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Monday, June 27, 2011

Love is Kind...even in parenting

I have lots to say on parenting. I've come a long way, and perhaps not long enough, in these past 10 years. We've read books, watched child training videos, listened to friends, interviewed seasoned parents, watched others and tried to avoid their mistakes and emulate their strengths... I can detail the extremes we've gone to - from strict disciplinarian to seeing the importance of nurture - all over the place! We went through the whole frame of mind that goes something like this: if we don't do it right in the baby's first 6 months, he's sure to become a rebellious teen. If we instill strict discipline and obedience in the first 2 years, the rest of childhood will be a breeze. If we do, do, do, and regiment and plan and order their world, surely they will give us no trouble. Much of this thinking, I have come to realize, is hogwash. We bought into a lot of what we read, and some was good and some wasn't.

My latest frame of mind however has come to rest on the aspect of how we as adults treat our children. I still remember distinctly the feelings and perspective I had when I was a small kid. I remember thinking that if I crawled under the table I had essentially disappeared from reality. I think I was developmentally late in my thinking because some of the things I remember should have been worked out of my brain by then. I remember watching Sesame Street and through t.v. magic they made a little girl walk into a tree and disappear. I remember trying this a number of times, and finally concluding that if I just pretend it happened, it really did and I would never be found in hide 'n seek. I was always surprised when I was found. How could I not have disappeared inside the tree just like the kid on Sesame Street?! Another time, my wonderful Dad told me he had been such a fast runner as a kid that when he would stop it would take his shadow 3 seconds to catch up with him. I tried every day one summer to run as fast as I could to see if I could outrun my shadow. Guess I got good exercise. The thing is I didn't tell my Dad that's what I was doing - only years later did I confess my disappointment at my efforts. I just figured boys were faster than girls and left it at that. I remember being in my child's 'thinking' world and the thoughts I had, the perspectives I had, the impressions I had. And I am reminded of the need for adults to treat kids with kindness.

One of our children happens to be very particular and some would say a bit difficult. But as I look at what has been learned through psychology I can understand him and what ruffles his feathers so easily. Much of our take on parenting has been theological in nature - as all of life should be - but I will say that to ignore the wealth of understanding that has been gained through the field of psychology is foolish. Some would say, 'The Bible says for children to obey their parents. You can't change that, so that is our bottom line.' and be done with the whole discussion. Oh, really. I agree it is important to teach our children to obey - this is a Biblical principle that we should unashamedly accept. At the same time, Scripture does teach about the need to not provoke children to wrath. Let's look at a basic psychological test that can enlighten us on the matter.

If you take 1 cup of water and pour it into a tall skinny glass, then a second cup of water and pour it into a short fat glass and ask a 4 year old - which glass has more water, he will say, 'The tall one of course.' If you do the same experiment with a 6 or 7 year old they will be wise enough to have figured out they have the same amount. Let's say that you tell the 4 year old, 'You are wrong - they have the same amount.' The child may look at you funny, think you're crazy, accept what you say and keep their thoughts to themselves, or fight you on it and be angry since the tall one OBVIOUSLY has more! In his world, his perception is truth. Not just his own reality, but it is THE reality. So you can save yourself a lot of trouble, respect his age and mental abilities and just not fight him on the matter. You can be like a kid, with a point to prove and provoke him to wrath and upset him by making him see your point. Or you can, with love and kindness let it go.

I have realized that while there is no verse in Scripture that says, 'Parents, respect your children.' that this is not counter-Scriptural advice either. The Golden Rule would apply here. Would you like someone to treat you as if you were 10 times smarter than you are? No. So respect your child, his needs, his mental abilities and kindly lead him, instead of bludgeoning him with your outlook. I am speaking to myself as much as to anyone.

Today I asked Caleb to take out recycling - it was his day. He didn't want to. Now, I could immediately jump on the need for him to obey, immediately. Some would say I am too lax because I didn't. My first approach is to Request obedience. My second is to Encourage obedience. So, I said to Caleb that it was his day and I didn't want to argue with him, and pointed out that Priscilla had kindly done it for him the other day and I didn't expect her to do it again, etc... My approach was to stimulate his mind and heart to willingly do the right thing. I could have done it by force. But I would not want to be treated that way. My third approach is to Demand obedience. I tell my kids that they have a choice, to either obey cheerfully or unhappily after some parental force. I'd prefer it be the former, and I think they would too. Obedience is necessary and important. But forcing it is not my primary goal.

I want to reach and keep their hearts with me. If I go around demanding this and that and asserting my authority right and left and leaving them no room for dialogue, I may obtain the outward compliance I am looking for. I may also foster rebellion in them and lose their hearts - pushing them away from me and the values I hope to instill in them. I don't aim to be loosey-goosey and super lax in my approach. I aim for consistent, firm, loving discipline that is kind but also authoritative. They need to be led - no doubt about that. But I want to win them to obedience first and foremost.

Love does involve tough decisions and sometimes the implementation of discipline that brings pain. But love is also kind, and parenting is not an exception.

2 comments:

  1. There's something that feels not quite right about this, Sarah. I think it is that by the time you get to the "demand" stage, you have led your child to believe that he has a choice, when you really never intended to give him a choice. It seems unfair to switch from an encouraging demeanor to a demand demeanor, if after requesting and encouraging he still "[doesn't] want to."
    I prefer expecting obedience from the outset, and giving the grace, kindness and flexibility by means of a different kind of choice, such as "Would you like to finish that chapter first?" or "Do you want to take the recyling out before or after dinner?" or even "What do you feel you need to get done before you'll be ready to take the recycling out?" (Implied: You will be taking it out.) This gives the child the feeling that you're looking for I think, the feeling of having his needs and wants being respected and taken into consideration, without compromising your authority as the parent. The "encouragement" you use as an example is good for teaching at a later time, but would best be offered outside the frame of the moment when he is balking at instruction; it is just another way of arguing with him. You'd merely be trying to talk him into obeying you. A much younger child might need some talk so he can understand why you have asked him to do something. And for a child of any age if the request is new or unusual some explanation is in order. But if Caleb already knows it is his day... there is nothing to explain or argue about. It is his day. Period. Maybe he can choose the time.

    But, kudos to kindness. It was God's kindness that led me to repentance! (Romans 2:4) That will someday, I pray, lead my children to repentance. Maybe, next to God's sovereignty, which is my most beloved of His attributes, is His lovingkindness. So to be like Him in our parenting in that regard is a wonderful goal. And for Caleb, kindness -- yes, yes, yes.

    Suzanne Evans

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  2. Thank you Suzanne for your input. I agree with you - I struggle to find the right balance between asserting authority and also giving grace to my children. Authority need not be graceless, in fact, God's laws remind me that they are a very example of His grace, not a detractor from His grace.

    I didn't fully relay my conversation with Caleb. Maybe this will help:
    'Caleb, will you take out the recycling?'
    'Do I have to? Why can't Priscilla do it?'
    (At this point I thought it would be appropriate to remind him it is his day and that Priscilla had already shown him a kindness by doing it for him a few days ago). Perhaps in reasoning and going down the 'guilt trip' lane I diminished my authority? After my explanation however, he did respond, immediately and without question. He even had a decent attitude. I think he took to heart what I said and just decided it was what he should do. It doesn't always work that way, that quickly, but maybe he is maturing a little!

    Lately we've had lots of struggles with harmonious living, so we have posted many copies of a verse in Romans 12 that says, "Live in harmony with each other." We'll see how things improve...

    I appreciate your comments - you have lots of wisdom to share!

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