I have this picture in my mind of those days when my children were little. My mom friends and I were so full of optimism. Our generation was going to be different. We were going to bring up our kids right! We were excited because our young ones were awesome, and we could see awesome futures for them.
But over the years, we watched many of our beloved children make wrong turns and land in tough places. It was heart breaking. Big sigh.
Now don’t get me wrong. We’re proud of who and where our children are today. God has been writing good endings to their stories and we are faithful that more prayers will be answered.
But my friends, you have to know that the stakes are high. It’s vastly important that you teach your children clear standards of righteousness.
Here’s the coolest thing. We think it’s a drag that the Bible tells us all this stuff not to do, as if God doesn’t want us to have any fun. But it’s actually the best blessing ever that God clues us in on what is right and wrong. (Acts 3:26) It helps us avoid the pitfalls.
You see, sins are harmful. Committing them either hurts us, hurts someone else, or hurts our relationship with God. God just wants what is best for us. He’s steering us clear of a train wreck.
So we need his word. Our children need his word.
But this is where the “momfuddled” part comes in. There’s so much in the Bible, and it makes our head spin to decide what to do with it.
And, sure, we believe in the Bible, but what about all this current research on raising kids? Sure, we want to apply the scriptures, but doesn’t it depend on the situation?
So how do we teach clear standards of righteousness? I’m going to try and keep it simple.
Start by compiling a list of what is right and wrong according to the scriptures.
Begin an investigation of what the New Testament says. When you find something that is a directive for behavior, write it down. It may be helpful to ask others what they’ve found.
Here is my advice on what should be on this list:
- Disobedience (Ephesians 6:1)
- Disrespect (Ephesians 6:2, Proverbs 6:17)
- Lying (John 8:44)
- Unkindness (Matt 7:12, Ephesians 4:29)
- Fits of rage (Galatians 5:20, James 1:19-20)
- Arguing and complaining (Philippians 2:14)
Once you’ve established your list, make it the backbone of your parenting. Stick to it like glue. When they’re old enough to read, show your children the scriptures. Let them know that your rules come from God, and not from your opinion. You can even have them memorize key verses, so God’s standards will be impressed on their heart.
Then set clear boundaries.
Now that your children know what is right and wrong, it is tremendously important that you spell out to your them exactly where the boundary is. The Bible tells fathers to not exasperate their children. (Eph. 6:4) I believe that setting unclear boundaries exasperates our children. Sure, they know what they’re doing is wrong. But they also know that they can get away with it because you’re just giving them a series of warnings. The thing is, at some point you explode. You feel justified, because you’ve told them over and over. But they’re frustrated, because they didn’t know when they were expected to start behaving.
One mom told me the key to effective parenting is, “Consistent discipline and expectations- with both parents unified.”
Another said what is most important is, “Laying out your expectations and then following through every time, even when you are tired, sick or when they are sick. It is hard but if done correctly it creates and teaches boundaries, helps your children feel secure and expresses love.”
Let your children know that they have a choice.
In general, you don’t want to force your child to do what is right. You want to help them make the right choice. This is how God operates with us.
So in each situation, explain your child’s choices to them, and the consequences of making the wrong choice. Then ask them what they choose. Even a toddler can be told, “You can play nicely with the toy, or you can throw it again and I will take it away. Which do you choose?”
You’ll find this alleviates so much of your frustration!!
My mom advisers were a big fan of this approach. “We talk a lot about how they have a choice just like we as parents and adults have choices,” one mom related to me. “And that the choices we make determine the path that we go on. I even say things to them like, ‘That really stinks and I’m so sad you made that choice.’”
This mom also tries to make sure that there are appropriate consequences. “If they miss the bus repeatedly we tell them they have to pay gas money for us to take them to school. If they are getting lower grades at school we tell them they have no screen time until they bring the grades up.”
Which brings me to our next point.
Set consequences. It is vital that there are consequences for your child if they make a bad choice. This is the way the world works. You wouldn’t expect to kill or steal, for instance, without there being repercussions.
Look at these scriptures:
- “A hot-tempered person must pay the penalty; rescue them, and you will have to do it again.” Prov 19:19
- “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” Gal 6:7
- “Those who spare the rod of discipline hate their children. Those who love their children care enough to discipline them.” Prov. 13:24
Make sure the consequence is effective. God knows that discipline needs to be painful. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11)
The consequence doesn’t have to be physically painful. (Although I believe spanking can be an option if it is done correctly.) Timeouts can feel miserable. Losing a toy or privilege can seem like it’s the end of the world. My point is that you can’t expect your child’s behavior to change if you just mete out a token consequence. Yes, there are a few sensitive children for whom this will work. But for the majority of them, you will have to find something that gets their attention.
Here is the best way to discipline a child.
- Tell them that they made the wrong choice. Read the scripture that describes the transgression.
- Tell them that because of that choice, they will face a consequence. Assure them that you love them and don’t think that they are bad, but this is the result of their choice.
- Mete out the punishment.
- Afterwards, hug your child and talk with them about what happened, and why it was wrong. Help them to think through why they made the choice they did, and what they can do in the future.
- Have your child pray, and ask God for forgiveness and help with not doing the wrong thing again.
As you see, disciplining should be an event.
Whew! I know. It takes a lot of time and energy. One mom who is addressing a pattern of misbehavior in her child told me, “I realized that it means that I’m going to be late a lot, and the house is going to be messy.”
But doing it right is so worth it. And that leads into my final point. The goal is not just that your children do the right thing, but that they desire to do the right thing. That’s why we take the extra time.
Make it your life’s work to disciple your child’s heart. Help them see why something is wrong. For instance, if they lie, talk about what happens when you lose trust. Tell them the story of the boy who cried wolf. Talk about how Satan is the father of lies. Ask them how they would feel if someone lied to them.
Help them look at their sin in the context of a relationship with God. “God loves you so much. It makes him sad when you do this.”
Use everything in life as an opportunity to have a spiritual teaching time. As they got older, my children would tease me, “Here we go, life lesson #101.”
“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deut 6:7)
There’s so much more I could say! But I’ll leave you with three quick suggestions:
- Everything in parenting starts with prayer. We need God’s help and guidance more than anything else. (II Chronicles 20:12, Phil. 4:5, Prov. 3:6)
- Get advice. We need one another’s help too! (Proverbs 24:6)
- Enable your children to get advice from an adult they feel comfortable with. As they become teens, if they have a problem with you, be willing to allow them to practice Matthew 18 and bring in someone you both trust to help work it out.
Ah, sister moms, my heart is with you in your days. Are you feeling what I felt? Full of hope, but somewhat momfuddled?
Let me leave you with a verse that is balm to our souls. It’s also a song. We used to sing it at every family devotional, and my youngest daughter would always jump up and dance.
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. The Lord is my portion says my soul. Therefore I will hope in him.” Lamentations 4:22-24
The last effective ingredient in parenting is grace! God’s mercies are new every morning! Every day, you can take a deep breath and start over again. Every day, you can renew hope in your children.
Yes, a lot is at stake. Yes, it will take so much work you will never feel like you do enough.
But don’t live your life weighed down.
Pray. Know God’s grace is sufficient. And then delight yourself in the Lord and the blessings he’s given you.
As a couple of my mom friends shared —
- “All this comes with lots of love, fun, and making wonderful memories!”
- “You have to laugh a lot.”