Char and I found that respecting, enjoying, loving, and spending time with each child created a strong friendship between us that has carried over to our adult children now. In the last lecture, we discussed the affirming aspects of the parent-child relationship. That habit by itself would give an unbalanced impression, as would this habit by itself. The affirmation of the last lecture contributes to the confidence of our children, and the training and discipline of this lecture contributes to their cheerful obedience. Keep in mind that the father in both lectures is the same. The two features of our relationship—affirmation and discipline—work in tandem. The strong friendship formed by affirmation provides support for our program of training them in the ways of the Lord. If children are not confident it may be because they were not affirmed enough. But when it comes to obedience, there seems to be an even more direct relationship between consistent, loving, and firm discipline and cheerful obedience.
The previous lecture, hopefully, was fun for you to read. Bear in mind that the “medicine” of this lecture contributes significantly to the “health” of that one. The results of the policies recorded here give me courage to share them. Small doses of consistent, loving and firm training produce many years of long-range benefits. It is comparable to the young sapling that can be made to grow in a certain way, but after it becomes a large tree, it remains in the position it was shaped to.
The term "punishment" is used deliberately. Whether prison for criminals or spanking for children, punishment is a matter of justice being done. Certainly, there is a role for mercy, but mercy without justice becomes not only unjust, but unmerciful. Departments of "Correction" have failed massively at correcting because they have made the violator into the victim. When we punish our children, we teach them that actions and choices have consequence and that God's standards must be taken seriously. You can find a fuller discussion of this issue in C.S. Lewis' "The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment" in God in the Dock.
Obedience and Confidence
From the beginning of our parenting experience, Char and I took the position that if our children were disobedient, it was our fault. We wanted to accept our parental responsibility. Observing different parents’ discipline policies, or lack of them, over the years, confirms that our early hypothesis was right. Though there may be some unique exceptions, if children are not generally obedient, it is their parent’s responsibility. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1). “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord” (Colossians 3:20). It is true that these verses address children, but isn’t it the responsibility of the parent to teach them? And, interestingly, teaching obedience also contributes to a child’s confidence.
I have seen parents scolding their disobedient children in the supermarket with heated accusation in the tone of their voice asking, “Why are you so disobedient? Why don’t you listen to me? Why don’t you do what I say?” The public scolding of disobedient children does not contribute much to their obedience and even less to their confidence. Sometimes there is a bit of a rascal in me. If I had the nerve, cooperation of the child, and were a good ventriloquist, I would put these words in the mouth of the accused to say to the parent: “Because you never taught me obedience. You never required it of me consistently.” When children know where the behavioral boundaries are and that they will be enforced, they learn how to function confidently within them. If they do not know where the boundaries are, they feel the constant need to conduct tests to find the boundaries. They are therefore often tentative—not confident.
Well-defined, consistently, and firmly-enforced perimeters for acceptable behavior are great contributions to confidence and character development in children. If these future adults do not learn obedience early, it is a life-long handicap. Moms and dads have a tremendous privilege and responsibility to bring up obedient, responsible, caring, and mature citizens.
The ways of the Lord include both attitudes and behavior. In our training program and discipline policy, we tried to teach, not just good behavior, but also good attitudes. We wanted our children not only to behave correctly but also think correctly. This does not mean they had to share our opinions, but they were required to have the correct attitudes. For example, we insisted, not only on obedience, but willing, cheerful, and prompt obedience. To encourage this, we expected them to respond with, “Okay, Daddy,” or “Okay, Mommy.” If they were whining, we would say, “Now say that same thing over again, but take the whine out of your voice.” Then we would wait until they got it right. We wanted our children to grow up knowing how to cheerfully obey and relate to us so that when they were on their own they would cheerfully obey and relate to their heavenly Father.
Neither of our sons was a pushover. We did not want them to be. But we did want the power of their personalities to remain under control. For example, we never allowed our sons to hit each other. They were required to express their views persuasively with the force of their ideas, not the volume of their voice or superior physical strength. Taking the time to walk them through this helped them develop self-confidence. In debating ideas with them, I still take great delight when one of them, with good reasons, successfully challenges an idea of mine.
A God of Order
The responsibility and authority parents have over their children comes from a God of order. God wants order in family, church, and society even in this present temporary state on earth. The family is the arena wherein God’s order is first taught and enforced. When children leave home for a day to go to school, or for months or years at a later period in life, they carry with them the behaviors and attitudes they learned at home. Yet there is another more far-reaching reason for learning obedience and order.
There are awesome privileges and responsibilities that go with being created in the image of God and, to comprehend them, we need to think beyond mere earthly life to our eternal life. Ultimately becoming highly effective Christians goes far beyond the question of spending eternity in either heaven or hell, though, of course, that is part of it. God is producing a royal group of priests and kings who will be His worshippers and vice-regents in His universe for eternity. In order for the eternal scheme to work correctly, we need to learn obedience in this lifetime. If we learn obedience well and prove ourselves worthy of responsibility in this life, there are eternal rewards of privilege, dominion, and self-fulfillment available in the next. Preparation for the fulfillment of God’s dream for each of us to become highly effective Christians—our best possible selves—begins with parents training children. The very risk that makes mankind unique from all other animals—a free will with a capacity for dominion—makes learning obedience necessary, and parents are given the responsibility to begin it.
Friendship with Children
It is not contradictory to be both a friend of your child and also his disciplinarian. You heard in the previous lecture about the strong friendship and affirming nature of the relationships we cultivated with our sons. Below you will read of the practical ways we implemented our disciplinary program. As far as I can tell, the two roles were never confused in our son’s minds. They never felt we were being inconsistent. They knew that our posture towards them was basically affirming, yet when their behavior merited it, our role would automatically change. Their “friend” became God’s law enforcement officer—both in one person. Let me explain further.
My role as “friend” and my role as “judge” never interfered with each other. Grudges from discipline were never carried over into our play times. When court was in session, they did not try to use the friendship element to curry favor. If you want to be a friend to your children, do not think that being a pushover as a disciplinarian improves your chances. Your friendship will be deeper if they respect you. “We have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it” (Hebrews 12:9). Their respect for you is not based on your being soft; it is based on your integrity and justice. Integrity is a strict consistency between what you think, say, and do. Justice is a consistent and unbiased enforcement of clear and fair rules. If you are consistent and just, your role as judge and chief penal officer will never interfere with your friendship.
Loving and Firm Discipline
In the early seventies, we attended a seminar conducted by Bill Gothard. Some of the following ideas we learned then. Others we picked up as the years went by. These sixteen principles are included here, not as someone’s academic theory, but as the way we actually did it. We used these policies as we trained our children. If you habitually apply them in an affirming, respectful, and loving atmosphere, they will contribute to the process God will use to make your children confident and obedient.
1. Husband and wife should agree on the boundaries.
Children know if there is a weak link, and will divide parents if they can in order to escape discipline. It is difficult enough enforcing rules even when both parents are equally committed to the process, but lack of agreement further complicates this, introducing confusion in the child. Gaining obedience from our children begins with just rules, clearly explained. Children must also perceive rules as continuously “in effect,” regardless of which parent is the enforcer. Agreeing on the rules is also a good developmental experience for the parents: they learn how to negotiate, and the process helps produce good and fair rules.
2.Be consistent; keep promises.
Some parents only enforce the rules when they are angry, which teaches the child that disobedience is tolerated at some times, but not at others. To be sure, the mood or emotional condition of the parent may change from day to day, but that is all the more reason to evaluate behavior by rules rather than the emotion of the moment. When rules are made out of necessity after careful reflection and are consistently enforced, the child learns to behave consistently.
Action is more effective than threats. Threats soon become empty. To say you are going to punish such and such behavior and then not do it, teaches the child that your words mean nothing. Your child loses the opportunity to grow in accountability, you lose the respect of the child and your relationship with the child suffers. Administer punishment when punishment has been promised. That develops a sense of justice and accountability in your child.
3. Establish clear rules.
Clear rules make for easier enforcement. Rules are developed in response to life situations. Through rules it becomes clear what the child may and may not do, must and must not do. When rules are clearly defined, everyone knows when they have been broken. Clear rules provide the necessary background for the establishment of guilt, which is an important step we will observe shortly. If there are no clear rules, how can guilt be established?
Along with giving clear rules, we must also give explanations for the rules. These life-related teaching moments provide opportunities for us to help our children make sense of life. “Because I said so,” doesn’t teach a child much, but what child would not understand this explanation: “Because if you say that to her, you will hurt her feelings. That will make her sad and maybe she won’t want to play with you anymore. And that would make you sad.”
4. If there has been no previous rule, there should be no punishment at the first offense—only instruction.
Children don’t know something is wrong until it has been defined as wrong. As children grow up and become stronger, more creative and more able to do things, the list of rules needs to keep pace with their growth. If possible wrongs can be anticipated by the parents before the growing child is able to misbehave in a new way, then a rule can be established ahead of time and guilt established and punished at the first offense. However, if new situations create new wrongs that are not defined, there should be no punishment—only instruction—on the occasion of the first offense.
5. Begin early. Even babies can learn the meaning of “yes” and “no.”
If your new baby is allowed, he will rule your whole home and all your activities from his crib. He will tell you when to turn off the lights and when it is time to play. Our first confrontation with Dan was when he came “home” on his eighth day, and, for the first time in his life, the lights were turned off at the time for him to sleep. Gently and firmly we taught him he was not to cry when the lights went out. To do this, we first checked to make sure there was no physical discomfort, and, then again closed his room door. When he cried again, I reentered the room, and said a firm, “No!” and exited the room. He stopped crying, though we had already agreed to let him cry himself to sleep if it took that. As the months go by, gently and firmly teaching crawling babies where they can go and where it is safe for toddlers to put their hands is not only possible; it is necessary. They can learn early to become responsible and accountable members of a family.
We had a forbidden fruit in our home. Every Christmas we set up a delicate clay nativity set on our coffee table. This was within reach of our toddlers, but they were not to touch it. It provided an opportunity for them to learn obedience. For many years we enjoyed that nativity set. It finally broke up from our packing and unpacking it so many times, not from abuse. Children can learn early to obey. Let’s not deny them the opportunity to learn obedience when it is easiest.
6. Go to a private place for discipline.
In teaching and disciplining our children, our intent is not to embarrass, but to instruct and punish. When a child is punished in front of other people, their attention is not on the instructions the parents may be trying to give them; their attention is on themselves and their embarrassment. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have learned this wonderful secret. The times of training we had with our sons were intimate and fruitful, in part because we went to a place alone and gave our undivided attention to each other.
7. Acknowledge that the child is trying to be good, but made a mistake.
We all live with the contradiction that we want to do right, yet do wrong. We knew our sons’ hearts. We knew they wanted to obey and please God. In our discussion of the offense before administering punishment, we acknowledged that we knew they wanted to do right. Don’t tell the child he or she is bad; instead say, “That was a bad thing to do.” If we say, “You are a bad child,” we may build or contribute to a self-image of being bad which will work against the child and us in later years. If we tell the child they are good, but did something bad, we are giving them a good image to try to live up to while at the same time dealing with the reality that they did do something wrong that deserves to be punished.
8. Display, sorrow, not anger; create an atmosphere of repentance. Sorrow softens the heart; anger hardens it. Our children’s reaction to our anger and attack is usually self-defense. There are plenty of times that we are angry when our children disobey and none of us responsible parents wants to punish our children in anger. Not wanting to punish your child in anger, however, is not a good enough reason to not punish them. Control your emotions, maintain your composure, get over your anger, and proceed with the process because it is right, not because you are angry.
The reaction to sorrow is sorrow—a precursor to repentance, so even if sorrow is not the main emotion you are feeling, let it be the emotion you are displaying when punishing. How many times with sorrow in my voice would I lament, “Oh, Danny, it makes Daddy so sad to see you disobey!” or “Oh, Joey, it makes Daddy so sad to know that I have to spank you!” Our display of sorrow makes the lasting impression that we really care about their behavior. If we love our children it will make us sorrowful to see them misbehave. I can remember spanking our boys, often with tears of sorrow and sympathy running down my face.
If perchance you have punished your children in anger in the past, or if this new policy of controlled discipline takes a little practice on your part before you perfect your skills, it is better to be transparent and honest with your children than to distance them with parental pride. When we made mistakes, we confessed them and asked for forgiveness. Far from losing respect in the eyes of your child, to the contrary, your integrity, honesty, and confession wins more respect as long as it is genuine. Children are quite willing to forgive our confessed weaknesses. Confessing our weaknesses and asking their forgiveness gives us parents an opportunity to model an attitude we want them to develop toward God and others.
9. Establish guilt by asking “Who made the mistake?”
The child soon learns to answer: “I did.” Earlier, we talked about making clear rules. The reason for that was so that when we get to this stage we need only ask the right question and the child, who knows what the clear rules say, also knows that he clearly broke it. By requiring the child to answer this question, the child is acknowledging that his misbehavior precipitated this disciplinary session. It is very freeing to the sympathetic parent to hear the child acknowledge guilt. We can proceed with a clear conscience and confidence. Our child has only himself to thank that he is being punished. Parents don’t have to carry any false sense of guilt, as though punishing the children was the parents’ fault.
10. Establish authority by asking “Who says I am to punish you?”
The child soon learns to answer, “God.” This shows the child that the parent is also obeying an authority. The child can understand and appreciate that just as children are to obey parents, so parents themselves are also under God’s authority, which makes the whole family judicial process much more objectively fair in their minds. Parents are not out to “get” the child; parents are under authority to train the child. When the child grows up, he, too, will become immediately responsible to God. God gives “spankings,” too. “The Lord disciplines those he loves, and punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (Hebrews 12:6). Accountability and obedience are issues we all will live with for a life-time. Children seem to be able to understand this to a wonderful degree, which makes our job as parents much less difficult. When we administer punishment, we are obeying God.
Training children to be obedient involves disciplining ourselves in order to consistently discipline them. Char’s and my determination to consistently, lovingly, and firmly train and discipline was due to our belief that this was what God wanted. We knew that and our boys knew that. Otherwise, the parental protection instinct would have prevented us from harming our sons. We are under authority to use authority. When we require obedience, we are obeying; when we allow disobedience, we are disobeying.
11. Establish the proper motive for correction.
Ask, “Why am I punishing you?” The child should answer, “Because you love me.” Children can understand explanations, and by giving them, we honor, respect, and teach our children justice. When they know the rightness of our actions, it makes receiving punishment less traumatic. The Bible is clear, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him” (Proverbs 13:24). We punish our children because we love them. There are a thousand and one reasons we can think of for not punishing them. They are so sweet, so cute, so innocent, I don’t want to punish them in anger, I don’t want to alienate them, I want to be kind, it hurts me so to hurt them, etc. None of these is enough, however, to stop a parent who loves a child from justly punishing clear disobedience to a clear rule.
Goodness and kindness are not the same things, though they are both fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). We are to be good, and we are to be kind. But, when I am punishing my child I am not being kind. In punishment, my unkind behavior is an intentional exception to my normally kind demeanor toward that child. Punishment in a consistent, loving, and firm way is good. The offending child has brought on himself the consequence of his misbehavior, and good parents will keep their promises and punish the child. A bad parent will be kind at the wrong time and in so doing will teach their child that disobedience is okay. A good parent will be unkind at the right time and discipline his child. “Discipline your son, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to his death” (Proverbs 19:18). “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 12:11).
Let’s consider for a moment the legitimacy of physical punishment. Some prefer other forms of punishment: denying their children this, requiring that, subtracting from allowance, making them stay in their room, making them face the wall or sit in the corner, etc. The Bible, however, clearly and in numerous places, refers to the “rod.” “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15).
Unfortunately, there are parents who are out of control and punish their children in anger. Emotions out of control are a tragedy anytime, but especially when little ones are injured in body or spirit. We have all heard horror stories, and some of us have experienced those horrors. We shun the notion that we would ever want to harm our children. Nevertheless, we are faced with instructions in the Bible and should not allow others’ misuse of physical punishment to prevent us from its proper use. There are lots of good things that are misused, but we continue to use them—only correctly. Which of us wants to stop eating just because some overeat, or stop sleeping just because some oversleep or stop making love just because some commit sexual violence? The solution to misuse is correct use, not to abandon use. We can spank our children, but do it properly—lovingly, consistently, and firmly—and achieve excellent results.
12. Tell the child the number of swats in advance.
Advance notice of the number of swats to be received shows that punishment is a deliberate, calculated, and fair process, not a resolution of parental emotion or anger. Advance notice forces the parent to make a just decision and gives an opportunity to the child to respond. If our son said, “My brother did this same thing yesterday and only got three swats. Why are you giving me four?” we listened. The limited participation of the child in the discussion of numbers was welcome in our home. We allowed discussion, but we all knew that the parent had the final authority to establish the number. In our house, if there was a second offence within a day, the second punishment was automatically twice the number of swats. We sometimes reminded our sons of this as a warning against future disobedience.
The Bible instructs fathers, particularly, not to be too rigid in their requirements on their children. I love it that Scripture holds up a standard of uncompromising fairness. “Fathers do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21). Discussion of the number of swats in advance demonstrates the fairness of the judicial process.
13. Use a neutral instrument; hands are for loving.
You will notice that the Bible speaks of an instrument for punishment. “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him” (Proverbs 13:24, italics mine). The specificity of the Bible, seems to not only require physical punishment, but punishment with a neutral instrument. There are several good reasons for following Proverbs closely.
I have seen children fear the hand of their parents. This is most unfortunate. When we go into a private place and work our way through the steps described above, by the time we get to the use of the “rod,” we have already been together for a while. The child knows this is not a vindictive attack; it is deserved punishment, required by God of parents who love their children. My hands wrestled in play and caressed in love. Our sons did not fear those hands. There was no confusion in our boys’ minds, between those hands and the instrument of punishment in those same hands, when correction occurred.
We used paint sticks most of the younger years of our sons. Paint sticks were light and had enough flat surface to spread the impact over considerable amount of skin so as to make injury unlikely. We also required the removal of clothing because the instrument was so light. The point is to inflict pain, not cause damage. During junior high, the frequency of spankings was greatly reduced, and it seems like the last one was about the junior year of high school. In those final years, I used a flat belt, but by high school the “young sapling” had already become a “fine tree,” almost always standing in the right position.
14. Encourage crying.
My biggest difficulty with requiring a child to sit, wait, stand, stare, or pay a fine is that there is no point for emotional release of sorrow from godly repentance. Spanking aids repentance because it provides an appropriate moment for crying. Punish severely enough that they cry. The child will feel refreshed, relieved, and cleansed by this process. Spankings are also over more quickly than the long drawn out types of punishment. In the final analysis, spanking, and crying is consistent with the teachings of Scripture. God is a good enough psychologist to know that tears are good for us in this instance.
15. Show immediate love.
Loving hugs are consistent with loving spankings. As divergent as the two behaviors are—spanking and hugging—our two sons always understood what each of them meant. Furthermore, our sons were not the only ones to endure the spankings and enjoy the hugs! Hugs affirm that neither the child nor the parent is rejected, but both are still dearly loved. We found that times of punishment were ultimately very intimate and endearing times. We didn’t talk about the up-coming hugs during the process outlined above, but as the years went by, we all knew that the hugs were coming. There was only one time I did not hug one of our sons after punishment. I will tell you that story shortly.
The hugs should be given by the same parent who gave the punishment. We don’t want the child to have any confusion regarding justice and love on the part of both parents. Each parent should support the punishment the other has administered. That is why clear rules are established by both parents to begin with.
16. Pray together that this doesn’t happen again.
This final step clearly involves God in the process and shows the child you really support them. By the time we have gone through a very sincere time praying that God will help the child to behave correctly so as to not need spankings in the future, the child is well aware that you don’t enjoy punishing. The prayer to be able to avoid future spankings also helps form a closer parent-child alliance. Both are on the same side, and sin is the enemy. These last two steps—the expression of love and prayer together—brings the punishment session to a very positive, affectionate, and spiritual conclusion.
Working your way through these sixteen points takes time. Allow time to go through all of the steps. Training children is neither an unimportant sideline nor a brief interruption of other more important duties.
Even Though It Is Not Easy
Our children were required to obey whether we parents were present or not. Obedience with us was a matter of principle—not just fearing being caught by parents. This policy was carefully and regularly reviewed with babysitters and kindergarten teachers. To reinforce this policy, when our sons began their elementary school careers, one of our family rules was that our boys had to obey their school teachers. If they got into trouble at school, they had a second punishment coming at home—because they had also broken a family rule. At the beginning of each new school year, I would explain this family rule to our boys’ new teachers. Only a few times during our twenty-plus years of parenting did I have to act on this rule.
When one of our sons was in the first grade, however, there was a time when it was particularly difficult to enforce this policy. And yet it was particularly beneficial to our first grader as we look back with hindsight. The first grade teacher involved seemed to especially desire to put our son in his place. Our natural inner inclination was to defend him, but we refused to give in to that desire and, instead, required him to submit to the teacher. One day his resentment toward her was expressed by defecating in his pants. The school principal insisted that this was deliberate on our son’s part and that he was showing rebellion. In spite of the difficulty I had believing our innocent son was guilty of such horrendous behavior, I took him home, and Char and I discussed the situation. It was difficult for us to enforce our own rule when the teacher seemed to have her own agenda for our son. That same school year, a neighbor girl and her parents had a disagreement with that same teacher regarding a grade. The teacher asked the parents, “Well, what grade do you want me to give your daughter?” They asked for and obtained an “A.” We, however, refused to take the easy way out. Our son would earn his grades and obey his teacher; we would ask for no special favors. Because of the severity of the offence, we agreed to eight swats and, beginning with item six above, proceeded through the policies you just read. We were glad to be past that.
However, when I went to pick up our boys the next afternoon, I learned that our son did the same thing again! I have already mentioned that we had a rule regarding repeat offences: twice the punishment the second time around if it was soon after the first offence. That would mean I was required by our own family rules to swat my son sixteen times. Never before or since have I ever been required to inflict such pain. It had already been difficult requiring our son to submit to a vindictive teacher, and I was severely torn by the situation. We drove home from school in silence. I was already showing great sorrow, and our son knew it was genuine. After consultation with Char, I entered the boy’s bedroom and executed our agreed plan. I explained that even though normally we had hugs and a prayer after punishment, this time he would do without hugs and was to have his own prayer time. We went through all the other steps, once again beginning with item six. With my jaw firmly set and tears streaming down my face, I counted out the sixteen swats and left the room. Our son wept. I wept. Char wept. It was one of the most difficult times I ever had in all our years of parenting.
What we didn’t realize was that the childcare and kindergarten experiences in Korea had taught our son he could get away with much. Treatment of his classmates had not been as good as we thought. Respect for his teachers had not been what we had thought. It took this very difficult time, with two days in a row of severe spankings, for our son’s stubbornness to be broken. Yes, we had to continue the discipline as the years went by, but never again did he need to repeat that awful experience. For many years after that, he was kind to classmates and younger children. He was respectful to teachers and obeyed cheerfully. It didn’t all depend on just those two days, but they were a definite turning point. I would much rather handle the discipline myself when our child was in the first grade than need even more severe measures from other authorities later in his life. After all, he was our responsibility.
Easing Off and Letting Go
As children grow up, tactics should be adjusted as parents continue to build on the foundation established earlier. Teenagers are like young adults in many respects and by respecting their dignity while still requiring obedience, we do them and ourselves a favor. As children become teenagers ease off on the controls. In a healthy relationship, in which confidence and obedience have developed in younger and more formative years, parents will be just as eager to release their teenagers as the teenagers are ready and eager to be released. We found that the greater amounts of trust that we gave our sons at this stage had an affirming and sobering effect on them. We gradually released them to experience “God’s spankings” instead of ours. Their developed consciences enabled them to discern when God was giving them corrective nudges. Today as adults, they still know how to interpret the signals.
The Joys of Success
When our children were small, we heard people say, “Enjoy them while they are small because later you can’t do anything with them.” We never agreed with that terrible statement. Requiring obedience of our children produced immediate and long-term benefits. We have thoroughly enjoyed our children from the beginning until now. It is the repeated compliments we have received on the character and obedience of our sons that give me the courage to share with you here how we did it.
In habit eight, we learned that married partners grow in character as a result of learning how to work together. Either personal character growth occurs or each party remains less than they could be. The parent-child relationship has similar potential for personal growth. As we discipline our children, we learn much about how Father God works with us. Our own character develops, and we are drawn close to our children as we obey Scripture and require them to obey.
Exercising the self-discipline to consistently, lovingly, and firmly discipline and teach our children is yet another way for us to become our best possible selves. I found that working my way through the twenty years our sons lived with us was a personal developmental process in itself. Deciding to have children is a decision to accept responsibility and improve ourselves, too, as a result of what we learn raising children. Scripture even lists control over children as one of the qualifications of church leaders. “He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)” (I Timothy 3:4,5). We are to raise our children well because it is right to do so, not just to qualify for Christian ministry, but God’s using a well-ordered home as a standard for measuring spiritual leaders argues for the virtue of disciplining children and teaching obedience. God trains us in many ways, and one of them is by requiring us to train our children in our homes.
Much of what you have read here is based on our own experience—a Christian home with two parents who loved God and each other. Char and I also agreed on the principles very early. We both worked hard to implement them consistently. There were two of us, and we supported each other. But, realistically, we know that not all children have two parents united in their desire to give the time and effort to parenting recommended here. What of today’s children of single parents? Or your children may already have grown several or more years before you discovered the need to begin consistent, loving, and firm discipline. What happens when we start late? What do we do in these situations?
My students in seminary have asked these same questions. I suggest to them that they have a family meeting and explain their previous shortcomings, accept the responsibility for them, and announce the new policies. In one case, there was a dramatic change within several weeks with only minor difficulties remaining. My student’s wife, Kathy, was joyous as she told me about the changes and the increased participation of her husband, Dan. Children are resilient. They will bounce back. As soon as children begin to discover the rewards and greater liberties and trust that go with enforced rules, they will join the alliance.
Handling Children in Less Than Ideal Circumstances
As in any case, when we learn new information that helps solve an existing problem, we have to start where we are. When we begin to apply the teachings of Scripture, God will honor our efforts, hear our prayers, and support us through the changes. When the new policy for punishment is begun, admit that part of the pain is because of your own previous failure. By accepting that responsibility, you and the child are on the same side, on the same team against disobedience. When you show sorrow over your past failure and over the disobedience of your child, your sorrow can be used by God to soften the heart of your disobedient child.
The hugs and prayer time at the end are extremely important. In the single parent situation, it is an especially important affirmation of the new two-party alliance against a common enemy—disobedience. The emotional alliance between the single parent and the child against disobedience is important because neither has anyone else to turn to for support. In this case, the “penal officer” and the “convict,” who are usually on opposite sides, strangely join forces and together conquer the dragon of disobedience—instead of being divided by disobedience, they are united in their alliance against it. The hugs confirm that learning obedience is neither competition for power nor personal or unkind vengeance. Rather, it is a God-given way to bring His blessings into the home now. When the child becomes an adult, he will be glad his single parent had the courage to make the change. God is at the top of the authority chain, and He who established the authority and responsibility will personally help make His purpose succeed.
Ours is not the first generation with single parents. You and I can both think of widows (like Char’s grandmother) and widowers who did well in their parenting roles. If a single parent were to use his disadvantage as an excuse to not raise obedient children, then he and his children have an even greater disadvantage—that he thinks he is excused.
Marriage and parenting are both great experiences. It is only when we do not keep God’s rules that our families are robbed of the joy and character development God intended between spouses and between parents and their children. And because not just we, but our children also, develop when we raise well-disciplined, respectful, and confident children, two generations of highly effective Christians are produced.