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.