Since the end of the Second World War, the word “strategy” has infiltrated every endeavour of humankind.

The self-help industry sells strategies for success. Schools and universities teach strategies for marketing oneself to the workforce. Even the challenges of parenting have been met with a barrage of literature, each claiming to have the golden strategy to raising perfect kids.

But is there really such a thing as the perfect strategy when the world we raise our children in is so complex?

Pete Drucker—arguably the father of modern day leadership and management theory —famously said that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”.

Put simply, the word “culture” is defined as “shared attitudes and beliefs”. What Drucker is saying is that while strategy is an important part of success, our society’s myopic focus on it is misplaced.

Understanding Culture in Parenting

Culture both supersedes and sets the foundation on which good strategies can then be built.

But long before Drucker uttered his famous words, the apostle Paul entrenched them at the heart of Christian living. His letters to the Corinthian church, especially on the Christian vision of love (1 Corinthians 13), are all about culture, not strategy.

The Christian vision of loving community—koinonia—is anchored in the shared values of selflessness, forgiveness, and sacrificial love. These are pillars of culture, not theories of strategy.

But what does “culture” have to do with parenting?

When we consider the shifting challenges of our society, the volatile dynamics of growing families, and the instability of our modern world, it becomes clear that there is no golden strategy for raising perfect kids.

Rather, it is far more important and valuable to focus on culture: to be aware of the culture our kids are growing up in, to play an active role in shaping the culture of the communities they are a part of, and to determine what we want our family culture to be.

Summative: Understanding Your City’s Culture

Firstly, we must strive to understand, as best we can, the culture in which we are raising our children and how it might differ from that in which we were raised.

For my husband and I—Australians now living in Singapore—it means taking time to explore and understand the Singaporean cultural landscape. From kiasu psychological drivers to academic pressure to the centrality of social media and smartphone technology, Singapore’s multi-racial and multi-ethnic melting pot provides a dynamic but high-achievement culture for our kids to navigate.

As a parent, this aspect of cultural awareness is summative.

None of us can change the city’s culture in which we raise our children, but we do have a duty to understand it (Proverbs 26:5).

Our family’s culture is caused by us. We must talk about it, pray about it, set it, and most importantly, fight for it.

Even the Israelites—when exiled to Babylon—were commanded by God not just to understand the Babylonian culture, but to involve themselves in it (Jeremiah 29:4–7).

Cities have always been a key part of missionary strategy and a city’s culture is its heartbeat, one that all parents should be well briefed on.

One of the biggest challenges for our family is that we tend to live in a “Christian bubble” at times.

We must actively seek out those in our city who are not like us, to learn about them, serve them, and love them.

I regularly visit a local dementia care centre with my son, where he is not only exposed to people from a different generation, culture, and mental ability, but also brings much joy and delight to those he comes into contact with. Suddenly, walls are broken down, understanding happens, and a prism of God’s light can be seen shining through in all directions.

Formative: Shaping Your Community’s Culture

While we seek to understand our city’s culture, we must go further when it comes to the community in which we raise our children.

As the nuclear family has taken centre stage in society, many of us have never experienced the blessing of raising our children in community. But God’s design for parenting is very clear.

We are to raise our kids amongst a diverse community of families, singles, the elderly, Christians, and non-Christians, those who have their lives together and those who are struggling (Mark 2:15).

We are also called to ensure that those with whom we and our children spend time with are wise (Proverbs 13:20) and godly (2 Corinthians 6:14).

This may seem like a contradiction, but the solution lies in striking the right balance.

Those that have the greatest slice of our children’s time and influence should be wise and godly—however, we should not shield them from the realities of a hurting world and people who are not like us (Matthew 25:40–45).

My husband and I are the first to admit we don’t always have “eyes” on our child, especially on Sunday mornings at church. We know and trust that there are other parents and kids playing with him and looking out for him.

Parenting in community exposes our kids to flaws, strengths, wisdom, and examples beyond that which we as parents can offer them. Why limit our kids’ growing environment to two people? It would be like studying literature and limiting our reading to only two authors.

This aspect of parenting is formative.

We are called to build a social culture for our children where they are exposed to people who are like us and unlike us.

Praying about who we choose to be part of our core friendship community is just as important as praying about who our children’s friends will be.

Causative: Setting Your Family’s Culture

This is where it all begins: that timeless and powerful Biblical declaration that we are to raise our children in the ways of the Lord (Proverbs 22:6).

Unlike understanding our city’s culture (summative) and shaping our community’s culture (formative), this is one area we must take full responsibility for.

Our family’s culture is caused by us. We must talk about it, pray about it, set it, and most importantly, fight for it.

Men are called to lead and sacrifice for their families (Ephesians 5). Women are called to love, demonstrate integrity, and provide wisdom for their families (Proverbs 31). We are all called to bear the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5).

Of course, these are standards that we are guaranteed to fall short of (Romans 3).

However, what we can do is establish a family culture in which these are the backdrops—the foundations upon which our families can grow.

I can think of countless examples where we are called to be loving and supportive towards our family, but not unconditionally affirming.

We must actively seek out those in our city who are not like us, to learn about them, serve them, and love them.

Just this week, when my back was turned, our almost two-year-old took to our cream couch with a marker. It was his first time exploring surfaces other than paper. While this is unacceptable behaviour, it was the first time he’d made this mistake so I dug deep to demonstrate patience and compassion as I masked my reaction to the hideous new design of our couch and explained to him that it was wrong and that furniture was most certainly not for drawing on.

We have daily opportunities, often as simple as this one, to shape and lay the road our family travels on.

Setting our family’s culture is perhaps the most important thing a parent can do.

Because culture eats strategy for breakfast; because even though we are imperfect people and imperfect parents, we can set a loving, forgiving, faithful, and morally grounded family culture in which the fruits of the Spirit are cultivated even amidst unavoidable imperfection and suffering.

This is the only way that imperfect people can live faithfully, joyfully, and lovingly with each other.

It is through these three pillars of cultural awareness that we see the keys to godly parenting. Ultimately, all three pillars require a heart posture that is centred on God (1 Samuel 16:7), with minds that are engaged with the realities of the 21st century (Matthew 10:16).