Why was Eli a better father to his young apprentice, Samuel, than he was to his own sons?
God said to Eli, “13 For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God, and he failed to restrain them.” 1 Sam. 3.
Disciplining children is integral to raising them up. Disciplining them includes “restraining” them when they are doing bad. That last part is often not done. When parents talk and talk but do not restrain, they make the same error as Eli.
But Eli did a pretty good job with Samuel (even to the point that Samuel also did poorly with his own sons) as Samuel became a great servant of God. And it must be mentioned that Hannah was a profound influence on Samuel.
But let me share why I think Eli did a better parenting job with Samuel. There is a worldly kind of love parents have for their children when they coddle them and are permissive with them. They want to make them happy and are tortured if their children are unhappy. So they never really rise to restrain their child – not until it is too late. Eli talked to his sons saying to them the reports he had been hearing were not good. But Eli did not restrain his sons. Raising children requires a dispassionate understanding of where children need to be headed and the will to lead them that way. Fathers must love their children enough to do more than talk. Children need to be restrained because they will go astray without it.