Grace and Christian parenting

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TulipGirl linked to this post on a blog called Quiet Garden. It's a letter from one mom to another on making the shift away from some of the controlling, behavioristic parenting methods popular in evangelical circles and toward a way of Christian parenting that reflects God's fatherly grace towards his children. It is packed with helpful and convicting insights. Here are just a few:

I started questioning all of the things I had been taught about "christian parenting", and I did word studies in the Bible on things like "obedience" and "discipline". I was shocked at what WASN'T in there... none of the harshness or retribution I expected; instead, obedience was almost always linked to *love*, especially in the New Testament. "If you love me, you will obey me"... not "if you don't obey me, you will suffer". It was obedience based on relationship, not fear of punishment, which was a totally foreign concept to me. I guess in my mind I thought it was "if you obey me, then I can love you".

I had to really look at how I viewed my relationship with God... is that the way I thought he saw me? If I was obedient, he would love me and be nice to me, but if I wasn't, he would make bad things happen to me? I couldn't find that idea anywhere in scripture. Instead I found him saying "if you focus on loving me, you will WANT to be obedient". The focus was always on my relationship with him, my obedience was supposed to be a natural product of my love for him.

When I started asking God to show me how to parent, it didn't happen the way I expected. Instead of getting "Holy Spirit parenting tips" on how to make my kids behave, I started getting convicted for my OWN behavior. When I started to get angry at them for something they were doing, I would be reminded of a situation where *I* was doing the exact same thing my child was doing, only in an adult context....

If I wanted them to handle frustration calmly and reasonably, then I had to demonstrate self-restraint and not fly off the handle and yell at them when they ticked me off. The idea is not just to *tell* them how to act, but to *show* them what it looks like. After all, how can we expect them to do something we can't?...

If I could not behave better than my child, how could I be so arrogant as to stand in judgement over him and be less merciful than I would want God to be to me? God showed me all of the times I made excuses for myself for my bad behavior, for being crabby or impatient or selfish, or just plain rebellious towards him. It was so easy to rationalize my own behavior, but my children, who were immature and still learning were expected to jump to it, never have a bad day, never make mistakes?...

Take your cue from the Holy Spirit... one who is called along side to help. Instead of MAKING your kids do what you want, work on finding ways to HELP your kids do what you need them to do. Don't see yourself as standing over them, but be someone who comes in alongside them and helps them do what they need to do. More kindly coach/mentor and less crabby old school teacher.

There's more. She unpacks the description of love in I Corinthians 13, turning each phrase into a question for parents to ask ourselves about our motivations in how we direct and discipline our children.

We read the Ezzo books before our oldest was born. Many of our friends -- good, loving Christian people -- recommended them to us. I regret it. That approach to discipline alienates parents from children, and sets mom and dad up as scorekeepers and penalty managers. I found myself denying myself the enjoyment of time with my brilliant, funny, and beautiful kids for the sake of teaching them a lesson. And a child's natural desire to please mom and dad turns to despair -- the feeling that nothing he does will ever be good enough, so why bother trying?

It is hard to ditch the Ezzo mindset. You're confronted with regrets over years wasted and damage done, as the letter on Quiet Garden discusses. There's also the inner Ezzo nagging you that you're being too lax, too lenient, that you're spoiling your kids. But I'm starting to think that the worst kind of spoilage would be if my child no longer felt connected to me, if my child felt alienated from me, no longer identifying with my values, uninterested in my advice, unwilling to learn from my experiences.

I'd rather work alongside my children, enjoying their company, sharing laughter, and guiding them down the right path -- not like the guy back at the gas station who gave you directions but like the sherpa who is with you step-by-step up the treacherous mountain trail.

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4 Comments

Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

I don't know what Ezzo is, but it doesn't sound good. The great thing about parenting is that children are great to be around. The bad thing is you only get one chance to do it right. Better to have fun and gently guide as you say.

Thanks for sharing that.

Michelle Author Profile Page said:

Ezzo is the hack who wrote "Growing Kids God's Way" that teaches you to put your infant on a schedule (which is absolutely WRONG- they need to eat when they need to eat), and spank babies. He has been disciplined by his church and kicked out. He is a total fraud. This method of child rearing appeals to new parents who don't know better and parents that are wanting to fit in with other people in the church. They have classes on it in many churches, despite the fact that Ezzo is under church discipline. This method is for the convenience of parents in many cases, not for the betterment of the children.

Agreed, thanks for sharing this, Michael.

David V Author Profile Page said:

The behavioralistic format was popular in fundamentalist churches in the 70's & 80's.

It's biggest weakness is with children who have undiagnosed mental health issues. This regiment does great damage to them. I consider it abusive if a child has a legitimate mental disorder. Especially Autistic kids.

As a kid we used to have bets on Sunday mornings, in our rural Minnesota town, whether or not Pastor Kittle of the 1st baptist church could make it through a radio broadcast WITHOUT telling parents to spank their kids.

Having said that, I do believe there is a practical purpose to spanking. I only spanked my kids when I was calm and had discussed the incedent with the child, followed by prayer and a hug.

"I was a much better parent before I had kids"

Roby V said:

I totally agree!

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on April 23, 2009 6:54 PM.

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