We’ve all had those days with our kids where they test us to our limits. They get dirtier and messier than we’d like. They ‘push’ our buttons. They whine and fight with each other. They’re ‘ungrateful’ for the treats they are given.
The question I’ve been mulling over is, what is our parenting leverage in those moments? What influence – other than our authority as care giver – do we possess to achieve the desired change in our children’s behaviour?
Often the default in those moments is punitive discipline – we come down hard on the behaviour so we can squeeze the bad ‘out’, so to speak. Loss of privileges, threatening, shaming, grounding or smacking are common parenting techniques used to quash behaviours we don’t like.
But recently I’ve begun to think about the whole issue of discipline very differently. This is because not only is discipline training – and therefore so much more than punishment – I’ve also realised how often parenting comes from a place of:
- Selfishness – making our lives easier
- Habit – what we were raised with
- Fear (of losing control or how others will judge our parenting)
The fact is, we are completely free NOT to use punishment if we don’t feel it to be the godly approach in that moment- even if we incur the judgment of those looking on.
I’m trying to reprogram myself not to immediately think- how can I stop this disobedience as soon as possible? Because discipline is not about making my life easier, or externals, or making sure people think I’m a great parent. It is being more concerned with the inward heart condition. How can I reach my child’s heart? How can I ensure they have a change of heart? How can I represent the loving authoritative discipline exemplified by Jesus?
Behaviour flows from the heart
Every behaviour has a cause – it comes from the thoughts and intents of the heart- how we understand the character of God, how we see ourselves, how we view others and how we perceive situations we are in. Actions are also influenced by our desires, wounds, hurts and unmet needs from situations and people.
So when I’m seeing unacceptable behaviour in my kids, I’ve found it helpful to ask myself, where is this coming from? And how can I respond like Jesus would?
Because while I thought of God as a cold, distant father, I ran from him, so I could hide from his scathing displeasure and conceal my shame.
But once I understood that it was actually when I was at my worst, when I didn’t love God or obey any of his laws, that Jesus chose to die for me, I wanted to live to please Him as best as I could.
Once I grasped that my Heavenly Father was infinitely close and loving in the times I messed up the most- my heart was captured by Him forever.
I’m not talking about a wishy washy kind of love that doesn’t confront or deal with behaviour. Christ’s love paints a very clear picture for us of our sin and how much we fall short of his standards. Wrongdoing should incur appropriate consequences. However, at the same time, this love covers our shame, and embraces us unconditionally while we are still in the mess of it.
It’s a question of love, for goodness sake.
…Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. (1 John 4:18)
- Do our kids run from us, or to us, when they do something wrong?
- Does understanding the great love of God make us want to run from Him, or to Him?
It is His goodness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4)
So next time your child disobeys you, you might find it helpful to ask:
- ‘How would God show His love to them in this moment?’
- ‘What does divine goodness look like in this situation?’
- ‘How can I make my children aware they have done wrong whilst at the same time assure them of my deep, unconditional and constant love for them?’
What are we teaching?
Maybe ‘teaching our children a lesson’ doesn’t always teach the lesson we want. When punishment is our automatic reaction, they learn that bad things happen when they misbehave. But they don’t learn how to change direction completely. When we know we are loved despite our mistakes, we are free to work on them.
So if I want to reflect in my parenting the love that my Heavenly Father has for my kids, and allow change to happen from the inside out rather than the outside in, it is definitely worth the effort to invest in loving influence as well as firm authority.
Don’t get me wrong, I fail at this every day of my life. I get it wrong many times a day. At times I’m harsh and anything but an example of God’s love or goodness. That’s when I’m all the more thankful for His loving kindness and mercies that are ever new.