In my opinion, this is the toughest part of being a Christian parent—letting the gospel shine in how I deal with my kids. It just seems to come naturally to me to be law-oriented. You sin. You experience a consequence. So logical. What isn’t logical is how God deals with us as his children. It’s all about grace—his grace that I should now reflect to my children. Is this a struggle for you too? Read on to see how two Christian parents approach this challenging aspect of parenthood.
— Nicole Balza
You and your spouse sit on the plane as newlyweds with arms crossed and annoyed gazes. Three rows back, a baby fills the entire cabin with ear-piercing screams. You whisper to your spouse, “If that were our child, we would not let that happen.” The same words are uttered under your breath as the scenario plays out on a grocery store floor during the epic meltdown of a toddler.
Fast forward. The doctor shouts, “It’s a boy!” As tears flow, you hold your firstborn. Your life has forever changed. King David reminds us that under this panda bear onesie lies a sinner (Psalm 51:5). As he grows, so do his sins, as do the smiles of your parents and teachers recalling you at that age. Apparently taking a ballpoint pen and writing on the bedsheets and bedroom walls seems logical to the six-year-old as does having a meltdown in the grocery store over fruit snacks to the four-year-old. Boom! You have become those parents. Are you ready? Are you prepared?
Here’s my humble advice—not Scripture, but it has worked for our family:
- Have a plan. I know it sounds odd, but in the premarriage, lovey-dovey stages, have the tough conversation of your joint plan to discipline your children. Perhaps your spouse’s family’s and your family’s thoughts on effective discipline differ. How will the two of you handle the scenarios above?
- Communicate. If that doesn’t work, communicate even more—with each other and with your child. The child will try to pit parents against each other. My wife and I have found (after whatever discipline we’ve agreed upon from #1 above) that having the child explain back to us why he was being disciplined has helped him to see the error of his ways. Constant communication with your spouse helps the two of you work as a team. Communication with the child helps him to see his sin and more times effectively curbs that attitude.
- Let the gospel predominate. Newsflash: We are sinful. We will make mistakes, but each mistake is forgiven (that includes parenting mistakes). When disciplining, if you see repentance, be quick with the gospel to comfort the child. Proud parent moment: Sitting next to my son during one of his timeouts and hearing, “You hate me, daddy.” I said, “No, son, I do not hate you. What you did was wrong, but like God, I love you and forgive you!”
Being a father has made me more empathetic to what God must feel when I continuously do boneheaded things. God comes to us in his Word and sacrament, and what is unfathomable is that he took his Son and punished him in our place. This is love. This is what is to be evident in parenting. Discipline—yes, but Jesus took our disobedience and now stands in love at the forefront of our parenting. And yes, that includes everywhere from the airplane to the grocery store floor and beyond.
As Christian parents we know the importance of the law and the gospel. The law teaches that we need a Savior. The gospel is the good news that we have one.
We all are born with a conscience. I grew up with a healthy conscience. I often felt like I didn’t get to do “fun” things because I would feel so guilty if I did. Or I would make sure to do the right thing so I could avoid that horrible feeling of guilt. I remember hoping that my children would have the same conscience I did so that they would keep out of trouble.
I don’t wish that anymore. Don’t get me wrong. I hope they have a good sense of what is right and wrong based on God’s laws, but not for the same reasoning I had. I did the right thing in order to avoid guilt. I do not want the same for my children. Guilt motivation is full of shame and fear. I realized this in my 40s and had to take a hard look at my parenting. See, guilt motivation is effective in changing behavior. But as my kids get older, I don’t want to focus on their behavior. I want to focus on their hearts.
I did the right thing in order to avoid guilt. I do not want the same for my children.
Focusing on their hearts is difficult. It takes time and hard conversations. It isn’t just addressing the behavior; it’s looking at the root of the behavior. And in those deep, hard places, there has to be grace. I want them to be motivated by love.
It wasn’t too long ago one of our kids came to my husband and me with regret over a sin. It hurt this momma’s heart because his behavior wasn’t what I wanted for him and, if I’m being honest, my ego wanted him to behave a certain way and he didn’t (the whole “my kid would never do that” pride).
As he came to us, we chose grace. Our son already had enough shame and guilt over what he did. My husband and I needed to remember that the Spirit lives in him. God already convicted him through the law to recognize he needed forgiveness. He didn’t need the law from us. He needed forgiveness. He needed grace. He needed freedom.
Living in freedom is what our Creator, our Father, wants for us: to do the right thing because we get to do it and to choose to walk away from the wrong thing because Jesus has so much more for us. So, more living motivated by love and not to avoid guilt. That’s what I want for my kids. That’s what I want for me. That’s what I want for all of my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Authors: Multiple authors
Volume 107, Number 10
Issue: October 2020