There are two ditches in parenting, both with negative outcomes.
My grandfather was a “ditch parent.” Many of his generation were. He grew up in the tail-end of the Great Depression and life was hard, mainly about surviving. He was strict, enforced the rules, but lacked a warmth and affection with his children and grandchildren. He didn’t cultivate relationships.
No doubt he was brought up with a stern father who, perhaps, didn’t invest in fellowship with his children. My own father did a great job overcoming this lack of relationship-building with which he was raised, but still he struggled with the obvious effects.
There’s another ditch many modern parents have fallen into. In an effort to “give their children more” they have given them liberties that aren’t healthy, and they have shied away from exercising proper biblical authority and guidance. They are raising brats who they don’t often enjoy.
I called an acquaintance one day. The answering machine picked up: “Hi. You’ve reached the home of Kaityln. Her parents aren’t able to come to the phone now. Please leave a message.”
It was a little like an obvious declaration of her child-centered world. They didn’t have anymore children because her mother told me “she was too hard.”
In either situation, the parent-child relationship is harmed. The right relationship is foundational to transferring values, to discipling and bringing up children who will walk in “the paths of righteousness.”
It’s also foundational to the promise that “children are a blessing.” That is not a one-sided promise. They are blessings (generally speaking) IF we hold up our end and labor to be the parents God has called us to be.
The answer? Balance.
Despite modern teachings that try to place parents and children as equals, the Bible declares that parents are in authority over their children and that children must obey and honor their parents. It is for their growth and maturity that such command is given.
It seems obvious, but I’ve observed that many parents truly do not know what should be expected of their children as it relates to obedience. They allow disrespectful responses or they allow the child to bring them to his terms (through manipulation, tantrums, etc.)
A child must know his parents are in charge, that they are wiser than he, and because of the position God has placed them in, they operate on the basis of his best interest.
Know your position and own it.
Yet, as we require obedience from them, we must not exasperate them, and we must keep our fellowship with them tender and sweet. My authority is only an expression of my deepest love and care for my children. I remind them of this by the friendship that I seek to cultivate.
Tie heart strings by:
Listening. I mean really listening. It can be very hard, especially with little ones who chatter all day, to stop and listen to them. But eye contact, a smile and a response lets them know you value them as people.
Seeking their friendship. Pursue them. Ask them questions and converse. Take them on walks. Play with them. Ask them to join you with a chore. In general, they know when you enjoy them so remind yourself that they will be grown soon and plant the seeds of friendship now that will continue to grow into your adult relationship.
Tell them. Remind your children, verbally, that you love being their mother, that you are glad they live with you and you feel honored that God would bless you with such a gift.
Affirm them physically. Smiles go a long way! Greet them in the morning like they are a long lost friend! Hugs, squeezes, holding hands–all these things express tenderness that tie heart strings. We do a lot of touching–at home, in church , in public–kisses and hugs can’t be overdone.
“Oh that God would give every mother a vision of the glory and splendor of the work that is given to her when a baby is placed in her bosom to be nursed and trained! Could she have but one glimpse into the future of that life as it reaches on into eternity; could she look into its soul to see its possibilities; could she be made to understand her own personal responsibility for the training of this child, for the development of its life, and for its destiny,—she would see that in all God’s world there is no other work so noble and so worthy of her best powers, and she would commit to no other hands the sacred and holy trust given to her.” -JR Miller
If we have cultivated sweet relationships with our children, our authority will be sweet to them too, and they will glory in the love and security they feel by our boundaries and expectations.
Just a quick example from our week:
Three-year-old comes upstairs for breakfast. She asks for cereal but today we are having oatmeal with fruit. She begins to whine that “she didn’t get any cereal”. Cheerfully, I say, “No one had cereal. We all had oatmeal today and you are going to have oatmeal too.” (Begins to cry.)
(Cheerfully, again…) “Sweetheart, go back down to your room and whine there. You may come up when you are cheerful.”
She returned 2 minutes later with a smile and happily ate oatmeal.
It took only a moment of attention, but remembering to be deliberate, NOT doing the easiest thing (“Oh, fine, you can have cereal”) will go a long way to enforcing authority. Oatmeal vs. cereal isn’t a big deal. Training a child to get her way by whining is.
How do you tie heart strings?