Ephesians 6: 1-4
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honour your father and mother’ - which is the first commandment with a promise - ‘so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Jeremiah 31: 31-34
‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord,
‘when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,’
declares the Lord.
‘This is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,’ declares the Lord.
‘I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbour,
or say to one another, “Know the Lord,”
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,’
declares the Lord.
‘For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.’
One of the most controversial and contentious issues around raising children is the area of discipline. The reality is that every child needs discipline if they are to grow into a healthy, happy, responsible adult with the ability to form good relationships within the family and outside it. While each family will have their own method of discipline, often it is the purpose of discipline that can be skewed.
For most parents, if we are honest, the goal of disciplining our kids is to teach them to obey, to have them do as we say. Our efforts are directed toward shaping the wills of our children, showing them what is “good” and “bad” and then teaching them to choose “good.” However, while the goal of obedience and compliance is a good one, it is not the most important quality we want to develop in our children. The highest goals are love, relationship and freedom.
When the Pharisees asked Jesus what was the most important commandment, they wanted to know the rules and boundaries within which they could relate to God. However Jesus’ response was, “Love God and love your neighbour, as you love yourself” (Luke 10:27). Compliance and obedience were nowhere near as important as relationship and love. These are bedrock of the Kingdom, and they must be our foundational values if we wish to establish a Kingdom culture in our homes. Danny Silk says this:
“Heaven’s culture of relationships is vastly different than most everything we see on earth because God, the Father, is less interested in compliance and much more interested in love. This is the reason that He is trying to prepare us to live absolutely free lives in an environment of unlimited options more than trying to keep us from sin.”
In the Old Testament, the Law was all about external behaviour and obedience to a moral code. If you broke the rules you were punished, of you obeyed them, you were blessed. However, as Christians we live under a New Covenant (Matt 26:28). When God spoke of this New Covenant through the prophet Jeremiah, He revealed an entirely different way of relating to Him as Father:
“Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant….I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (Jer. 31: 33).
Jeremiah prophesied about a day when our covenant with God would move from external obedience to a written code to an internal desire to value and protect a relationship. This was the relationship with God that Jesus introduced through His death and resurrection.
Many of us, whether Christians or not, continue to raise our children according to an Old Testament paradigm. We want them to obey our rules and when external compliance doesn’t occur, we apply punishment for their disobedience, hoping to make them think twice the next time.
However, under a New Covenant way of parenting, love and freedom replace punishment and fear as the primary motivating forces in the relationship between parent and child. The goal is a heart to heart connection. How do we do that? Here are a few tips from Danny Silk’s excellent book, ‘Loving your kids on Purpose.’ (I’d highly recommend reading the book for yourself.)
- You can’t control your child. You may try, but ultimately it is up to him or her on whether or not to listen to you. The bottom line is that you can’t actually control anyone except yourself.
- Establishing a loving relationship in which both the parent and child love and trust one another is the key to good parenting.
- Empower your child by providing choices. Everyone wants to feel that they are in control of their lives and that they have the power to make decisions. For example, even a toddler can have choices. Let’s say you want the child to go upstairs to get dressed. You could offer the choice of walking or being carried upstairs. This is simple, but it can be applied to the most complex situations. As the parent, it is up to you to provide the child with two choices that you can be content with.
- Allow your child to experience the consequences of their choices. As tempting as it may be to rescue your child from the pain or difficulty of consequences, you should resist. (This is not talking about neglecting a child’s safety.) Parents can create a safe environment for children to make mistakes and learn from them. We can’t be afraid to let our children mess up. We can build trust with them by letting them know we are there for them in all situations and allowing them to grow from these difficult times.
- Choose discipline over punishment. Discipline allows a child the power to decide how to fix or solve a problem. Punishment is decided solely by the parent.
- Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Many times parents want to believe that they have the power in the relationship. However, parents should communicate to their children in a way that shows that they too can be vulnerable. This is why having a loving relationship is so imperative.
Hopefully you can take and apply one or two of these ideas today with your own children. Psychologist and author Henry Cloud agrees with the priority of relationship over rules:
“Relationship is central not only to the order of the universe God has created, but also to parenting. You can’t construct character in a child without deep relationship with parents. Everything we know from the Bible as well as our own observation tells us that, most of all, children need love. When they come into the world, they are empty and devoid of love, and they must have it to grow. In fact, they can die without it. And if they do not die, they will not thrive emotionally, physically, or spiritually.”