I have found that most 21st century Christian families were highly influenced (as are most families) by the culture and environment which they themselves grew up in. Our parents, for better or worse, become the template by which we lead our families. Almost unconsciously, we create our family environment according to one of two predominant ways:
1. We react negatively to how we were raised and in turn lead our families in the exact opposite direction of our template.
2. We implement our template uncritically and perpetuate the environment which we experienced for years.
Here’s the challenge…
Undoubtedly, there will always be things that your parents could have done better or should not have done at all. (I refer you back to the myth of perfect parents.) A Christian family should indeed avoid the mistakes of the previous generation. However, that may not mean everything your parents did or missed was wrong. In the same fashion, to simply parent and lead by virtue of the template your parents modeled, may not be the Lord’s design either. This is why it is critical that each generation of parents be discipled in parenting that in turn they might disciple the generation which has been entrusted to them in their house. It is always helpful if a local church provides instruction in these matters, however, in our day of passive, disconnected parenting and leadership in the home the problem has become a point of acute sensitivity. When Christian parents are challenged, more often than not, they are instantly offended. It may be due to embarrassment or perhaps independence. It may also be due to an unwillingness to apply appropriate discipline measures to correct behavior for a variety of reasons.
Discipline is critical.
Discipline is unavoidable.
Discipline is loving.
The Lord loves us so much that the Scripture teaches us that He will discipline us (Proverbs 3:12, Hebrews 12:6). As parents, we model the love of the Lord by disciplining our children in the same spirit by which we are disciplined. I know, some might say, “How can correction or punishment (by whatever method) be helpful to the child and even be construed as loving?” It’s because as a parent, your motive is two-fold:
1. You are helping your child to “connect the dots” between their actions and repercussions. The Bible says that the way of the transgressors is hard (Proverbs 13:15). This means that disobedience will always have a consequence. In it’s most dramatic application we know that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). So to avoid or mitigate discipline in a child’s life is to set them up for an unrealistic life when they are older. If they speed or drive recklessly in a car, there will be repercussions. If they are unfaithful in a marriage, there will be repercussions. If they choose a life of crime, there will be repercussions. If they cheat, steal and lie in life, there will be repercussions. These repercussions are meted out by law enforcement and judges. Their motive is justice, while your motive is love. So it is to your children’s benefit that they experience discipline under your hand motivated by love rather than a judge’s hand motivated by justice. The bottom line always being…there will be discipline for us all in one form or another.
2. You are molding and training your child for their God-ordained destiny. My discipline as a parent is not meted out because I am simply mad that my children did not behave as I might have hoped, but rather I recognize that certain behavior will short-circuit future possibilities and opportunities. My discipline is setting them up for later success.
As I write this blog my mind goes back to a friend I had in elementary school and Jr. High School. Everyone, at the time, thought his parents to be “cool” and the model we secretly wished our parents would emulate. He was allowed to do anything and everything. I can remember clearly this friend breaking numerous boundaries of appropriate behavior as a child and then as an adolescent it escalating to criminal behavior. As an example, he tried to poison his next-door neighbor’s dog because the animal disliked him (for good reason). The neighbor caught him in the act and called the police. When the police came to my friend’s door, his parents refused to interact with the police and threatened civil action against the neighbor and the police. I watched the remarkable scene unfold and even at that age I was processing the absolute incongruity of it all. I can also tell you that his parents, by refusing to discipline their son, consigned him to a life of on-going dysfunctional behavior and criminal problems. What they refused to do, numerous police officers and judges are now forced to do.
Again, I do not want to suggest that everything I have done in my family has been perfect. I have had to say “I’m sorry” to my kids on more than one occasion with regards to my parenting actions (usually an overreaction). That being said, I can say that my wife (she has been phenomenal) and I have purposefully pursued good parenting in our home. I want to suggest to you the following alliteration where you might start in rebuilding your Christian family.
Dad and mom need to be on the same page (biblically) with one another when it comes to discipline. Kids can smell division and will pit parents against one-another with regards to their desires and outcomes. All parenting disagreements go to another room away from the child and sorted out so the parents can form a united and coordinated front.
Kids can’t read your mind. Parents need to be proactive with regards to behavioral expectations. All of us understand that our behavior at the beach or park is not analogous to our behavior at school or church. Kids do not understand this intuitively, so as a parent help them in defining what appropriate behavior looks like in various forums.
Do your kids really know the rules and boundaries? Have you been clear? Have you taken the time to help them focus on what the expectations will be at home, school, church, car, sleep overs, etc.? Have you reviewed the boundaries with them recently? You can never be “too clear”.
Kids are not robots. All of my children are similar and dissimilar. They respond and react differently. Their personalities and maturity levels can vary. This means that each child I have I must parent within the scope of their individuality. That doesn’t mean the expectations or boundaries change, but rather how I approach them and mete out discipline can look differently. One of my children responded only to corporeal punishment. Another one responded by merely raising my voice slightly. Another one rarely demanded any discipline because they were ultra-compliant. Each child is beautifully and wonderfully made for God’s purposes and as parents we must understand that multiple children might demand some contrasting in our parenting approaches.
The discipline (or repercussion of poor behavior) must fit the crime. It’s great if you can communicate to your kids beforehand in a peaceful moment the connection between obedience and reward with disobedience and punishment. Let their conscience be strengthened and developed through peaceful moments of outlining the costs of inappropriate behavior prior to any disobedience. Be careful that you don’t make everything a capital crime. Make sure all disobedience is addressed, but let the repercussion fit the violation. Even in civil society a parking violation is treated differently than a bank robbery. Both have repercussions commensurate to their damage.
Try to act rather than react. Undoubtedly, some disobedience must be addressed instantly and on the spot. These are the occasions where as a parent you must find the place of calm and act decisively, but not over the top. Sometimes behavioral issues can wait to be addressed at home or at another setting. This can be opportune if needed to calm one’s spirit down and deal with your child in an appropriately controlled way. Calm is needed so no words or actions come from you (as the parent) that damage rather than discipline. Calm does not equal passive. Calm equals deliberate and loving.
Kids will be kids. Sometimes children in their immaturity and excitement cross boundaries that they were ignorant to or simply were a by-product of their childishness. This, I will admit, was hard for me to factor in at times when I parented. Sometimes kids just do dumb kid things. That’s not to say the circumstance doesn’t warrant a talk with your child or a review of their boundaries, but be careful as you discipline that you are not punishing their legitimate maturity level. We punish bad behavior they are responsible for in their knowledge, not the fact they are acting age-appropriate.
However you discipline there is little worse than an erratic parent who allows certain behavior one day and then spanks their children the next day. Parenting cannot be based on your emotional feelings or exhaustion from day to day. You cannot be merciful because an endearing wind has swept over you on Monday and then be merciless because Tuesday was a bad day at the office. I will admit, that as human beings, consistency is the playground for hypocrisy. Nevertheless, we must do our best for our kids to know that their environment is stable and the rules are enforced everyday, not capriciously ignored on some days.
There must be consequences for inappropriate behavior and rebellion. That is how the Kingdom of God works and that is how a Christian home must work. There must be repercussions for rebellion, violations of standards and expectations, and even the flesh. I found no maniacal delight in disciplining my children. Most of the time it broke my heart, however, both my wife and I knew that the momentary pain of the discipline was insignificant to the potential detouring of our kid’s destinies had we neglected it. As parents, we would much rather be the police, jury, and judge for our children now, then relegate them to a world-system which we knew would not love them biblically.
Caring means follow-through. It means that you are serious about what you have said. It means hugging your kids as the discipline is being applied and letting forgiveness bring its healing and wholeness. Yes, it certainly means that expectations are met and adhered to, but as a parent we do not carry grudges or withhold love. As best as we can, we demonstrate the attributes of God towards our kids so they can better understand His ways in their life as they become adults. Our prayer is that our children never experience the scars of a wayward life, but should they choose otherwise, they will understand that God will indeed chastise and discipline them, as well as love them unconditionally.
The story of Eli is one every Christian parent needs to read (I Samuel 2-4). It’s the tragic story of a family with great destiny upon it, but Eli (the dad) refuses to correct and discipline his sons. The sins of the sons are egregious and the repercussions were great. In fact, a pertinent point can be made from this story that a lack of good parenting not only causes problems for the children, but even a judgment upon ourselves as parents. Let’s break the curse of poor parenting as Christian believers and recommit ourselves to the great task of leading the next generation into God’s best.