Don’t Be a Brown-Headed Cowbird

Perhaps the title of this post sounds like an insult. “Brown-headed cowbird” sounds like a taunt on a school playground. Can’t you hear the little kid voices chanting it? “Brown-headed cowbird! Brown-headed cowbird!” But it is not a made-up taunt created by schoolyard bullies.

The Brown-headed cowbird is not a mythical creature either. If you are like me, you get comical pictures in your head every time you hear the name. Brown-headed cowbirds are a common sight in most of North America, and they are an example of bad parenting. They also serve as a parable of the parenting scene in our times.

The title of this post is directed to parents, and it is a real exhortation. Parents, should not be brown-headed cowbirds. Read on to find out why.

Photo by Joshua J. Cotten at

I recently saw one of these cowbirds pecking around at the park. I have a fascination with birds, so I wanted to learn more about this common sight in the neighborhood park. I was not disappointed. These birds are strange and fascinating. 

The brown-headed cowbird does not raise its own offspring. Instead, the cowbird lays its eggs (some can have three dozen each year!) in the nests of other birds. When the eggs in the nest hatch the cowbird babies are fed like the rest of the brood. Their presence is often detrimental to the rest of the young birds. 

So, the brown-headed cowbird tosses the responsibility of child-rearing to others. There are other animals that do the same thing. The cowbird does not stop there. As I researched I found that some birds can detect the intruder egg in their nest, and they will reject the egg. Some birds can detect the eggs but will not reject or destroy them, because the cowbird is also vengeful. Not only do cowbirds toss their young on others, but they are known to destroy the nests of birds that reject their eggs. 

This sounds so familiar in the current parenting scene. The cowbird is a living parable of the poor parenting so prevalent in our times. Parents are continually putting the responsibility of child-rearing onto others. We see this in fathers abandoning their families, grandparents being practically forced to raise their grandchildren due to parental irresponsibility, and school systems being given the brunt of child training. Many parents are passing the buck of raising their children to others.

Not only are parents handing over their responsibilities, but they are enraged when they do not get the results that they want. Not only are parents good at passing the buck, but we are also good at passing blame. When children don’t turn out the way parents want, they are quick to “wreck the nest” of whatever person or organization they believe has failed, just like the brown-headed cowbird wrecks the nest of rejecters. 

It is important to say that this is true of Christian parents as well. This blog is called Bible Living Blog, and it is intended to help build a biblical foundation for life. So, the majority of folks reading this will likely be Christians. It is easy at this point for us to say, “That’s what the world does! We aren’t like that!” However, it is alarming how many Christian parents are handing over the main responsibilities of child-rearing to others.

Many Christian parents are depending on public schools or even Christian schools to teach their children the most important lessons in life. Children’s worldviews are primarily shaped by institutions, media, friends, other family members, and daycares. I would even be bold enough to say that it is unlikely that most parents know most of what their children are being taught in these spheres.

Biblical training has especially been handed over to others. Sunday school, junior church, and church gatherings are the place that many children in Christian homes are being trained in biblical things. Certainly, our children should be part of the gatherings of our church families, and they should be learning along with the rest of the church family. However, this is not the primary place that God has designed for our children to learn about Him. This makes sense, considering church gatherings normally make up less than 1% of our time each week. 

God has designed and commanded that parents be the primary source for our children’s biblical training, worldview shaping, and discipline.

In the Old Testament, the fathers in Israel were commanded to train their children in the Law of the Lord at all times (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Child-rearing was not an event or program; it was a way of life. Training children was not the primary responsibility of the community, although they played a part; it was the primary responsibility of the parents, especially the fathers. This training was the center of other activities. So, as children worked with their fathers, they were being trained in the Law of the Lord. When children interacted with their community, their father was training them in the Law of the Lord. When children were resting with their family, their father was training them in the Law of the Lord. This means that they were not only memorizing the Word of God, but they were learning how to view all of life through the lens of God’s Law. They were not only memorizing information, but they were learning the application of that information.

In other words, children were being taught wisdom. I don’t remember the source of this explanation, but I believe it is helpful: wisdom is applying what you know. Look no further than the book of Proverbs for an entire primer on parenting in the fear of the Lord. The author of Proverbs even writes from the perspective of a father to his son (Proverbs 1:8). While the mother is involved in this training (Proverbs 1:8), the father is responsible for taking the lead.

God’s design for parenting has not changed in the church age, either. God has the same plan and design for parents in these times. Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Again, it is the primary role of fathers to lead the way in lovingly training their children in the things of God.

I mentioned that many parents are handing over their children’s care and education to schools, day cares, Sunday School, etc. So, is this an article condemning these things? Is it wrong for parents to send their kids to daycare, public school, Christian school, Sunday school, or to church? That is not the point of this article in the least. Part of a parent’s responsibility is to prayerfully determine the best education and care for their children. I am definitely not saying that parents should not bring their children to church or Sunday School. The point is that it is wrong for us to hand the primary training of our children over to anyone else. 

God has called us to be parents, and He has called us to train our children. It is possible to disciple our children while utilizing education groups and faithfully partnering with our church families. I would argue it is actually impossible to disciple our children apart from a Bible-teaching church family. The point is that parents are primarily responsible to bring up our children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

Anytime I think of the monumental task of parenting, I am overwhelmed. It is a huge responsibility. It is weighty. God has given precious souls into our hands to nurture and develop. There are long-reaching consequences, good and bad, that are going to affect our children for their lifting up or their detriment. This becomes more terrifying the more aware I am of my own sin. 

However, it is important not to live in that kind of despair as a believer in Jesus Christ. Such despair is contrary to the Gospel, and it ignores the infinite wealth of resources that are ours in Christ. Since Jesus Christ has died to us, and we are united to Him by faith, there are infinite resources available to enable us to serve the Lord. 

If you are thrown into despair by reading Ephesians 6:4, then let me urge you to put this passage into its proper context. Go back and prayerfully read, and reread, and reread Ephesians 1-3. In those awesome chapters, God reveals the infinite riches and blessings that we have in Christ. He reveals what our new position in Jesus is. We are no longer dead in sins, but we are alive with Jesus to serve God (Ephesians 2:1-10). To the praise of God’s grace and not our works, we are chosen, redeemed, and accepted (Ephesians 1:4-6). We are truly blessed in our union to Jesus Christ with every spiritual blessing in heaven (Ephesians 1:3). Those are only a few of the riches that God makes known in Ephesians 1-3.

Parenting is a monumental task, but the believer in Jesus has been given all of heaven’s resources, including God Himself, to enable us to accomplish this task. 

So, by the grace of God, let’s not be brown-headed cowbirds. By faith in God’s enablement, let’s embrace our God-given duty and responsibility to bring up our children in the Lord’s training and instruction.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.