Barby (my wife) was speaking with Gwennie (my mum)...

The subject was parenting. It is interesting how both our sets of parents have always been reluctant to talk about the secret of parenting. They'd run a mile before taking a seminar on the subject. I guess they feel the task is never over and that the grace of God plays such a significant role.

Anyhow on this occasion Barby pressed for a response. With grandchild #1 about to emerge, this was offered as a rationale and finally my mother relented enough to offer one word.

That's it?! Just one word?
Yes. Consistency.

My mind immediately jumped in two directions.
A conversation and an observation.

The conversation was about the most common flaw in Christian parenting. My offering was about parents who do not follow through with the ultimatums they give their kids, particularly little ones. The command comes. The warnings multiply. But eventually, rather than make a fuss, the child wins as the parent gives up. All love and no justice (a bit like peoples' view of God). As the title of the book expresses it, Love Wins - but is it really 'love' and will it prove to be really 'winning? I have my doubts. And yet the lack of follow through is so common. Four times out of five?! If they are to grow up to be secure, kids need boundaries made strong and clear from a young age. They need black and white for as long as possible. Today they are introduced to gray at far too early an age.

The observation is very recent. I was staying with a family. A little one was asked to eat her vegetables. She expressed the rebellion endemic to Adam's race. The parental request became an ultimatum. Then came the warnings. The stand-off went on for at least ten minutes. In a God-like way the time for grace passed finally and justice was enacted - the exile to the bedroom ensued (but not for seventy years). Justice wins, just as it needed to do. I sat and watched, delighted with what I had witnessed (and told them so). Two reasons. Firstly the parents won the battle - even with a guest in the house and maybe feeling a bit self-conscious about the family dynamic. Secondly the child revealed such a lovely strong will which, when it is broken and bent towards Jesus, will prove to be so valuable in his service. I am making it my business to pray that it will be so.

I reckon my mum is right.

nice chatting



Ben Carswell said…
Paul, your latest blog post popped up in my RSS feed & grabbed my attention immediately.

In the background, as I read it, was the sound of the battle of a young, strong-willed child (one of mine!) expressing rebellion in a toddler's way. And yet, your mum's advice rung true - even behind the closed door of my study, I could hear love expressed through Jen's commands and then through the justice & punishment the rebellion deserved.

Just this past few weeks I have read Rob Bell's 'Love Wins' and you can't help but think that while love may win (I'm not sure it does), justice certainly doesn't. Consistency is definitely an enduring characteristic of God in both his love and justice (which are necessarily intertwined), and therefore, in parenting must also be.

Such a helpful reminder of the goodness of God and encouragement in the challenge and privilege of parenting! Thank you
Kat said…
Can I as where the theory of breaking a child's will then bending it comes from? Ta
Paul said…
No, that doesn't sound too flash when expressed so bluntly, does it, Kat?!

I guess what I am trying to affirm is that alongside our inherent dignity as part of being made in the image of God, there is an inherent rebellion against God as well. It is stubborn and it works to assert the self and the will over all else...and it is seen very, very early in life.

My understanding is that the power in this brand of stubbornness needs to be broken - but not diminished because when it is submitted to the Lordship of Christ, it creates a strong will that bends towards the service and worship of him.

As the hymnwriter puts it, 'make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free'. That is a truth I desperately wanted my children to learn from as young an age as possible.

Paul said…
My mother is here with me in Bangalore at the moment and I mentioned this post to her and she stated that there was more to what she said than I mentioned. Oh dear!

'Have as few rules as possible - but stick to them. Children don't thrive in a world that is 'don't, don't, don't' all the time - they need some do's as well'.
Jyoti said…
If the two generations of Windsor children and grand-children that I have met are anything to go by, then both Mrs Windsors have so much to share, through their parenting deeds, and not just their words.

Interesting how the idea of discipline has landed us in a side-discussion around the Bell book. I must say that I find myself constantly challenged to rethink my own assumptions and prejudices every time I read Rob Bell, even if I end up not always affirming what he thinks.

Grace and truth. Still remember our conversation about that, Paul. Clearly a great balancing act when it comes to parenting as well.
Kat said…
That's good to have clarification, I definitely agree there is the inherent trait of rebellion to be curbed.
I would propose though, that it it often an adults lack of understanding and / or respect towards a child that can lead to a huge amount of tantrums and 'rebeliiousness'.

As parents, are we called to show our children how to love as Christ loved? Is the understanding a child will take to his/her adult life of God's love the example we as parents showed them?

By calling consequences for actions 'punishment', is that not reinforcing the idea that God will punish?
But how does God's grace fit into that?

By using language like:
'We can have ice cream after dinner' instead of 'no, no ice cream', we are teaching appropriateness and context.

By turning the negative 'no, dont touch' into 'only looking with your eyes', there is a whole lot of frustration left out of the equation. The child knows exactly what is required of them, and the parent can expect the child to follow through. If the child chooses to not listen, then of course there is a consequence. They get removed.

If we parent with the motto, 'do to others as you'd have them do to you', then consequently our language turns more positive, our tone of voice lightens, and a whole lot more respect comes in.

Paul said…
Thanks again, Kat. You've been very gracious and open and this is hardly the forum for a conversation of such importance. I don't know all that is in your mind, or your experience - but let me add a few comments that MAY highlight a difference in how we see things.

In my understanding, in the character of God, his justice is as important as his love. They are inseparably twinned. So, for example, at Easter time the cross is as much about justice being addressed as love being expressed. Or, take a book like Amos - nine and a half chapters of searing judgement (it is awful) and then those verses of amazing grace at the end.

So when I talk about a parent being God-like, justice and love are both in the mix. Justice makes clear what is fair and right and true and punishment only emerges when these are overlooked or disobeyed. I see no inconsistency in a God who loves and a God who punishes. I would have it no other way - as with a parent. But it is true, as my father used to say when punishing us, 'this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you'. As a kid it was 'yeah right' - but as a parent, it is just so true.

We must bring justice into the equation with parenting. How else do we cope with a bit of bitter sibling rivalry that gets out of hand? How else do we help them handle unjust conflict with kids at school? What is fair and right and true behaviour must be identified and elevated - and enforced.

To raise children in the context of a parental love and justice is to respect them and to limit their frustration.

Well that is how I see it - but I feel I am being cornered into sounding like an expert ... when it is my mum (and my wife) who are the experts in this post!

Thanks again
kat said…
Hi again,

I must admit, I came away from our "conversation" a little uneasy. I couldn't help but wonder why it seemed more important that children learn about God's 'justice' over and above God's grace, love, gentleness, forgiveness etc.

I am not one that can very easily put in to words things that I fell passionate about, but I have just come across a blog that puts into words EVERYTHING I believe every parent needs to know about parenting in a Godly, God fearing, God exampling way, and my thoughts immediately came back to here, thinking I must share.

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