When it comes to becoming a great parent, all of us need help. As we have seen, being a parent is a high calling and to be successful we must be willing to make ourselves available to learn all we can.
There is no end to the self-help books available about parenting but one of the best I have discovered is John F. MacArthur Jr.’s Successful Christian Parenting. In it he refers to the apostle Paul’s admonition to fathers in his letter to the church in Ephesus. Paul states that fathers should not provoke their children to anger but rather they should raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Advice from the Bible
Last week we considered the first six strategies that MacArthur uses to fulfil Paul’s mandate for parents not to be parental provokers. This week we will consider four more:
7) Avoid neglecting your child. As parents we all occasionally become too busy. There are a lot of demands on our lives, and often when things become overwhelming or our margins are too thin the first relationships that are neglected are those with our children.
Whether our career has become too demanding or our relationships are strained, all it takes is a couple of missed commitments with our kids and they know exactly where they stand on the totem pole of our life.
To avoid such neglect, make sure you are setting significant time out of your schedule each week for them. If you have trouble with too full a calendar, then take time to schedule your kids in, and don’t let anyone or anything interfere with these commitments.
For many years back in the United States I established regular daddy-daughter dates as part of my weekly schedule. However, in Budapest it has become very difficult to fit in everything.
Reading a book, playing a game, going for walks or on an adventure of some sort are all wonderful things you can do with your little people. Don’t neglect them. Rather, fight for the time that you have committed to them. Don’t wait for your kids to find what they are longing for from you through someone else.
8) Avoid an attitude of condescension with your child. No one likes a know-it-all. No one wants to hang out with someone who is full of himself. When you spend time with your kids, you too can express a sense of wonder and excitement as you encounter the world together.
Yes, we all know that you know more than they do (I certainly hope so). But that doesn’t mean you should be constantly belittling their sense of wonder or their fledgling efforts at a new activity.
Yes, you can draw it better. Yes, you can throw it further. Yes, you can win Candy Land again. But if you always demonstrate to your kids that you are superior in every way, if you aren’t careful you might bring them to a place of exasperation and apathy.
Sentiments such as “why should I try if dad always makes me feel like a loser” or “why is my effort never good enough for mom?” can become very powerful life-dominating motifs in the lives of our children. If you are always looking down on them as if they are some sort of inferior race, you will do them a great disservice.
Mutual learning goes further
Rather, how awesome would it be for you to come alongside your kids as opposed to coming down on them. Obviously with respect to discipline and authority the buck does stop with you as the parent. But even in discipline you don’t have to shove things back on your kids, heaping loads of guilt and condescension on them for your own satisfaction.
Again, how wonderful would it be for you and them if you continued to see your children as the gift of God that they are to you in your life as you humbly love and nurture them.
9) Avoid withholding love from your child. This takes place with parents who are particularly immature. As parents we should be constantly creating an environment where love can be poured out into our children all the time.
But what sometimes happens is that when a child makes a mistake or disobeys us, we decide to not only apply discipline but judgement. When our children make mistakes or act out in disobedience, our number one role as a parent is to help them reconcile their relationships.
We need to help them make things right when they hurt someone else. We need to help them make things right with us when they willfully disobey us. We need to help our kids make things right when they sin against God.
But for some parents, when their children disobey them they take it personally. And instead of working on reconciliation, they determine not only to resent their child’s behaviour but also to inflict their own sense of justice by extracting ongoing judgement on them.
Through this exercise of extreme parental judgement, some parents end up withholding love and favour, applying the silent treatment in an effort to somehow prove the point to their kids that they really blew it. Now they are going to make them pay for a long time. “I’ll show you,” parents say under their breath.
Unfortunately, instead of modelling reconciliation that involves confession, forgiveness and relational restoration, parents teach their children to withhold love and favour in their own relationships. As years go by, parents wonder why their children seem so distant, but the reality is that they have pushed them away with their immature inability to resolve interpersonal conflict all along.
Don’t withhold your love and affection to make a point. Instead, when your kids fail that is when they need to know that they are loved the most.
10) Avoid excessive discipline and make sure that if you must punish, it fits the crime. When your child takes a cookie from the jar after you have trained him and warned him about the consequences, banishing him from cookies for the rest of his life is probably too extreme. Doing nothing isn’t good either. So somewhere between cookie banishment and doing nothing is probably right.
A few years ago I was working with one family who thought it would be a good idea to have a sort of progressive pot for ongoing disobedience. With the first offence the child would lose one privilege. With the second offence the child would lose two privileges, and so on. They thought that this system would be a great deterrent to crime and would foster fantastic behaviour from their children.
However, just the opposite took place. Before long their child gave up hope of ever getting out of the downward spiral of his own rebellion and the accompanying ever-escalating punishment schedule. So he just became even more rebellious because it didn’t matter any more.
The best model for how we should deal with our kids is to learn what the Bible recommends. When they disobey, our discipline should be explained, measured, brief and restorative.
For those who are in Christ, this is exactly what God does with us.
The writer of Hebrews describes that no one likes to be under discipline, but after we have experienced God’s loving restoration through it we are made all the better.
To begin with, we need to be sure and explain the potential consequences for disobedience with our kids. Just as God has made things clear on His expectations of us, we need to make things clear with our kids.
Second, our discipline should be measured. In other words the punishment should really fit the crime. If you become unreasonable or irrational in your approach to doling out punishment you will exasperate your children over time.
Yes, punishment should be uncomfortable but only for a limited time. It has been my experience that the shorter the discipline and the sooner you can move to restoration the better.
Lastly, your disciplinary efforts should promote an environment of restoration more than anything else. In so much that God has purposed to restore us to Himself through His Son Jesus Christ, we too need to seek to restore our kids to righteousness and a good standing with us as soon as we can.
Hopefully, these principles will help you as you seek to admonish and nurture your children. Next week will be the last installment in this series on parenting, and with it we will focus on what is the best way to discipline our children.
– Reverend Bradley S. Belcher is the senior pastor with the International Baptist Church of Budapest, www.ibcbudapest.org. Should you have a question or comment regarding this column, email firstname.lastname@example.org.