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I only recently realized what an important verse this is in terms of gentle discipline. So often, punitive parenting is rooted in fear--not only does it cause fear in the child, but it is based on the parent's fears. Think about the last time you felt a need to punish your child. Most likely, there was an element of fear involved. Maybe fear of not being able to control your child. Fear of what others would think. Fear of what your child would turn into if you didn't punish. I know that when I am tempted to punish, those are the driving motivations.
What is absent in that? Power, love and self-control.
Real power doesn't need to prove itself. Someone insecure in authority creates battles as an excuse to prove dominance. When I was 15, I spent the summer babysitting 50+ hours per week for three boys. I wanted their respect and first time obedience. I would get irritated watching their interactions with their grandmother. It seemed like a cop out when she didn't perceive things as defiance the way I did and instantly try to squash it. I felt like she wasn't going to the heart of the issue by tackling what I saw as disrespect or disobedience head-on. Eventually, I realized that it was the opposite. I was the one focusing on superficial issues. She was so secure in her power and authority that she could afford to show mercy and grace, and to look beneath the surface to see the less obvious needs for connection.
Our power to control others is limited. Have you ever tried to force a reluctant child to sleep? You may be able to coerce them into staying in bed, but not into actually sleeping. (Can you even make yourself fall asleep as soon as you wish? I can't.) We cannot obtain power over another person's heart through coercion. Regardless of the gilded promises of Christian parenting gurus, you cannot punish your child into loving God. Or into being a good person. As parents, we have a tremendous amount of power, but not always in the way that we think. If we try to grasp power that we don't have, children will respond to our violation of healthy boundaries with fear and rebellion. It erodes the connection and trust in our relationship.
The power that we do have is the power to care for our families. We have the authority to protect our children. To teach and guide. Their dependence on us gives us enormous power in shaping their lives. From a Biblical perspective, that means serving. Washing their feet, both literally and metaphorically. Meeting their needs to the best of our abilities. Recognizing the need for connection, even when (especially when) it manifests in unpleasant behavior
I Cor. 13:4-7 NIV "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."
When I have wanted to punish, it was not because of love, despite any lofty motives I might claim. It was because I was impatient. (They should know better! They should do what I want right now!) Unkind. (Shaming). Prideful. My pride wounded because they didn't demonstrate the respect for me that I wanted. Embarrassed by what others might think. Dishonoring them by dismissing their feelings and thoughts. Self-seeking. Trying to bulldoze through with my agenda, without regard for their feelings or developmental levels. Delighting in evil? Perhaps not, but presuming evil intent on their part comes awfully close. If we are expecting to find the worst in them, that little part of us that wants to be right may well be rejoicing in the satisfaction of having our suspicions validated.
All of the spanking experts stress the importance of self-control. Parents should never spank in anger. That can be tricky if you need a moment to cool off, since they also stress the importance of punishing promptly (otherwise, the behaviorism isn't going to be as effective, since the child may not associate the pain with the infraction). And how many parents get caught up in cycles of punishment, where their own lack of control in yelling and punishing causes the atmosphere of the home to deteriorate?
I spoke earlier about the limits of power. We aren't really meant to control others, and if we try to usurp that power, we will always face conflict. We are, however, given power to control ourselves. Are we modeling for our children the attitudes that we want them to reflect? When we are maintaining healthy boundaries and controlling ourselves the way we should, the desire for punishment diminishes remarkably. We are then able to correct in ways that help turn the hearts of our children to their parents, and turn our own hearts toward them.
|Image credit Karlina - Carla Sedini on Flickr|