“I spent much of my early years trying to do everything perfectly. Somehow I got the idea that if I did everything right – if I love my kids enough, use just the right discipline techniques, if I train them well enough in how to behave – I would never have to struggle in parenting them. My delusion even somehow included the idea that conflict would even disappear from my home, because I was doing everything properly. My kids would naturally want to obey me, sit at my feet and hear my words of wisdom, and, like Cinderella, my home would be a ‘happily ever after’ kind of place. I had ‘fixed’ them.
It was a delusion, alright. An arrogant, fanatical, un-Biblical idea, that I could singlehandedly purge the sin-nature right out of my children! If only I had known it is not so much about being perfect – and the guilt and exhaustion that inevitably accompany it – as it is about not giving up.”
Perfectly stated… and I can so relate. When I’m not careful I can adopt the mindset that my parenting methods could produce sinless kids and a perfectly harmonious household – fall into that lie of the enemy. From there I repent and re-embrace the “faith not formula” truth about child-raising – that it’s about relationship, unconditional love, and the cross; that we are sinners raising sinful children. This will not be easy, or always pretty, for any of us. It’s not supposed to be.
So that’s the context. Discipline techniques and methods vary; none are perfect or always “work” (to produce the changes – heart and behavior – that we hope for in our child); this is a lifelong journey. That said, lately as I’ve been reflecting on my own parenting journey over the past 18 months since my husband and I started parenting intentionally, I’ve been trying to distill the principles that have best helped and guided us in the progress God’s allowed us to make with our children. There’s nothing magical or right about my (current) “10 top principles“… They’ll likely change a month or a year from now, and your list is probably different. But I’ve found this exercise clarifying.
1. Childrearing is hard work and must be under girded with loads of prayer. Without prayer we’ll become discouraged, lose heart, and be unable to love our children well and fully. Praying for our children and for the wisdom to parent them aright keeps us humble, gives us vision, and brings joy to the journey. It allows us to stay mindful of God’s sanctifying work in us as we mother.
2. Love, faith, joy, and grace should be ample in homes where Christ-following parents are raising kids. We may not feel these qualities every day, but all should be present often. If we’re not enjoying, laughing, snuggling. adventuring with our kids in a regular way that’s life-bringing (to us and our kids), then we aren’t honoring God. More prayer and abiding can reverse things when we’re getting off track.
3. Parents’ role as authority figures to be respected and obeyed is foundational ; if children do not respect and regularly obey their parents, they will not readily receive training in any other arena. A lack of parental respect erodes a household’s order and harmony, draining parents of energy and enthusiasm for childrearing… creating an environment short on love, faith, joy, and grace.
4. More firmness is required in parenting our children than we’d like or sometimes would choose/expect; this part of parenting is the least fun but among the most necessary parts. Failing to be sufficiently firm (and by “sufficiently firm” I mean firm enough to ensure that children do not prevail over their parents in wilfulness or disrespect) is unloving, treating our children as if they were illegitimate.
5. Three irreplaceable facets of Christ-focused parenting are intentionality, timefulness, and consistency. Our focus must be on our children – their hearts and souls, in addition to their behavior – if we are to fulfill our calling to shape their character and help them develop an authentic faith.
6. Practice and repetition are critical components of child training. Children, like us, learn by repetition and through forming of habits. At least a dozen times per day, for example, I rephrase a child’s requests into more polite language and then require them to repeat me (saying it correctly). These iterations build polite manners and, over time, an others-focused viewpoint that is paramount.
7. Entitlement is everywhere in our culture– our TVs, activities, neighbors, interactions, ourselves – and it is our enemy. Life is not about us (nor is it centrally about enjoyment), and this is a lesson we – and our children – must internalize to love God well. Rooting out America’s “we deserve it” and rewards-based mentalities are worthwhile jobs if we want Christ to be central in our homes.
8. It’s unhelpful to view our kids’ ongoing character challenges/behavior issues as “normal for their age” or as “something they’ll grow out of.” Developmental stages do help us understand our children as they grow, and we do want to take into account our child’s age and capacities so we can treat them fairly. But sin is sin — and there’s a 15-month old way to sin and a 4-year old way to sin. We identify the sin and address it lovingly so that it not take root. Our culture maintains an absurdly low expectations for kids’ actions and attitudes that will derail us if we follow suit. (Ditto “they’re hungry/tired.” Yes, take this into account; have grace! But does God lower the bar, allow excuses, and permit sin whenever we’re having an off day?)
9. It’s possible to overdo child training and focus overmuch on obedience (a la Katherine’s quote above), to the exclusion of more important things like Jesus, love, the corss, and grace. The Holy Spirit and a big-picutre-view are critical to maintain a godly balance- and even then we’ll get it wrong sometimes and need to repent. We must parent within the Gospel bubble, keeping Jesus at the fore.
10. Comparing ourselves to other families and/or our children to other children is unhelpful and sinful. Our focus is to be on what God has given us, stewarding it optimally with the grace God supplies that’s sufficient for our specific task. Asking for advice or seeking a mentor to grow in areas of parenting is one thing (and commendable); envy and complaining spirits are from the enemy.
I’d love to hear items from your ‘top 10’… Feel free to share!