I have found this particular tip, by far, to be the hardest one to try to put into words, but I’ll do my best. I also know that this one may be rather controversial. As with everything I am posting, please make your parenting decisions in light of Scripture.
What’s wrong with self-righteous attitudes?
The very short version: A self-righteous person does not edify his brothers and sisters in Christ in any way, so for that reason and many others, we do not want our children to be self-righteous.
Here is the very long version: We need to be careful to not instill a critical, self-righteous attitude in our children. I have seen conservative, homeschooling parents do this, with the very best of intentions. In fact, there have been times when I have struggled with it myself. (Jeff tends to see the best in everyone, so he doesn’t struggle with this nearly as much.)
Obviously, we want our children to understand why we have certain standards. But instead of quietly living out our convictions, we can be tempted to criticize, and down right gossip to our children, about families and individuals who don’t do things just like we do.
What does self-righteousness look like?
The Pharisees of the bible were self-righteous, and unfortunately, many Christians of today are as well. Self-righteousness is thinking you are more godly than someone else, simply based on what you do.
We need to be so careful that we do not put our family standards on the same level as God’s standards. We definitely should explain to our children why we believe our standards are pleasing and honoring to God, but it should not be with the attitude that we are more spiritual than those who do not have our exact standards.
It can go both ways. For example, families where the women wear only skirts can be critical of families where the women wear slacks or jeans.
But families whose wife and daughters do wear jeans or slacks, can also be critical of families whose daughters and wives wear only skirts and dresses.
Both attitudes are self-righteous. The result often seems to be that it develops a critical and “we are more godly than that family” attitude in the kids.
Sometimes, we do need to discuss others with our children. Perhaps we even need to point out why we have chosen to do things differently than another family.
However, discussing others in a negative light should be the exception instead of the norm. If we must discuss an individual or another family with our children, we need to make sure it is about character and not just personal preferences.
And we need to make sure we do it in love and concern, and not with a “we are more spiritual than they are” attitude.
What should we do?
Within personal preference issues, there may be character issues. For example, we should not be critical of how someone chooses to decorate (or not decorate) their home. That is a personal preference. But if my family visits a home where the interior design has a Nazi swastika theme, you can bet there will be a discussion about it on the way home, and our kids will know exactly why we think it is wrong. (Obviously, I am using an extreme example.)
We should even be careful of discussing the “borderline” issues in a way implies that we are more spiritual than others. It is fine to say, “We believe God does not want us (or wants us) to do that because…..” But to have an attitude of self-righteousness is sinful pride.
And God seems to hate pride more than any other sin (though it can be argued that every sin stems from pride).
Even when fellow believers are violating clear biblical commands, we still need to show compassion, remembering that any of us have the potential to commit any sin. Never, ever should we have a “we are better than them” attitude.
When we talk to our children about the person’s sin (and we should, if it is public) our tone should be one of, “This is so sad. I feel so badly for them because the consequences of sin is great. It is heartbreaking to live in broken fellowship with our Savior. We need to pray for them. We need to encourage and help them to overcome this sin in any way we can.”
It can be done.
I admit that line between being discerning and being critical can be very thin. I struggle with it myself. But we need to teach our children to be discerning, without teaching them to have a critical, prideful spirit. The latter will harm their relationships their whole life. However, a discerning spirit will enhance their relationships with their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Do we enjoy being around a critical person? If we sense that someone thinks they are more “spiritual” than we are, would we confide in them, and seek their advice? On the flip side, do we feel comfortable around a person where “everything goes” and they seem to have no definition of right from wrong?
Not usually. We tend to enjoy being around a discerning, compassionate person. We befriend them, confide in them, and seek their advice.
This is the kind of person we want our children to be. If we want our children to have a positive spiritual impact on others, we much teach them to be discerning, without being critical or self-righteous.