Discipline is always a hot yet touchy subject amongst parents. We were all raised differently with different sets of rules, expectations and punishments. Some of them worked pretty well. Some of them we vowed never to use on our own kids (even though we probably still have). As a parent I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about what discipline with our kids actually means and how to go about doing it. I’m going to guess that you’ve done a lot of the same.
So what is discipline? We require discipline for ourselves to make better choices with our time, make good choices for taking care of our bodies and not acting out when road rage kicks in or when we’ve been waiting in a drive thru for 30 minutes. We discipline ourselves to read our Bibles when we would rather be on Facebook and to eat oatmeal instead of doughnuts. You get the picture…..we use discipline to become more than we would emotionally choose to be in the moment and we often become closer to what God calls us to be as a result.
If we know what discipline looks like and what purpose it serves for us as adults, then what purpose should we desire it to have for our kids? I honestly think we often manipulate our children in the name of disciplining them. I know you are squirming…so am I. But think how many times you have disciplined, aka threatened (albeit under your breath) your child when they were embarrassing you in public? Or how about when everyone else’s kid seems to be behaving but yours? All of these things make us mad and we want to lay down judgment and punishment on our kids because we are using our hurt or aggravated emotions to make a decision. Trust me, an eye roll from my 11-year-old can make me feel less like Jesus than nearly anything can, but I have to ask myself what am I actually trying to teach them?
Our Bible tells us that we are not to provoke our children to anger by the way we treat them but bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). How does the Lord discipline and instruct? He tempers his discipline with mercy and states that his discipline is a sure sign of his love. He in turn expects us to love not only him but each other and be submissive to his will for our lives.
So now that we know why God disciplines us, we have to ask what our motives are for disciplining our kids. We all know it has to be done because none of us wants a child who has no discipline, but perhaps we should consider what the ultimate goal is. God wants a relationship with us that is close and beautiful, one that allows us to admit our wrongs and learn from them. He wants a relationship with us that allows him to speak into our lives and hearts like no one else can. Don’t we want this same relationship between us and our children too? And even more importantly, don’t we want our children to long for this relationship with their Savior?
A few years ago I read a book about biblical parenting and the author asked the question, “What are the top five things you want for your children?” I wrote a list and re-read it. It sounded shallow and average. I searched my own heart for what I truly desired for my kids and I cried when I got done. Not only did it make me realize the wonderful and lasting things I wanted for them, but it made me face the fact that I was asking them to grow up to be something I wasn’t. I was expecting them to choose different actions than I was taking and I had to admit that it was never going to work. That was the day God showed me that I am Jesus’ face, feet and hands to my kids until they have a personal relationship with him. You are the same thing for your children.
So when we want a new set of rules or consequences a mile long for each infraction by our kids, let’s remember what God’s purposes in disciplining us are. God certainly provides serious consequences for us but he also forgives us without asking us to hate ourselves for being sinners. The good news is that disciplining with love makes things much easier. If you have your child’s heart then their actions will follow pretty closely behind. After all, what we are teaching our kids to do is be obedient through their love and respect for us, not their fear of our punishment or disapproval. This is exactly the same thing God is asking from us.