“Fathers, don’t stir up anger in your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4
We are parents or we have parents, so how should parents love? Ephesians 6:4 provides a good starting point for understanding our responsibilities to our children: “Fathers, don’t stir up anger in your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Let’s look at some ways we can obey the biblical mandate to rear our children to be godly followers of Christ.
As in all other relationships, responsibility for our children requires loving well. My parents were strict disciplinarians of the old school. They’d probably be put in jail today! Thrashings with bamboo canes came often (from my mother) and, when I was too much for her to handle, with the belt (from my father). Mother would wash out my mouth with soap when sass came out of it. One day she discovered me in the bathroom nibbling on the Ivory soap. I liked it! So she switched to Octagon soap. That’ll cure any foul mouth!
Furthermore, my parents didn’t believe in complimenting their children. They held it would give us “the big head.” I never remember any affirmations mixed in with the regular — and well-deserved — rebukes. They broke all the contemporary rules, and yet no one who knows me would ever accuse me of suffering any of the dire results that are supposed to follow a strict upbringing. Why? Because somehow I knew I was well-loved and my parents were proud of me and believed in me. Never a doubt.
What is the middle way between child abuse and domestic anarchy? Consider three guidelines.
Maintain consistency. When discipline is erratic and unpredictable—whether on the part of one parent or when one parent seems to specialize in love and the other in justice—the child will become discouraged. We agreed early on that any disagreements we had would be in private. No disunity before the children, especially regarding their discipline.
Exercise balance. The results of undisciplined permissiveness on the one hand or unloving discipline on the other are equally damaging. Many earnest young Christian parents try too hard, determined that this firstborn will bring glory to God, not to mention credit to his parents. Therefore, the tendency is to drive children to perfection beyond their years and capacity. At any rate, it is humanly easier to go to one extreme or the other—to become permissive or severe—than to stay at the center of biblical tension, balancing a loving, affirming atmosphere with instruction and guidance in the ways of God. Are you creating a hammock or a safety net for your child? There is a difference. Knowing which you provide is important.
Use discipline only when a moral principle is at stake. An example is deliberate, repeated lying. Of course, any issue can become moral if the parent issues a direct command. Some parents seek such confrontations, but constant showdowns on nonmoral issues cause a child to become discouraged or rebellious. Rules should be appropriate, clear, and as few as possible. Why not invite participation, counsel? Discipline may become virtually unnecessary in a partner relationship custom designed for each little person. As my friend and colleague Buck Hatch would say, “remember that they are but dust.” How is your love life today?