My own sweet children--the ones trusted into our hands to love and raise for Him!
I am reprinting an article because of many requests. In one article, it is impossible to cover all the bases. So, obviously, there are sides of this issue that I cannot adequately address in one short article. Did we seek to have our children obey us? Of course--through training, instruction, patience, love and guidance. By God's grace, our precious children, my best friends, and wonderful adults, love us, love the Lord and are engaged in seeking to be responsible in their lives. It is the greatest earthly blessing in my life to be at this place where they all "work" in different places, but where even this week, as I have 3 of them home, agree, that the best place is home because we all belong together. So, I share this article with the heart desire to bless and encourage--but not to cause undue response or consternation. Again, I give to you:
First time obedience, really?
My own children, on whom many philosophies of child discipline were practiced. And yet God's grace covered our mistakes and they grew into healthy loving human beings by His grace!
Often, the subject of child discipline comes up as I am working with young parents. I do not have the time to answer all of my email or comments as I must stay focussed on my own family and I will not be able to answer all the questions this article will raise, so please understand my time limitations. But I do offer this as some of my own thoughts on childhood discipline and hope that in some way, it may be of encouragement. My blog below is a mish-mash of some of my thoughts--but hope you can make some sense of it!
A Need for Guidance
Well-meaning parents all over the world have tried throughout the centuries to try to figure out the right formula or wisdom to use in raising up a godly, responsible, emotionally and spiritually healthy child. It is right to desire to find a way to love, educate, train and discipline a child to help him become mature.
However, in our culture, so many young couples do not live around their parents, do not have good models of what a healthy family looks like, and so they look to "authorities" to find their answers--people who speak or write books. (Scary thought, since that is what Clay and I do!)
Formulas do not work!
And, I believe, most parents are looking for a formula--a one easy step guide to instantly raising up an obedient child, a one size fits all.
But, over the years, I have heard so many extreme talks about child training and I have also seen many young immature parents follow rigid, formulaic parenting philosophies and I have lived to see many children rebel, leave all the training of their parents and even turn their hearts away from God.
The parents wring their hands saying, "I don't understand. I followed all the books and did it just like they said!"
However, when we learn to think Biblically, we must learn to live by faith and in wisdom in the raising of our children. If God had wanted us to follow a formula, He would have given one and made it clear so that we could use the ten easy rules to pop out perfect children. But He made each person with a different personality, different maturity level, different ability.
Scripture is much more long term about maturity than we usually want to understand. "Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not fall away."
"The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until the full day." A path of life parenting that allows for more and more light to show forth with each passing year.
In Hebrews we read about the mature and immature--about babes who are still drinking milk and not yet ready for solid food--and here the context is of a young Christian and a mature one--allowing for growth.
I tend to look at my children through this lens, "It is the kindness and mercy of the Lord that leads to repentance." Romans
An Issue of the Heart
First, we must understand that all discipline should be focussed on the heart--not the behavior. Over 800 times in scripture, God talks about the heart--Love the Lord with all of your heart. God searches to and fro for a heart that is completely his. Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. and so on. And yet I see many extraverts being disciplined for being louder and more talkative (not rebellion--a personality issue--or boys for being boys--moms who want them to behave like a little lady, etc.)
But God is concerned with our desire to love and obey Him, he already knows we are immature and that we take time to understand His ways. Jesus was patient with Peter and said, "Satan has desired to sift you like wheat," He predicted that Peter would fall--and Jesus was totally supportive of his disobedient, immature disciple---He said, "I have prayed for you, and after you have returned, strengthen the brethren." In other words, "I know you will blow it, but I will be with you, I will pray for you, I will still use you."
And so, when we discipline our children, we must learn to look at their hearts. Is their heart rebellious? Are they being willful? Am I expecting too much for them--their age, their level of over-stimulation, the circumstances, their maturity level, their abilities? A child should not be punished for being exhausted, immature, a boy, or for making a mistake. I make mistakes all the time, again and again. And yet scripture teaches in the new testament and the old that maturity is as a result of training, time, growth, heart and will.
I just have to state at the beginning of this article that my goal was to have my children learn to obey me and to honor me quickly, from a heart that had been trained and nurtured to respond, to want to please me as a parent and to have a heart that wants to please God. Sometimes this means exerting my authority immediately to help them learn that they must learn to listen to mama. Often it meant picking them up into my arms as toddlers to quickly stop the wrong behavior and to whisper, talk to them about my expectation as their mother that they would obey. Grace-based parenting is not equal to permissiveness and lack of training or responsibility for children.
I read constantly when my children were little to learn about how they were made. I remember that I read an article that said that the average 2 year old took between 30 seconds and a minute to have some messages sink in if they were engaged in their brain somewhere else. And so often, I see moms being very strict with their children and being harsh when sometimes the child has not even understood yet just what he is doing wrong. Harshness does not win over a child. Neither does wanting a 2 year old to be more mature than he can be and so punishing him for being 2. We must use wisdom and discretion to understand the situation, the heart of a child, and how to best train him according to our wisdom, faith and training of the child. It is the kindness and mercy of God that leads to repentance. Child discipline should always be based on a relationship between a mature, benevolent, loving parent who is seeking to lead his child to maturity, to train his child to think in the direction of righteousness and to train his behavior little by little.
The mature parent should consider the state of the child, his emotional needs, physical needs before meting out harsh discipline.
Formulas like "First Time Obedience" do not necessarily reach the heart!
I was speaking at a conference once and the speaker before me was plying the audience with all sorts of guilt. This speaker said, "If you don't require first time obedience every time from your children, then you are disobeying God and you will be responsible for losing your child's heart and tempting him to rebel against God!" Many men in the audience cheered loudly and clapped. I could just see the harshness that would follow in their homes because a speaker had given them permission to be harsh and demanding, every time with children, without ever teaching these parents sympathy, wisdom, skill and understanding with their children, their ages, their paths of life.
But Really? Can you cite me verse and give context that says God always requires first time obedience without mercy? I am thankful that He is much more patient with me than that in my own life. I have made so many mistakes over the years and done such foolish things, and still He is there loving me, instructing me, showing me his compassion and gently leading me daily to better understand His holy and righteous standard for me.
I have seen no Biblical evidence that this is a true "rule." Of course I believe in training our children to obedience and to teach them to have the highest of standards, and often it meant training them to learn to obey us as we requested something of them, by training them to obey quickly.
But I believe the reason Deuteronomy 6-8 talks about us speaking to our children morning, noon, night and presenting truth and the gospel to our children every moment of the day, is that training is to be a whole-life passing on of values and obedience and wisdom, a morning, noon and night---let's live together in fellowship and relationship and you will see that I have your best in mind and I will teach and train you how to be mature, wise and excellent.
It is a process of love, consistency, patience, and repeating over and over and over and it takes many years for a child to become mature. Maturity and integrity are also issues of the heart and motivation that comes from responding to the teaching and instruction given in love and mutual respect.
Ignorance produces harshness
The unfortunate thing is that many parents, in the name of faithful discipline, do not understand the differences between babies or toddlers or young children or even teens with all of their hormones, and they exhibit anger and harshness toward their children, act in a demeaning way, while neglecting the cues of the child at each stage. These parents have no perspective for the children themselves--they use a rule and formula no matter what--and often wonder why their children to not respond to them.
But, this kind of one rule discipline neglects the child's basic well being. If children are exhausted or overstimulated by television or other children, they are naturally more hostile or out of control. A wise parent will tend to his child's need for rest, quiet, rhythm, balanced blood sugars and understand hormones or emotions, and personality. Often I see children disciplined for things the parent has neglected--their physical and emotional needs---when the child's behavior is often a direct message to the parent of a basic need that has been neglected.
I believe that Biblical discipline must take a long time to secure the heart--many years of constant loving training and instruction. We had very high standards for our children, but our discipline was always viewed through a lens of relationship as the strong basis of our discipleship of our children. Without a close relationship, discipline is quite unproductive.
I am also convinced that a parent must live by faith, trust in God, wisdom, and patience. I spent many hours on my knees praying, seeking God, learning new ways of His parenting with me as I parented my children. It was a process of growing in wisdom. My children are all very different in personality and ability, and yet, by God's grace, all have come to love us and do deeply love the Lord. But we had to raise each of them up in love, by faith and treat them according to their own personality bent. And the basis of our home was God's unconditional love and grace.
Lack of Basic Knowledge
I have also observed often, lately, precious moms who do not even know how to treat little ones. I was walking down the hallway of a hotel several months ago and a sweet, young, exhausted mom was exasperated and shaking her 4 month old baby, saying, "Go to sleep, go to sleep!" At which point the exhausted baby cried louder and louder.
I offered to hold the baby for a few minutes and to give the mom a break. She quickly gave the baby to me. I held the baby tightly in my arms and held it against my cheek and gently rubbed its head while singing softly into his little ear, and swaying gently back and forth. Immediately the little one relaxed its stiff body and listened to my voice and within 5 minutes was soundly asleep.
She just had not been taught how to be gentle, affectionate, or personal. It scared me a little to think of the future of this little child.
I also observed that my very introverted, creative child took longer, even as a baby to focus on me. I learned to work with his personality and to get on his eye level, gently get his attention and clearly state what my expectations were. He was happy to comply, but he did not always hear me the first time. (He now my absent-minded professor who composes music and still has a great heart to obey and to please me.)
My third son, I eventually learned, was adhd, and ocd and a few other letters. But being harsh never, never made his more mature or able to change his behavior. I learned that the more I poured into his life--affection, time, listening, talking, the more able he was to obey. I learned that if I was patient and gentle and helped him--holding his hand, using words of encouragement, gentleness, I could lead him in obedience.
My husband, Clay, wrote an excellent book, called Heartfelt Discipline and many have said that it changed their lives. It will be back in print next summer.
When babies are touched and loved and sung to and talked to and have regular routines and regular, healthy diets, they are much more happy all the time and responsive to instruction. However, when a child has not received these basic needs, the only means of a child letting his parents know he is not happy or comfortable with his life is to whine or cry. When I am around generally healthy children whose needs have been met, it is obvious because they seem more content with life. All children are immature and will misbehave, and pages and pages could be written about the subject, but these are just a few of my thoughts.
My last thoughts on this today and then I must run to my day. Jesus' life is my example. There was a lost world because His children rebelled against Him--no first time obedience. But His love and compassion was so much a part of His character and being, He was compelled to come to save us. He fellowshipped with His disciples, loved them, listened to them, confronted them, corrected them, fed them, taught them, and laid down His life for them. Because of their relationship with Him, and their love for them, they were willing to lay down their life for Him and His kingdom.
His love compelled them--it was a long-term process, this one of securing their obedience and hearts, but their hearts wanted to please Him and obey Him because of what He had meant to them. And so I did write Ministry of Motherhood, reflections on Jesus' method to secure the hearts of His twelve. It has been a study over many years. And today, from my quiet time, I am again humbled and blessed by His active, redeeming, sacrificial love that redeemed me.
His model to me as a parent, "Greater love has no one than this, that He lay down His life for his friend."