I was humbled last night. I don’t know whether to make this post a family post because it had to do with my relationship with my kids or to make it about our individual spiritual lives because it taught me about my relationship with God. I’ll just tell you the story and let you draw your own conclusions.
Alright, I’m struggling as a dad. I have some big questions. So I thought I’d just throw out what I’m thinking and get some discussion going. Hopefully, we can come up with an answer together.
I understand that my job is to discipline my children. I am to train them up so they can be productive parts of God’s kingdom and man’s society. Part of that means using the rod. At the same time, I’ve learned that the mere threat of the rod doesn’t necessarily produce great behavior in my children. In some cases, it simply helps them get really good at being secretive and avoiding detection.
There have been some times where something has happened, we have no idea which child did it. We threaten and cajole and don’t get any closer. I know some suggest simply punishing them all, but I keep going back to treating others the way I want to be treated. I don’t want to be punished for something I didn’t do just because the one who did it won’t fess up. On some occasions, we finally got to a point of saying, “Look, somebody here has lied. We know what lying can do to your heart. We know the guilt and shame it can produce and we don’t want you to live with that for the rest of your life. When whoever the guilty party is has had enough of the guilt and shame, come talk to us. We won’t punish you, we just want to help you overcome this sin.”
In most cases, the guilty party eventually comes clean with us in a private setting. We have a good talk. I think the child was helped.
For a time, I wondered, “Hmm, does punishment not really work? Is that hindering my kids from being honest with me? Should I remove the threat of punishment?” But I can’t square that with the Bible. Obviously the Bible talks about parents disciplining and punishing their children.
Then I got to thinking about how God deals with me. I saw four things and I’m trying to figure out how to bring them into my parenting with consistency and wondering if I’m even on the right track. Here is what I saw.
- When I’m caught in impenitent rebellion and dishonesty, God punishes.
- When I come to God to penitently confess my sins, God forgives and shows mercy. He doesn’t punish.
- Whether I’m in impenitent rebellion or penitently confessing, God lets me face the natural consequences of my action.
- When I penitently confess my sins, God teaches and provides boundaries to overcome the sin in the future, pruning and disciplining me.
So, here are my questions for you.
- Are the above four points accurate? Is that how God really deals with us?
- If they are accurate, how do we implement the same strategy in our parenting?
- When should we punish? When should we show mercy?
In other words, if my child confesses before getting caught, is there never any punishment? How do you distinguish between punishment, discipline, and natural consequences? You tell me.
Thanks ahead of time for letting me know what you think.
And remember, God’s way really does work for our families.
Regrettably, ABC won’t let this video be embedded (I’m still wondering when these folks are going to get with the program and recognize allowing this stuff to be passed on only helps them). Anyway, check out the video at the following YouTube link.
Then, let’s talk about it.
Helicopter parenting: What do you think?
Today’s Bible reading over at giveattentiontoreading.com really hit me about how I deal with my family.
The verse that really got me was Hebrews 5:2, “He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.” The Hebrew writer was talking about the Old Covenant priests who had to offer sacrifices for themselves as well as for the people. They could deal gently with others because they recognize their own weaknesses.
That hit me regarding my preaching and relationships with brethren. But it also made me think about my wife and kids. It really struck me that usually I’m most harsh with my wife and kids if they are making a mistake I have made. I think in some ways I can get really harsh because I can trick myself into thinking I’m better than I am. If I come down really hard on them about the issue that means I’m not soft on the issue with them and really I have a good handle on it. I can make myself feel better than them by really letting them have it.
Interestingly, the Bible says my own weaknesses should have the exact opposite affect. Instead of my weaknesses making me more harsh with my family, they ought to help me address my family with gentleness.
This is especially true with my children. How often I see them make my mistakes and out of the noble desire to protect them from the consequences I’ve had to face I start getting mean, harsh, controlling, and even manipulative. In my mind, it is about protecting and preserving them. That seems noble enough. One of the things I’m learning is that when I’m mean, harsh, or controlling, I usually just push my kids to keep making the same mistakes. When I approach them with gentleness, recognizing my own weaknesses, even leading with my weaknesses, that seems to help them a whole lot more.
I’m making a personal commitment today. Before I start getting on to my kids for anything, I want to first think about my own weaknesses. I want to remember that I am beset with weakness. That way, when I deal with their weaknesses, I can do so with the proper spirit.
Have a great week and remember that God’s way works with our families.
As is often the case after I spend a week with parents I think are doing a better job than me, I have loaded up on parental encouragement in the form of books. Thank you Half Price Bookstore. I’ve come across one that I think is going to revolutionize my thinking about my job as Dad and my expectations of my children.
The book is Rite of Passage Parenting: Four Essential Experiences to Equip Your Kids for Life* by Walker Moore. Our job as parents is to bring up our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Bring them up, that is, lead them to maturity and adulthood. Moore suggests our American culture has lost four essentials to help bring our children up to that maturity.
- Rite of Passage
- Significant Tasks
- Logical Consequences
- Grace Deposits
I haven’t finished the book yet, but I’ve read enough to be excited about its promise and if the book falls flat in delivering good advice the mere concept has opened my eyes to a better way to work with my kids. Sometimes I think he is over the top with his satirical humor (perhaps the result of working as a youth minister–one can tend to forget that in writing a book for parents he no longer has to shoot from the hip with excessive humor). Additionally, some of his illustrations fall flat for me because of the difference in perspective on things like prom. However, I’m getting a great deal out of this book and I look forward to telling you all about it when I’m finished.
Today, I thought I would simply throw out the concept and leave you with a passage from the book to whet your appetite.
Walton’s Mountain Revisited
While I was growing up, my parents used to make us sit through (back then, it seemed more like “suffer through”) a television show called The Waltons. Each week the show reached us throug the vision and voice of John-Boy, the eldest son of John and Olivia Walton. John-Boy worked with his dad on a farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains and helped him run the sawmill.
Today, this show might be considered politically incorrect. For instance, John and Olivia actually expected John-Boy to work–planting corn, feeding livestock, and chopping wood. He and his six siblings had to do their chores in order for the family to survive. You would never hear his dad say, “You know what? We ought to let our kids be kids. They’ll grow up soon enough.”
If The Waltons had been written about our modern-day family, the show would look very different. First of all, no one would expect John-Boy to help his family. While his dad tried to keep the farm going, John-Boy would sit in his room, playing video games. His sole responsibilities would consist of making his bed and taking out the trash. He could only accomplish these tasks, of course, with tremendous whining, complaining, and snorting like a bull poised for attack.
If the contemporary John and Olivia ever dared to let John-Boy go outside, he would certainly have to be covered from head to toe in protective gear. Can you see our modern-day John-Boy coming out to chop wood? He would have a helmet–not just any old helmet, but one that had passed all the government safety ratings. He would don protective eyewear, elbow pads, and safety shoes with reinforced steel toes. His parents would make sure he had a rope tying the axe handle to his wrist. That way, if he let the ax slip, it wouldn’t go very far. It would have a safety shield covering its head so John-Boy wouldn’t accidentally cut himself. Of course, it would also come with a safety DVD so he could learn which end was sharp and how he should always keep it point away from his face. Finally, the ax would come shrink-wrapped in clear plastic–the kind that even a nuclear blast can’t break free.
I’m sure you get the idea of where this is going. I can’t wait to learn more about helping my children become adults. I’ll share with you what I learn as we’re going along.
*This post does contain affiliate links. Hey, I’m trying to help you with your parenting. Why don’t you help me with mine, click the link, buy a book, help my kids. Here’s another chance.
I had another great reminder the other day that my initial reaction to a situation may not be the right one. I need to press a pause button before I simply lay into one of my kids with a disciplinary measure.
Marita was rightly upset with Ethan. He had been disrespectful and disobedient. I was at the office when all this took place, but if I understand it correctly, Marita was in a hurry to gather the kids together to get to a doctor’s appointment for Tessa. They had all gone to what we call “book club.” It’s a homeschool group we’re part of in which the kids of different ages get to read books together and do different learning projects based on the books. Two of our neighbors host it. Marita, Tessa, and Ethan were at one house, Ryan was at the neighbor’s house.
When it came time to go, they were leaving early, Marita sent Ethan to get Ryan from the other house. Ethan pitched a fit, acted rebelliously, caused a scene, and had various other problems. Let’s face it, I don’t care what the reason is behind this, this behavior is wrong. Discipline needs to take place. My problem is I often simply jump to the discipline without trying to figure out what is really going on. Because I don’t figure out what is really going on, the discipline doesn’t actually work. It just produces bitterness.
I guess on this day, God was doing for me what I can’t do for myself. When Marita told me what happened and asked me to deal with Ethan, instead of getting wrapped up in embarrassment that he had this scene in front of other people, I stepped back and wondered why my normally obedient son pitched this major fit. So, before disciplining I asked him, “What was that about? Why did you do that?”
The reason is he knew they were in a hurry and he had wanted to drop by our house to get a book to take with them to the doctor so he wouldn’t be bored. He thought if he took the time to go get Ryan, he wouldn’t have time to go to the house. So, he was afraid and angry. He expressed that fear and anger with a fit.
Please understand this. I’m not going all Dr. Spock on you. We don’t need to look at this situation and say, “Oh, Ethan was just expressing himself. That’s okay.” He was expressing himself incorrectly and inappropriately and that cannot be allowed to continue. However, if all I had done was say, “You’re not allowed to act like that,” and spanked or grounded him, we wouldn’t have actually dealt with the real issue. The real issue is he had some fear and some anger and he needed to learn how to express that. Even more so, he had a desire that he needed to learn how to express. If I had simply disciplined him for the improper behavior, all he would have learned is, “I don’t get to want things. I don’t get to tell people what I want or need. I’m not ever allowed to be upset about something. What’s going on inside me is wrong, bad, and unimportant.” In my experience, these are dangerous lessons to learn.
Instead, we were able to discuss the appropriate ways to talk to his mom (or me) about his needs and desires. We were able to discuss the appropriate ways to share what his fears and angers are. We have a plan in our family to deal with this event and Ethan had forgotten it. If we ever ask our children to do something and they believe they are aware of something we aren’t or they have an idea that might be different they are allowed to respectfully say, “May I please make an appeal?”
So, in this situation it would have sounded something like this:
Marita says, “It’s time to go. We’re in a hurry. Ethan, run up to the neighbor’s house and get Ryan.”
Ethan is upset because he thinks this means he won’t be able to get his book out of the house before they leave, so he’ll be bored, stuck in the doctor’s office with nothing to do. He responds, “Mom, I’d be happy to do that, but can I please make an appeal?”
“What is it, Ethan?”
“I really don’t want to be bored at the doctor so I wanted to get my book from home. Can I please run to the house and get my book and let Tessa go get Ryan?”
To which Marita would have responded, “Don’t worry, Ethan. Go get Ryan, we’re all going to stop at the house before we leave.”
Of course, Ethan is 10. The conversation wouldn’t have been perfectly like that and I don’t expect him to memorize a catechism of proper responses to his parents. But it would have been a whole lot better than slamming doors, kicking things, yelling, and making a scene.
So, I was able to spend a few minutes with Ethan talking about how to respond in that kind of situation. I was able to talk to him about how to let his wants be known by talking about them instead of expressing them through manipulative displays of frustrated emotion. We were also able to talk about the fact that sometimes things don’t work out the way we want. It’s okay to be disappointed and upset, but it is not appropriate to take that out on people by rebellion, meanness, antagonism. He might make the appeal and Marita end up saying, “No.” In those moments, he needs to learn to express his emotion in productive, not destructive, ways.
This whole situation reminded me that before I simply respond to an action with a discipline. I need to back up and find out what is really going on. Otherwise, the discipline isn’t going to do any good. I did well that day. I’ve blown it multiple times since then. Today, I plan to be on top of my game. We’ll see.