As a kid in Sunday School, I did not like the part of Exodus 20:5 about “punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation” (New International Version 1984). What kind of justice was that? Then, I got to understand the importance of family history. I realized that maybe this verse was not a criminal sentence. Maybe it was simply an explanation of how things are. Children are condemned to learn from the example of their parents. It is the most powerful example they have in life. This is more obvious in some families, where we can see a clear pattern. For example, abused children can become abusive parents.
But it is more subtle, too. Have you ever thought, “Wow, I sound just like my mother!” My husband says, “Parenting is not just what you do. It’s who you are.” (I married up — he’s a genius!) Children go beyond doing what you do. They internalize and incorporate who you are into who they are. How you feel about yourself. How you handle (or suppress) feelings. Maybe that’s why we surprise ourselves when we sound just like our mothers. We don’t just consciously remember the words; maybe we actually take on the emotion of her response.
On the flip side, the rewards of the father — and mother — will be bestowed upon the children (for a thousand generations, according to Exodus 20:6). The verse was not literally about parenting, but it applies well, I think. Your children will inherit the relationships you are building. When you build your relationship with your husband, you also influence how your children will build their relationship with their future spouses. When you create connections with your children, you are also helping to develop their ability to connect with their children.
I remember the awful feeling I had when I realized my son might grow up to “marry his mother,” as many men do. Would I want him to marry someone like me? Back then, the answer was, “no!” Now, I’m at a point where I think I could deal with that. There have been times when I’ve wanted to throw in the towel and stop trying so hard to make things better. Self-evaluation and self-improvement are a lot of work. Holding back my temper is hard. Connecting with the kids takes a conscious effort. Falling down and getting back up again is a challenge. But, hopefully, these efforts will be a gift for generations to come.