cannot treat a spiritual activity such as prayer as a "discipline" or "principle" -- it must be a natural response of dearly beloved children of God pouring their hearts out to their Father in Heaven.
The best thing we can do to break away from a formulaic mentality and become a person of influence is to really grasp the grace of the gospel and live it out in our homes. For our children to see the beauty of the Savior in us we will need to find his beauty first. If we are not yet smitten with him, why do we think our children will be? We need to get to know the real Jesus.