On one particular day, we were shopping at the grocery store together. As we walked down an aisle, we saw a parent walk up and swat a young child on the behind then walk away. Bewildered, the child stood there with a confused look on his or her face. The parent had said nothing in the entire encounter, and the child was obviously totally unaware of what his or her had done wrong.
Admittedly, there are times that even the most loving and long-suffering parent are simply worn out by their child. Raising a child can feel like a marathon with no finish line. Comedian Jim Gaffigan once said, “You know what it’s like having a fourth kid? Imagine you’re drowning, then someone hands you a baby.”
Every parent knows exactly what this feels like. In those exhausted moments, we can so want the child to just obey us and not drain us that we fail to take the time to make the most of those teachable moments. These moments are windows of opportunity to parent on point.
The wisdom for Christian parenting is scattered throughout Scripture and concentrated most particularly in Proverbs. The parenting pattern of Proverbs is taking these open windows of opportunity to stop, instruct, then correct a child.
In Proverbs 3:11–12 the parent says, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” Did you notice that disciplining a child is one way of loving a child? Also, before parent discipline their children, they are commanded to delight in them.
Practically, this means that most of a parents’ time and energy is to be spent enjoying their child, encouraging their child, laughing with their child, being affectionate with their child, and making memories with their child, resulting in a deep bond of love and joy between the child and parent. Once the relationship of love is established, discipline can happen. This is God’s way of helping the parent to enjoy the child and discipline the child in love without anger or vengeance, so that the parent and child can return to enjoying one another and making memories.
Good parenting is much like gardening. Growing weeds requires no attention or effort at all. Growing a beautiful garden takes constant attention and effort. Disciplining is like pruning – patiently and lovingly cutting away dead branches of sin and pulling weeds of folly from the life of a child so he or she can blossom.
Just as a garden needs a gardener, so a child needs a parent. For starters, the parents need to respect and honor authority over them (e.g., legal authority in society, vocational authority in the workplace, and spiritual authority in the church) so that they too are being pruned and also setting an example of respect for authority. In this way, seeing authority as a good thing that brings life, rather than a bad thing that brings death, will be easier for the child to understand. In contrast, a foolish parent says, “Do as I say, not as I do.” What is meant by that statement is in effect, “I am a hypocrite who is not open to correction or obedience, so ignore my behavior and obey what I say.”
The pattern for parenting is instruction, then correction. Our children are not mind readers, and they were not born into this world with wisdom engrained on the brain. They need instruction. They need us to get down on their level, lovingly look them in the eye, kindly explain to them what we expect from them and why, and explain what the consequences will be if they disobey. If they obey, we then encourage them for doing what is right. If they disobey, we must follow through with the consequences so that we correct their behavior from folly to wisdom. This will teach them safety and how not to run (often literally) into harm’s way.
How open are you to instruction and correction from God and other authorities in your life? How can you improve your instruction and then correction of your child?