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  • David Kleinhans

On Being Children of God and Being Parents of Children

Updated: Jan 25, 2023

As a father of a three and a half year old toddler, I know how easy it is for people

to dispense advice, but how hard it can be to follow that through, especially since

everyone has conflicting advice.

My wife and I try to be gentle, taking into consideration her underdeveloped

emotional intelligence, because of how much development still lies ahead,

especially since our children only really reach the peak of their cognitive

development at about twenty-four. But saying that, we, more so I, often

fail at managing my emotions when our little one’s emotions boil over in an

explosion of fury. In these moments I think I am being rational in expecting

my daughter to respond to my proposed logic. Shows you how irritational we

truly can be. Now, we don’t beat our daughter or anything like that, but I do

often fail to demonstrate my love for her in these moments when I can’t

manage my emotions in the situations when her little body is too small to contain

the big feelings she is experiencing. On the flip side, I think that empathy and

understanding our children’s limitations and focusing on building a loving

relationship with them can be one of the best things we give our children. And

this often makes me think about what it means to be parents of children as we try

to demonstrate what it means being children of God.

Now, I am in no way qualified enough to give anybody parenting advice,

but I remain convinced that the best thing we can offer our children is to nurture

a loving relationship with them. That doesn’t mean we don’t parent, teach, or lay

out boundaries, that being said, this post is not going to do that: I am not going to

tell you how to parent your children or present a method of parenting, I am out of

my depth there, and you will have to use wisdom and make your choices as a

family in how you will best navigate discipline. What I want you to see in this

post, is that you (parent or not) are a beloved child of God, and for you to

recognise the theological depth of that relationship, and if you are a parent, how

we are called to funnel that energy into our children. Ultimately, my hope is that

this posture might become the foundation of whatever method of discipline you

choose to use.

When it comes to thinking about what it means to be a child of God, I don’t think there are many that get close to the reflections of the wonderful late Catholic priest Henri Nouwen.

Especially since Nouwen understood the

complexities that relates to human identity struggles quite well, because he himself

worked with people with severe disabilities, and at the same time he himself

battled with his own humanity because the institutions around him shamed his

sexual orientation. Nouwen, a saint of a man if there ever was one, however,

reflected deeply on what it means to be human, and he reduced it to this: our core

identity is that we are beloved children of God. Our human propensity however is

to divert from this truth in all manner of ways, but undergirding all of these

departures lies the self-rejection where one fails to see oneself as a beloved child of


I am going to quote Nouwen at length as he reflects what this means, he


“I hear at my centre words that say: ‘I have called you by name,from the very beginning. You are mine and I am yours. You are my Beloved, on you my favour rests. I have moulded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother’s womb. I have carved you in the palms of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace. I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child. I have counted every hair on your head and guided you at every step. Wherever you go, I go with you, and wherever you rest, I keep watch. I will give you food that will satisfy all your hunger and drink that will quench all your thirst. I will not hide my face from you. You know me as your own as I know you as my own. You belong to me. I am your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your lover, and your spouse. Yes, even your child. Wherever you are I will be. Nothing will ever separate us. We are one.’”1

This reflection gives us such a wonderful sense of what it means to be human, and

also gives us insight into our brokenness, as all of our self-destructive impulses

stem from a departure from that core identity. Now I want to take Nouwen’s

reflection one step further and ask the question, what would our relationships

with our children look like if we see them as beloved children of God? What

would our postures towards them look like if we want them to realise this reality

for themselves?

Gabor Maté, the Hungarian-Canadian physician who specialises in

childhood development, trauma, and addiction, stresses how important a loving

relationship with our children is, and how critical our presence is to cultivate that

relationship. He says that this relationship does not depend on communication per

se, since it starts from infancy, instead it depends on the capacity to just be, that is,

your presence around that little person. Because it is that prolonged loving

presence that projects a primal energy which connects parent and child in a deep

bond of love. Maté notes that mothers usually are naturally in that state of

presence, whereas fathers can easily fall victim to detachment due to distance for

various reasons (work, lack of paternity leave, etc). Both parents however need to

practise this presence and are equally able to build that deep bond of love. 2

This is how we who engage in the spiritual practice of reflecting on our core

identity as children of God can funnel the love we experience from that truth into

the relationships we have with our children. Because since we are the beloved of

God, we must in turn demonstrate to our beloved children what that looks like, so

that they know that (1) they are our beloved children, and (2) they are beloved by

God. In this way we exhibit to our children where our worth and identity lie: not

in external things like possessions, abilities or what others say of us, but as

children of God who are created in his image. And in this way we hopefully

escape the authoritarian impulse that all parents struggle with, and in turn

cultivate a discipleship relationship with our kids, because disciples actually

consensually love and follow you, and this can only be cultivated in the context of

love. Discipleship also doesn’t mean there is no discipline, I think that the term

discipleship assumes that that is present. What is important is that when we

discipline, whatever parental method you use, it is in service of maintaining and

building that loving relationship, and always remembering that we are the beloved

children of God, who want to show our children that they are beloved by their

parents and by God.

I hope that this piece was insightful enough to provoke some thought as

well as offering you a renewed sense of what it means to be human, a child of

God, and a parent of a child. May you always be captured by the transformative

relational love of God.

1 Nouwen, H., 2006. Spiritual Direction. New York, NY: Harper Collins, pp.32-33

2 How not to screw up your kids - Gabor Maté | London Real. 2018. Available at:


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