Sometime this summer, my first book on parenting will hit the press. I'll provide several excerpts from the book in the weeks ahead. The title is Parenting Unchained – Overcoming the Ten Deceptions That Shackle Christian Parents. In the book I describe ten deceptions or myths that derail any parent who wants to raise children with strong character. Here's a peek at Parenting Unchained: As I look back on my parenting, my biggest failure was not in my methods, but in my motives. I’m sad to say that my motives were too often to achieve peace for my own comfort (“You kids be quiet!”) or to protect my reputation as a parent (“Be good in front of my friends.”). It’s not that I did not love my children, it’s just that my love for them was not my foremost intention as I chose my discipline times or techniques. I fell for the lie that why and how I disciplined didn’t matter, as long as I was getting my kids to obey.
Obedience Is Not Enough
To a parent who is struggling to get a child to obey, obedience sounds like a sip of cool water in the desert. But what looks like an oasis can turn out to be a mirage once you arrive. Many parents, including myself, achieved obedience using behavior modification with a child only to discover later that they failed to train a more important quality. Two commands in the Bible are directed to children. One says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.” Obedience equals doing what I’m told to do. The other command says something that sounds similar but is significantly more valuable. “Honor your father and your mother.” Honor equals doing what I’m told with a respectful attitude because I value the giver of the command. The difference is that a child may obey his parents but not honor them. Honor takes the outward act of obedience and couples it with respect. Obedient children leave home and often may not continue to obey. Children who learn to honor their parents leave home listening to an inner guide who sounds suspiciously like Mom or Dad.
Our motive for the discipline we administer is vitally important. If we set out to achieve obedient children because we want to look good in front of our peers, or we simply want to have a peaceful home where chores get done on schedule, then honor is not essential. But if we want to discipline our children to build into them an honoring heart, then our methods will radically change.
Will Our Methods Always Work If Our Motives Are Right?
Sadly, no. I wish it were so, but a factor in the equation is easy to forget: your child has to cooperate. The essential factor, which requires your child to buy in, is for your child to see the benefit of discipline. Thus the greater aim of the discipline of a wise parent is to teach a child to see the benefit of correction. Success in this effort is seen not in the child who always behaves perfectly (this is usually a mirage, anyway) but in the child who accepts discipline with a good attitude and learns from it. Another word for attitude is heart.
So check your discipline motives from time to time. Are you focusing on the benefits to you, like getting the house clean or getting kids to bed on time? Or are you helping your child develop a heart for obedience and responsibility? If you get your child to obey but fail to help them see the benefit in the correction, you may wind up with an obedient but resentful child. How do you develop your child's heart toward honor?
In calm moments, talk to them about the benefits of being teachable. Share a vision for the kind of life your child can have if they learn to treasure correction. Be vulnerable and let them know how you had to make changes when you were corrected, and how that helped you. Point out how they've made improvements in obedience and how those improvements have helped them mature.
You can learn the right way to discipline your children. But don't forget to learn the right reasons for disciplining them. Good behavior is an admirable goal for any child, but a heart that can be corrected is a priceless gift that keeps on giving.