When Pastor Lam Yuen Foong and his wife were expecting their first child, he had a sudden and frightening thought: What if something terrible happened to his daughter one day? What would he do?

The more he dwelled on the prospect, the more he felt convinced that it would happen.

He became angry with God and asked Him why He would let such a thing take place, vowing to seek revenge on anyone who tried to harm his daughter.

The “ungodly” character of this train of thought shocked him. Shock then led to a realisation that he needed to review his perspective on his responsibilities as a father.

Somehow, the retired pastor and missionary says, his reflection led him to a simple but powerful conclusion: “This little girl is not mine. My kids are God’s, and I am just a steward. I must bring them up according to God’s will, not mine.”

This lesson, he adds, has shaped the way he raised his three children—Esther, Jacob, and Joel. And it led to many other lessons he had to learn about parenting, such as honesty and humility, teaching by example, and not dwelling on past mistakes.

The First Family: 10 Devotions For Dads & Kids to Discover Why God Created Us

Accompanied by captivating illustrations and thought-provoking questions, this collection of 10 stories drawing from the book of Genesis will help kids understand the story of creation and God’s purpose for them. Get a copy

Today, Pastor Lam is filled with awe that he made it through his parenting journey at all. “Many of my ‘right’ decisions were accidental,” he says. “I look back and wonder—how did I make them? Only by God’s grace.”

What surprises him even more is how these lessons have been passed on to another generation. Pastor Lam’s parenting style has rubbed off on his daughter Esther—now a parent of two herself—and she has embraced many of her father’s approaches as her own, sometimes unconsciously.

As Esther notes, “We are products of our parents.” She too had a similar fear that something bad would happen to her children—Annalie, now 12, and Nathaniel, 9.

And like her father, she was determined to raise her children “differently”—such as by allowing them to make their own decisions about their faith and interests.

We might say that Pastor Lam’s experience validates the value of God-centred parenting, as Proverbs 22:6 describes: “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old, they will not turn from it”.

He is, however, quick to add that as parents, we never know what will happen in the end. What remains crucial is that God is firmly in charge of a child’s future.

In a recent interview, Esther shared some parenting lessons she picked up from observing her father over the years:

1. Your responsibility is to discover your children’s gifts, not decide what they should be.

Having realised early on that he was steward and not owner of his children, Pastor Lam decided that he would not make studies or career a priority when raising his children. He believed that his job was to raise them with godly values and nurture them so that they would look to God, who would determine the details of their future.

“I realised that I was to seek God’s will for them, not my own,” he says. “My role was to discover their gifts and help them walk in God’s ways.”

So when Esther decided to pursue a career in early childhood education and forgo a high-paying job related to her psychology degree, he didn’t bat an eyelid. Nor did he mind, when she landed her first job as a kindergarten teacher, that she was earning less than half of what her peers were getting.

In fact, he approved of her choice. After a volunteering stint at a church kindergarten, Esther had come to the conclusion that this was something she was good at, and explained this to Pastor Lam.

“I was to seek God’s will for them, not my own. My role was to discover their gifts and help them walk in God’s ways.”

“My father had always told us to use our gifts, so when I told him that I felt this was my gift, he listened,” she says.

Pastor Lam himself had given up a lucrative business career to become a full-time missionary and later a pastor. “We are called to be a blessing to others through our gifts,” he notes, citing 1 Peter 3:9. “That matters more than anything.”

It was an approach to life that Esther appreciated profoundly. “When others criticised me, it made me realise how exceptional my parents were in not stopping me,” she says.

As a result, she was able to pursue her passion and has accomplished much in her field. She currently spends most of her time lecturing on early education and teaching ballet, and also runs courses and various programmes related to education.

2. Don’t pretend to be perfect, but be ready to apologise to your kids.

While it can be hard for many parents to acknowledge their imperfections—or even mistakes—in front of their kids, this is something that Pastor Lam has always tried to do.

“All of us have imperfections,” he notes. “If you pretend to be perfect, your kids will see through your hypocrisy.”

What this meant for him was apologising to his children whenever he made a mistake—an approach that was readily inherited and embraced by Esther. “It’s usually very hard for a parent to apologise, but I found it easier to apologise to a child because of what my dad did,” she says.

She even practised this as a teacher, apologising to her students whenever she wronged them. “The kids were not used to it—they were so surprised,” she recalls. “But they really appreciated it. One of them even asked me if I could be her mummy,” she laughs.

“It’s usually very hard for a parent to apologise, but I found it easier to apologise to a child because of what my dad did.”

Esther is fully behind her father’s approach. It is in line with the fundamental truth that children ultimately belong to God, she says.

“If our kids don’t belong to us, then we are equal in God’s eyes, because we are not above them,” she reasons. And that means that parents must be accountable to their children for anything they do to wrong them.

3. Walk the talk, be consistent in behaviour.

As a child, Esther was generally happy to settle into the typical routines of a Christian family—like praying together and having family devotions. But she hated going to church.

“It was annoying,” she says frankly. “Many of the parents seemed so hypocritical—they would greet each other with ‘peace’, but behaved badly towards their own children.”

“We need to be consistent and congruous, because children are sharp—they can see when you don’t do as you preach.”

The power of personal example was not lost on Pastor Lam, who did his best to practise what he preached. For example, he would watch his own temper, apologising whenever he lost his cool, and insist that his children respect their family helper and assist her with chores.

“No family devotion or prayer can replace the power of example,” he says. “We cannot differentiate between Christian parenting and holy living. We need to be consistent and congruous, because children are sharp—they can see when you don’t do as you preach.”

All this was not lost on Esther either. She could see how her father always put the needs of others before his own, and how he obeyed God even if it meant sacrificing his comfort and convenience.

It drove home the motto that her father wholeheartedly believed in: “Parenting is not about methodology, it’s about the life you lead.”

4. Don’t force the faith, let them come to God on their own.

When Esther refused to be baptised as a teenager, Pastor Lam was naturally disappointed.

He also knew how embarrassing it might be, given his status as a pastor and former missionary. But he held his tongue, remembering his parenting principle of letting his children make decisions for themselves—and of loving his children more than his face.

“I had to accept it,” he says. “I didn’t pressure her. I didn’t want to force Christianity down my children’s throats. We can only explain and share about the faith, and let kids know God for themselves—and we may not get the outcome we want.”

It took several years before Esther decided to commit her life to God—without any pressure from her father. “During a mission trip, God spoke to me through a sermon by another pastor, and I made that decision to commit myself to God, to believe in Him for myself.”

5. Don’t regret mistakes, they’re part of your parenting journey.

When asked what mistakes he had made as a parent, Pastor Lam laughs. Too many, he says. Like the time he was conned in business, and let his emotions affect how he related to his family.

Yet he has no regrets about the way things have happened. “If I have fallen—it’s part of the lessons I learnt,” he says. “There’s no need to regret, for mistakes are a part of the parenting journey.”

That simple truth has enabled him to keep going and not look back. It is also something that has encouraged Esther in her own parenting journey.

“If I have fallen—it’s part of the lessons I learnt. There’s no need to regret, for mistakes are a part of the parenting journey.”

“I’m also prone to outbursts,” she admits with a laugh. “But I’ve learnt not to yell so much, and to explain to my kids before I discipline them.”

Like her father, Esther keeps her parenting rooted in the principle that her kids ultimately belong to God.

“Our kids are not our property or possessions. I am just a steward,” she says, echoing her father. “But I am accountable for how I manage this role.”

Leslie Koh spent more than 15 years as a journalist in The Straits Times before moving to Our Daily Bread Ministries. He’s found moving from bad news to good news most rewarding, and still believes that nothing reaches out to people better than a good, compelling story. He likes eating (a lot), travelling, running, editing, and writing.
Share This Article