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.
I know this may shock you, but my family and I have a terrible struggle with keeping a scheduled family Bible study and prayer time. We’ve learned all kinds of great ways to study and pray together. I’ve written about one of my favorites on this blog. But despite how inspiring some of these methods are, we get them started, do well for a while, and then it falls off. The struggle is often with making the schedules work. I don’t have a set schedule. I’ll have meetings come up or studies come up or I’ll have to go out of town. Or maybe something comes up for Marita or the kids. It gets in the way of our Bible study and prayer schedule and then, after a few misses, the habit is broken. A few weeks or months later, we are convicted about our lack of devotion and we get back on the family Bible study bandwagon feeling all kinds of shame and guilt.
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.
This week, I have to offer an apology. I guess I thought my 10-year-old son wouldn’t get around to reading my blog ever and so last week wasn’t too worried about using our great moment as an example. I’m still thankful for the example we got to share, but I apparently embarrassed my son. I don’t ever want to do that.
So, I encourage you to learn from my mistake and be really, really careful when you use your family as an example. The best bet is to get permission first.
Anyway, to Ethan:
Thank you for reading my blog.
Thank you for being willing to share your emotions with me.
I’m sorry for embarrassing you. I hope you can forgive me.
Supper was just about finished. I was tired. I didn’t feel like doing anything. I definitely didn’t feel like getting out in the cold or cleaning up the mess if the kids got out. A friend called and said, “Have you looked outside?” I was stunned. Seemingly out of nowhere snow was falling the size of quarters and half-dollars and it was sticking. Already, there was a layer of snow worthy of operation snowball.
Then came the near fatal mistake. I almost said, “This will be great to play in tomorrow. Let’s eat and then get going to bed. You’ll have fun tomorrow.” But something caught and I decided to let the kids have their fun. I told them they could go play and simply reheat their dinner when they were ready to eat. After I ate my dinner, Trina (the two-year-old) asked if she could go outside. My initial thought was, “No, that will mean I have to go outside too.” However, I was out of town last week and thought some impromptu play time with the kids would be good. We had a terrific snowball fight. Tessa and Ethan took on Ryan and me. Of course, we trounced them, though Ethan and Tessa did get a few good shots in.
Why would putting off the fun until today have been a fatal mistake? I was certain there would be time to play today in the snow. Usually it gets colder over night. Yet, when we woke up this morning, there was only the slightest hint that it had snowed. If I had pushed it off until today, we wouldn’t have been able to play in that snow at all.
Here’s the lesson. If there’s snow right now, go play in it with your kids. You just never know what tomorrow will bring. Putting that time off until tomorrow may mean you miss out on it completely.
Of course, I hope you understand this isn’t just about playing in the snow. (By the way, can you hear the strains of “Cat’s in the Cradle” playing in the background?)
Maybe it will snow enough today that I’ll get to play with my kids again when I get home tonight. I hope so.
Have a great day and even if it isn’t snowing where you are, do something with your kids today. You may not have the opportunity tomorrow.
I spend most of my time afraid I’m warping my kids for life. Most of the folks around me fear the same thing. However, every once in a while, I see a glimmer of hope. Maybe I’m not doing absolutely everything wrong.
Ethan, our 10 year old, is one of the most creative people I know. He writes stories and makes up games. He’s been doing this for years. It has just been natural to recognize this creativity. A few months ago, Marita and I talked about it and decided to be purposeful about commenting on this unique gift he has and prompting him to nurture it through practice and work. When we have our family meetings or when we are just talking with him, we’ve looked for opportunities to praise and encourage his creativity.
Two things have happened in the past week that helped me see this is working.
1) We were playing Apples to Apples (yes, that is an affiliate link, hey, I’ve got to make a living somehow, right?) Each player is given 7 red cards with different nouns on them (e.g. the 1970s, Martin Luther King Jr., my family, gorillas). A green card is turned over with some kind of adjective on it (e.g. playful, wicked, hot, delicious). Each player submits a green card with what they think most closely links to the target adjective. The judge for the round picks out the one he/she thinks most closely fits the target word.
Anyway, the target adjective was “Creative” and Ethan quietly said to me, “If one of my green cards said ‘Me’ on it, I’d play that one.” Yes! My son believes he is creative.
2) The other day Ethan and I were talking in the kitchen. I think I was doing the dishes. I don’t remember what we were talking about, but it had something to do with some creative thing he had done. I commented on his creativity. He said, “You know, Dad, it makes me feel special when someone talks about me being creative.” Yes! My son feels special.
This really all happened quite by accident. Here we are fumbling and stumbling our way through this parenting thing and we hit on a success. I shared these stories with Marita the other day in our family meeting time (before meeting with the kids) and talked about how we are doing a good job with Ethan on this, but perhaps not as good with the others. Now we need to start paying more attention to the others and find the unique gifts and talents they have to help them feel special as well.
Here are 4 Keys I learned about helping your kids feel special from this.
- Observe them closely and discover their God-given uniqueness.
- Ask them what makes them feel special
- Comment on it, praise it, encourage it frequently
- Give your kids lots of smiles and hugs as you do the rest of this.
By the way, what makes you feel special?