My husband and I both work full-time jobs that keep us away from our kids more than we’d like. When we do have time together it seems like most of it is focused on taking care of problems that have arisen between them or at school. Sometimes I think that our focus on discipline issues distract us from other things.
Whenever we speak at family conferences, the majority of parenting questions we are asked relate to correction, discipline and punishment. These are important concerns for every parent. Proverbs 19:18 tells us to “Discipline your son, for in that there is hope . . .” In Proverbs 15:32 we read that, “He who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever heeds correction gains understanding.” Hebrews 12 tells us that God’s discipline is a sign of his love, it is done for our good “that we may share in his holiness (12:10).” In fact, “it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (v. 13).
While discipline is important, we have come to believe that the root of our parenting problems is a lack of togetherness, a failure to understand our children and connect with them in ways that allows our love for our Lord to spill over onto them and into their hearts. Our children need more than guidelines, guardrails and direction. They need shepherds who understand the times and understand their hearts. The model for this kind of parenting is our Lord Jesus Christ. In the gospel of John, we are told that the good shepherd cares for the sheep, “. . . and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice . . . I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep . . . The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away . . . because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep . . . I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me–just as the Father knows me and I know the Father–and I lay down my life for the sheep . . . . My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10: 3-5, 11-13, 14-15, 27)
Any shepherd will tell you that sheep aren’t likely to follow a voice they don’t know. They won’t follow a stranger. Christ said that his sheep hear his voice and they know his voice. Do your kids know your voice or have you become a stranger to them? Do they know that, like their heavenly father, you are a good shepherd who knows them, understands them and truly cares for them?
Simple observation and personal experience will tell you that kids won’t follow the voice of parents who don’t know them. It’s obvious that you can’t guide a child you don’t know, and they aren’t likely to follow a parent who they believe doesn’t know them. A child is much more likely to trust a parent who spends time with them, delights in them, believes in them, assumes the best about them and is quick to forgive them.
Kids who are listened to tend to listen. Kids who know they are understood usually want to understand. Kids with parents who assume the best about them are more likely to assume the best about others.
A strong, consistent, Christ-centered, love-based relationship with our kids in which they know they are loved, accepted and understood is the environment in which the “Good News” of the gospel will be caught and not just taught. This is the environment that will make the difference between kids who follow Christ as adults and those who don’t.
We agree with John Gottman that, “The key to successful parenting is not found in complex theories, elaborate family rules, or convoluted formulas for behavior. It is based on your deepest feelings of love and affection for your child, and is demonstrated simply through empathy and understanding. Good parenting begins in your heart, and then continues on a moment-to-moment basis by engaging your children when feelings run high, when they are sad, angry, or scared. The heart of parenting is being there in a particular way when it really counts.”
The fact that you are reading our column says that you care about your kids. What is your goal for them? How will you know that you have been a successful parent? How do you measure success? What will your children be doing, saying etc. when they are young adults that will tell you that you did a good job? Is your goal well-behaved kids, manageable kids, kids who don’t embarrass you . . . or kids who are “becoming conformed to the image of his son?”