This is one of those posts that I hesitate to publish. I do not pretend to be an authority on child-rearing and frequently think of things I wish I had done differently along the way. I have three children who all have some great attitudes, but Jeff and I cannot take credit for that. Sure we are pleased with the good things we consistently modeled for them, but they each have to decide for themselves if they will adopt those beliefs and behaviors.
Every child has a mind of his own. We can make him behave in a certain way but it is his choice as to whether he submits his heart to wisdom. My father-in-law preached a sermon entitled "No Credit, No Blame" which emphasized the inconsistency of taking credit for your child's good decisions but not blame for his bad ones. We should take neither one. We are certainly accountable for how we rear our children, but we cannot control what they do with that upbringing.
If you set your sights on your child turning out to be a certain way, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. You've heard the phrase "little me". Your child is not a little you. He is a little him. He may have many similarities to you but be assured that he is his own person. God designed him to be able to do certain things easily. He has strengths you do not possess and that you did not teach him. Parents need to remember that we are simply channels and guardians. While they do belong to us, we are their way of passage into this world and we nurture them until they are able to stand alone.
Having children makes parents permanently vulnerable. Our children's choices in life have the ability to break our hearts or to make our hearts glad. I've heard it said that a mother is only as happy as her saddest child. The reality is that their adult lives are theirs, just as yours is yours. It always helps me to remember myself at their ages and how immature, unsure, and unknowing I was, yet eager to tackle life and to make the best of it. They will learn the same way we did--by experience.
With those thoughts in mind, let's consider some specific attitudes we as parents need as we strive to bring up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. These are good for teachers to remember as well.
👦🏻 Be consistent. Your walk HAS to match your talk. Children can spot the difference instantly and nobody respects a hypocrite. Also remember that repetition aids in learning. Be prepared to teach the same lesson over and over. One child may learn after being taught 20 times. Another may take 2000 times. Don't give up. Don't give in. If it's right, you should keep insisting on it.
👦🏻 Set the foundation before kindergarten. The parent of a small child needs to be on the job in a big way. The child is figuring out how things work and you had better make yourself clear. Set aside involvement in your other interests. The time will come later for those but you have a much more important job right now--training that child. Just the physical work alone is enough to make you exhausted so trying to have other ministries or hobbies will just frustrate you, though you will have to be careful that the child is not convinced that he is the center of your universe. To everything there is a season. You have to be able to be on that job and still have time to maintain your own body and sanity with scheduled breaks. I think if parents were fully focused on the importance of teaching their babies and toddlers, their parenting work would be mostly done by kindergarten. There have been many times in correcting my older children that I thought "I didn't conquer this when they were little so I am still having to work on it." You need to be very convincing to your toddler so you do not have to keep trying to convince them for years to come.
To see a well-behaved, happy child is jaw-dropping to me. I am in awe like some would be of fancy cars or huge muscles. It shows that a lot of effort has been expended to make that child so secure in his parents' authority and not fighting for his own way. Of course, the increase is not of us but of the Lord.
👦🏻 Mean what you say and say what you mean. I learned early not to make an empty threat. If you are not willing to carry it through to the end, do not say it. You'd better speak carefully when you say what you will or will not do. Sometimes I even have to write it down so I remember what I said. I promise you that they will remember. Many is the time that I have immediately said "No. You are not going to do that" and then wanted to soften my statement after I've heard the whole story but hesitant to go back on my word. I didn't have to put myself in that position if I would just be slower to speak. Threats and bribes are not the way to go. Think more in terms of consequences and rewards. We are not their bullies or their beggars. They should know that there will be consequences, and rewards are something I have often kept to myself until it was earned. They have no idea how many rewards they forfeited. Keep them guessing with the rewards, not the consequences.
On the flip side, say what you mean. Do not assume they know what you expect. Say it clearly, whether it is a curfew or "I love you." Speaking your heart to someone, looking them in the eye, is difficult for some people. Some would rather praise someone in a prayer or correct someone online than to say it to his face. We should be able to own up to what we say, and children need steady doses of "I love you" and "I'm proud of you," especially from their fathers.
👦🏻 You represent God to your child. You are the justice system in your home. This hearkens back to being consistent. You must make decisions based on what is right and wrong. Punishment for a teenager breaking a lamp should be different based on whether they accidentally backed into it or if they knocked it off in anger. We punish according to the offense (accident or anger), not according to how we feel about it (That was my favorite lamp!). They shouldn't be punished worse if the lamp broke (though they would need to replace it) than if it just fell over. You are punishing the loss of control, not how upset it made you. How we handle punishment and reward gives children an understanding of the character of God.
👦🏻 In justice remember mercy. Remember that thing about representing God? He is fully just yet always falls on the side of mercy. There are times that you show love to your child by not punishing to the full extent. If you show mercy in every instance then there is no justice. It must be obviously unusual. They should know what they deserve but we should sometimes let up a bit, particularly when they have had a tough time lately. There have been a few times when my daughter was covered up with school, basketball, flute practice, youth group, not feeling well, and deadlines that she arrived home to find that I cleaned her room. Sometimes you just need a little sunshine to help you make it through. It is the goodness of God that brings you to repentance (Romans 2:4). Being good to a child softens his heart and paves the way for repentance.
👦🏻 Just because they did not do it on purpose does not mean they should not be punished. Children need to learn that they are responsible for what they do. If they pinch brother's finger in the door accidentally, they are still the one who pinched the finger. They should apologize and possibly be punished for carelessness. You will hear many times "But I didn't do it on purpose!" This is a clue that they have not learned to be responsible for their actions. They should feel sad that the hurt was because of them.
[Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.]