Having problems in life is an anomaly for most people in spite of the fact that we have cautioned by Job that we are living in a fallen world fraught with trouble and sufferings just like sparks will fly off from a fire (Job 5:7). Despite of that, most people only consider seeking counselling when they are ‘stuck’ with personal or marital problems after unsuccessful self-therapy.
The counselling fraternity, especially the mental health professionals and marriage and family therapists, must proactively promote by conducting preventive counselling talks and/or workshops on problems within the family or at work faced by Christians. This would pre-empt the possibilities of psychological problems or dysfunctional family which would in turn adversely affect their spiritual life and some even lose their faith in God.
“Everyone wants success in a material sense as well as in the spiritual sense!” Both Christians and non-Christians are living in a very success-oriented society where failure is not an option. An individual or family failing to become successful usually bring upon him/her tremendous stress, humiliation and even hopelessness in life. Hence, preventive counselling is warranted as it would arrest such a situation.
The context of a successful family in Singapore is that parents are making up to the top of the corporate ladder and children are academically doing well in school. This is indeed a difficult task to perform as it is like burning a candle on both ends and expecting it to burn bright and long at the same time. This mindset needs rethinking from a Biblical perspective and such paradigm shift has to be incorporated into preventive counselling talks/workshops.
It is true that God wants His people to be diligent, but His people in doing their best must NEVER do it at the expenses of losing sight of God and things of God desires! Truly, it is every parent’s desire to have responsible and academically successful children, and it is also every child’s desire to have caring and loving parents. Are there super Moms and super Dads in successful families?
Super Mom or super Dad is just a myth and not a reality as most people cannot meet even the basic requirement of putting in reasonable quantity and quality time with the family to bond. If there are ever such so-called super moms or dads, it is NOT because they are super but it is only because their children happened to be of the compliant type as well as of studious type and hence little effort is needed to supervise them.
However, when the family life is put right especially from the scriptural context, many problems would automatically be resolved by themselves. Hence we need to turn to God’s words to understand why and how people get themselves into problems in life as well as to know the solutions to such problems. The fact is that God has been using preventive counselling most of the time through His Word and we need to do likewise. God’s method of preventive counselling is by prescribing to us the “dos” and the “don’ts” in life so that we will not run into troubles with people, both with believers and non-believers alike.
As such, we as Christian counselling professionals must offer more of such preventive counselling that is based on biblically teachings as well as extra-biblical knowledge like psychology, behavioural science and family system.
There is a need to emphasise on teaching preventive counselling to pre-empt and prevent the worsening of problems through the following talks and workshops:
1. The Principles of Vibrant Christian Life
As we examine successful families in general, certain principles unmistakably emerge. As in the business world, sporting arena and academic domain, those who have succeeded had strategies, goals and objectives. They tenaciously stuck to the ground rules they set. They acted in humility and had open communication. Really, nothing just happens by chance as success or failure is often time planned, whether one admits it or not! I would like to propose the following five principles for a vibrant Christian family life.
It would be ideal to have discussed this matter of having a vibrant Christian family life before marriage or even just after it. However, it is still not hopeless for those who are already have several children. Likewise, it does not matter if we are an intact family or a single-parent family as it is still possible to plan for a vibrant Christian family life.
Firstly, a prospective successful family must have a “destination” in mind. As such, we must decide what we want our family to be in the future. In other words, we need to work out a mission statement for our family. This mission statement should be arrived at with the consensus of members of the family, as this gives everyone the sense of ownership.
Secondly, to embark on this venture of successful family, it is imperative to build a “we” culture in the family. This would counter individualism which is likely to cripple family life nowadays. Instead of our natural inclination towards independence, we need to work towards inter-dependence. There is also the need to have regular family devotion and fellowship time. This is where the family can talk about God and pray together as well as to discuss and plan family matters. This must also be supplemented by individual one-on-one parent and child bonding time.
Thirdly, we need to work out a strategy together to guide our family to reach the projected destination. The family would then have a sense of direction and the will to tackle the rough terrains and storms of family life. Notwithstanding that there are always the unexpected obstacles, the family needs to be resilient and rise up to new challenges. This requires the shifting of paradigms and the learning of new life skills.
Fourthly, there is the need to set ground rules for fair and practices. Among these rules, the most important is the rule of mutual respect (Lk 6:31). Regardless of the fact whether one is the father or eldest in the family, he must demonstrate mutual respect. The parents, especially the father, have to be exemplary in respecting others so that the children can follow likewise. It also requires one to display humility and have a “let us learn together” attitude. One family member must forgive the other readily whatever or whenever a wrong is committed (Mk 11:26).
Fifthly, when we have achieved some measure of success, we are not to rest on our laurels as that would spell disaster. Complacency has ruined all great empires in the history of mankind. Similarly, patience is needed, as success often does not come by quickly. As with any other great achievement, success only comes after much perseverance and all those who succeeded have been dogged in their undertakings.
As Paul says in Gal 6:7 “You reap what you sow” and so we can predictably say that how our family would turn out would be the direct result of how we are leading our family now. “Strike while the iron is hot” is a familiar proverbial saying that we must heed. Hence we must act now, steer your family toward a successful family life. God is ever willing that we have successful family life as each family is an extension of God’s family. A chance missed is an opportunity gone!
2. Proper Parenting to Ensure Wholesome Family
Find Your Style of Parenting
There are many ideas about how to rear children. Some parents adopt the ideas their own parents used. Others get advice from friends. Some read books about parenting. Others take classes offered in the community clubs. No one has all the answers. However, psychologists and other social scientists now know what parenting practices are most effective and more likely to lead to positive outcomes for children.
Ideas about child rearing can be basically grouped into three styles. These are different ways of deciding who is responsible for what in a family.
Authoritarian parents always try to be in control and exert their control on the children. These parents set strict rules to try to keep order and they usually do this without much expression of warmth and affection. They attempt to set strict standards of conduct and are usually very critical of children for not meeting those standards. They tell children what to do, they try to make them obey and they usually do not provide children with choices or options.
Authoritarian parents don't explain why they want their children to do things. If a child questions a rule or command, the parent might answer, "Because I said so." Parents tend to focus on bad behaviour, rather than positive behaviour, and children are scolded or punished, often harshly, for not following the rules.
Children with authoritarian parents usually do not learn to think for themselves and do not understand why the parent is requiring certain behaviours of them.
Permissive parents give up most control to their children. Parents make few, if any, rules, and the rules that they make are usually not consistently enforced. They don't want to be tied down to routines. They want their children to feel free. They do not set clear boundaries or expectations for their children's behaviour and tend to accept in a warm and loving way however the child behaves.
Permissive parents give children as many choices as possible, even when the child is not capable of making good choices. They tend to accept a child's behaviour, good or bad, and make no comment about whether it is beneficial or not. They may feel unable to change misbehaviour, or they choose not to get involved.
Democratic or Authoritative
Democratic parents will help children learn to be responsible for themselves and to think about the consequences of their behaviour. Parents do this by providing clear, reasonable expectations for their children and explanations for why they expect their children to behave in a particular manner. They monitor their children's behaviour to make sure that they follow through on rules and expectations. They do this in a warm and loving manner. They often, "try to catch their children being good" and reinforcing the good behaviour, rather than focusing on the bad.
For example, a child who leaves her toys on a staircase may be told not to do this because, "Someone could trip on them and get hurt and the toy might be damaged." As children mature, parents involve children in making rules and doing chores: "Who will mop the kitchen floor, and who will carry out the trash?"
Parents who have a democratic style give choices based on a child's ability. For a toddler, the choice may be "red shirt or striped shirt?" For an older child, the choice might be "apple, orange or banana?" Parents guide children's behaviour by teaching, not punishing. "You threw your truck at Mindy. That hurt her. We're putting your truck away until you can play with it safely."
Which Is Your Style?
Maybe you are somewhere in between and you need to think about what you want your children to learn. However, research on children's development shows that the most positive outcomes for children occur when parents use democratic styles. Children with permissive parents tend to be aggressive and act out, while children with authoritarian parents tend to be compliant and submissive and have low self-esteem.
No parenting style will work unless you take time to build a loving bond with your child.
3. Understanding the Basics of Parenting
Parenting children should be simple since we have all been children ourselves and have experienced the parenting styles of our own parents and those of other family members and friends with kids while growing up. But, when faced with the problems of parenting teenagers (and especially such areas as teen discipline and teen sex advice), divorced parenting, step parenting or home schooling, then parenting is more complex because of the unusual dynamics are at play.
Pregnancy brings with it that realisation that you are about to be a parent and, before you have had time to get used to the idea of being a mom or dad, your newborn baby arrives. It is at that point that you discover that you are not as prepared for parenthood as you thought and that you need to search for some parenting advice from other parents.
The joy of your first baby does a great deal to compensate for your feelings of inadequacy in the child parenting department and the fact that you have no choice but to get on and care for your newborn baby quickly gears you up into action to accept your parental responsibilities. We all start out very naive but as we actively and constantly seek advice rather than settle for just a few parenting tips, we will progress on well.
Fortunately you are rarely alone and there are always people all around who have been through the same experience and who are willing to help. Your own parents and your new baby's grandparents are the obvious first port of call, but other family members and friends with children will also often be happy to lend a hand. Most important of all - do not be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
4. Is Parenting A Science?
Many people believe that there is a science to parenting and that child rearing means getting hold of a guidebook and follow it through step-by-step with sections on baby parenting, child parenting, parenting teenagers and so on. If this were true, then life would be a lot less fun and we would be a lot poorer for it as we lose out on all the fun of learning and discovering in our own parenting journey.
There are of course some common goals and most parents would share the view that issues such as a child's safety and health should be put firmly at the top of our list. It is also generally agreed that our children need to be given the best foundation in life and that their future development will be very much dependent upon choosing the right school for them and providing them with the best possible education.
Child parenting is an adventure that we embark upon afresh with each new child and is a hugely enriching process in which both parents and children learn together as they go along.
Whether it is choosing a name for the new family pet, selecting games and activities for a birthday party, keeping up with the latest fashion and styles for your teens or matching nutrition and healthy food choices to the family finances, both parents and children will need to learn from each other as you both travel through the ups and downs of the years leading your kids to their own adult life to become parents themselves.
So, as we look at many different aspects of parenting and provide you with our best advice and parenting tips, remember that there really is no right or wrong answer to child parenting.
5. Pre- Marital Counselling Program (marriage preparation program)
Though problems in marriage and family life can come from many sources but below ten are the common ones that merits more attention:
- Understanding & accepting of role relationship
- Expectations in a marriage
- How to deal with family of origin issues
- Correctly handling the In-laws issues
- Understanding and discussion of couple’s and family’s map
- Effective couple/family communication skills
- Conflict management and anger management
- Parenting styles
- Sexual Intimacy, family planning and fertility awareness
- Managing personality differences.
As the saying goes, “Prevention is better than cure”, it has tremendous truth in it as even God employs this method of ensuring our successful pilgrimage to heaven by prescribing us His commandments. And failing which, we can still have the grace to God to help us strive on. Hence, let us Christian counsellors or marriage/family therapists stress on the importance and urgency of running preventive counselling talks and workshops in our churches. For us who are in the front-line of this much required ministry, let us pray and act on it. The sooner the better!
Spencer Lee is the founding President of Association of Christian Counsellors of Singapore. He is presently the Senior Associate Counsellor in Oasis Family Life Enrichment Centre (OFLEC) and also the Principal of its School of Counselling. Prior to this, Spencer is a Baptist pastor with more than 25 years of experience in church ministry in various capacities.