We are well aware of the principle that God is our Father, but from Scripture we can gain insight into the template for transition of responsibility as we bring up our children. When your children are younger, we are like God to them in that we are the arbiters of right and wrong; we communicate the household rules and ensure they are obeyed. We also speak God’s Word to our children, especially when they are young and cannot read; we will often have them repeat a verse or two after us in a family reading of God’s Word. We are the representative and source of God to our very young children.

There is another level here to consider: just as we see God parenting us, so we in turn provide godly parenting to the children He has blessed us with. Parenting is not just applying a random series of principles and passages; there is a process with parenting. It is a pattern or framework to which we can attach the requirements of parenting.

The challenge of parenting is the need for a transition. You can’t parent a 16-year-old in the same way as a two-year-old; and it’s neither safe nor appropriate to give the freedoms we would give a 16-year-old to a two-year-old. We are predominantly responsible for the behaviour of a young child in that their actions most often rest on us as the parents. However, there comes an age where the child is responsible for their own actions and the consequences of their behaviour are entirely borne by them. Transitioning from parenting younger to older children is not always easy but we can follow the example of God Himself as a loving heavenly Father.

The clearest scriptural example is in the life of Abraham. To start with, when Abraham was commanded to leave Ur, God instructed him like a young child and expected an obedient response. As Abraham developed and matured, God revealed more of His purpose and promises; very much in the same way we would encourage parents to share the moral reasons for doing things as our children develop and grow. We then see the example of God encouraging Abraham and counselling him, and in the end, Abraham was called a friend of God.

It may be worth noting here that we know from Genesis 18 the reason God chose Abraham was not only because of his obedience, but also that he would “command his children after him.” So Abraham becomes not only the template for the parenting process, but also the key figure in a principle of family identity. In him all families of the earth would be blessed, not just because of Abraham’s obedience, but because of family-like obedience from all those who are (spiritual) descendants of Abraham. Obedience is a key characteristic of the family of Abraham, and we should make it a foundation discipline in our families in order to be partakers of the blessings.

In the same way as Abraham is spoken of as a friend of God, the aim of our parenting should be to develop a close friendship with our children from the outset. We are first and foremost their parents, in the same way God was an authority figure to Abraham, but when they, as young adults, reach a stage of moral maturity and share the same principles in their heart with us, then a real friendship can be achieved.

We are parents first, with the initial phase of development being discipline, which means establishing a routine, learning the meaning of ‘no’ and insisting on obedience. We then embark on a phase of training, which is essentially where we start to develop the child’s personal responsibilities and get them to start thinking of others. At this point we start sharing simple moral reasons behind our instructions. As our young children become teenagers, our parenting style should well and truly have transitioned from authoritative instructions to coaching and encouraging, coming alongside our children and trying to get the best out of them, and asking questions to activate their conscience.

A wonderful opportunity arises when our older children have developed their own conscience toward the things of God because this is when they become our friends. They are now able to be involved at an adult level. This is the same pattern that we see in our heavenly Father and it creates a continual transition in our parenting style and techniques.

The other way we can double check this pattern is to look at the different Hebrew words used for children:

bakar: first born (Jer 4:31)

yanaq: suckling (Isa 11:8)

gamul: weaned child (Isa 28:9)

taph: child clinging to his mother (Est 3:31)

owlel: young child (Psa 8:2)

elem: child becoming firm (Isa 7:14)

naar: (literally – shaking free) youth, lad, servant (1 Sam 16:18; Prov 1:4, 7:7, 20:11)

yelled: offspring, son, young man (Isa 9:6)

bachur: a chosen and tested youth (1 Sam 8: 16)

In the passages dealing with discipline and correction the word for a young child is used, which shows an authoritarian approach is necessary to set the boundaries and ground rules when they lack the cognitive development to think things through. But as our children start to develop both their own conscience and their prefrontal cortex in terms of being able to visualise consequences and empathise with others, we transition to have older sons who can ‘listen’ and be ‘instructed’ rather then chastened.

In summary, parenting is a process. We start out important role as parents with authority, but it is important that we transition to trainers and educators, to mentors and coaches—as one who comes alongside—and finally our goal as parents is to be friends with our children. It is very much the same way that Christ offers us friendship once we are mature disciples; as he said, “ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you.”