A Rail around Your Roof About Safety in Bringing Up Children
“When you build a new house, make a parapet around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof.” This instruction is found in Moses’ farewell speech (Deut. 22:8). It conveys the importance of taking responsibility. But it is also about providing safety through setting boundaries. This command, with its associated consequences, is found in between other statements that concern the care of one’s neighbour. As a human being you are responsible for your own well-being, but certainly also for that of your neighbour.
The Lord God here shows through Moses that he is concerned for our well-being. Safety is something that anyone wishes for his loved ones; for example, for the children who are entrusted to his special care. In order to guarantee this attention to safety, the Lord God has made parents promise, “Do you promise to instruct this child, of whom you are the father and mother, in this doctrine and in the life that accompanies it, and to have him/her instructed therein to the utmost of your power?” (from our liturgical form for infant baptism).
And because our God is aware of our very limited abilities in this regard, he promises at baptism that he will give his own Spirit. God himself wants to help you, because it is a matter of concern to him to preserve the lives of you and your child.
Safety through Your Hands
The Lord God considers safety to be of the utmost importance for his children. Feelings of safety and security are important basic conditions for the healthy development of a person. That is why parents are to create a safe environment for their children, to the best of their ability.
But how does one do that? In the first place, parents offer safety through loving contact with their child. When the child is still small, you hold her in your arms. You caress your child and you hold him close. In the first stage of life, the skin of the child is the receiving organ for communication. You whisper all kinds of words in a loving tone into your child’s ears. These moments are very important for your child. They lay the foundation for the feeling of safety. The child experiences at that moment: I am loved, I feel fine, it’s good to be here. Without using words, you are saying, I am glad you are here. I love you.
Even as an adult, when you know that you are loved, you will feel secure. In the same way your child will experience: I am safe in father’s or mother’s arms. Through this you are already teaching the little child: You are safe also with God. In caressing the child, you are in fact nurturing her faith with your hands.
That action, that physicality, remains important throughout one’s life: a brief touch, an arm around your shoulder, a pat on your head, a hug and a kiss on your cheek. Who does not experience this as positive?
A young child can snuggle up so close. There is no place in the whole world as safe as with you on your lap. Your fifteen-year-old adolescent may, on the one hand, push your hands away: “Please don’t touch me. You are embarrassing me!” But all the same he welcomes your touch when it is part of a friendly wrestling match. For this age group, caressing carries a different emotional value. It is now rather kept for someone else.
Safety through Rules
Safety is also offered in another way. Your child seeks clarity, as it provides him with safety. Your child then knows how things stand. At first, clarity is often not experienced as positive. Let’s say that you are out on a walk with your four-year-old. The ball is taken with. Suddenly the ball rolls away onto the busy street. Your child wants to run after it. But you grab him by the arm. Otherwise, a car could easily run him over. This intervention hurts. And now the ball is run over by a car. It bursts with a bang.
Your child is furious and screams. You have not made yourself popular. (By the way, the question is whether that should be the purpose of education in any case.) What you have done, however, was provide safety.
By setting rules, you offer clarity in your family, at school, and at work. When you give rules, you should also be consistent and reasonable in enforcing them. The latter can be a difficult and exhausting part of parenting. It may sometimes seem like an endless game: you give rules and your child always seems to be testing the limits of the rules. And that is indeed what is happening. Your child is unconsciously looking for safety. He is busy learning through experience how hard a rule actually is. How universal is its validity? What are the exceptions and why? The fact that your child is constantly testing those limits shows that your child has a relationship with you. He seeks his safety with you.
That is why it is so important that you will offer safety by clearly enforcing the rules. Some parents fear the unpleasant situation that may arise when they have to enforce rules that their child does not want to keep. When they have to hand out punishment. At the beginning, enforcing rules is indeed not always pleasant. And that is quite understandable: of course, it is not nice when you are told not to do something. But when your child knows that something is truly not allowed, then she knows where she stands with her parents. This creates clarity and offers safety. This is how you, as a parent, lay down principles for the long term.
Children become insecure and restless when the rules keep changing, or when rules suddenly seem to disappear. Your child will feel unsafe then. It is like that rail around the roof that we find in Deuteronomy 22. You create safe boundaries for your child. You will not suddenly take those boundaries away because someone does not like them. Then things will become dangerous.
Setting rules requires clarity, even at the beginning, when you determine those rules. Consider carefully and consult with each other as parents, as to why you put a certain rule in place. Otherwise, you might end up with one rule today and something else tomorrow.
Safety through Rules 2
Newspapers often give shocking reports about the frequent use of alcohol among youth. What is the situation with our youth and with their examples, the parents? While reading Deuteronomy, the following text caught my eyes:
If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.Deuteronomy 21:18-21
Many churches today have a youth club in the form of a social club. Once or more times in a month, the youth of the church will come there for a gathering. What is the practice there with regard to alcohol? Sometimes one hears it being said, “If no alcohol is allowed, they won’t come.” It would be a great shame if this would be the reason for allowing alcoholic drinks. What would you do if you knew people were using drugs at a social gathering of the church? Wouldn’t you immediately put a stop to it? Do parents realize that the use of alcohol is much more harmful to young bodies than the use of many types of drugs? How, then, can alcoholic beverages be served at youth socials?
Judging from the text of Deuteronomy 21, drinking problems are not unique to our time. Moreover, what a strict punishment was meted out for not obeying one’s parents!
Safety means a rail around your roof, in order to protect life. This requires that a parent takes a clear stand on the issue of drinking. Firstly, the parent should take a critical look at his own use of alcohol. Then he must give clear rules to the children/youth. Finally, he must enforce these rules—possibly in close cooperation with other parents. You will not encounter any gratitude, at least not in the beginning. Even so, it is the preservation of life that you are after…
Is it not time that the so-called culture of tolerance with regard to alcohol at church socials is tackled? Waiting for others usually does not result in anything. But what if your children then no longer go to the church club, and instead go to a bar where the atmosphere is completely out of control? Would we then not be chasing them away from the church?
If alcohol is required to keep the children in the church, then things are pretty bad. It is therefore advisable not simply to announce a ban on alcoholic drinks. It would be better if parents could discuss this matter with their youngsters. This will be good for the young person, but it will also have a positive effect on the parents themselves. After all, as a parent, you will first have to carefully consider what to say and how to say it. Your approach to your child should be based in the first place on Christ’s love. Think of how he would have approached such a talk with our youth. Moreover, it would be a good opportunity to confess your own guilt in this matter and to admit that you yourself need daily repentance in this area.
In my view, the only way of involving children in the church is: Christ.
Let the social club of the church also be a truly safe and wholesome place for your child.
Safety through Others
Safety is aimed at protecting life. Therefore, you will also be looking for a safe school for your child. That means a school in which the Life of your child is treasured. Where the line of your own upbringing is visible.
In practical terms a safe school is a school with clear rules, clear codes of conduct, good quality education, and a positive pedagogical climate.
Yet, with all these things in place, you are not even halfway. Because the most essential thing is the basis that underlies all of these things. This basis is found in the identity of the school. On what basis are they doing their work? Why are they striving for clear rules, clear codes of conduct, quality education and a good pedagogical climate?
The answer to that question will show you the identity of the school. A humanist will say, Since people are good, we want to keep them that way. To the same question the Reformed school will answer, Since the child belongs to Christ, we treat every child according to the will of Christ. God’s Word is our basis.
Along this way one ends up with words like wonder (that Jesus wanted to save you), gratitude (because you have been saved by Jesus), and joy (in living for him from now on). This is how you can discover the school that is safe for your child.
There is yet another side to it. You could remain passive with regard to such a school. You could conclude, My child’s school is a safe school, now I can go and do other things.
But remember, you are part of that safe school. After all, the school belongs to the parents. Therefore, you help to determine and to maintain its safety. Safe schools and actively involved parents are two things that belong together. Such parents involve themselves in the school through parent evenings. They do not grumble about the teachers, but pray for them daily. According to Deuteronomy, a roof is safe when it has a rail around it. In the same way, a school is safe when God is present.
You can strengthen this safe wall around your child’s school with prayer. This can be prayer at home, in the church during the intercession, or in the school’s prayer group.
Never allow prayer for the school, and all those involved in it, to become only a formality. Then there can be a solid rail and life can be protected.
Last but Not Least
The lesson that can be learned from Deuteronomy 22:8 is that you are actively involved in creating a safe environment. You need to take action to set up the rail, i.e., you need to provide boundaries. This applies to your own life, but also to the upbringing of children. Visible boundaries ensure a degree of clarity and therefore security.
You can bump into a rail or a fence if you don’t watch out. That may hurt. But it will prevent a fatal fall. And that is what it is all about: the rail is not put there to annoy anyone, but to protect life.