“All good, enduring reformation begins with ourselves and takes its starting point in one’s own heart and life,” writes Herman Bavinck in The Christian Family. “If family life is indeed being threatened from all sides today, then there is nothing better for each person to be doing than immediately to begin reforming within one’s own circle.”
Such a process of reformation is complex and varied, and is somewhat unique for each of us. But for the moment, I’d like to focus on one particular dynamic: the unique role that children play in reforming their parents.
On this, Bavinck offers the following reflection:
For children are the glory of marriage, the treasure of parents, the wealth of family life. They develop within their parents an entire cluster of virtues, such as paternal love and maternal affection, devotion and self-denial, care for the future, involvement in society, the art of nurturing. With their parents, children place restraints upon ambition, reconcile the contrasts, soften the differences, bring their souls ever closer together, provide them with a common interest that lies outside of them, and opens their eyes and hearts to their surroundings and for their posterity. As with living mirrors they show their parents their own virtues and faults, force them to reform themselves, mitigating their criticisms, and teaching them how hard it is to govern a person.
The family exerts a reforming power upon the parents. Who would recognize in the sensible, dutiful father the carefree youth of yesterday, and who would ever have imagined that the lighthearted girl would later be changed by her child into a mother who renders the greatest sacrifices with joyful acquiescence? The family transforms ambition into service, miserliness into munificence, the weak into strong, cowards into heroes, coarse fathers into mild lambs, tenderhearted mothers into ferocious lionesses. Imagine there were no marriage and family, and humanity would, to use Calvin’s crass expression, turn into a pigsty.
Bavinck precedes this by noting that, “Holy Scripture evaluates having children entirely differently than the modern generation,” and here, let us pause and remember that he was writing in 1908. (more…)