Stop the Parenting Wars


A friend of mine once said that our first child should be sent home with a gallon of pink amoxicillin and a How-to-Fix-It-Book. Parenting.  It’s a word that brings great joy, but it also causes all kinds of other emotions.  Fear.  Anger. Disappointment.  Pride.  Love.  Hilarity.  You name it, I think parenting can make us feel, well, almost anything.

There are a gajillion parenting theories out there to help us get through this journey of joy, fear and love all rolled together.  A few days ago, I read a couple of articles on discipline that I would label “extreme.”  They represented each end of the spectrum.  One advocated little discipline, the other almost adult-like discipline.  Both articles made me cringe.  Talk to any parent, and they will give you a different opinion about what works and what doesn’t.  And now, parents can sign up for classes to teach them how to be better parents!  Attachment Parenting, Grace-Based Parenting, Love and Logic, Dare to Discipline, The Five Love Languages for Families are all names of books and schools of thought that have attempted to give the Christian parent a sure roadmap to raising emotionally and spiritually healthy and mature children.

Through the years of raising our own three daughters, being far from perfect, making plenty of mistakes and working with families in church and military life, I have learned some helpful insights:

1)  Whatever the advice is, we need to hold it up to Scripture and know the entire context of the biblical passages.  Does it line up biblically?  And are we taking verses out of context?  The Bible is full of parents, good (Timothy’s mother Eunice) and bad (several of King David’s kids had ALL kinds of issues) to study, as well as endless wisdom.  I have been guilty of putting a certain author or speaker on a pedestal where only God and his Word should be.

2) What works for one family may not work for another.  What works for one child may not work for another.  We learned to glean from all the advice, taking the good and separating the bad for our particular family dynamics and personalities or where perhaps we disagreed with the advisor.  We also learned to lean on prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

3) Discipline is not a bad word.  Biblical discipline (a) is consistent and true, (b) emanates from a legitimate authority (c) establishes boundaries and compels action and/or change.  Biblical discipline is concerned about the whole child and presenting a child to maturity!  The original word in the Greek implies an action that presents one who is mature and complete, lacking in nothing, reflecting  the very glory of Christ.   In other words, it’s how you raise your child into adulthood, not a method of punishment!

4) We must be careful to discern cultural expectations.  Perhaps the best insight I’ve learned over the years is one I first became aware of in one of the counseling classes Pastor Mike (my husband) and I took in seminary.  Family dynamics can be co-dependent, independent or interdependent.  A person can be codependent, independent or interdependent.  The very nature of American  culture teaches that independence is best.  The biblical and sociological reality is that God never intended us to be independent but interdependent!  Interdependency teaches that we need a relationship with Christ and fellow believers.  Inter-dependency teaches accountability for actions with family members and society in general.  God created the family to be the very foundation of society!  For it to work, we need to foster healthy relationships that are mutual and caring.

5) We need to be parents of grace and not push our children to adulthood before they are ready.  Children mature differently.  We tend to define maturity by age and how our legal system defines age-appropriate milestones, such as driving and voting.  Maturity depends on many factors, and we need to consider each of our children individually.  We need to have grace for not only our family but also other families.

6) Developing grace-based godly character should come above all else.  We need to be an earthly example of the grace that God extended to us through Jesus Christ.  And we need to help our children – and grandchildren- be secure in a world that is increasingly changing toward Christians.  May our families be Psalm 1 families:

Oh, the joys of those who do not

follow the advice of the wicked,

or stand around with sinners,

or join in with mockers.

2But they delight in the law of the LORD,

meditating on it day and night.

3They are like trees planted along the riverbank,

bearing fruit each season.

Their leaves never wither,

and they prosper in all they do.

4But not the wicked!

They are like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind.

5They will be condemned at the time of judgment.

Sinners will have no place among the godly.

6For the LORD watches over the path of the godly,

but the path of the wicked leads to destruction.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, take a deep breath and know you are not alone.  It is possible to refocus and be intentional about your parenting.  A new year is a good time to reassess and set goals for your family.  I’ll touch on Intentional Parenting in the next blog.

Putting a Bandaid on a Heart Wound

Many of the most popular parenting blogs these days give this kind of advice:  Have your kids give up certain things and they will become better kids and then, naturally, better adults.  Make your kids work hard.  Stop indulging them.  Don’t make them the center of your world.  On the surface, it sounds like good advice.  But does it really address how to love our children?  So, here’s my question of the day to those of you who have kids at home:  Is your parenting style behavior based or heart based?

The problem with behavior-based parenting (i.e. focusing on what a child does, with discipline, consequences, or reward) doesn’t address the heart, theirs or ours.  And it often leaves them thinking as they mature into the teen and young adult years that if they mess up, they have lost their faith.  Because their faith has become a system of dos and don’ts, rather than a relationship based on grace.  (See Fuller Youth Institute’s recent study on Sticky Faith.)

Proverbs 4:23 says this: “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flows the springs of life.”

Jesus said this in Matthew 15:18: ”But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile them.”

Behavior modification puts a bandaid on an open heart wound.  Grace-based parenting, heart-based parenting teaches heart and character development through relationship.  Relationship with Christ.  Relationship with parents.  Relationship with others.

I’ll be looking at two different ways of thinking more in depth by reviewing popular parenting “styles.”  Next up: Love and Logic by Foster W. Cline and Grace-Based Parenting by Tim (1) 2.

Road Maps

The word that strikes fear into every owner of a GPS.  Recalculating can mean “traffic jam up ahead” or “you’ve taken a wrong turn” or “I am a computer, not a nice lady, so I am blipping and you are going to end up in an corn field.”  When my husband was in the military and we were stationed in Germany, our GPS, after “recalculating” several times, took us through a narrow, 2 lane mountain pass in the Austrian Alps with few railings and daredevils on speed motorcycles.  Let me just say that we learned from that experience.

I no longer trust our GPS completely.  I look up directions on GoogleMaps, Map Quest, and an actual, physical, paper map.  Yes, we have learned that a GPS is not always the best guide to get to an unknown place.  And even after so much planning, there may be detours, road work, or accidents.

Raising children is a little like that.  We have what we think is a high tech road map to bring them to some kind of success.  Today’s parents, more than ever, plan their children’s future.  They plan the classes they will take, beginning them at an early age and enrolling them, sometimes hours a week, in sports or dance or music or perhaps all three. I can look back at my own mistakes as a mom and see that, at times, I was focused on the wrong kind of success for our girls.  What do we define as success for our grown children?  Education?  Talents?  A profession that brings in a lot of income?  Or character, selflessness, godliness?

Do we give more encouragement when our children perform well and look good?  Or do we let them know we appreciate qualities of justice, compassion and mercy?  In the words of Jesus, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Mark 8:36

Proverbs says, “Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  Proverbs 22:6

What does it mean to “train up a child” and what, exactly, is “the way that he should go?”  Here is the ultimate road map for raising kids, one that will not steer us wrong.

First and foremost, it had to do with the culture of the land which involved the instruction of godliness.  Secondly, the Hebrew roots of the words give the general idea that each person has a life planned by God, a “bend” if you will, for what he or she is to do in life.  Clark’s Commentary on the Bible puts it this way:

“Dedicate, therefore, in the first instance, your child to God; and nurse, teach, and discipline him as God’s child, whom he has intrusted to your care.  These things observed, and illustrated by your own conduct, the child (you have God’s word for it) will depart from the path of life.”

Join me as I ask God to give me the wisdom and strength to live a life of character, selflessness, and godliness and to encourage our children and grandchildren.  I pray that He would show me areas in my own life example that hinder them from seeing, seeking and giving the love of Jesus.  This parenting thing is not easy at any stage.  How thankful I am for a God of grace who works through me and works apart from me!

Obedience Rather Than Sacrifice

The last two weeks of my life have been spent with my new grandson, Michael. My daughter and son-in-law live in Brevard, North Carolina, nestled in a valley of the Blue Ridge Mountains. They have lived in western Carolina for almost 5 years now, and these mountains have become a sabbatical for me. Every time I visit, I discover a new place to experience the very presence of God. This time, it was in a waterfall glen about a mile hike from the road. Transylvania County (great name, isn’t it?) has more waterfalls than any other county in the United States, and each one is unique, one rushing, another hundreds of feet high, most tumbling. But nothing prepared me for this quiet place of a slight steady stream of water cascading gently overtop a high, shallow cave indentation back in the Appalachian woods. For a few minutes, as I stood and looked at the waterfall, true silence surrounded me. No footsteps, no cars, no overhead airplanes, only the sound of God spilling gently into a wadable rock pool. I wanted to stay there all day and listen.

That water has no choice but to do what it is meant to do…run downstream somewhere. It obeys gravity. In that quiet place, God spoke to my heart about obedience. We do certain things, or at least I hope we do, every day, without thinking, that are a mark of obedience. We exercise restraint because of laws: stop at stop lights, follow the speed limit, especially though school zones when we see a police car. What if we saw God looking at us when we choose to disobey Him? Have you ever seen a toddler who is told to not do something and then he looks directly at his parents and does it anyway? Are we not like that at times with God? We know He is looking at us and prompting our souls not to do something and we do it anyway?

A wise woman I respect once sent a prayer request for the children of an ill mother who was in a coma, and in the request she included this: “pray that they will be obedient to God’s Word, because I am sure their mother would be praying the same thing for them.”

As I hold my 3-week-old grandson and have held my 4-month-old granddaughter Maile in Colorado, I pray many things for them. I pray that they will have a personal relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ, I pray that they will know that they are set apart for something special, I even pray for their future spouse. But I have also been praying that they will be obedient to Him and His Word. The troubles that we bring to our own life really can be traced back to this one and most difficult daily thing: obedience. It is true of my own life, and I see how my disobedience has affected others. And although I have studied about it, talked the good talk about it, and prayed for a heart for it, I don’t think I have truly practiced it.

“Now then if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be my own possession among all the peoples, for all earth is Mine.” Exodus 19:5