As one often called upon to listen to problems and to help people find biblical solutions, I have been amazed to see the extent to which problems often have learned behaviour as their root cause. Of course, this is partly what the Scriptures refer to as “the sins of the fathers” (see Nehemiah 9:2; 2 Samuel 21:1; 1 Kings 14:22; Daniel 9:16). It is not simply the consequences of the father’s sins affecting and impacting the children, but the children repeating the sins of the parents, and children walking in the evil paths (bad habits and lack of consideration) that they inadvertently learned from their parents.
Sometimes these “sins” are not moral issues per se, but merely bad habits with social implications. Take, for instance, picky eating, or the amount of time spent in the bathroom on personal ablutions, or on the state of the bathroom once a shower has been taken and the person emerges. In our own families, these things may not strike us as strange, because every family has its modus operandi and nothing is out of sync. But when you have someone sleeping over with you, or more to the point—when your child goes to sleep over at someone else’s house—does their bathroom etiquette, or their table manners, stand in stark contrast to that of the host family?
Perhaps I am just more attuned to this particular issue as Maureen and I anticipate the inevitable freeing of our children, who are now adults, to go and make their own mark in their own homes before long. We are beginning to ask ourselves, and to encourage them to ask themselves, how will behaviour that has been regarded as normal in our home be received by others? This is, of course, part of the challenging process known as “adjustment” in marriage!
But the point of this short article is simply this: Are we as parents actively and thoughtfully preparing our children to be a blessing, or through our neglect preparing them to be a bother to their future spouse? In this regard, what is in focus are issues of etiquette generally, manners, preferences and customs, but more particularly with reference to the meal table, their bedroom neatness and the bathroom ablutions. Are we training our children to be helpful and observant and sensitive to what needs to be done around the house, in the kitchen and the living areas of our home?
Do our children have personal habits of hygiene and tidiness that will be a blessing or a frustration to their future spouse? Are our children being trained to be flexible and considerate in terms of what various changing situations call for regarding their use of resources: time in the bathroom, use of hot water and electricity, bad habits like sniffing and snorting—those personal little things that so easily go unnoticed until a new spouse invades your space! Are our sons sensitive to what women need to find in the bathroom, and likewise our daughters with reference to men? Are our children balanced and healthy in their dietary preferences, or is some spouse going to be forced to debate these culinary choices and accommodate them?
Of course, the Bible says nothing specific about smelly socks, nail clippings, shoes lying in the lounge and eating your veggies. But these are very practical issues relevant to love, consideration and esteeming others as more important than ourselves. Yes, neatness is indeed a relative concept, and no one wants to live in a home that resembles a hospital ward. But, as any married person will know—and as any counsellor will testify—these are the very issues that speak volumes and consume so much emotional energy in relationships. Wise parents make their growing kids alert to these matters.