Saturday, January 29, 2011

Helping Our Children Grow Trust

I had a thought this week about parenting. Why do we say, “We want our kids to be able to tell us anything,” but when they mess up we are quick to point it out and teach them a lesson or redirect them? If we don't learn to let our kids mess up and not say anything at all or if we don’t learn to love them in the middle of the mess ups and laugh a little for them than they are not going to tell us about more serious mess ups when they really need our support and direction. In fact, the more a child receives a punishment or correction every time a parent is pained by what they do the more that child will act out and be distant from their parent when they grow up. We say things like “Jesus death covers all our sin. Past, present and future.” However, we don’t act like that. Our obsessive focus on what our children do wrong or what they need to do right demonstrate that we don’t act like Jesus is raising our children. Your kids’ mess ups are covered and there is Someone who is guiding, holding and caring for them that isn’t always pointing out what they do wrong. My definition of discipline is this: Discipline is not hurting your child after they have done something wrong. It is guiding them away from self-reliance towards trust in someone bigger. That trust begins with trusting their parents and then later the Lord. If your main goal of discipline is punishment your child will not trust you the way they need to.
To me our parenting focus got off track when we misapplied the meaning of rod and discipline in a verse like this: Those who spare the rod of discipline hate their children. Those who love their children care enough to discipline them. (Proverbs 13:24) To many people the rod only symbolized corporeal punishment and therefore we came to equate the word rod with the word spanking. The rod was a symbol of leadership and care. The shepherd used the rod to guide the sheep, protect the sheep, and lead the sheep to water and green pastures. The rod was also used to swat the sheep on their behind but that was not its main use or only focus. The only use of the rod was not corporeal punishment. If your only focus of discipline is swatting your child or applying pain to their life as a means to teach them and guiding, protecting and nurturing isn’t part of what you do well as a parent than they won’t trust you and become children that are responsive to the Lord. In fact, some of the most meaningful moments of your parenting will be when you think your child needs pain to straighten them out and you give them grace. Again, the rod was a symbol that the shepherd was the care-taker of the sheep. Because of what discipline has come to mean (punishment) we are better off using words like guidance or training to describe what the rod means. Our fear pushes us toward a more rigid definition of discipline. When we are scared about where our kids are headed it is easy to resort to the thought that more pain will straighten them out. That is a lie. A parent, of course, needs to be free to use pain in the course of their parenting but that is not to be the focus of what you do to raise them.
I want our children to trust us and come to us when they are in trouble and really need help. We begin to point them in that direction when we are free to correct them or apply grace depending on what will be most beneficial in the moment. If there are meaningful times where we can let their sin go and meet them with kindness in their fear, discouragement or shame there is a good chance they will trust us with their messes when it’s more important. (This is for another time but we also want them to have other people to go to when they mess up. A parent can’t be everything….)


I'm jodi said...

Thanks for an outstanding reminder, and illumination of the purpose of the rod. Once again, the illustration of the sheep and their shepherd grows richer and better.

Shea said...

Thanks for this post, Gordon. I needed to hear it.