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This article is written by Liz Carter.
Parenting is a minefield.
All around you there are opposing voices telling you the best way to parent, right from the start. When my children were small, the fierce debates about controlled crying vs attachment parenting were only just getting going, and some days I felt caught in the crossfire, wondering if I was a bad or good mother and feeling overwhelmed with guilt too much of the time.
When you are a Christian parent, it can sometimes seem even more confusing.
How should we bring our children up in today’s society? Should we try and wrap them in cotton wool? How do we discipline them? What about when it all seems to go wrong?
Today we’re going to have a look at 10 key Bible verses about parenting responsibilities. My hope is that these verses will encourage you rather than drag you down, inspire you rather than condemn you – because God’s word is for our flourishing. All verses are from the NIVUK.
Bible verses about parenting responsibilities
1. “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.” (Psalm 127:3)
We begin by remembering that our children are a gift. We may not always feel like it, at 3am when the baby is screaming again, when our teenager has gone off the rails. But still, they are God-given – and they are never a mistake. They are beloved.
2. “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.’” (Acts 2: 38-39)
Throughout scripture, God gives promises to his people that encompass families and generations to come. God doesn’t limit his blessings to one generation, but listens to the cry of our hearts and extends his promise to everyone.
Sometimes it’s difficult to take hold of this when our children seem far from God, but we can be assured that God’s promises are true, and we can hold onto that in the darkness.
3. “Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’” (Matthew 19:14)
God’s heart is for children. I love the way Jesus called the children to him, angering the religious leaders around him and surprising everyone with his love for them.
That’s how he sees our children, too, and we have a responsibility to take these words seriously; to not hinder them, to allow them to come to Jesus in their own time and their own way, to give them guidance and then space, while always lovingly caring and praying for them.
4. “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
This is possibly one of the most famous Bible verses about parenting responsibilities! Children learn habits and patterns from a very early age. If it’s possible in your family setup, it’s good to instil good rhythms that will stay with them. I’ve read many stories of people who drifted away from faith but always remembered the way their parents prayed with them, or taught them the Bible, and it was this that eventually brought them back.
But please don’t allow this to become a condemnation, if your children were older when you came to faith, or if your partner is not supportive; God understands that we are all a bit messy, and works within the confines of brokenness. I apply this verse to whatever stage I am at now, rather than letting it throw me into doubt about how I parented in earlier years. Wherever we are, we can encourage our children in matters of faith as well as in other areas of growth.
5. “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)
The word ‘exasperate’ in this passage means something close to ‘unfair or cruel behaviour.’ We are called to love our children in the way we speak to them, in the way we treat them, in the way we model behaviour.
My kids loved to quote this verse to us whenever we told them to tidy their rooms, but it goes a lot deeper: it requires us to parent our children self-sacrificially, to be measured and honest and fair, to love them as Jesus loves us.
6. “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” (Proverbs 13:24:)
I can’t share Bible verses about parenting responsibilities and not include this one, one that is often contentious and misunderstood. Through the centuries the ‘rod’ has been taken to be an instrument of punishment, and verses like this have been misused to excuse violence and abuse.
But when we look at the origin of the words ‘rod’ and ‘discipline’, we find something in direct contrast. The rod was something a shepherd used to gather in his flock of sheep, to gently guide them back into the fold. The shepherd would go to every corner of his field, encouraging the sheep back home with his rod or staff. It wouldn’t generally have been understood as an instrument of punishment – the shepherd wasn’t punishing the sheep, he was guiding them.
It’s a similar story for the word ‘discipline’, which comes from the Hebrew word mū·sar which is usually translated into the word ‘instruction’. It’s the same root for the word ‘disciple’ – disciples learned from their master, following his ways as he instructed them. Effective discipline is not about physical punishment but about creating an atmosphere of love, respect and emotional health, where children are allowed to flourish as they learn. It sometimes involves punishment, because we all go off-track, but the heart of discipline is gentle, guiding instruction.
To ‘spare the rod’ means to neglect your child’s emotional, intellectual and spiritual wellbeing, rather than to avoid physical punishment. Do drop your thoughts on this in the comments – what do you think these words mean?
7. “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5: 2-3)
This is actually an instruction to elders of the church, but it’s very applicable to our parenting. God wants us to parent out of a willingness to serve, to put ourselves second, to show an example of humility and honesty in the way we treat our children. God requires willing and caring hearts.
8. “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)
Talking about faith with our children is a key responsibility as a Christian parent. This verse encourages us to make that kind of talk a regular and natural part of life – at mealtimes, walking to school, putting them to bed.
Sometimes we have to create opportunities, especially as they get older and it’s not as easy to talk about these matters. If we can do this with grace and humility, without forcefulness, without insisting that they believe everything we believe, then we are doing as well as we can.
Sometimes they don’t want to have those conversations at all, and we need to respect their wishes, but find creative ways we can bring faith into the home, even if only by modelling it in all that we say and do and watch on the TV. None of this will go unseen – so, again, don’t allow this verse to be a condemnation if you are in a difficult place.
9. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:13-14)
Remind your children often that they are fearfully and wonderfully made. This verse spoke to my daughter deeply when she was small, when she was struggling with bullying at school and needed to know her worth, and it still means everything to her today as a young adult. It’s the root of who we are, as parents and as children; God created us, lovingly crafted us, and we respond to that in the way we love our children.
10. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
Finally, I want to leave you with an encouragement. Parenting can bring a whole host of anxieties, from when they are tiny through to fully grown. Sometimes we might feel like we’re doing well, and others like we are failing.
This verse reminds us that we can bring all our anxieties before God, and he will bring his peace into the middle of the most difficult situations. If you are struggling with parenting today, please read and re-read this verse most of all: God is with you. God is for you. God will hold all your anxieties – and your child.
I hope these Bible verses about parenting responsibilities have encouraged you today, whatever season of parenthood you’re in. Which one struck a chord with you the most? Let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear!
Liz Carter is an author, poet and editor from Shropshire, and is married with two children. She writes about the difficult and painful times in life, and how we can find gold in the mess. Her books Catching Contentment and Treasure in Dark Places are available in bookstores. Liz’s next book, with The Good Book Company, is coming in 2023. She’s just brought out a new prayer journal which is filled with verses and poetry about creation. You can find her and her books at Great Adventure.