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Why do good parents have wayward children?

rebel rebellion
Unsplash/Bailey Mahon

Conspicuous more by his presence than absence, Prince Andrew walked somberly with his siblings behind the gun carriage bearing his mother’s coffin. Yet, in the wake of his sordid role in the Jeffrey Epstein sex scandal, Andrew — unlike his siblings — was wearing his morning suit, having been stripped not only of his military uniform, but of his dignity and honor.  

Why is there seemingly one bad apple in every family? Not always, of course, but often enough that we frequently hear the expression, “the black sheep of the family.” Countless parents have suffered the heartache of a child somehow gone astray. And for the Queen, not just one. Three of her four children have had marriages ending in high-profile divorces, with enough salacious affairs all around to singlehandedly keep Britain’s sensational tabloids in business.    

What happened? Where does the blame lie? Not a few parents have agonized over that inspired bit of wisdom (Proverbs 22:6): “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” If children have gone off the rails, is it because the parents failed to train them properly? One wonders if the Queen ever asked herself whether her sacrificial service to the nation came at the high price of sacrificing her own children? 

The Queen wouldn’t be alone in her angst. The term “preacher’s kid” (count me in!) speaks of an all-too-familiar syndrome haunting religious leaders from Eli and his scoundrel sons, to David and his rebellious son, Absalom, to the long list of good kings followed by sons who were wicked kings. Then again, there were wicked kings whose righteous sons did not follow in their footsteps, as underscored in Ezekiel 18 by the three-generation hypothetical in which each son’s character is the opposite of his father’s. Neither righteousness nor sin is generationally dictated.  Whatever our parental upbringing, we each bear personal responsibility for our own choices.   

In an increasingly faithless culture, what godly parent is a match for the raging secularism seducing young people away from faith? Good kids. Morally upright, law-abiding, socially-conscious kids. But kids for whom faith, religion, church, and worship are no longer important. 

Have parents relied too much on youth ministries to instill faith, and not their own spiritual instruction in the home? Have parents given higher priority to sports and school activities than church participation; or emphasized academic excellence over biblical literacy? Have children been sent to culturally-captive Christian schools that have undermined faith rather than nurtured it? Yet, with multiple children, what explains the same upbringing with different outcomes?

Even the most conscientious parents can have children who go astray. If you are one such parent, don’t beat up on yourself. Imagine how our heavenly Father feels, all of whose children (us!) are “prodigal sons” who have wallowed in the mire. Is there a more poignant passage than Jeremiah 3:19, revealing God’s lament over an adopted nation that had rejected his parental guidance? “I thought you would call me ‘Father,’” says God of his wayward children. Wow.

So, why do good parents have wayward children? No glib answers here, only the thought that prayerful parents needn’t give up hope. Wayward children have been known to come to their senses and find their way home ... to a loving Father who, even now, is running to meet them.

F. LaGard Smith is a retired law school professor (principally at Pepperdine University), and is the author of some 35 books, touching on law, faith, and social issues.  He is the compiler and narrator of The Daily Bible (the NIV and NLT arranged in chronological order). 

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