If My Child Turns Out Badly, Is It My Fault?

I recently participated in an interesting online discussion about kids, and culture, and parenting. One woman wrote, "If your children turn out badly, there's no one to blame but yourself."

I respectfully disagreed. 

My response generated quite a few grateful emails. It was evident I had struck a nerve. It made me wonder how many Christian parents are living in fear that if they don’t do everything “right,” their children are going to turn their backs on God, and it will be all their fault. 

I agree that one of our best responses to the culture is to train our children in the ways of the Lord. I also used to think the primary responsibility for the way my children turned out was up to me. If I homeschooled them or didn’t homeschool them, sent them to youth group or didn’t send them to youth group, had devotions with them, taught them to memorize Scripture, took them to church every time the doors were open, then they’d grow up to love God. If I messed up somehow, or failed to do something important, it would be my fault if they went astray. 

When I’d see families with wayward children, I’d secretly assume (but never say aloud) that there must have been some inconsistency or failure on their part as parents. Maybe they look spiritual on the outside, I’d think, but behind closed doors, well . . . 

I’ve come to realize, however, that I was presumptuous in thinking I held the power to make my children turn out “right.” I realize that I was powerless, through the force of my will or the conscientiousness of my parenting, to compel my children to love God. 

I know now that as a parent, I can till the ground and plant the seeds of faith, but only God can make them grow. By assuming the misplaced responsibility for what were, ultimately, my children’s decisions to make, and thinking that if they turned out “bad,” it was my fault, I had assumed a responsibility that wasn’t rightfully mine. 

If your children grow up to love God, it will be because of God’s mercy and grace (Gal. 1:15). If they grow up to reject him, then they alone will bear the responsibility for their choices. Our parenting can put them on the right path, but only their choices and the work of the Holy Spirit can keep them on it. Thinking it’s all up to us is assuming a burden and responsibility no parent should bear. 

I’m not saying we’re not responsible to rear our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, because we are. Deuteronomy 6 gives Christian parents very clear instructions. What I am saying is that we can do everything right (as if we can really do everything right), but the choice to follow God is, ultimately, up to our children. 

As I look back on my active, homeschooling, child rearing years, I’d still homeschool. I’d still take them to church. I’d still teach them to memorize God’s Word, and so on, and so on. What I would do differently, however, would be to pray more diligently and earnestly for God’s Holy Spirit to draw my children to himself and conform them to his image. Because this is something only God can do. 

This is my prayer for you all, as you parent your children in faith.

" . . . God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace. . ." 

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  1. Amen! I lived for years in a self-righteous bubble believing that bad parents have bad children and good parents have good children. But time and experience have shown me that some bad parents have good children and some good parents have bad children.

    You are so right. We answer to the Lord, not to our children or for our children.

    1. Well said, Gail. And thus our cxdren will also answer to God. May they be good stewards of the trust their Christian parents have given them.

  2. These words are so true and reassuring to parents whose kids haven't made choices that their parents would have wanted.

    This fact hit close to home several years ago when I friend of my daughter's -- who was a "good girl" from an intact, actively Christian family -- became pregnant after a one-night stand. Despite the life-changing situation, there were positives. The girl chose LIFE -- evidence that her parents DID raise her right. Friends of this popular girl were hit with the evidence that a "good girl" could become pregnant, even after a one night stand. Hopefully in this culture of casual sex they will see that there are consequences!

    THANK YOU for your words!

    1. Shelly,
      It is a mystery -- Good parents with bad kids. Good kids with bad parents. You're right, though, that because God's Word never returns void, I believe that the Scripture we plant in our children's lives WILL bear fruit, as it did in your daughter's friend's situation. She could have easily added an even greater sin to the first, and brought tragedy upon tragedy into her and her family's lives. Praise God she didn't punish her unborn child for her poor decision.

  3. Adam and Eve had the perfect father...just sayin'.

  4. I feel like the bottom line is this: We're responsible TO God for how we parent, but we are not responsible FOR our children's behavior as adults. There are too many parents being blamed for their adult children's choices even when those choices are contrary to what they were lovingly taught at home.


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