The most important task of parenting is that of building bridges, connecting links to relationships with God and others. Within the context of our intimate relationship with our child in the home, we can build those bridges of trust, self-esteem, forgiveness, honesty, tolerance, and kindness essential in a relationship with God and others.
In this article we will focus on the basics for building bridges and the two areas in which we need to build bridges for our child: a bridge to God and a bridge to others.
Basics for Bridge Building
In order to rear healthy, positive children, priority must be given to some basics for building bridges to future relationships.
First, good relationships are important. A relationship with God and others is the primary goal of life. We must be able to teach our children how to relate to God and to others in positive ways. Learning to live with honest ap- preciation of who he is, who God is, and who others are is the most important lesson a child can learn. The process of learning to relate to God and others is the process of bridge building.
Second, home is the place. Your home offers the best possible opportunity for teaching about relationships. By example, families can demonstrate the importance of God and others. Your home is essentially the classroom of life for your young child. God and others become important to him if they are really important to you. Basic lessons of relationships-respect, forgiveness, honesty, tolerance, and kindness-c-can be taught in the home.
Third, parents are teachers. Whether we like it or not, prepared or not, we become teachers when we become parents. Our relationships to God and each other as partners in parenting are on display to our child! Values, fears, aspirations, and prejudices are taught through daily communication. Yes, we are teachers, and the things we teach need to be the stuff out of which bridges to future relationships are made.
Fourth, bridges to future relationships are needed. As awesome as it may sound, your child’s relationships to God and others (including his mate) are greatly affected by the home he grows up in and how he learns to relate to others. Although he will make his own decisions about serving God, choosing a mate, and choosing friends, you will set the emotional tone and affect the background out of which he will make those decisions. If you can build some bridges, life will be much more positive and fulfilling for your child.
Fifth, God is interested in the bridges you build. Since life is God’s gift to each of us, He is primarily concerned with the quality of it. He is concerned about His relationship to each of us and our relationship to one another. He has provided us with the perfect model for relationships in His son, Jesus. Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 22:36-40 emphasizes the priority of relationships that his life demonstrated. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy mind… Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself’ (vv. 37,39). This is the essence of life. This is where bridges must be built.
God will supply the wisdom you need to build these bridges to Him and others. All you need to do is trust Him and allow Him to work His plan for you and your family. Parenting is the most important assignment you will have in life. None of us can do it as well as we need to apart from God’s help. Acknowledge your need and ask God to help you build those bridges. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God… and it shall be given him” (Jas. 1:5).
A Bridge to God
The ultimate goal of life is for your child to know God and live in fellowship with Him. In order for him to do this, you will need to build a bridge for him to understand God and relate to Him.
A child comes into the world with only a capacity to know God, but the way in which he thinks about or relates to the Supreme Being will be determined by the way those closest to him relate to God. Most children grow up believing in God, but some grow up with an unhealthy un- derstanding of and improper feelings toward God due to attitudes transmitted by parents or other adults close to them. On the other hand, young children whose parents have a growing, healthy respect for God will grow up with a healthy attitude toward life and its Creator. This attitude may be described as trust, which is absolutely essential to relate to God. (See Heb. 11:6.)
This brings us to an important understanding — the role of parents in teaching their child about God. In the early years the child is totally dependent on parents for all her needs. If these needs are met lovingly and the child is treated with care, she will develop a sense of trust toward her parents. The trust built in the early years will ultimately enable the child to transfer her trusts from her parents to God, assuming she has been taught that God can be trusted.
The basic attitude of trust so essential to relating prop- erly to God is not magic. Trust is learned from you, the parent. The daily routine of meeting physical needs lovingly, listening to your child’s concerns, and being excited about his developing abilities will build the bridge which can lead to God.
One more word on this subject. To build a good bridge to God will require that you, know God in an intimate, personal, saving way. Otherwise, God will be distant and not very real to you or to your child. You need to exercise the joy of making God a part of all your life. This doesn’t imply a sickening fanaticism where religious trappings are hung all over your house and every word is a pious one. But it is a living, honest, growing relationship with God which will demonstrate who you believe God to be. You must trust the integrity of your relationship to God to convince your child that God is real and can be trusted.
A Bridge to Others
The other major bridge that you must construct is one which helps your child relate well to others. Children come with their own unique personalities-some are out- going and some are shy or withdrawn. These personality factors do not guarantee that the outgoing child will have no problems with relationships while the shy child will never develop meaningful relationships with others or vice versa. Developing a good personal relationship involves more than being friendly or socially attractive. It involves trust, respect, and the give and take of communication. All children need guidance in building relationships with others.
Begin by helping your child develop a wholesome ap- preciation for himself. He must be guided to develop a loving appreciation for who he is — a good self-concept. This is the foundation for the bridge to others and to God. Only as he values himself can he value others.
There are two possibilities of relationships in your child’s future-friends and a marriage partner. The ability to make friends and to be a friend is a sign of growth. It involves the ability to care for others without using them, to share mutual concerns, and to enjoy the company of another person. Children who are taught that they are truly cared for and respected do not find such attitudes difficult to express toward others. Children reared in an atmosphere where parents relate positively to each other and to others are equipped with understanding and skills which will lead to good personal relationships. Bridges are being built for them.
The kind of marriage partner a child chooses (if he chooses to marry) and how he relates to that person is also influenced by you, the parent. From his early days he has been eyewitness to the way you demonstrate your respect (or lack of respect) for each other as persons, to the way you attack each other or your problems, and to the way you show tenderness to each other. In all of this a child makes interpretations of what a husband and wife are and what a family is. It might surprise you to think of ways your father or mother have unconsciously influenced your decision to marry the kind of person you have married.
As you model marriage relationships before your child, you are making it easier or more difficult for him to have an honest, growing relationship with the mate who is in his future.
Written by Dr. Cos Davis. Originally published as “Bridges to the Future” in Living With Preschoolers (2nd Qtr 1986). Used by permission of LifeWay Christian Resources. Please review our Permissions Policy when using this material.