And friend…I think perhaps you might feel like the only one too. This is hard stuff to talk about for a few reasons. For one thing, we have to admit that we are struggling to do a very important part of parenting…discipline our children. None of us likes to admit our areas of weakness. For another thing, to talk about this, we have to be real about the fact that our kids disobey. In a world that likes to talk about our children as “little angels” we have to admit that, in fact, they are sinful humans. Awesome children of God that we love more than life, absolutely. But also, our kids are sinful humans that need our discipline and instruction. And sometimes a lot. And last, to talk about this issue well, we have to admit the weaknesses of our marriages…that we fight and argue and get mad at each other because of our discrepancies in how we should discipline. It’s hard for me to talk about this because I don’t want my friends to think my husband is unreasonably militant, and he doesn’t like to talk about it because he doesn’t want his friends to think his wife is a weak pushover.
But so many marriages and parents are struggling with this issue. One parent is softer and one parent is harder at discipline, and then the marital stress level multiplies. We simply have to talk about it. So here I am, confessing: I kind of suck at disciplining my kids well. In the last couple of weeks I’ve been trying to step up big time, but even so…I’m struggling. (And my kids are still little…we’re not even dealing with the hard stuff yet!) We’re dealing with sin, no doubt, but we’re not dealing with anything that can destroy a life yet. This is the time for action. So let’s talk - honestly, yet gracefully, honoring our kids.
As stated above, our kids are each awesome, unique children of God, whom we love more than life. But they are indeed sinful from birth, as the Psalms say. Like most families, we have one child in particular who brings us to our knees, imploring for the wisdom of Heaven to rain down on us…asking for the Spirit of God to move mightily both in us as parents and in our child. This child, whose heart is so full of love, also, I’m convinced, has a spirit of antagonism that must be disciplined and reproved daily. If we fail to train this child to overcome and silence this tendency toward antagonism, it could lead to destruction down the road. In the very first family, Cain was filled with antagonism toward his brother Abel, and wanted to kill him. God showed up and warned Cain, “Sin is crouching at your door, and it desires to have you. But you must master it” (Genesis 4:7. Cain failed to master, or overcome, this temptation to sin, and it resulted in horrible destruction.
But here’s the deal…sin is crouching at all of our doors. At the door to every heart crouches pride, arrogance, disbelief, and the temptation to disobey. We must teach our kids to overcome their sin. If we can train our children to overcome their sin now, in their childhood, what a great gift we are giving them for the future.
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is grown he will not turn from it.” Now, I know that sometimes, godly parents do their absolute best and still their children turn away from Jesus and towards destructive living. I don’t claim to have any answers for that. But I think for those of us raising young children, we ought to concentrate our energy here on the word, “Train.” God’s Word doesn’t instruct us to yell at our kids about every act of disobedience, or bang the cupboard doors to show them how mad we are at them (guilty of both, by the way). God’s Word doesn’t tell us to pretend we didn’t notice the act of disobedience because we’re too tired to do anything about it (again, guilty). And God’s Word doesn’t tell us to helicopter over our children to make sure they’re not disobeying. No…God doesn’t suggest that we yell, ignore, or helicopter. God tells us to train. Training is long term. Training is never overnight. Training takes endurance, consistency, and planning. Training takes fortitude.
A couple of weeks ago Paul and I had another big stressful fight about discipline. I was ignoring too many defiances, and then coming down hard on Paul when he stepped into the situation more fervently than I considered appropriate and necessary. He said, “Rebecca, your inconsistencies in discipline confuse even me. How do you not see how confusing it is to our kids? They don’t listen to you because you don’t consistently expect them to listen to you. Then you get mad at them for not obeying. But you’ve trained them to not need to listen. And that leaves me no choice but to be the enforcer, all the time.” Ouch. That hurt. But it was the kind of hurt that led to repentance and change. My inconsistency isn't only unfair to my kids; it's also unfair to my husband. He wants to be fun and funny and playful too, but it's hard to do when he is carrying both his weight and my weight at discipline.
So, we're making plans: when this disobedience occurs, this is the consequence. When this happens, this happens, and so forth. It’s very imperfect, it’s been rather messy, but little tiny changes are beginning to take place. Training is never perfect...some days are good and some days are very bad. That's why it requires a plan and consistency. And I’ve found that when I am consistent, I don’t need to yell. (I realize that’s not rocket science…but it is a sweet discovery for me.) The disobedience occurs, I calmly and firmly enforce the consequence, and I can move on with my day without getting flustered, flabbergasted, and angry. I don’t need to slam cupboard doors and take it out on all the other people in my family, because I have a plan and I’m trying hard to follow it (Truth: Its been just a few days and I'm messing up a lot. But the days are getting a bit better so I have renewed hope).
God’s Word also doesn’t tell us to nit-pick every little thing. I simply cannot and refuse to care about every little thing. Little boys will break a lot of things in their play simply because they are, in fact, wired to build and destroy. My girls will have dramatic meltdowns and feel like the world is falling apart because they are, in fact, emotional spaghetti-brained females. We have no lamps in our living room because our boys broke them both. They weren’t disobeying when they broke the lamps…they were being boys, and the lamps were likely weapons of some sort. It’s sometimes frustrating, and sometimes needs redirecting, but it’s not all disobedience and it doesn’t all need to be disciplined. Over-disciplining becomes nagging, (which was my last confession), and will lead to over-burdened kids. Our job as parents is to figure out what does need to be disciplined, and what can we let go. And then, throw our energy into training our kids “in the way they should go.”
And more than anything, I think we need to know our end goal in discipline. Our end goal cannot be self-serving. I cannot teach my children to obey me simply for the end goal of me being the boss in all things. The end goal is to teach my children to obey God, and while they are under our household domain, obeying Mom and Dad is the first step to learning to obey God. (This is why I think “Because I said so” is a perfectly legit parenting tool...sometimes we have to obey even when we don’t understand.) We tell our kids that anytime Mom or Dad (or any other authority) tells them to do something that is in contradiction with Scripture, they are free to tell us “No.” But if our authority is in line with Scripture, then obeying Mom and Dad is part of obeying God.
And the end goal of obeying God is peace. And don’t we want peace for our kids? A spanking here and there now can reap peace in the future: As the writer of Hebrews states so beautifully, “[Our parents] disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:10-11)
Oh my…how I love God’s Word. So full of hope, all the time. When I discipline my kids, I help shape their hearts to be disciplined by God. And God’s discipline brings about “a harvest of righteousness and peace.” Yes. More than anything else, I want that for my kids. I want peace and righteousness to abound in their lives and hearts. And that will not happen if I scream and bang cupboard doors through their youth. It will only happen if my husband and I have a prayerful, mutual plan of discipline, so he doesn’t have to be the “Bad Guy” at home and so that I’m not a pushover who ignores everything until she erupts. We can have a calm and effective plan, that, when operated consistently, can reap peace in our household.
Oh, it’ll be messy no doubt. It’ll be flawed and I can't even fathom all the ways we'll be stumped in the years to come. But the good news is that God is never stumped by our flaws. He sees every act of disobedience coming before we even think it. He sees the sin that crouches at the door to our hearts. So when we have absolutely no idea how to discipline a certain behavior, we can ask the King of the Universe for input. And as we obey Him, even as parents, a harvest of peace will come to our family.
Amen to that.