What legacy will you leave your children?

Math word problems were never my “thing.” But math was my dad’s forte. As a paper scientist, he loved its logic and precision. I would struggle for what seemed like hours with “One train starts from Chicago at 10 a.m. . . .”—then go to Dad. He would look at my scratchings, smile, and say, “Okay, let’s start fresh—a clean piece of paper is a clear mind!” Then off we would go as he explained how to solve it in a way my young mind could grasp.  

Dad is gone now. But his lessons live on. What legacy will we leave for our children and grandchildren? Dad supported my dream of teaching, and, after nearly 40 years in a Christian classroom, I’ve gleaned a few “dad” lessons.  

Enjoy the adventure! From the time our little ones arrive to the day they leave home is a precious window. It’s easy to get caught in the everyday grind. Before we know it, they’re gone and we wonder, “What happened?” The diaper days, toddler years, school days, and adolescence—they all pose challenges. Do your best to treasure those times. Make the most of your hours with your sons and daughters. The Lord promises “a time for everything” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). 

Play show and tell”be involved and supportive. Dads need to intentionally “be there” for their children, building relationships and making memories. “Teaching them the way they should go” (cf. Proverbs 22:6) means talking, asking questions, hanging out together. Know your children’s dreams and be their cheerleader. Most important—tell them that you love them. Dads can have a hard time sharing those words their children long to hear. Remember to “show and tell” them they are loved. 

Be yourselfnot your kid! Guard against forcing your own “agenda” of unmet needs on your children.  

Discipline in love. Children make lots of mistakes. They sin often. We sin often. A life of forgiveness is what we need to model. We have been forgiven much. Avoid disciplining in anger and shaming your children. God reminds dads to never “exasperate” their children (Ephesians 6:4). 

Live your faith and be honest. Children are God’s gift to us. Being a Christian dad isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s messy; often we’ll fail. That’s the nature of our Christian walk. Our heavenly Father knows that. His Word is our guide. He offers full and free forgiveness. We need that forgiveness from our children as well. Being authentic and honest in our faith walk will leave a lasting legacy for our families.  

And just for the record—I jotted these thoughts on a clean sheet of paper.  

Dave Payne and his wife, Joyce, have four adult children and two grandchildren. Dave serves at Fox Valley Lutheran High School, Appleton, Wisconsin, and is a member at Eternal Love, Appleton. 

“I get no respect”

Sometimes I feel like that old comedian who after every joke tugged at his collar and whined, “I tell ya, I get no respect.”

My boys don’t always show respect. And that’s a problem—not just with me, but with God who commands, “Honor your father and your mother . . . ” (Exodus 20:12) and “You must respect [your] mother and father” (Leviticus 19:3).

So, if I’m going to be a faithful and loving parent, I’m going to have to teach my kids to show me respect. But that’s hard, because my sinful anger gets in the way whenever I feel disrespected. So before I consider my relationship with my kids, I need to consider my relationship to God. How well do I respect him?

If I’m honest, I have to admit that I disrespect God every time I sin—even when that sin is prompted by my boys’ disrespect. I in essence say to God what my boys say to me, “What I want is more important than what you want. I choose to make myself the authority instead of you.”

How does God handle it? He doesn’t allow me to talk back to him without consequences—a fight in the family, a greater struggle in our home. He teaches me that it’s not okay to do things my way instead of his way in love. “The Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (Hebrews 12:6).

So, too, I won’t allow my boys to talk back to me without consequences. I will discipline them (with great patience and careful instruction) when they are disrespectful.

But that’s not all God does. He doesn’t just discipline me with his law. He also earns my respect and—even more—he earns my love by his gospel. He sent his own Son to face the disrespect and torture of sinful men, to be crucified on a cross for me. And now I am completely forgiven for my disrespectful attitude and for every sin that has resulted from it. This moves me to love and respect God and want to live for him.

So, too, I will try to earn my boys’ respect—and their love—by showing my love for them. I will try to motivate my boys to show respect by showing them how much God loves them in Christ. And with his help, using his law and his gospel, I will learn to better respect God, and my boys will better learn to respect me—all out of love for him.

Online exclusive . . . more from Rob Guenther on this subject

I’ll admit that this article was very difficult for me to write. I don’t have the answers to this challenge. I kind of feel like a hypocrite writing it because my kids don’t always show me respect. And when they don’t, I too often lose my cool and sin against them. We’re working on it. And thank God that we have his forgiveness in Christ.

But in searching for help to write this, I bought the book Love and Respect in the Family by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs. And I think it’s very well written. It doesn’t just give practical tips for the parent/child relationship but even highlights Christ and his love for us that motivates and empowers us.

Dr. Eggerichs points out that maybe God doesn’t just bless kids with parents. Maybe sometimes he blesses parents with kids, through whom he teaches us to rely less on ourselves and our own wisdom and more on him in prayer and in his Word. It’s pushed me to pray for my boys more and has given me new insights into ways I can interact with them. I would strongly recommend that any parent struggling with the challenge of their children showing little respect would get a copy and read it (or listen to it if you’re not a reader).

Disciplining my Cinderella

I wish I could tell you it’s never happened, but it has. I’ve rounded a corner to find my two-year-old daughter about to start dancing on the counter. Yeah, she’s that kind of kid. Wow, do I love her for that!

I figure it’s all a part of the plan. God decided, “Since I’ve decided they’re only going to have one child, I’m going to give them one that’s going to thrum with life.” And she does. She lives life to the hilt. I’m pretty sure she thinks she’s not really living unless she’s somehow perched three feet off the ground.

What do you do with a daughter like that? Sometimes I just grin when I see her antics. How can you not when she looks at you with her big blue eyes and her classic, “What, Dad? This is totally safe,” kind of look? Other times a grin couldn’t be more out of place; where there’s something far more insidious going on; where we just know. We know it’s more than just innocent curiosity and it’s more than just vibrant wonder. When we see the look that says, “Dad, I know you told me not to and I don’t care,” we know it’s open rebellion.

For us, how we discipline is often decided by her attitude—the why behind it all. We have lots of patience for her fearless approaches to whatever climb she’s after next—metaphorical or otherwise. We’re happy to teach and guide with all the gentleness and tenderness we can muster. And we’re happy to parent her like that as long as she is innocently learning her world, but never when she’s trying to overthrow it. When she becomes self-willed, “whys?” us to pieces, or has that rebellious glint in her eye, we never tolerate it. We move swiftly and firmly to let her know that’s never okay. We love her too much not to.

I suppose everybody’s anxious to know what that looks like. In my experience, it always looks different. I’ve found that it’s a judgment call based on 1) the danger level of the activity, 2) her level of understanding about that activity, and 3) her attitude about whatever it is that she’s up to. Once I’ve ascertained those things, I’m ready to discipline her.

What is the right way to do that with your two-year-old? Yours is different than mine so I can’t tell you. Does any open rebellion demand some sort of physical reminder? Is a time-out the most attention grabbing strategy? Do you have a tender little conscience in your care that only requires a verbal reprimand? I’m not sure. And what happens when your two-year-old becomes a more nuanced and sophisticated preteen? What does discipline look like then? Ah, somebody help me!

No matter what you decide as a parent, we’re probably after the same thing. We want our children to “get it” when they sin so that we can comfort them with the gospel until they “get” that too.

In moments when my little girl grasps the seriousness of her situation, there’s no greater joy than asking her in that same moment, “What did Jesus do with your sin?” and having her respond, “He wash it all gone.”

I’m convinced that’s why Elliana lives with so much pep and confidence. Sure, sometimes I’ve rounded a corner only to find her expressing that gospel confidence with an attempted counter dance, but, hey, that’s in the job description too. I’m always more than happy to grab my little Cinderella, explain the danger in a clear and animated way, and be her Prince Charming by dancing with her on the living room floor.

The root of “discipline” is “disciple”

As our kids become older, I have come to realize that discipline doesn’t have to be a negative thing, fraught with tears and drama and anger. After all, the root of discipline is disciplea student who is guided by a wise teacher and spreads that teacher’s beliefs.

What if we start to look at discipline as discipling? It changes the focus. It becomes less on punishment and anger and more on correction and guidance. What a blessing for our children when we discipline in love, according to God’s perfect wisdom! “Blessed is the one you discipline, LORD, the one you teach from your law” (Psalm 94:12).

Do you remember the first time you held your newborn? So perfect. So innocent. Discipline was the last thing on your mind. But then the dreaded day arrived: the first time those pureed peas came flying right back at you. Or the first toddler tantrum, during the quietest part of the sermon. Even our precious babies are sinful from conception (Psalm 51:15).

I admit that discipline is tough for me as a parent, since my nature cringes at conflict. Thankfully, my husband, with his quiet spiritual wisdom and practicality, has balanced me out as we do our best to discipline our boys in love as a united team, using God’s Word as our guide.

As our boys age, our methods of discipline have changed. No longer does a time-out alone in the bedroom cut it. That is every teen’s dream. Our disciplines have taken on age-appropriate forms, like loss of the car keys, not being able to attend a concert or game, or the loss of technology privileges. These disciplines are customized to the age of each child and each situation. They are designed to get this message across: We love you and God loves you, and his Word is very clear on right and wrong. If you break the house rules and God’s rules, there will be consequences. But there is always forgiveness as well.

Parents, let’s hang in there when it comes to discipline in the home! We all want our kids to be honest and hardworking citizens. We want them to be faithful witnesses of God’s Word, living embodiments of Christ. It is our duty and privilege as Christian parents to “discipline those we love” (Proverbs 3:12) as we guide our kids in God’s truth. This is so easy to say but often so hard to do—especially as our society increasingly blurs the lines between right and wrong and dismisses moral absolutes.

As our boys become adults, it is getting even trickier to discipline as their choices become bigger and more life-impacting. And sometimes kids simply make poor choices, despite our best efforts and despite hours spent in family devotions, prayer, and worship. That’s when we need to hang on and pray like crazy. We need to keep showing them our love and forgiveness, while not compromising what God’s Word says, in all its perfect wisdom.

Our discipline flows from love

Discipline. The past 14 years of Tad’s and my parenting adventure have included many trials and errors. Just when we thought we had it down, a different child, with a different personality—and, therefore, different needs—showed up. But here are a few basic, underlying things that we strive to do.

We start early. The battles when they are little may seem difficult at the time because who doesn’t want to give that cute two-year-old whatever she wants? The earthly consequences when they are little aren’t that big so it is easy to cave. However, that same behavior looks much different when they are in their teen years—and the earthly consequences are much greater. The truth is, disciplining when they are little is much easier than when they are older.

We follow through with consequences. Sometimes that means we, as parents, miss out as well. Although, Tad and I are getting better at picking consequences for our children that don’t punish us in the process.

As our children get older, we let them have a say. As much as possible we share with them why we have the rules and consequences that we do. If they can understand and be part of the process, we believe this helps teach them discernment. This wisdom will be with them even when we are not with them.

We choose what hill we’re willing to die on. Our house rules really fall into two categories: love God and love others. If a rule doesn’t fit under one of these, then we look at the reasoning behind it. Is it because of our personal preference? Because that’s the way we’ve always done things? Because we are concerned about how the outside world will view our parenting?

We let our creative 10-year-old girl go out in public with the most unique choices of clothing. We let our older boys grow their hair out way, way longer than we’d like. If it isn’t a character issue, we won’t die on that hill. If it involves how we love God and/or how we love others, that’s a hill on which we will stand, fight, and die.

We try to model our heavenly Father. He disciplines out of love for us. He wants the very best for us, which is a relationship with him. Our discipline is out of love for our children. We want the very best for them with Christ as the center of their lives. None of this works if we don’t have a loving relationship with our children.

As much as we know these concepts work for our family, we still struggle with our own flesh, our own agendas. Only by God’s grace are we able to implement these things out of love for our children. We know the work pays off. We enjoy our children as they grow in God’s grace.