Jane, 13, is an extremely quiet child. A loner with few friends, she is not particularly concerned about her personal appearance. Unhappiness, frustration and discouragement nag her waking hours. Academic tests show she is bright, yet she is struggling in school. Jane's brother John, 10, is confident, outgoing, lovable and affectionate. He, too, is bright, and excels in both classwork and athletics. Jane and John belong to the same middle-class family. They live in a nice house in a friendly neighborhood. Each has a private, attractively furnished bedroom and a closet full of fairly new clothing. Their parents both work and are considered average people in the midwestern United States. They have achieved moderate professional and financial success. They see themselves as concerned parents with a problem daughter. They don't understand why their daughter is struggling in school — why she always seems moody and unhappy. Is she sick? Is something genetically wrong with her? How do we solve the problem with her? they ask themselves. Well, Jane's problem is not genetic, nor is it purely physical. But what is wrong with the Jane of this imaginary family is occurring all too frequently in society today. Most parents mean well, but they may be so involved with other considerations — earning a living, personal pursuits, their own problems — that they overlook the simple, basic needs of their children. Paramount to a child's proper development is the environment in which he or she grows up. And the right environment involves much more than relative physical prosperity.
An inadequate environment
Some 3,500 years ago another family — this one real — experienced similar problems. The parents had similar backgrounds and seemed ideally suited to one another. The husband, Isaac, was the son of Abraham and Sarah. God promised Isaac to Abraham and Sarah after they were past the childbearing age. A special wife, Rebekah, had been selected for Isaac. Rebekah was of the offspring of Abraham's brother Nahor. Isaac and Rebekah did not produce children for several years. Isaac prayed to God that he and Rebekah might have children. In due time, twin sons were born to the happy couple. One son, Esau, was what some today would call a "macho man," aggressive, rugged, an outdoorsman and a hunter. He was the apple of Isaac's eye. Rebekah, however, loved Jacob, who was more quiet, perhaps gentler, a stay-close-to-home type (Gen. 25:27-28). Several problems for the children arose out of this parental conflict. As Jacob and Esau began to mature, the boys became competitive. The parents were not, as a team, mutually loving their sons and providing for the individual needs of each. Neither did Jacob and Esau have respect and regard for one another. At an opportune time, Jacob bargained for his brother's birthright (Esau was firstborn), purchasing it for a mere serving of lentils. Instead of showing concern for Esau's welfare, Jacob used his brother's discomfort to "get" for himself. The possessions to be inherited from Isaac were great. True, Esau had insufficient regard for his birthright, but Jacob didn't have respect for his brother, either. When Isaac grew old and was about to die, he called Esau to kill some venison, his favorite food, and prepare it for him. Isaac intended to bless Esau afterward (Gen. 27:1-4). Rebekah overheard the conversation and, showing apparently little or no concern for her older son Esau, devised a plan to allow Jacob to receive the blessing instead. She prepared two goats for Isaac and placed their skins upon Jacob's neck and hands to make him appear as Esau. The deception worked perfectly. Isaac's sight was so poor that he accepted Jacob as Esau and gave him the blessing instead. Esau, as we might expect, was furious. Not only was his birthright gone, but now he had lost also his blessing (Gen. 27:35-36). The enraged Esau sought to kill Jacob as soon as Isaac died (verses 41-42). Again, Rebekah became aware of Esau's intent and caused Jacob to flee to her brother's homeland. There he remained for many years. In addition to this family strife, Esau had married contrary to the wishes of his mother and father (Gen. 26:34-35). Apparently, because Isaac and Rebekah each had a favorite son, they did little to raise the children as a united family.
Parents should work together
In this brief story of this special family that God was using, we see internal conflict, hatred, deceit and disrespect. Isaac sought the interest of Esau. Rebekah preferred Jacob. Family and personal conflict was the result. They were not working together as parents, with mutual love for both of the children. Rather, the parents were divided and created a divisive spirit between their offspring. It is not uncommon for parents to make choices and show favoritism among their children, often in (seemingly) minor ways. In the imaginary modern-day family that we examined earlier, one of the children became an emotionally troubled low achiever, largely because her parents did not properly discern and respond to her individual needs. Jane's and John's parents were preoccupied with their own professions. They were not cognizant of the needs of their daughter as she grew, and the problem, no doubt, started early in the child's life. Jane had been born first. Her parents were delighted with her. When Jane was 3 years old, a son was born into the same family. From that time forward, John received most of the attention and affection. Slowly, Jane became introverted, uncommunicative and frustrated. The change was gradual. Jane's parents were so undiscerning of her emotional needs that they didn't even notice. On the other hand, John was cute. He demanded his parents' attention. Perhaps they most wanted a son to begin with. They devoted most of their limited time to the boy, and he developed a warm, loving personality. This explanation may seem simplistic, but it is, with many variations, a common syndrome within families. The ultimate, devastating effect is the same on the children: frustration, anxiety, low self-esteem, unhappiness, moodiness and even suicide. God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34). God will give everyone the marvelous opportunity of being in His Family. God is love — perfect love (I John 4:8) — and He expresses that perfect love toward all mankind. He is preparing each for a special position in His Family and Kingdom, and cares for each of us individually so that each of us, with our special talents and potentials, may achieve that tremendous goal. We have to learn to emulate that kind of godly love in our child rearing, properly overseeing the growth and development of each of our children. We must help each of our children achieve to the full.
Children don't always fulfill the ambitions or expectations of their parents — nor should they. But if parents don't face this fact, they can unwittingly and selfishly become catalysts for failure in their children, rather than the inspiration for success. All children are not the same. They are male and female. Some are zealous, high achievers, and some are not. Some have athletic ability, or musical talent, or mechanical aptitudes, and others do not. We should be delighted with our children, looking to and developing their individual strong points — not expecting or even wanting them to be all alike. That doesn't mean we must be delighted with everything they do or don't do, but our children must know we care and care a great deal. Talking with children, honestly discussing values, problems and the purpose of life, is invaluable. Caring also includes properly correcting children for their own welfare. When we truly care, our children will react positively. They will succeed. And their children will be better off, too. We are called upon, in this end time, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers (Mal. 4:5-6). Our responsibility as parents is heavy, indeed. But our opportunity is great, as well, and the end result will be supremely rewarding if we will strive to do what God expects.