Giving Parents Too Much Credit or Blame

Let's Quit Giving Parents Unfair Credit or Blame

I read this quote on Pinterest:  

"Your child will follow your example, not your advice."

It's true that our example speaks louder than our words, but the conclusion of the quote is wrong.

Sometimes our children will follow neither our example nor our advice.  

If we believe otherwise, we're putting too much faith in our parenting.

Some of the problem comes from people misusing Proverbs 22:6: "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it."

Let's Quit Giving Parents Unfair Credit or Blame
People misuse this proverb 2 ways:
1. To promise that godly parents will have godly children.
2. To blame parents for ungodly adult children.

The book of Proverbs describes its purpose as a book of wisdom sayings, not a book of promises (Proverbs 1:1-6).*

This doesn't mean Proverbs isn't God's Word. It is.  But just as portions of Scripture are poetry and narration, metaphor and simile, Proverbs are wisdom sayings, not promises. As described on "These short, pithy observations on life are generalizations and thus not intended to be taken as divine promises or without exception."

If Proverbs were promises, all godly people would be wealthy and live long, healthy lives (Proverbs10:22,27). To believe that you must delete large portions of Scripture and take other verses out of context (see Pieces Parts).

I misunderstood this truth for years, and it made me one of three things:
  • Self-righteous about my children's good choices.
  • Confused by their questionable choices.
  • Guilt-ridden by their bad choices.
I had to learn that God has children; He doesn't have grandchildren. 

Fifteen years ago, most of my homeschooling peers believed as I did--that we had the secret to successful child-rearing. But over the years, I've seen many of these godly parents disappointed by their adult children's choices. If our children turn out well, we tend to become judgmental and self-righteous. If not, we tend to wallow in self-blame and feel God has let us down.

The self-righteous do the most harm because they become "Job's friends" to those who are hurting.

Our culture encourages adult children to blame their parents for their failures and parents often accept that blame. But it's not Biblical. The Bible teaches that we're responsible to God for how we parent, but we are not responsible for our children's adult choices. 

"The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them." Ezekiel 18:20 

Let's Quit Giving Parents Unfair Credit or BlameWhen our children are in our home, we can/should teach and enforce appropriate behavior, but when they become adults, they will make their own choices.

Unless you are ready to believe that every true believer will be healthy and wealthy (which means you must judge the Apostles and many missionaries for their lack of faith), then you need to quit believing Proverbs 22:6 is a promise. 

Be the best parent you can be and take neither credit nor blame for your children's choices. Instead, thank God when they choose holiness and pray when they don't.

* For additional information on this subject:
Christianity Today: The Myth of the Perfect Parent 
John Piper's Website: Parents Beware.


  1. I can't tell you how much this post touched my heart. These are very wise words. There are no secret formulas to parenting success. It is just as you say! As parents we do our best to raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, pray a lot, and hope. It has been by God's Grace when our children do not depart.

  2. This is so true! I'm a new mom...but I saw this principle played out in my family and in my church many times over while growing up. I struggle with worry that my son won't live for the Lord no matter how much I train him, but I think the key is that we rely on the Lord and trust Him for the outcome...bathing all in much prayer. Great post!

  3. I love this post because it is so true. As much as we'd like to wish otherwise, there is no perfect parent, no perfect method or formula, that guarantees perfect children. If we raise our children in the Lord and parent according to His wisdom, I think our odds are pretty good, and yet there really is no guarantee. My comfort is that I know God loves my children more than I could image. Whatever failing I have as a parent, God's love is powerful enough to fill the void.

  4. You have so many nuggets of wisdom in this post, Gail. I really had never considered this verse wasn't a promise. I'm going to be mulling your words here over and over today. I love it when I learn new thoughts and ways of looking at something. I certainly agree with your last statement, and I hope it brings comfort and freedom to those who've been chained to the shame of their adult children's choices. Thanks for linking this up at Wedded Wed, my friend. Love having you there each week!

  5. Gail,
    This is possibly the best discussion I've ever read about the balance between godly parenting and a child's freewill. You have spoken wisely. While I, as a Christian parent, would prefer to put the quarter in the vending machine of parenting and receive my product, I could do that in my own strength, intellect, and power, and I would get the glory. When I throw myself on God's mercy, enabling, and grace every day, it is then that he is most free to work in and through me. May he grant us, in his mercy, children who follow hard after him.

    Keep speaking the truth, friend!

  6. I once heard a preacher observe, "Adam & Eve had a PERFECT Parent - but they still sinned!"

  7. I read from a reputable source that 'train up a child in the way that he should go,' means to teach him in a way that works with his personality, nature, and aptitudes. If you're taught that way, you don't forget it. This goes for anything from math to morality.

    1. Yes, I've heard that theory as well. We all have learning styles and respond better to certain types of training.

      I think there is truth in training children according to their learning styles, but this passage doesn't really support that meaning, nor does raising a child according to their learning style guarantee that child will continue in the right path morally. What works for math doesn't necessarily work for morality. Retaining facts is different than retaining values.

      Thanks for bringing that up. It is a theory often mentioned in conjunction with this passage in books and lectures by a wide variety of authors/speakers.