I’ve struggled with this one. I’ve struggled for the right words, but I’ve also struggled with how to walk this out in my life.
I love my babies. I love them fiercely. I love them deeply. There’s not a single thing I wouldn’t do or sacrifice for their good. In the midst of this deep love, I’ve also had to learn to be tough in discipline. I think in some ways we think that disciplining and being loving are opposites, but they are really two sides of the same coin.
I have seen the results of children not being disciplined at two extremes and in areas in between. I volunteered at a place where we ministered to at-risk youth for almost three years. Most of these kids didn’t have parents actively involved in their lives in any way. For the most part, their first brush with discipline was handed down from a judge. A good number of them had never had any real consequences for their behavior. The ones who did, had never known loving correction that hoped to push them to what was better. They knew physical abuse. They didn’t respect discipline or take it seriously.
I’ve seen the other end of the spectrum for people who were never disciplined who atrophied in their ability to grow up. I don’t just mean not spanked; I mean never made to take responsibility. If you never have to work for anything or never learn to accept correction, you won’t hear it from anyone, including the Lord. This looks a lot like someone just being bratty in the way you associate it with a child who didn’t get THE cup they wanted. This looks a lot like someone growing up depending on people instead of Jesus. This looks a lot like someone who will struggle to accept the truth of God when it doesn’t suite them. This is the place I’ve struggled in disciplining my own children.
For me, as a parent of two kids with language delays, I had to realize that I was so excited when they could ask for things or when they could communicate a need, I just wanted to give whatever I could to them because I was so proud. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is not necessarily a good thing either. I had to pay attention to the fact that I could not get on the train of giving them their way all the time. No matter the challenge they are facing, they needed me to love them through discipline. Every child has a challenge. Every child is a sinner who needs to be trained up to know which way to go.
If you’ve ever been with any child long enough, you will see their bend to many things which will not build good character or godliness if not corrected. One example is selfishness. “Mine!” “That’s my toy!” “Those are MY goldfish!” WE DON’T HAVE TO TEACH THIS! They are born knowing how to be selfish. It’s our job to point them in the right direction. It’s our job to discipline out that behavior.
I don’t just mean spanking either. I do spank my kids, but I do it as a last resort. Before I spank them, I speak to them in the language of repentance. I talk to them about what they did. I tell them why it was wrong or not okay. I then ask them to turn from it and to make a better choice and to what is right and good. That’s a picture of repentance- it’s not just knowing something is wrong, but it’s turning from and abandoning that sin to move onto what is right and pleasing to God. I speak to them in the language of repentance now so that when God does, they will already know how this sounds. I also require that they make amends when they’ve hurt someone. I think that’s huge. I think that requiring a child to look someone in the eye and say they are sorry for biting/knocking down their blocks/hurting their feelings/or whatever, builds humility and character in them that teaches something important- the willingness to own up to their wrongdoing and to try to make it right. Especially in the world filled with anonymous bullies hidden behind devices who feel like they can say anything, I think this is important.
I hear the sentiment and statement a lot that, “Kids are mean!” How about we as the global parenting community do something about that? Fixing this starts with me. Fixing this starts with you.
I can’t scream these values into my children. I can’t yell at them enough for them to get these things. I can’t verbally or physically abuse them and expect them to believe I love them. “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” – Romans 2:4
In kindness and love we have to discipline, but that doesn’t mean not stepping into the mess and seeing these behaviors as what they are. They are sins. I know a pastor who used the illustration of his daughter playing in the dog’s bowl of water. Everyone thought, “That’s funny!” when they heard the splashing and found her soaked head to toe. They’d never really told her not to do this because as any parent knows, there are words you don’t think you’ll ever have to say. He looked at her and told her to stop. She made eye contact with him, slowly raised her arms over her head, and then slammed her fists into the water again. It was in this moment where everyone else laughed that he realized her choosing to rebel against her father was her first act of defiance that was intentional. He realized that is was also enough to separate her from God forever. Do we take these places of our kids sinning so seriously that we would consider it that way? If we did, I think that we would not let so many things go. I think we would see their sin as a bear that we were determined to kill before it could kill them. Would you let a savage bear run full steam at your kid ready to devour them without stepping in the way and fighting it off anyway you could?
“My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” – Proverbs 3:11-12
God spanks. He spanks because He loves us, and because He’s calling us to something greater. I am praying for the wisdom all the time to love my children enough to discipline them well. If I don’t, I’ve seen the end results and possible outcomes for undisciplined children, and I want more than that for them. I won’t and can’t abandon them in their sin. I love them too much for that. Also, do any of us want to raise self-indulgent jerks who only think of themselves, who don’t take responsibility for their actions, who treat others poorly, and live with a deaf ear and fist raised at the throne of God? I don’t want to raise those people, and I don’t want my children marrying them. I hope that parents everywhere can agree on that.