I have three sons: Eli (7), Liam (5), and Ari (2.5). We have a lot of fun together but like every family we have our share of conflicts. Thankfully because of their ages they are minor and usually inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, however we do take things like disrespect and disobedience quite seriously. My wife Abby and I have spent countless hours trying to figure out how to be good parents. I know we are not alone in this since a quick Google search turns up roughly 648 million results in 0.47 seconds. Things like “10 Tips on How to be a Good Parent”, “50 Easy Ways to be a Fantastic Parent”, “9 Steps to More Effective Parenting”, and my personal favorite: “How to be a Good Parent (with Pictures!)”. There are at least 7,314 books on parenting in the Library of Congress, and countless blogs on the subject. It seems to me that everyone wants to be a good parent to their children and are looking for help.
That is where my wife and I found ourselves years ago. It started with asking family and friends for advice. Many gave examples from their own lives, some offered books or videos but none of them really seemed to fit. It was frustrating… almost maddening being told that we need to discipline this way or that; be more consistent and discipline the first time, every time. We heard from some, “Spanking is the biblical way to discipline”, and from others “You should never spank your sons.”
Of course, discipline is only one part of parenting. What about protecting your kids while allowing them to explore the world they live in? What shows and movies are appropriate for them to be watching? What music is okay for them to listen to? How many special treats are too many? How well are they expected to behave in church or at the zoo (which is awesome by the way)? When do we have big life discussions? Where do we draw these lines? Where do we draw them as Christian parents hoping that they (or maybe we) can hold on to their innocence a little longer? It’s hard… it’s really hard, and so our natural response is to pull back and try to control the situation.
Allow me to offer a few thoughts of encouragement that God has been revealing to me lately and over the course of many years.
1. You Are Not Alone
With over 7,000 books and 648,000,000 webpages attempting to answer the questions of parenting it’s important to know that we are not alone and we are not failing because we don’t have it all together. As Christian parents we need to stand with one another and encourage other moms and dads. Instead of standing back and observing, as a critic, the struggles parents are having we should humbly come along as a servant to help.
2. The Books and Websites Don’t Have the Answers
I hate to be the one to burst the bubble of the Christian parenting circles that swear by authors like the Pearls and people like them, but they don’t always work. In fact, in our case and the case of many others it’s made things worse. Do they have some good things to say? Sure, but it is foolish to trust in the wisdom of man alone. Maybe those styles of parenting are good for you and your family? If so, that’s great; but for many it is difficult, denigrating, and often times infuriating.
For example, if you are a mild-mannered parent with a submissive or compliant child then a swat on the bottom may be a great way to correct behavior so that it doesn’t happen again. But if you already struggle with anger it’s probably not a wise course of action, especially if your son or daughter is strong willed and stands defiantly in the face of physical discipline. It will make life miserable for everyone.
Protection and Boundaries
You can have a field day trying to figure out where to set boundaries with your kids. Pray about it. Ask Jesus what to allow and what to restrict and consider what your child is ready for. In our family, for instance, our boys are not allowed to watch a movie unless we’ve seen it first. For some that sounds crazy, but for us it works. I noticed long ago that movies that would have been rated PG-13 when I was a kid are now the PG movies and in both television and cinema the main characters are often disrespectful to their parents and other adults. Keep in mind our boys are 7, 5, and 2. As they grow in wisdom and stature those rules will change, but for now we are preserving their innocence.
On the flip side of that, our older boys are fully aware (Eli more than Liam) of the realities of the world. They know that there is real good and real evil. They know about the Islamic State and the Christian genocide that’s happening in the Middle East. They know that it’s fun to pretend to shoot guns but that they are dangerous if not handled properly. They know that predators target children and so it’s important to stay with mom and dad when they go places. Protecting your children is not simply about sequestering them from the real world, it’s about sharing the things that are necessary. Violent and inappropriate games/movies are not necessary, knowing real-possible threats are.
3. Lighten Up a Little Bit
I was talking to my mom the other day and she made an interesting statement. “Daniel,” she still calls me Daniel, “you need to lighten up.” It was a fair statement. Somehow, over the course of seven years I have gone from one extreme to the other to the point where I have been overly critical of my boys. In all honesty I think it’s because I see them doing the same crap that I do, and have done, and it bothers me. In an effort to never make a mistake in being a good Christian dad I’ve made some big ones and often times it’s because I’ve been trying to adhere to the standards of some book by disciplinarians with a big fan base rather than exploring what God wants me to do with His kids.
So sit back, take a deep breath, and know that you are not alone. Life is hard, and it won’t be any easier on your kids but God is with them just as He is with us, unto the end of the age.