Last week, many applauded a father whose son had been banned from the bus for bullying other children. The father forced his son run to school in the rain while he drove behind him. Then, he posted about his creative discipline on Facebook.
The father received praise for his return to “common sense” parenting and for disciplining his son instead of making excuses for him. Indeed, there are reasons we should applaud this father. He accepted responsibility for his son’s behavior and made sure his son grasped the gravity of his transgression.
Unfortunately, many Christians are so quick to praise anything that is the opposite of politically correct softness that they don’t stop to think whether the behavior is laudable or not. This father publicly shamed his son in the same way his son shames those whom he bullies. While you might argue that the son “deserved” to be shamed, we should stop and ponder whether we can embarrass people into changing their lives for the long term.
As believers, we believe genuine change takes place in the heart through repentance and faith. The law of God confronts us in our sin and shows us our need for repentance, yet the Scripture also says it is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. We cannot applaud using worldly means to accomplish God’s good purposes, and it’s doubtful whether these techniques achieve what we want them to anyway.
When we shame our children, discipline them in anger, or use silence as a weapon against them, we are not treating them as those made in God’s image. When Jesus said, “love your neighbor as yourself,” I’m quite sure that he intended this command to cover the people in our own home as well. In fact, we could argue that the people who live in our home are our closest neighbors. Therefore, shouldn’t we treat our children the way that we want to be treated?
Here are five ways that we can treat our children as our neighbors.
In Your Parental Calling
To love our neighbor as ourselves is to take responsibility for their pain and suffering. It is to rejoice when they rejoice and weep when they weep. When we love our neighbors, we don’t see them in need and think, “that’s not my problem.”
In the same way, the first way we can love our children as ourselves is to recognize the seriousness of our parental calling. God calls parents to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord so that they might know him and live to honor him (Ephesians 6:1-4, Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 20-25.) Our own flesh and the world around us both conspire against this calling. We are tempted to be too lazy, distracted, or busy to own the gravity of it. To love our children as our neighbors is to make time in the schedule, put down the phone, get home from work, and get off the couch so we can pour into them the way the Lord commands us to.
In Your Attitude and Speech
Write over every interaction with your child, “for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20) How often do we get frustrated and angry with our children? Aren’t we tempted to speak to them in unkind and unthoughtful ways because we are governed by our momentary passions? In these moments of anger and impatience, we may get our children’s attention, but we don’t point them towards the Lord.
Our attitude and speech, even in moments when our children are disobedient, must be characterized by calmness and love. I’m not talking about being a pushover who doesn’t discipline his kids. I mean that in every circumstance, we keep our cool, and speak the truth in love, even in our words of correction.
This post should go up on March 14th. If that is when you read this, read Proverbs 14 today and one chapter every day for the rest of the month. Note what Solomon tells his son about our anger and our words. When you do, think about these things through the lens of your parenting. We will find that we cannot point our children towards God’s wisdom while we are manifesting the marks of the fool.
In Your Online Presence
As parents, we often post things about our children online that we would be embarrassed for them to read when they are older. Our children are the first generation to grow up with their entire lives being documented online. Is what we say about them giving thanks for the Lord’s gift to us or venting about them in ways that are cruel and mocking?
In general, we need to think more deeply about how we bring our children into our online presence. In particular, we often spend too much time trying to take pictures of their activities that we forget to actually engage with them in those activities. We take six different pictures, try to figure out which one is best, and then think of the right caption for the picture. We do all of this while we miss out on actual real memories with our kids.
In Your Correction
We must admit that we are creatures of extremes. Many in our culture do not discipline their children and allow them to do whatever their hearts desire. That is wrong and it produces adults who don’t fear God or respect their neighbors. However, we must make sure that we do not swing the pendulum so far in the opposite direction in the name of not being soft that we become cruel. I’m not just talking about physical correction here, but also the way we address our children when they are disobedient. (By the way, please lose the phrase “And I turned out okay” when talking about discipline. We throw this phrase out thoughtlessly to justify ridiculous parenting practices. Our goal in parenting is not turning out kids who are “okay,” but kids who fear God, love him, honor him, and who love their neighbors as themselves.)
How do we treat our children like our neighbors in correction? Don’t engage in forms of correction that are cruel or that you enact in anger. Don’t discipline your children in front of other people. They won’t be thinking about what you are saying. They’ll be thinking about their embarrassment. Don’t bark at them or badger them, but speak firmly, directly, and calmly so that they hear what you are saying and heed it. When you must administer discipline, don’t do it to get your pound of flesh out of your kids because they broke your rules. Discipline them as God disciplines you, which is for their good.
In Your Humility
Parenting is tough, I know. We have four children ranging from middle school to preschool. I feel like I am in over my head every single day of my life. In God’s providence, that is exactly where I need to be. When I come face to face with my inadequacies and sins as a parent, it is God’s reminder that I stand in desperate need of his grace (2 Corinthians 12:7-10.)
In his book Parenting, Paul Tripp points out that we fall into a trap when we think we can parent in our own ability. He said that when parents start acting like they are able, they begin thinking their children should be able on their own as well, and then our kids get crushed under the weight of our expectations.
If our ultimate goal is for our children to know Jesus, fear him, and live for his glory, then we must live like people who need grace. No one can bring their kids to Jesus in their own power. Even if we were to be perfect parents, always doing and saying the right thing, it would still take the grace of God to make our parenting effective. Therefore, let us see how much we need grace and raise our children so they look to Jesus for this grace as well.
“Five Parenting Myths I Used to Believe“
For Further Reading:
Parenting by Paul Tripp
Give them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson