The Right Way is Their Way
Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray. – Proverbs 22:6 (NRSVUE)
When our kids turned 5, four years apart, we took them to the local football field for their first bike-riding lesson.
My son, who had a high pain threshold and a thirst for adventure, didn’t need much encouragement. Every time he fell, he popped back up and immediately got back on. After a dozen dogged tries, he found his balance, wobbling away from us at first slowly, then faster and faster, giving full expression to his inner speed demon. I watched him ride far away without ever glancing back. “That’s not the first time that’s going to happen,” I said to my husband.
My daughter was much more cautious. It took three visits to the field until she had the confidence to try pedaling without me holding on. I had to nurse her after every fall, never pressuring her to get up and try again. When she felt she had perfected her balance, she finally released me.
Proverbs 22:6, one of the few parenting stratagems to be found in the Bible, is often translated “ Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray.”
Or: mis-translated, I should say. There is no one “right way” to raise a child, no one-size-fits-all parenting strategem, Biblical or otherwise. The science of temperament (or “nature”) confirms that each child is as unique as their fingerprint—and demands that we nurture them accordingly.
A more accurate, literal translation of the proverb is: “train the child in their own way, and when older they will not stray.” Their way is the one that is right for them. It’s our chief job as parents and caregivers to learn what that way is, rather than impose our expectations, timeline or projections onto them.
God, help me to know the kids in my life half as well as you do–and to companion them into becoming all of what you intend. Amen.
Rev. Molly Baskette is the lead pastor of First Church Berkeley UCC and the author of books about church renewal, parenting, spiritual growth and more. Sign up for her author newsletter or get information about her newest book at mollybaskette.com.