Do you know what fear leads to? Anger.
When it comes to discipline, anger is selfish. It comes from embarrassment, impatience, and a desire to correct wrongs that have been done to US. It’s immature. And it’s a thin line: you can spank your child if it’s the expected punishment for bad behavior; but spanking your child because you are caught up in a moment of raging anger is not helpful for anyone. You will feel guilty later, making it difficult for you to be consistent, and your child, instead of learning, is just fearful of you and feeling unloved. When you lash out in anger born of fear, you make it about YOUR behavior; instead of being focused on their behavior and how to correct it, they are experiencing the results of your inability to control your emotions.
Awhile back, I realized I had made most of my discipline decisions out of fear. If I don’t hurry up and pick a discipline method and stay unerringly consistent, I thought, my daughter will be rambunctious, never listen, and grow into a disrespectful and disobedient child/troubled teen/worthless adult. And then, if we were around anyone else, I’d be so aware of their presence and imagine that they were judging every word I said and every move I made while disciplining my child. Let’s be honest: it is exceedingly difficult not to think about other people’s opinions when you’re disciplining in front of them.
I don’t know if it’s a stage of life I’ve grown into, more life experience, or if having 3 kids close together just made me too busy to care, but at some point I stopped worrying. I didn’t have time or energy to be concerned about what other people thought of my ‘parenting style’. I did, however, go through a dark period in which I was very unpleasant to be around – at least to my immediate family anyway. I was angry a lot, and yelled a lot, and didn’t show very much love at all. Thankfully those are the kind of seasons (difficult ones) that we learn the most from, if we’re smart.
So now, when a situation represents itself (and when I can keep my head clear enough), I examine my motives: Am I reacting out of fear of something? Or am I acting to teach my children desirable behaviors and attitudes? If it’s the latter, I am in the guilt-free clear zone. But if it’s the former, I do my best to correct my response, and even apologize if my behavior was really bad. (Side note: Yes, I apologize to my kids if/when I’m wrong. Our kids need to know that we aren’t perfect. Otherwise, they will not only be jaded about us, but also feel the need to live up to that same perfection.)
So what changed? Here are a few specific things that have helped me:
1. Stop fearing what other people will think of your parenting based on your child(ren)’s behavior. Children are unpredictable in a lot of ways. They act differently at home than they do away from home. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes it’s bad. But one episode does not define your child, so stop acting like it does. “They’re embarrassing me” is not a good reason to lash out in anger born of fear.
2. Stop fearing they’ll never ‘get it‘. I’ve noticed that I don’t have to be violently angry or even super strict for them to understand a concept. I come down to their level, speak in a clear calm voice, and explain why their behavior was wrong. If possible I quote scripture. They apologize and make amends where necessary. And you know what? They get it. But if you’re afraid they’ll never get it, you’ll react out of hopelessness, despair, frustration. Why keep trying if you doubt they’ll get it? Like anything, it sometimes takes several corrections, but they DO get it. Even if I’m not spanking or giving time outs. Which leads me to…
3. Stop fearing if you don’t discipline a certain way (consistent, firm hand, time outs, spankings, etc) it won’t work. Because you know what? Our God is about grace. He knows we are not perfect, and that’s why He sent His only Son to redeem us. That is how we can be in relationship with Him in the first place. So wherever we are imperfect, He fills in the gaps through the power of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor 12:9 – “My power is made perfect in weakness.”) Tell me that’s not comforting and freeing!!! (Even if you do, I won’t believe you; my mind’s made up.) So stop fearing that you’re doing it wrong, or your lack of consistency will breed a wild child. Give yourself room to mess up. If you are consistent MOST of the time, and parent out of love, God will do the rest. Remember too that each situation is different. Take the time to know your children individually. Sometimes a spanking might be the best way to teach. Sometimes taking a beloved toy or lovey gets the point across better. You don’t necessarily have to be consistent with your METHOD – just with your love and correction. God is not a God of rules… He’s a God of Grace.
4. Stop fearing what kind of kids they’ll be when they grow up if you don’t ‘succeed’. Hand them over to God. They are not yours anyway. We have merely been given the privilege of raising them to adults. They never really belong to us. Our job is to “train them in the way they should go” (Prov 22:6), pray unceasingly for their hearts to know Jesus, pray for their future, and TRUST OUR GOD that He loves them more than we do. Isn’t that reassuring, refreshing, and… easier?
When you trust God to reinforce what you are doing your best to teach, you will be SO much less stressed… and happier. Therefore your children will be happier… and more obedient too.
Also remember these two points:
1. Imperfect is normal.
2. Our kids learn right and wrong from us. They really have no idea what is okay or not until we teach them. Instead of being frustrated they don’t already KNOW, calm down and realize it is your job to TEACH them.
Ever heard that phrase People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care?
Parenting out of love is kind of like WWJD – more like What DID Jesus do? How has he loved you in the past? How has he loved you into desiring to change? Sometimes, for me, it’s been when I’m in the midst of loud, chaotic, raging messes and coming to Him completely honest and ugly. And imperfect.
IMPERFECT, that’s the key. When we stop being so afraid of messing up, God is able to teach us the next step. When we admit we’re wrong or angry or ignorant, He gently and lovingly whispers what to do next. He’ll point out a flaw. Or illuminate a wrong attitude. He’ll show you exactly what thoughts need to be changed and how to adjust them. Scripture says if we “humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God” He will “heal our land”. He will fix what’s broken. Which is the whole point, because when our kids mess up, they’re being imperfect too. If God can meet us in our imperfections, we should be able to meet our kids in theirs. That’s what love is about – not being afraid of facing the ugly, scary, unknown, uncertain, imperfect, messy stuff. When they are in their raging messes, and we meet them there, they are loved into learning how better to love. Teach them love through your actions, and they will copy your actions and love better too. That’s why your method doesn’t have to be consistent; we’re teaching them to love, and love always wins.
I want to parent like God parents me:
– with a quiet voice
– never in a place of fear
– always with their best interests at heart – based on what you know is right for them. God knows what’s in our future. Even though we don’t know what’s in our kids’ future, we can pull from past experiences and trust God with the rest.
– with love casting out their fear and mine, inviting them to a place where they can come higher and choose God’s love over any fear.
In this video on parenting, Mark Hall puts it perfectly: “Love earns the right to speak truth… That’s how Jesus could say hard core stuff to you and you’d sit there and listen to it – because you knew He loved you.”
Click here for another message by Executive Pastor Steve Carter detailing how we act from love or fear.