Realistic Parenting: What Have We Gotten Ourselves Into?
We’ve found that most young couples when they have their first child are unrealistic in their perspective on parenting. I suppose that goes with many things when you just start out. That’s wonderful, of course, that you have a positive perspective on the role that God has given you. Those of us who have had children know how miraculous the birth of a baby is. So, when a child is born, we can rejoice in the beauty and wisdom of God’s design for us as parents. And yet, we believe there is a difference between rejoicing and being excited about a new child on the one hand but being careful not to idolize our child on the other. We should love our children, but we shouldn’t worship them! As we’ll find out soon enough, they’re sinners. You can’t just always give them what they want when they want it. You soon realize the need for discipline and instruction.
One of the perennial issues in parenting is disciplining our children. Whose task is it and what is the best way to do that? What are some helpful principles in that regard?
Andreas: OK, before we talk about discipline—and we’re hardly experts here and have made many mistakes—I want to point out that Scripture says discipline is ultimately the responsibility of the father. In our book, we cite numerous Scripture passages in that regard. Eph 6:4 says: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” The parallel passage in Col 3:21 says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” Heb 12:7–11 is another great passage on discipline, and, of course, the book of Proverbs. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the mother won’t ever discipline her children, far from it. But she will do so in conjunction with her husband who will lead his family in that area.
Margaret: So, the mother is central in the home and the nurture and instruction of the children, so she will be very much involved in the discipline of the children. When it comes to discipline, we’re adapting here something Andreas has already written about in his earlier book God, Marriage, and Family where he talks about 6 principles of parental discipline, namely:
- being consistent and predictable (in other words, not erratic and random);
- discipline needs to be age-appropriate (discipline is different for a 2-year-old than it is for a 16-year-old, and in between; the life cycle changes every 3 to 6 months);
- being fair and just (obviously, the discipline that is given out should be in relation to what needs to be addressed and an appropriate response to what the child did wrong or needs instruction in);
- being child-specific (every child has a different personality, sensitivities, different giftedness, so removing a privilege for one child may be more effective than that same privilege being removed in another child’s life);
- being administered in love rather than anger (so, the goal is not to be punitive or volatile in addressing a disciplinary issue);
- overall being future-oriented and forward-looking (the idea is to promote growth and maturity, not to make a child feel incapable of growing and learning in the joy of the Lord and the life God has given them); and
- exercising discipline in the context of a relationship between parent and child (so, as a result of disciplining your child, your relationship with your child should grow to be deeper and move in an even more positive direction). In the book, we spell each of these out in greater detail.
There’s obviously no perfect formula for disciplining our children. In addition to the principles you just enunciated, what are some other practical tips to keep in mind here?
Margaret: Let’s just give a few examples here. One key thing is to realize that because our children are born sinners and remain sinners throughout their lives that there is a tendency in children to manipulate their parents, both overtly and covertly. So, it’s important to be aware of this and to deal with your child in a way that acknowledges this tendency and to be discerning.
Andreas: They don’t have to always have the latest toy—or smart phone—and often make requests that are unreasonable or ask for things we either can’t afford or that wouldn’t be good for them to have.
Margaret: So, one way to deal with this is to speak directly to your child in an age-appropriate way about his or her innate tendency to sin. Of course, we would need to include in this discussion the truth about grace, and Christ’s redemption, and the fact that if they have received Christ, the Holy Spirit is going to work in their hearts and minds to help them with this.
Andreas: Finally, help your child focus on others rather than themselves. The family can be a place where we can learn to respect others and treat them with dignity. So, in view of the fact that our children are sinners, as parents, we can be discerning in dealing with this tendency and model what it looks like to be sacrificial rather than catering to our self-centeredness. We can also lead our children in serving others in our family and elsewhere as well.