Recently there was a parenting series at our church. The pastor went over a simple principal teaching that parenting should look a lot like the relationship we have with God. He outlined principals for starting right, and finishing strong. I was struck by both the simplicity of this message and shocked by what I had been doing right and wrong. Then of course I was terrified by what was yet to come.
When you are parenting young children the days feel endless. You are buried in diapers and bottles. The missing binky or blanky can cause a world war III battle. There is no winning with a tired toddler. Some days go well and we can pat ourselves on the back, but others remind us that we could easily become that character from Girls Night Out. Somehow we get through it all, but along the way we make our fair share of mistakes.
So how should we model our parenting after God?
Look to your bible. In the old testament God gave Moses the Law, and in the New Testament God gave us Grace through his son.
Deuteronomy 6:6-9 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
If we model our parenting after these principals we will start with the law:
The law is rules. The law requires obedience, and there are consequences for disobedience. No one can ever truly keep the law we are all sinners, but the law teaches us about sin. The law also teaches us about forgiveness. Consequences teach us about actions and reactions. The law is good and has a purpose when parenting young children.
I often hear people say how could a baby be born sinful? Have you ever caught your toddler doing something bad? When you asked them why they did it, did they lie? It’s so funny because you just watched them do it, but they lie anyway. Some of their implausible crazy stories make us almost want to smile instead of punishing them, but the bottom line is even from a very young age children are capable of sinful behavior. So to combat this sin we create the law. The law is a set of rules that a child must abide by. The law teaches about morality, right and wrong, but most of all creates boundaries that are healthy for a child.
Some rules that I think are necessary:
1. Sleep rules: Bedtime, naptime, etc.
2. Rules about eating: What you will or won’t eat
3. Boundaries, for example, you are not allowed to get in the fridge or pantry, or medicine cabinet
The rest are really up to you. We have a child friendly version of the ten commandments that hangs in our dining area, near the time-out corner. When they are hurting each other we have them read number 6, or when they are mouthing off number 5, or when they lie number 9. Whatever the consequence for their behavior we try to remind them of the sinfulness of that choice. We also talk about forgiveness, prayer, and repentence. Saying I’m sorry and will you forgive me are important, but forgiving is also important. We teach our children to forgive each other as God has forgiven us. All of this amidst the chaos of parenting 4 small children.
Recently I had a friend come and visit with her small children. She is a kind loving mother, and she is a good Christian woman, but her children have no boundaries, no bed time, no rules for meals, and run the show. My husband and I sat back and watched her children not eat anything but candy and juice, climb on tables and chairs, run around screaming at midnight, and throw toys at their parents and each other. We were exhausted from just watching and at the end of the visit we were also shocked that they didn’t see it. It’s hard when you are living in it, but if your life feels like chaos it probably is, and quite possibly you could be doing everything right and your kids are still little monsters. Really my kids are some days. Of course I’ll be the first to say I am not doing everything right.
Your child’s behavior is not always a reflection of what you are doing as a parent. Good parents have bad kids and bad parents have good kids. It’s important to remember neither you nor your children should be defined by one choice. One of the greatest most powerful parts of parenting is reconciliation. However, sometimes nothing we do right will matter. The thing is free will means that you can choose to be the best most Godly parent you can be, but your child will also have choices. As parents it should be our goal to follow God’s plan and do our best, but we must also understand that our children make choices. Our parenting models the relationship he has with us. God set his rules, but he forgives us when we break them.
The greatest mistake we can make in parenting young children is providing too much Grace and not enough law. Young children must be taught that there are rules and consequences. If you or I does not teach them this they will go to school and struggle with rules because they are an unfamiliar thing. Imagine how scary school can be for a child who has never had to share, never experienced boundaries, and never been given consequences. As a parent of children who go to school I have heard these children’s names whispered in PTA meetings. They are that child who isn’t invited to parties, or is invited and tries to steal the presents from the birthday boy or girl. I once tried to integrate just such a child into my daughter’s friend circle. She is easygoing and popular with her peers. I thought her influence would make a difference, but I learned a hard lesson in parenting. What I accomplished was creating a rift for my daughter. Her friend’s parents had told them not to play with said child and so they no longer could play with her. I couldn’t fix what years of parenting had created, and to this day I watch that poor child struggle with peer relations, school rules, and academics. It breaks my heart, but I can’t fix it. However you and I can prevent it from being our children………………………….
Proverbs 19:18 Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death.