An excellent article in The Plough (which if you have not read or subscribed to is an exceptional journal worhty of your consideration) entitled “They Watch More Than They Listen” challenges our parental sensibilities for thinking that if we merely transfer right content and place our children in the right schools for high-level academic learning we have done a good job. This is a sliver of what we are called to do in the training and loving aspect to parenting.

It is without doubt that I want to transfer truth. But too often I fail–daily, I fail–to love my children and live the truths I want to convey. Here are three paragraphs that cut me and reminded me that Scripture models for me the longsuffering and grace of God. In light of all that I am the beneficiary of, how can I not also extend such a life to my children.

The real problem arises – and this is more widespread than one might think – when children are taught to “do as I say, not as I do.” Told this half-jokingly in one situation after another, they gradually learn that there is never anything so black and white that it is always good or bad, at least not until they make the wrong choice at the wrong time. When that happens, they get punished for their lapse of judgment. And they will always find the punishment unjust.

Being a father, I know how hard it is to be consistent – and conversely, how easy it is to send confusing signals without even realizing it. Having counseled hundreds of teenagers over the last four decades, I also know how sensitive young adults are to mixed messages and inconsistent boundaries, and how readily they will reject both as clear signs of parental hypocrisy. But I have also learned how quickly the worst battle can be solved when we are humble enough to admit that our expectations were unclear or unfair, and how quickly most children will respond and forgive.

Reflecting on the ways in which children so often mirror their parents – in actions, attitudes, behavioral characteristics, and personal traits – my grandfather, writer Eberhard Arnold, noted that children are like barometers. They visibly record whatever influences and pressures currently affect them, whether positive or negative. Happiness and security, generosity and optimism will often show themselves in children to the same degree that they are visible in their parents. It is the same with negative emotions. When children notice anger, fear, insecurity, or intolerance in an adult – especially if they are the target – it may not be long before they are acting out the same things.