Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Few Tools That Have Worked With Our Sweet Little Guy

My little guy is a little older than 2.5. I have noticed that he seems to feel more content and secure when we do what we say. In order to always do what we say, we try to have very few boundaries. With our little guy, we do not want him throwing any toys except balls or stuffed animals, we do not want him to hit, bite, or kick us or others. Those are two of our main rules. We enforce them be being with our little guy, and by constant reminders and do-overs (not in a nag, nag way, just kind, and firm and consistent). We also redirect him to things that he CAN do. The other day, he picked up a car, and was about to throw it, then looked questioningly at us. "No, cars are not for throwing," I said firmly. He ran over and picked up another toy, looking at us again, his eyes saying, "what about this one?" "No, that toy is hard. It gives owies!" I replied, "But, you can throw your ball." A look of relief came into his eyes, and he said, "Where is it?" and trotted happily into the bedroom to retrieve it.

I also love routines, and so does my little guy. They help so much with behavior issues. For example, I limit TV and sweets. He is allowed a small sweet treat and 20-30 minutes of TV in the am when he wakes up, and the same thing in the pm after his nap. He loves this routine!! It keeps me from having to constantly be answering requests for more TV or more sweets all day, and it gives him something to look forward too. Routines are boundaries, but they also give kiddos something to look forward too. Oh, and we go to the park after I do dishes every day (being outdoors a ton lets out nervous energy too).

I also like to think of my words as "gold." They are so valuable, and if I mean what I say now, then it sets a foundation for my little guy's later years too. So, if I ask my son to do something, and he flat-out refuses, then I repeat, "You need to....". If he still refuses I say, "You need to..., or mommy will help you....". This is magical. Little man would prefer to do things on his own, to assert his independence, so 9 times out of 10, he chooses to do what I asked him on his own. If he does not, I pick him up immediately, and help him do what I asked. If he throws a fit, I will allow the fit some space (unless we are in the middle of the road, then I would move him to the side), and allow my little guy to calm down, and then we still follow through with what needs to be done. If he is tired, hungry, angry, lonely, then I do not request things of him, but deal with his needs first.

Another wonderful tool, is to give your little guy an exciting, beneficial-to-him reason to do something (this is not a bribe, as it is what we would do anyway, it just reminds him that something good is coming after he does what is not so fun--this motivates me too, with my household chores). My little man hates getting his diaper changed, but when he hears, "First get diaper changed, then we can go to the park," he is very quick to lie on the floor for me to change it. Or, if he won't wear his shoes, "Ok, no shoes! Then no playing outside," (said with empathy and kindness)...this takes patience, a willingness to wait for your child to decide on his own that he is ready to get his shoes on so that he can go play outside, etc.

GD means that we choose to parent with grace and empathy, to help our children, with gentleness, do what they need to do, to get down on their level and try to understand life from their perspective. It is far from permissive; it is a TON of work, because you cannot be a couch parent who yells out orders to your kids. If you say something, you need to be able to KINDLY and LOVINGLY enforce it. You have to be willing to endure tantrums and learn how best to soothe and encourage your child through the tantrum. You have to realize that you are parenting before God and not before others.

When I write things out, it always helps me to see areas that I need to work on, so this exercise has been good for me! More than anything, a walk with God by us parents is essential. Without His strength working through us, we would be unable to be both firm and gentle, wise and patient.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Growing Up

We went the mall yesterday to do some Christmas shopping. Usually, at the mall, we let our little guy walk without holding our hands as long as he stays close. But yesterday the mall was unusually crowded, so we told him that he needed to stay right beside us, and sometimes he would would need to hold our hands. Marvelously, he reached up and held my hand the whole time. I reminded my husband how a few months ago, we had to endure meltdowns because our son did not want to hold our hands; because he wanted to go a different direction/speed then we were going. At one point, our son exclaimed, "Look at that!" He started to run, and I said, "Aydon, wait! Show mommy what you want to see." And he did! Communication is wonderful.

Then later in the day we went to Barnes and Noble to hang out and let our little guy play with the wooden train there, which he loves. I smiled as I watched him interact with the other children, not take their trains away, and walk around them, rather than shoving them, when they were in his way. How many grueling days we have spent teaching our son to walk around the kids who are in his way, teaching him to give one of his trains to children who have no trains! Then, as we were leaving the bookstore, our son surprised us by throwing a tantrum because he was not ready to leave. The beautiful thing was that both my husband and I understood that he was overtired, and we understood what it was like to have to leave an activity that you love, and we were able to respond with empathy without giving in (not to say we weren't tempted to be embarrassed, but when we stand in confidence in God's acceptance of us, we don't need to worry about what others think!).

Today I took my son to the grocery store for a quick trip. Usually, he rides in the cart, but if I have a small list, I let him walk. It is good practice for one day when I cannot fit him and the baby into a cart. I told him ahead of time, "No candy and no chocolate today." I also told him that he needed to stay close to me; then we could go really fast and get home quickly so that he could play. He held onto the cart the whole time, staying close (this is really nothing short of miraculous!), "helping" me push it.

I take very little credit for my son's great behavior these last few days. He is growing up, and he is able to communicate with me; that solves so many issues. We have definitely had two mottoes with our son: always follow through with what we say, no matter what, with kindness and empathy AND repeat, repeat, rinse, and repeat when we are teaching him a skill (like walking beside the grocery cart at the store). But I am definitely not a perfect parent who knows it all! I will not be shocked if, in a week or so, some new and challenging behavior surfaces, and I am left muddled and confused and running to God for direction.

So why am I writing this post? To remind myself that children go through stages as they grow up-some of them pleasant, some of them not so pleasant. Sometimes we will fell worn out and want to give up. Sometimes we will wonder if what we are doing is really working. I want to look back and remember that children grow up, quickly in fact! Many difficult-to-deal-with behaviors just fade away (not to say we ignore harmful behavior, like hitting other children). I hope that someday when we are old and our children are grown, we can look back with joy at the days our children were growing because we took growth in stride, enjoying our children for who they are. May God continue to remind us/give us the strength to parent with patience.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Story of John Law and John Grace

"For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!""      -Romans 8:15

When I first shared with my mom some of the things we were striving to do as we raised Aydon, she said, "That reminds me of the story your dad always tells about John Law and John Grace." I have been thinking a lot about this story lately...I will share the reason after I tell the story:

There once was a lonely, sad, and dejected woman. She was married to a man named John Law. John was harsh; he had a lot of standards for his wife. He demanded that she keep their house perfectly neat and tidy. Every day, she would wake up and carefully make the bed, sweep the floor and cook breakfast. And every day, her perfect husband would find flaws in her work. If there was a wrinkle in the bed, he pointed it out to her. If the eggs were not cooked perfectly, he gave them back to her and demanded that she make a fresh batch. It was not that John Law's standards were flawed: they were perfect! It was just so discouraging because she could never live up to those standards. She woke every morning feeling hopeless about herself; knowing that she would never be perfect.

One day, John Law suffered a heart attack and died. A few months later, the former Mrs. Law met another man named John Grace, whom she married soon after. The first morning after their wedding, this woman awoke and began the tiresome task of straightening out the house and cooking breakfast. Her new husband greeted her with a hug. Glancing at the bed, he said, "Oh, look, there's a wrinkle in the blanket." Sighing, the sad woman began walking to the bed to straighten the wrinkle, but was surprised by another hug from her new husband accompanied by, "Honey, you look tired, let me fix that for you." The rest of this first day of wedded life was bliss for the tired woman, for though John Grace had as high of standards as John Law, he did not demand for her to reach those standards; rather, he reached them for her. He showered love and compassion on her. He was her helper, there by her side, fixing the messes that she made.

Imagine the transformation in Mrs. Grace, formerly Mrs. Law, after several months of Mr. Grace's kindness!

This story illustrates the incredible gift of grace that we believers have been given, as the verse at the beginning of my post so aptly states.

If we, as believing Christian parents, are given this incredible gift of grace from God in the person of Christ, who reached all of God's perfect standards for us, then how is it that most Christian parents are urged to raise their children under the law? The New Testament makes it very clear that when we strive to reach God's standard on our own, we will always fail: that is why Christ died for us; that is why we have the Holy Spirit to lead and guide and empower us daily. I am astonished that Christian parents, having been given a grace-system under which to operate, demand that their little children, who are still developing and growing, reach a certain standard of perfection, or else. If little two-year-old Johny does not pick up his toys immediately upon being asked, he is punished. If he dumps water on the floor (probably as some sort of two-year-old experiment), he is shamed. I have heard some Christian parents rationalize this treatment of their children by saying, "We are training him," or, "The punishment relieves his guilt; we are doing him a favor," or, "He knew better!"

Graceful parenting means that we have high standards for our children. It also means that we are there to help our children accomplish what we ask. We do not want to lead them into hopelessness. So, if I want my little guy to pick up his toys, I get down on the floor with him on eye level, and kindly tell him that he has a few more minutes to play, and then we will have to pick up the toys. And then, when it is time, I actually help him clean up. If he is angry and does not want to, I give him some time and space, and when he is ready, we pick up the toys. The standard never changes, the means to reaching the standard does. This is raising our children under grace. It is far from permissive. It breeds in our children a spirit of hope, and a knowledge of love. It nurtures our children, teaches them what it means to listen to their parents as we work side by side with them.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Three Little Words

Yes, I am still blogging! :-) We just returned from a crazy two-week vacation, visiting two sets of in-laws, and tons of cousins, aunts, and uncles.

God chose this vacation to remind me that I am not parenting for accolades from others. My little guy did great at first, but as the days wore on, and more and more people paraded in and out of our lives on a daily basis, he began to crumble. He is normally cheerful and easy-going. He became cranky. He was upset if anyone did anything that bothered him, and loudly declared it. He had tantrums. I felt so sorry for him, knowing that he did not understand everything that was going on; knowing that he was exhausted from lack of sleep; and knowing that he recharges best away from people, from whom there was very little escape on this trip.

Aydon is also the eldest grandson on both sides of the family, so he is used to receiving all the attention. On my side, he has a little cousin who is about half a year younger than him, and loves all the same types of things he does (thomas the tank engine, trains, cars, garbage trucks). So, halfway through our vacation my brother, his wife, and this cute little guy came to stay with my family as well. This threw Aydon for a loop. I had to be constantly watching to make sure my little man did not take toys from him; to help him share (beforehand, we did pick a few toys that he wanted to keep in the room, which he did not have to share); to keep him from pushing his cousin. This was exhausting, and there were so so many tantrums. By the third day, our little man was playing a little better with his cousin. One evening, the were jumping on a little air mattress while my mom supervised. There were laughs and yells of fun coming from the room. Then, suddenly, silence, followed by shrieking wails from Aydon's cousin. I ran into the room, heart racing, fearing the worst. Nightmares came true: Aydon had bitten his cousin on the foot! I was horrified. I picked Aydon up and carried him into the room where we were staying. He was hysterical, screaming, yelling for water, kicking his legs.

My husband went to ask my mom what had happened. Apparently, the boys had been playing well, and suddenly, Aydon became frustrated and upset and then bit his cousin. Ryan, my hubby, came to the room where I was with my beserk kiddo, holding a cup of water. This was one of those tantrums that got worse the longer it went on. I felt like crying. I also felt sorry for Aydon. He was mentally overloaded, emotionally overcharged, and it was spilling out all at once. Don't get me wrong, the biting had to be dealt with, but there were a myriad of causes, and he was just an immature two-year old. As our son's wailing continued, my husband suddenly grabbed in a bear hug, and whispered calmly in his ear, "I love you, Aydon." The horrible tantrum ceased immediately, like a hurricane that miraculously evaporates, as Aydon reached out for a hug from his daddy.We were able to calmly talk to our son about how the biting hurt his cousin; how he would need to tell him sorry; and how we wouldn't be doing any more jumping on the bed that night. After he apologized to his cousin, it was like our son was another person: he played calmly alongside his cousin for the rest of the evening; even offering him various toys to play with.

My husband and I choke back tears when we think about what brought conviction and calmness to our son: three little words, "I love you." How often in our Christian lives do we run from God in shame and disgrace, worried that His grace will not cover us? But when we stop and listen, He is whispering, "I love you." Melting into that love, we are strong enough to face that what we did was wrong. We are able to walk with strength as we face the consequences that sometimes come along with sin, knowing that God holds our hand, loving us; knowing that we stand before Him forgiven.

This parenting by grace thing often leaves us feeling like we are jumping off a cliff into the unknown. Each situation requires a unique response that only God can give through us. We often feel our inexperience as we bumble along, realizing in retrospect that we should have handled some situations differently. This biting incident will forever remain rooted deeply in our minds as an example of the power of a parent's love. Oddly, it made us love our son even more, seeing that he is human, knowing that this was the first of many times that he will make mistakes, just like the rest of us. We are excited to love him throughout the rest of his life; hopefully, he will grow to trust in God's unconditional love offered to him by a selfless Savior on Calvary thousands of years ago.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

What Gentle Discipline is Not, Continued Again :-)

Gentle discipline is not something that occurs only when unacceptable behavior manifests itself. I remember as a child, and even as a teenager, shuddering when I heard the term "discipline". To me, "discipline" meant punishment. It was something I tried hard to avoid.

Gentle, grace-based, discipline, recognizes that to discipline means to teach, not to punish for wrong behavior. When I started studying the true meaning of discipline in the Bible, I went through a real paradigm shift in my understanding of discipline. Previously, discipline was something I imagined I'd "administer" to stop wrong behavior. But I began to understand that discipline was something that should occur all day, every day, because it meant that I was teaching.

Gentle discipline, for the Christian, means that all day, every day, I am to be teaching my little guys. I am to teach him right from wrong. I am to teach him how to cope with problem situations he will encounter. I am to teach him appropriate ways to interact with other children. I am to teach him how to be safe. Most importantly, I am to teach him, both by words and by example as an authority in his life, who God is.

Gentle discipline, then, is ongoing, not sporadic. It is not always pleasant for our children, but it teaches them that discipline is the process of learning. Hopefully, when they hear that God disciplines His children, they will eagerly embrace God's teaching and training.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

What Gentle Discipline is Not, Continued

Gentle disciplines is not adversarial! This week, I dealt with a little five year old girl who has been spanked, given time-outs, and tantalized with rewards for good behavior her whole life. She is one of the worst-behaved, violent little children I have ever encountered. You see, this little girl hears an authority figure set a limit, and she gears up for battle. She is strong-willed and intelligent, and she digs in her heals when she does not want to do something. Her mom told me that one time she spanked her very hard, borderline abuse hard, and the little girl came out of the bathroom laughing. My wonderful husband, upon hearing this story, told me that that is exactly how he was as a child. This week, the little girl told me, when I set a limit, that she was going to smash my head...she proceeded to approach me and push on my head. My sweet little Aydon was terrified. Needless to say, I put my foot down and said that I will no longer watch this girl, for the sake of my son.

I do not want to lump all children into two categories, but I will say that it seems to me that some children are sensitive to what their parents think and feel, and some children, though they definitely crave the love and affection of their parents, are born into this world not so worried about how their parents feel about their behavior: they have a heart to conquer, to win, to lead. Many children have a combination of both of these spirits, and all children were created by God with the personalities that He gave them. The more sensitive children respond quickly to punitive discipline. Having their parents spank them, or put them in time out, breaks their hearts, but they cover it up to please their parents and keep them happy. They act as good as possible to avoid punishment. If they choose to disobey, they often are sneaky; not outwardly rebellious. The children with "strong wills" are more likely to question their parents. Punitive discipline sets them up for a life-long fight. Letting a spanking in any way affect them proves to the world that their parents won, and they will not have it.

Gentle discipline addresses both personalities, because the parent embraces the role of a teacher, a discipler, who comes alongside the child, works with the child's personality, and guides the child in the right direction. Christians who use gentle discipline recognize that a child's heart is what matters, and that outward good behavior does not always mean that the heart is in the same place. These Christian parents seek to teach their children right from wrong, yet they also do not mislead their children into thinking that outward good behavior is all that counts. They allow God to work in their child's hearts. They refuse to shame their children into acting good. They treat their children with the same grace God bestows on them.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

What Gentle Discipline is Not

I love how Ezzo describes the attachment parent in Babywise: a total pushover parent with absolutely no boundaries. While this is most certainly true of some people who practice attachment parenting, it is also most certainly true of some "punitive" minded parents.

I love taking my son to the park in the evenings. But sometimes I get so tired of parents who sit on the sidelines and yell at their kids, "stop doing xyz, or you'll be sorry!" Minutes tick by, the child continues his/her behavior, and the parent either pretends not to notice the child, or the parent continues with meaningless yelling. Occasionally, said parent will become incredibly angry, walk over to his/her child, yank them by the arm, and either pop them on the bottom or drag them, parent and child screaming, to the bench on the side. The parent is angry; the child feels that he/she has been treated unjustly. No real discipline is occurring here. My heart cries as I watch parent/child relationships deteriorate in this way.

Gentle discipline takes another approach. The parent sees the child doing something dangerous or harmful to others. The parent walks over to child, and redirects. If the child digs in his/her heels and refuses to be redirected, the parent, kindly and respectfully, yet firmly, holds the child's hand, or picks the child up, steering the child in a different direction. The parent shows the child acceptable alternatives to the unwanted behavior. The parent is willing to play with the child.

I love some of the results I am seeing in my son's life due to this type of discipline. When I will not allow him to do something, yet express my understanding at his frustration, more times then I can count, he comes running to my arms, telling me, "I'm sad..." or "I'm worried about...." or "I wanted to...". Isn't this the way God wants us to respond to Him when He tells us "no" or "later" or "that is bad for you"? He wants us to go running to His arms for comfort!

Well, little man is waking from his nap...I will post more on this subject later.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ungraceful Dancing

I have decided that life with a two and a half year old can sometimes resemble an ungraceful dance. Sometimes, little man takes me completely by surprise, and I fumble around for a while, trying to regain my parenting equilibrium. Case in point: Aydon and I went to the park this evening. He did a great job of leaving, and we were soon on our way to the car. I was in a hurry to get to the car, because there were giant mosquitoes that had just come out, and they were hungry! Two year olds really don't get the concept of "hurry, mosquitoes!" though, or at least my two year old doesn't. We neared the parking lot, and Aydon decided he wanted to climb over the little yellow blocks that mark the parking spots. Not just one, but every single one. The more I tried to rush him over those, the more he wanted to play on them. Finally, I said, "Aydon, one more time, and then we are going to the car!" Well, then he decided he wanted to try climbing the fence. Then he decided he wanted to run over and check out the trashcan beside our car. And me? Chasing him around like some confused mama hen. And, finally, me, with the words "Aydon, we are going to the car now. No more playing," grabbing his hand and holding on for dear life while he tugged a little before giving in and coming with me.

I couldn't help but chuckle at what I must have looked like to the other parents at the park. I decided to call my fumbling an "ungraceful dance," and I decided that I will always dance this crazy dance with confidence. Why? Because being a good mama means that I am a learning mama. With each new situation, I will dance ungracefully the first time, and then I will take the situation prayerfully to my heavenly Father, who teaches me to parent, and ask Him for wisdom and guidance. Next time there are mosquitoes and I am in a hurry, I will forewarn Aydon that we are going straight to the car, and that he will have to hold my hand. Maybe we will make a pretend game out of it even, like, "Let's pretend we are dogs. Let's bark while we walk to the car..." to distract him.

We went on an airplane trip recently. Little man did so so well! I think it is because we prepped him the week beforehand with what to expect. We role-played and pretended. We read him books about airports and airplanes. We talked about the noises we would hear. We discussed how he would have to stay close to us and hold our hands. We also gave him his own little suitcase that had wheels, and he confidently pulled that thing through the airport! So cute! Another mom and tot sat a few rows ahead of us. The entire trip, you could hear her snapping angrily at her daughter, "Sit down, please!" And, every few times she said this, she swatted her daughter on the leg. It was all I could do not to jump out of my seat and give that mama a piece of my mind. What happened to talking to your tot? What happened to a little firmness mixed with kindness? But then I realized that this poor mother was probably embarrassed and worried about what the other passengers would think of her. She was under pressure, and she likely did not know God, in whom she could find her acceptance and confidence. But for me, watching this momma cemented something again in my mind: I will dance ungracefully no matter who watches or what they think, for the sake of my child. It could have been my son who was trying to stand in his seat, or crying because he was scared. Being willing to do an ungraceful dance would have determined how I handled the situation (and by ungraceful I mean clumsy, not devoid of grace).

While we were on our trip, a sweet elderly lady smiled at us as we entered the mall. Looking at Aydon, she said, "Enjoy him. The time will pass quickly." Spoken by one who certainly must comprehend the profundity of her statement. Let's enjoy our kiddos. Let's do clumsy dances, and learn as we go. They will, after all, grow up quickly.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Pressing On, Trusting God!

We have been busy lately. We recently sold our house, and the very hot July weekend that we were moving, a wave of insane tiredness hit, and I took a pregnancy test, and, sure enough, I was pregnant! I had a miscarriage in February, and we had been trying to conceive again since then, with nothing doing, so it was definitely funny that at the busiest time of our year I found out that I was pregnant. God just really orchestrates life in such a way that we are constantly thrown onto Him, forced to let Him carry us and take us through!

Before we sold our house, I read an excellent book by Barbara Curtis entitled Small Beginnings. Barbara is a mom of a bunch of kiddos, and before she became a mom she was a Montessori school teacher. She has some really neat ideas in her book for playfully encouraging our toddlers to build certain skills. So, when we moved, I was excited to implement some of these activities. But first trimester being the way it is, I hardly had the energy to make it through each day. Then I went shopping for the materials I needed for the activities, and I couldn't find all of them. Yawn. Sigh. I started feeling hopeless and guilty. If I was a good mom, I would find a way to work these activities into my day.

I cried to my husband about my failure as a mom. He, of course, told me I was doing a great job and to trust God. Grudgingly, I decided, yet again, to let go of my ideas of who I needed to be as a mom, and what I needed to do, and trust God. Then I started noticing some things. While I cook, Aydon plays with some measuring cups of mine. Carefully, he pours water from one container into the other. It dawned on me: here he was practicing eye-hand coordination, concentration, and motor skills! I was at WalMart, and this cute little rug with a car track painted on it was on sale, so I picked it up for my little guy. He spends forever sitting on that rug, driving cars around, pretending, focusing. I hear him verbalizing: "put gas in the car, open the door, turn the key, drive away"! Aydon loves to draw with markers...he has always drawn spirals, but he just discovered how to draw lines. He draws dozens of lines all over the paper: fine motor skills, concentration, pre-writing, here we come. If he spills water, or when his toys are a mess, we clean them up together: servanthood, orderliness, here we come! I realized that we don't all fit into a mold as moms, and we shouldn't feel guilty about what we can or can't do. If you ask God, He can open your eyes to the things that are going well...and this gives you energy to make it through to the next day.

God is good! All the time! May our children see us trusting God as they learn about trust from us!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Is Spanking Biblical? Part 4: Why We Have Chosen Not To

I want to begin by saying that my husband and I were both spanked as children. Most American children are spanked, in fact. I love and respect my parents. My husband's and my mutual decision not to spank is not based on any resentment on our part against our parents, and there are many things both of our parents did that we want to emulate as we raise our children.

My husband and I planned to spank our children until our son reached Dr. Dobson's magical 18 months. Yes, we read "Dare to Discipline." But at 18 months, I could not for the life of me spot any signs of rebellion in my son. And when I imagined raising my hand, or using a wooden spoon, to spank him, I could not bear to even imagine the look of betrayal and hurt and misunderstanding that would surely flood his eyes and enter his being. Furthermore, I could not imagine being able to spank my son unless I was very angry, at which point I had no business raising my hand towards him. I approached my husband with my concerns/thoughts. We embarked on a months-long study of Scripture. We prayed for wisdom and discernment. We prayed that God would clearly show us if we were wrong in our conclusions. After much study and prayer, we determined that the Bible most definitely does not mandate corporal punishment. We could not believe how much scripture has been twisted to fit into our cultural views of child-rearing (and, yes, statistically, many American parents, Christian and non-Christian, spank). The Bible does not recommend hitting young children (the age at which we are told to spank) with any implement; it does not recommend spanking children on the bottom. It is surprising that when Paul, divinely inspired, speaks to parents about child-rearing, he does not use the term "spank" anywhere...nor is it even hinted at. We were shocked to realize that the word discipline refers to training, correcting, guiding, exhorting, admonishing our children, but is by no means a synonym for "spank."

We realized that to spank or not to spank is a choice that each Christian parent must make before God. While the Bible does not advocate spanking, and God does not model it, we cannot make a case that spanking is wrong biblically...therefore we will not judge Christian parents who choose to spank...they must make their choices before God. Though I strongly recommend that these parents do not follow the Pearls (at least two children have died under the hands of parents using their methods), Dobson (he really just uses extra-biblical advice based on his own experiences),  Tripp, or Ezzo (two of his children are allegedly estranged from him, by the way; and though his baby sleep-training methods have been challenged because many babies have become depressed or failed to thrive under his methods, he refuses to listen).

Furthermore, I have a temper. I am terrified of what I could do in a fit of temper if spanking were an option. 

This concludes my posts on "Is Spanking Biblical?" I want to talk more about discipline and natural and logical consequences, about parents as authorities, etc. Will talk more about that as we experience the joy of training and guiding and correcting our sweet little boy.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Great Thoughts from Clay Clarkson

Wanted to put this quote in here from Clay Clarkson's book "Heartfelt Discipline" (pg. 176).

"Your children are your disciples, so part of your responsibility is to model for them the character of Christ. Your children will learn what He is like from your example, and they will want to become like the Christ they see in you. Physical discipline is not a part of the biblical portrait of the Savior. There is good reason that you should find it difficult to imagine Jesus raising His hand to strike a child in punishment. It would contradict the biblical portrait of Jesus as the Loving Savior and the gentle Shepherd, laying hands on the children to bless them. But a punitive Jesus is in part, the picture you draw in your children's minds when you use physical discipline. No matter how loving your try to make it, in a day of "What Would Jesus Do?" it is hard to make the case that spanking is what Jesus would do."

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Amazing Thoughts on Children and the Church...

I read this tonight and it resonated with so many of the things my husband and I have been thinking about lately. Click here to read it. Children should be an integral part of our worship...imagine a church like this!

I didn't agree with the idea that everyone should be able to tell our children what to do...we live in a dangerous world; while I want my children to be respectful and kind to other adults, I do not want them to obey other adults. Also didn't agree with everything on the site I read the article on...just liked the article.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Is Spanking Biblical? Part 3: Spanking Relieves Guilt?

I am really not sure where the idea that a spanking is necessary to purge a child of sin-guilt came from, but I cannot believe the number of Christian parenting books and resources that espouse this idea as though it is biblical! All that I can find in the Bible is that Jesus came to this earth to die in our place, taking our sin-punishment upon himself, suffering all the shame and pain caused by our sin, so that we WOULD NOT HAVE TO!! Now, doesn't it seem pretty hypocritical of Christian parents to spank their children for their children's sins, but then themselves be able to turn to a perfect Lamb when they sin? Why can't we point our children to Christ when they sin?? They need to learn that Jesus took care of all their guilt and shame, and before God they are forgiven.

I submit that a child who grows up being spanked as a means to relieve his/her guilt, will have a hard time accepting God's unconditional forgiveness when they are "too old" to be spanked. This child will feel that there is something else that they ought to do to make themselves right with God; they will feel that they ought to somehow make themselves suffer a bit to relieve their guilt. In fact, many Christian kids begin cutting themselves around their teenage years. I am personally acquainted with several who do. I asked one of these teens why they felt they needed to cut themselves. She explained to me that when she was feeling bad about herself, cutting relieved some of the bad feelings. Hmmm....

Recently, my husband was reading about Martin Luther, and the prevailing beliefs of his time. One of the main beliefs at this time had to do with penance. If you sinned, then you needed to do some sort of penance and God would then forgive you. Clearly, people were not encouraged to look only to Christ for forgiveness. Martin Luther would beat himself raw whenever he sinned, hoping to purge his guilt, hoping to punish himself, hoping to keep himself from sinning again. Many monks of old would treat their bodies severely. They did this in hopes that they would then stay away from sin and know God better. Did it work? Of course not!

Sin is nasty; and it has intrinsic consequences. I do not propose that we shield our children from experiencing these consequences. However, I do challenge the idea that a spanking relieves a child from sin-guilt. I think that parents who spank to relieve their child's guilt are missing a golden opportunity to point their children to the foot of the cross when they do wrong. Yes, the child may still experience some of the yuckiness of sin through logical consequences (not through punishment or shaming), but they will see Christ as their forgiveness; they will learn to practice walking in grace. They will not have a need to "do penance" by hurting or otherwise punishing themselves when they sin. They will learn to rely on Christ to give them the strength to do right the next time.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Great Thought From Sally Clarkson

Read this on Sally Clarkson's old blog. Excellent thoughts: 

"When we appeal to our children’s hearts for excellence and choices of good behavior, then we are giving them the will and desire to be excellent all for themselves. Their desire comes from within and their motivation is from their heart. But if we train them behaviorally by always forcing them to do what we want them to do because they might get a spanking, or another kind of threatened discipline, then their motivation is to avoid spanking or harshness but not to please God or to please their parents, by having a good heart and responding in obedience."

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Is Spanking Biblical? Part 2: Hebrews 12

Before I delve into this passage, I would like to point out that discipline and punishment are not synonymous. And contrary to popular Christian thinking, discipline and spanking are not synonymous.

I have posted on this difference before, but I would like to review the difference between discipline and punishment briefly. "Discipline" in the Bible comes from the Greek word "paideia." "Paideia" was actually a common term when the New Testament was being written. According to wordiQ.com, "paideia" meant the following to the early Greeks: "the process of educating man into his true form, the real and genuine human nature." The Blue Letter Bible Lexicon defines "paideia" as "the whole training and education of children." Other ways that the term "paideia" has been translated are "chastening," "nurture," "instruction," and "chastisement." Another definition of "chastening/paideia" by Vine's Expository Dictionary is that chastening "denotes the training of a child, including instruction;" hence, "discipline, correction," "chastening," Eph 6:4, RV (AV, "nurture"), suggesting the Christian discipline that regulates character; so in Hbr 12:5, 7, 8 (in ver. 8, AV, "chastisement," the RV corrects to "chastening"); in 2Ti 3:16, "instruction."

Discipline involves training, nurturing, correcting (chastising). It does not involve inflicting pain on a child in order for him/her to learn; this is punishment. Here is another difference between discipline and punishment from Danny Silk's book Loving Your Kids On Purpose: “Discipline works from the inside out, while punishment tries to work from the outside in. The parent who is bringing learning to a child is not going to try to control the child, but is skillfully going to invite the child to own and solve his or her own problems.” (160) 

Here is a further illustration of the difference between the two from a blog I read recently: "There is a huge difference between punishment and discipline.  Punishment is all about behavior change.  It works on the outward behavior first and foremost.  The hope is that enough punishment for bad behavior will force the child into a pattern of good behavior. Punishment can be delivered without any love at all.  In fact, it’s meant to be rational, impartial, and free of emotion.  Take the criminal court system as an example.  The judges, jurors, and jailers don’t make the laws (legislators do that).  They don’t enforce the laws (policemen do that).  They punish lawbreakers who have been caught by the law enforcers.  The goal of the justice system is to objectively apply a punishment to fit the crime.  It’s about destroying the will to do that negative behavior again." The problem with punishment is that it really only works on outward behavior. A child who is punished may be very obedient to their parent's commands, but they still struggle with inward sin. Worse yet, they will likely become sneaky, afraid to share their struggles with sin with their parents because they know that, like a  perfectly fair judge, their mom or dad will always meet out a punishment.

The focus of discipline, on the other hand, is to nurture children. It is to teach them, actively, how to behave correctly. It maintains relationship while still upholding a standard. It is grace-based; it is relationship-oriented. It does not pit the parent against the child...it puts the parent on the same team as the child.

Judging by these thoughts, would you label a spanking as "discipline," or as "punishment."

I urge you to carefully consider this difference.

Now, if you would like to see an excellent example of discipline vs. punishment, read Hebrews 12. I urge you to read Hebrews 10:32-39;11-12 several times before continuing to read my post. Here is what my husband and I noticed when we were studying this favorite passage of Christians who advocate corporal punishment of their children.

  • Who was this book/passage written to? Believers. What was going on in their lives? They were enduring/about to endure some heavy persecution for their faith.
  • Never once is it stated or implied in these chapters that "you better behave, or else God is going to discipline you!"
  • Hebrews 12 was intended to be an encouragement to these early believers. Would you be encouraged if someone told you that "you better not sin, or else God is going to come down hard on you, and punish you?" The book of Hebrews, in fact, is all about the great High Priest, Jesus, who died for their sins, so that they would not have to endure punishment for said sins.
  • Is Hebrews 12 prescriptive or descriptive? Is it showing how God deals with His children, or is it giving us commands as to how to raise our children (I am not saying it is not a model for us; what I am saying is that it would be wrong to teach this passage as a parenting text)? 
  • If you use this passage as a justification/prescription for spanking, where are those three, four, or five steps that Christian parenting experts tell you you should take when you spank (explain the reason beforehand, hug afterward, don't use your hand, etc.)? If those steps are so essential to take so that the spanking is done in love, why aren't they in this passage, or even in the Bible for that matter?? I realize that many of these experts use the phrase, "and scourges every son whom He receives" as justification of their idea that we, too, should spank our children...but if you are going to follow this passage as a law, you had better "scourge" then. This would mean that you would use a very large whip, and you would beat your child with it until he/she bleeds! "Scourge" does not mean a few swats with a stick. 
  • Jesus was scourged for our transgressions. He is the perfect Son whom the Lord received. Because of Him, we are all able to be received by God as sons. At the beginning of Hebrews 12, the author urges readers to consider Jesus, who endured hostility from sinners, so that they do not become weary (vs. 3). The author goes on to point out that they have not had to shed their blood yet, as Jesus did, in their struggle against sin (better translated "sinful men")! The author is clearly encouraging them to press on through the persecution, knowing that Jesus had also endured the same harsh treatment.
  • Read Hebrews 12, inserting the word "punishment" every time you see the word "discipline." Is this comforting to you? Because this passage WAS intended to be comforting. Now, insert the word "train" into every place you see the word discipline, because this is what paideia actually means. Is that comforting? It should be!
  • Point of Hebrews 12: You are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who trusted God in all circumstances. Do the same! As you go through persecution and hardship, realize that God is using it to train you, because He wants you to mature; you are His sons.
  • Notice that when the author of Hebrews refers to parents who discipline their children, he contrasts these parents with God. They disciplined "as seemed best to them." This actually connotes parents who discipline for their own selfish reasons...God does not ds
  • Finally, did you know that the Greeks also had several different terms they used when referring to children. Here are two that I would like to point out: "Teknon" means child, and is often used to describe believers, who are all children of God, and "Huios," which means son, and connotes maturity. "Huios" is the term that Hebrews 12 uses when it illustrates that God deals with us as "sons." This passage is talking about how God trains mature believers. Interesting, considering that somehow this passage has been construed to mean that we should take a small switch or wooden spoon, spank our small, immature children with it, and then have them give us a hug in order to train them.
Friends, please ask yourselves if this passage really teaches spanking. Read it over and over again! In a further post, I will talk about how life and hardship does indeed train our children, but first I wanted to address the issue of this passage and whether or not it is commanding parents to spank their children.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Is Spanking Biblical? Part 1: Proverbs, CONTINUED

Since I posted on Proverbs and the spanking issue, I remembered a few more things that I would like to add.

In my last post, I addressed the implications of taking Proverbs literally and applying it to your life as a believer, especially the literal meaning of the "rod" verses. I would like to add another implication of reading and applying these verses literally: the rod you would need to use is a "shebet." This is not a small stick, a wooden spoon, or a paddle. The Hebrew term "shebet" is used many times throughout the Old Testament. It is translated many different ways. Here are the ways, according to Strong's concordance:  

Strong's Hebrew Lexicon #7626:
rod, staff, branch, offshoot, club, sceptre, tribe
a. rod, staff
b. shaft (of spear, dart)
c. club (of shepherd's implement)
d. truncheon, sceptre (mark of authority)
e. clan, tribe From an unused root probably meaning to branch off; a scion, for example literally a stick (for punishing, writing, fighting, walking, ruling, etc.) or figuratively a clan.

The Shebet is not a small instrument. A shepherd's staff was a thick, long rod. If you were to literally beat your child with this, on the back (as this is what is literally indicated in the Proverbs), you would likely kill him/her. Recently, a little girl was killed because here parents spanked her with a small switch over and over again. Her internal organs failed, and she died. These were supposed loving, Bible-believing parents! I will post more on this story later. If a small switch can kill a child, imagine what a literal rod could do!! 

Exodus 21:20 warns about the use of the rod: "And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished." This verse is speaking about an adult being smitten with a rod, not a child. And an adult smitten with a literal rod could die!

One more thing I would like to address: Proverbs is a book of Hebrew poetry. This is an important contextual fact to look at when you are interpreting those pesky "rod" verses. If you look at Proverbs as poetry, you will see that the "rod," or the "shebet," is a symbol of authority. When the Hebrews read the term "shebet," they would have had in mind the leader of a tribe, a shepherd's rod (which, incidentally, was never used to beat the sheep. Sheep are very timid creatures, and will not trust a master who raises his hand against them), a king's sceptre, or the shaft of a spear. "Shebet" would have meant authority to them. In the New Testament, believing parents are encouraged to nurture, admonish, train, correct their children: clearly, they are to be in authority over the, so this is a New Testament principle as well.

I would like to explain what I mean when I say that we should not apply Old Testament rules to our lives as believers. When I was a young woman, I used to read Proverbs 31 and feel incredibly guilty because I didn't measure up. I tried to be like her, and I failed. Then I began to learn that I do not have to use the Old Testament as a law by which to live my life. I can read about that woman, and see a picture of someone who is godly, but I do not need to read Proverbs as a rule-book for my Christian life. I learned that I could walk by the Spirit, and that God would then work through my individual personality to be the woman He created me to be! Because I have the Holy Spirit, God Himself, living in me and working through me, He can use me to accomplish greater things than this woman ever did. So, when I realized this, I did not have to compare myself to anyone else; I just needed to stay plugged into Christ. As Christian parents, we need to walk by the Spirit. We do not have to follow rules and regulations in order to be godly parents...we need to walk with God; He will show us how to parent.



Thursday, July 22, 2010

Is Spanking Biblical? Part 1: Proverbs

Let me begin by saying that each and every one of us parents before the Lord. Read what I say with open ears and a grain of salt, bring it before God, study the Bible for yourself. In this post, I will discuss what my husband and I have learned through our study of the Bible. In later posts, I will discuss other reasons why my husband and I have decided never to use spanking as a tool.

Proverbs 23:1-2 reads: "When you sit down to dine with a ruler, Consider carefully what is before you, And put a knife to your throat If you are a man of great appetite." I would ask you to ask a few questions about these verses:
  1. Is this verse meant to be taken literally? Or are we supposed to gain a tidbit of inferred wisdom from reading it?
  2. Is this how we as Christians are told to deal with sin in our own lives? Are we to hold a knife to our throats, literally or figuratively, when confronted with temptation?
    •  The answer to this question is found in Romans 6-8. The way a believer avoids sin and escapes temptation is by realizing that we are dead to our old sin nature, and that we have a new nature that is alive because of our co-crucifixion with Christ. The Holy Spirit empowers our new nature to stand against sin.
    • I will let these verses speak for themselves: "If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 'Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!' (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)--in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence....Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry." (Colossians 2: 20-23; 3:5).
So, what is my point with this? I am not saying that the book of Proverbs is not inspired wisdom. However, we need to keep in mind when reading Scripture the dispensational context of any given passage. Proverbs was written by King Solomon, who was living under the law. Christ had not yet come, died for sin, and given every person the opportunity to trust Him, be born again, and be empowered by the Spirit in their new natures. As believers, we do not deal with sin by exerting self-control to resist temptation--we realize that we are free from sin (though we can still choose to walk in it), and alive to God, and that we must walk by the Spirit. We read Proverbs the same way we read Deuteronomy: we realize it is inspired wisdom, we see God's character through it, but we also read it knowing that we do not have to follow the laws/prescriptions in these passages.  It is not that God has ever changed, it is just that we are under grace, whereas the people in the Old Testament were under law.

Here is a bit more context that is important to understand when you read the book of Proverbs: First, Proverbs was written with a specific audience in mind. King Solomon was addressing his son. Verse 8 says: "Hear, my son...". As you continue to read Proverbs, you will be able to guess at the age of King Solomon's son: he is clearly not a little boy. He is at least a teenager/young man, as Solomon instructs him regarding harlots!

Let me get a little more technical. The passages in Proverbs that Christians hold to as advocating spanking (Proverbs 13:24, Proverbs 23:13,14), are not talking about a young child, but a young man!! The Hebrews used specific words when referring to the different ages of children. I am going to quote from a book by Samuel Martin, who has a BA degree with a special focus on Middle Eastern studies, and who has worked closely with two Hebrew professors in Israel on an excavation trip and a survey trip. That is to say, he has studied Hebrew culture and language extensively. Here is a quote from his book concerning the the number of Hebrew terms for child, each describing a certain age/stage (nursling, young woman, weaned one, etc): "...As mentioned earlier, the Hebrew terms that refer to the phases of life are “yeled,” “yonek,” “olel,” “gamul,” “taph,” elem,” “na’ar,” “bthulah,” “bachur,” “ish” and“ben.”" (Thy Rod and Thy Staff They Comfort Me). The specific stage "the rod" verses in Proverbs are focused on is "na'ar." Now, Proverbs also uses the word "ben" in some verses. "Ben" refers to a boy of any age. Considering the context and the specific use of the term "na'ar," however, one can infer that where "ben" is used it likely refers to a teenage son. "Na'ar" refers to a young man, who is ready to be free of his parents, a teenager approaching adulthood. Here is what Samuel Martin points out: "The word that we find used in three of the verses that advocate smacking in Proverbs is “na’ar.” The phase of life associated with the “na’ar” (which means the“one shook lose”) is that of young adulthood or the teenage years. This is significant. Based on this evidence, it is safe to say that all of these texts in the book of Proverbs have no application to anyone less than about ten to twelve years of age." Woah! Shocking, considering most parenting gurus advocate beginning spanking at toddlerhood, or even before!

Another interesting point to consider: the terms used to describe small children are not used in the book of Proverbs in reference to the rod. It would be a stretch to say that Proverbs advocates spanking small children.

So what has been my husband's and my conclusion? Proverbs was written in the Old Testament. That means that its writer was writing as one under the law, and we need to be careful to read Proverbs with that focus in mind. If you are going to follow the Proverbs explicitly as a believer, you had better hold a knife to your throat, or at least threaten yourself, when you are eating with a ruler! Furthermore, if you are going to follow the book of Proverbs as though it is a book of commands for believers, you had better also follow the other laws in the Old Testament. Let me quote one here for you. Deuteronomy 21:18,19;21a: "If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them, then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gateway of his hometown...Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death...". When I read this, I wonder if that is perhaps what Solomon meant when he said that if you beat your son with a rod, you will save his soul from Sheol (or death). Perhaps he had in mind a rebellious teenage son (his sons certainly were!), and he was thinking of beating his rebellious sons to keep them from being stoned to death!!

When Christian parents approach the book of Proverbs, I hope that they will pay attention to historical, dispensational context, as well as to the intended audience of Proverbs, including the age of the "child" that is referred to in the book, as they prayerfully consider whether or not Proverbs is telling them that they must spank their young children. I will address the New Testament passages commonly used to advocate spanking next.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Life Lessons

Little man lit a match last week. It surprised him, and it surprised me! I was watching him nearby, so I was able to put it out before he started a fire. It stayed lit long enough to feel hot to him, though. Now, when he sees us lighting a candle, he exclaims "tot! (hot!)" and takes a step back. My husband and I were talking about the incident and how it illustrates something that we feel strongly about as parents: when at all possible, allow your child to experience the real world, even if it is painful or difficult. The lessons learned by experience stick so much better than the lessons that we try to hammer into our children's heads verbally. Also, when a lesson like this is learned, there is no need to give a lecture, an "I-told-you-so," or to reiterate it in any way. It sticks on its own.

Ryan and I have just seen too many Christian kids who are ready to leave home and do not know how to make decisions, think for themselves, problem solve, trouble-shoot, handle money, etc. This is because their parents, though well-meaning, protected them from learning by experience. Interestingly, these are also often the parents who were "heavy handed" when their children were toddlers, spanking them for touching or trying things. Their children learned, "play it safe, stay out of trouble," early on. By spanking and otherwise punishing, these parents actually shield their children.

I propose that we let our toddlers explore as much as possible, unless something they are playing with is life-threateningly dangerous. There are some things I tell Aydon a firm "no" about. This would be such things as knives. But when I tell him "no," I also try to tell him why. "Aydon, no, you may not have the knife. It is sharp and could cut you. When you are bigger, I will teach you how to use it." Then, I put the knife out of sight. Sometimes, I redirect activities that could make a huge mess to a cleaner area: he is only allowed to dump and pour in the sink, not on the floor. He likes to smell spices (yes, my child for sure), so he sits at his table to do this.

God created toddlers to explore. It is how they learn. If we are looking towards their future, we need to allow them to explore and experiment as much as possible. We need them to experience the cause/effect relationships intrinsic to life, and then give them time to absorb it on their own, without us trying to turn it into a lesson. Christian kids should leave home ready to face the world, able to stand up for the truth because they personally believe it, able to make right, wise choices on their own. My husband and I firmly believe that the way we deal with our toddler gives him a foundation that will help carry him into maturity.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Judgementalism

I have been thinking a lot lately about my heart attitude as a Christian. It is because I am reading yet another Donald Miller book, and it really has me thinking about how haughty I tend to be. In this book, he points out that people seem to find their value by comparing themselves to others. They feel good about themselves as long as there is someone "beneath" them, whether it be socially, economically, physically, or in any other way. He also points out that we were designed to find our worth outside of ourselves, from God and who He says we are and how He loves us, but in our fallen state, we look to others to define us instead of to God. And that is why we so often find someone to condemn or look down on; it helps us to feel like we are "ok".

I started thinking about Christian teens that I have worked with through the years. There is always a very small minority who seem to care less what others think of them, but most Christian teens act just like non-Christian teens: they worry about what others think of them; no matter how "liberal" they are, they always find someone who "sins" or does stuff that they would never do.

That being said, we need to think long and hard about what we are teaching our children. Are we teaching them to be good, moral, and kind in their own strength? Are we communicating to them that in our eyes they don't, and will never, measure up? That they are a disappointment to us? Are we comparing our children, holding the "better behaved" ones up as "examples" for others to follow? As long as our goal as parents is to have "good" Christian kids, we will hang onto all sorts of behavior modification techniques to get them to behave the way we want them to. They will learn early on that to be acceptable, they just need to do what we tell them, when we tell them to. They will, I can guarantee, then becomes very outwardly good, or they will rebel. Either way, they will also be very judgmental, seeking their affirmation in the fact that they are better than at least some of their peers (yes, even the rebellious ones).

What we fail to do as parents is to look at the big picture of Scripture. It is the story of a perfect God who wanted people who could be in relationship with Him. These people betrayed His love in the garden. Ever since then, they have tried to find out "who they are" apart from him, from those around them. Then this wonderful, perfect God, filled with love for his runaway bride, died so that that relationship could be restored. And he wants those who have been redeemed to find their wholeness, their meaning, in Him. Are we presenting a portrait to our children of this incredible love and grace that God has given us? Or are we raising them to find their acceptance in good behavior? God knew something that we fail to realize: genuine love invites people, including children, into relationship where they are perfectly accepted based on no merit of their own.

Donald Miller aptly states: "It makes you feel that as a parent the most important thing you can do is love your kids, hold them and tell them you love them because, until we get to heaven, all we can do is hold our palms over the wounds. I mean, if a kid doesn't feel he is loved, he is going to go looking for it in all kinds of ways...Give a kid the feeling of being loved early, and they will be better at negotiating that other stuff when they get older. They won't fall for anything stupid, and they won't feel a kind of desperation all the time in their souls. It is no coincidence that Jesus talks endlessly about love. Free love. Unconditional love." (Searching For God Knows What).  I would add that we should invite them to walk in a love relationship with their Heavenly Father, who knows all their needs, and loves them.

When I look into the loving eyes of my Father, when I cling to His unconditional grace towards me, all haughtiness melts away. I am defined by Him, found in Him. Nothing can separate me from His love. Our children should grow up with the security of unconditional love. We need to invite them to partake of a relationship with God together with us.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Only Trust Him

I love formula-free parenting! It's opposite is guilt-induced and fear-directed parenting.

It is so neat to wake up each day, and trust God as I take each step. It is easy sometimes when I am reading a book to little man instead of washing the pile of dishes in the sink to think that I am "wasting" my time. What a lie from Satan!!! It is easy when I am taking care of my son's needs, whether they be mental, physical, or emotional, to wonder how I will ever finish the never-ending list of household chores. But when I choose to trust God, to invest in my son, and not to worry, my tasks get completed without sacrificing my son's needs, and I don't even know how I managed to do it all.

Let us endure in trusting Him each day over the lies of the enemy.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Before Whom Are We Parenting?

New Christian parents are on display, especially in churches. Whether or not it is true, they often feel as though they are being evaluated based on the behavior of their children. It is tempting to try to force children to behave so that other Christians think that our family is "Christ-like."

I had a funny thought the other day. Imagine if we evaluated God and His parenting skills based on the behavior of His children? How many Christians are there who are blatantly living in sin, or just living life as though God doesn't exist....while God patiently and graciously deals with them, inviting them back into His arms, the Prodigal's Father? He is so fixed in His character, so confident in His authority, that He allows us, His children, to be poor reflectors of Him sometimes...because He is patiently wooing us, training us, knocking on our door, seeking to dine with us. He is SLOW to anger, ABOUNDING in lovingkindness towards us.

What if we evaluated God's parenting skills by the way Jesus' disciples acted? They were often so foolish and immature! How many times have I found comfort in the fact that Jesus' disciples behaved the way I so often do, and yet Jesus was patient and gracious with them? If Jesus had treated His disciples the way most Christian parents treat their kids, here are some things he would have said to them: "You guys are bringing shame to my name! You need to start acting like you're more mature! Why can't you guys just grow up?! Shame on you!" Here is what He would have done when they acted foolishly and sinfully and faithlessly: "I am going to have to punish you for that! You deserve it! I am doing it for your own good, so that you will act better in the future!" Did he do this ever, even once??? What did Jesus ask of His disciples? Did He ask good behavior of them? NO! He said simply, "Follow Me." He called them to Himself, to learn from Him. He taught them, taught them, taught them, over and over. And He loved them. When He returned to heaven, He promised them that He would send the Holy Spirit, who would guide them and be with them all the time.

We parent before God, not before people. This realization has been so good for me! Immature behavior does not scare me or embarrass me...I expect it. I welcome it as a teaching opportunity, and more than that, as an opportunity to extend unconditional love and grace, an opportunity to walk by the Spirit, to draw the patience, gentleness, kindness, self-control that I need from my Father. I know that my little man will not be able to actually "do good" until the Holy Spirit lives in him and works through him, and furthermore, he is a child who does not understand things like an adult can. My husband and I talk often about how much we are just enjoying our son as he grows up because we are not worried about his behavior, and we have chosen to let go of what others may think because we love our son, and we want him to readily accept Christ and to see that this Christ, who died for his sins, doesn't require anything from him but a life walk of dependence and trust.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Motivating Good Behavior

I took Aydon to the doctor yesterday for his two year checkup (two months too late, but asi es la vida).

I was very nervous because our last doctor visit, at 18 months, was a disaster. I recall that I cringed as Aydon screamed and fought his way off the scale and pushed the nurse's hand away when she tried to take his temperature. I endured more crying as we waited for the doctor in a tiny room...luckily, he decided nursing would comfort him, finally, and he calmed down. I realized that he was just so scared and didn't realize what was going on. That was at 18 months.

This time around, I decided to "play" doctor with Aydon before we left the house for the appointment. First, we used the thermometer. I explained that it would tell me if he was sick or not as we put it under his arm. I let him hold the thermometer and examine it. We practiced what it would be like to be laid on the scale and measured (I'm not sure when they start letting him stand on the scale? but anyways...). We practiced several times, and I had him tell me the steps before I acted them out. I told him that then we would see the doctor, who would check his ears, mouth, etc. I told him that he would get one shot that would hurt a little bit. After all of this, he was super excited, LOL.

And....the appointment went swimmingly! He laid so calmly on the scale. He waited while the nurse took his temperature. He glared suspiciously at the pediatrician, but relaxed as the checkup progressed...he even gave the ped (who is incidentally very good with Aydon) five when he left. The shot wasn't fun...but it was over very fast...and the tears dried up quickly, with no hyperventilating.

Of course, I also made sure that he was well fed before the appointment, so no low blood sugar came into play. And all children are different, and all ages are different, so I may have to try something new to keep doctor's visits successful, but I was so excited about this appointment.

I realize how amazing being proactive is to motivate good behavior. It is so true that kids who feel good, usually act good.

This is just one small proof that rewards and punishments are not the best tools to motivate behavior. I have seen parents bribe their children at the doctor's office: "If you behave, you can have candy." The problem with this is that if the child misbehaves, the reward goes out the window, and the child no longer has a reason to behave. I have seen so many desperate parents pretend not to notice misbehavior so that they can still dangle the reward in front of their child...also diminishing the effect of the reward. I have also heard parents use the threat: "If you don't behave, you are going to get it." I have seen said parents pinch, slap, and yell at their misbehaving children during the appointment. This is also rarely effective...the parents are usually not consistent (perhaps they use empty threats or have too many children, perhaps they really don't want to inflict pain on their child but don't know what else to do). These parents are almost always at odds with their children, and leave the appointment at their wits end.

Another reason that rewards and punishments don't work is that these fail to address the underlying causes of the misbehavior: too often the children are tired, hungry, fearful, and/or bored, and the parents are not willing to stand up and actively, gently, firmly steer their children in the right direction, reassure them, or just hold and cuddle them. Now, as a mom who has held onto a screaming 18 month old during an appointment, I am not judging these parents. But I do wish that they realized that their toolbox could exclude bribery and threats and punishments. Although my 18 month old screamed, I held him, cuddled him, endured embarrassment. I do not have any regrets about dealing with him harshly, trying to coerce him when he was just incredibly fearful.

I am happy that my heavenly Father does not deal with me using rewards and punishments either. It is His love that lead me to repentance, His always open arms that draw me to Him. He is not embarrassed by my childishness, and longs to meet all of my needs.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Gentle Discipline

A fellow mommy put "Gentle Discipline" into beautiful words...Click here to read her thoughts.

I was thinking about "Bear Hugs" tonight. This is my term for "The Five Steps" tool. I think it is amazing at teaching toddlers how to have self-control. With Aydon I have used a condensed version: "You need to stop kicking the wall" (he was doing this at bedtime tonight). Then, when kicking did not stop after a repeated warning, "You need Mommy to help you stop kicking the wall," and holding him close and tight until he calms down. The funniest thing was that after I helped him, he was laying there holding his teddy bear, telling it, "Teddy bear no kick wall, Mail Man no kick wall, Daddy no kick wall...etc.". So cute! When he is a little older, I will extend the length of the script, and ask if he needs help as detailed in the five steps.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Teaching Toddlers About God

Something that has been on my mind a lot lately is what to teach Aydon about God. I've been thinking about how child development fits into the picture of my teaching. The Bible urges us to always be talking to our children about God, when we wake up, when we play, when we lie down.

I think that something that is different between children and adults is that children, especially little ones, will accept anything their parents tell them as true. They don't need proof; they just accept it. They also have overactive imaginations, and cannot understand everything the way that we understand it. When Ryan (my husband) was a little boy, his church showed a series of end-time videos. He did not understand the context of these videos, and for many years he had a terror that birds would attack him and peck his eyes out (this was on the videos).

Sometimes without meaning to, we try to "scare" children into heaven. We tell them how bad they are. We pound into them that they will go to hell if they don't believe in Jesus. This sort of emphasis with young children can cause them to have intense fear that if they don't really see how terrible they are, they will never be able to trust in Jesus for salvation.

Have you ever noticed that when the gospel is shared in the Bible, the focus is always on Christ and what He did and how that was enough to save us? When Paul reminds the Corinthians of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 the focus is on Christ and what He did! Now, that is not to say that the Spirit does not use the law to convict us of our sins so that we see our need for Christ. I think that an understanding of God's law is essential for us because that is what shows us our brokenness. But I think that the way we share the gospel with our wee children might look different than the way we share the gospel with our children as they grow older. The gospel message should always stay the same, of course: Christ died for our sins. Accepting his death on our behalf is the only way for us to enter heaven and for us to have a relationship with God.

Aydon is a two year old. He believes what I say. When I say that Jesus died for our sins because He loves us more than we could imagine, Aydon believes it. Right now, that is my focus. It is on Christ and what He did.

Another thing that I am teaching Aydon is that there is a right and there is a wrong. Hitting is wrong, for example. As Aydon grows, I will teach him more and more rights and wrongs. (As an aside, this does not mean that I have to make him feel bad for doing wrong, just that I need to teach him. Furthermore, I need to be careful not to deceive him into thinking that when he acts "good," he is more acceptable. My acceptance of him/love for him should never change. I deal with him through the eyes of grace. The Bible says that even our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.) These rights and wrongs will help him to understand what sin is, and why Jesus had to die for sin. It is important to remember, though, that while I teach him what right and what wrong is, it is God's spirit who will work in his heart.

Finally, I am teaching Aydon who God is. I teach him that God made everything we see outside. I teach him that He made us. I tell him that God is everywhere, and that God knows all things. I instruct him that God is more powerful than anyone. I teach him that God is equally loving and fair. I tell him the story of Adam and Eve.

Again, toddlers believe what their parents tell them. We need to think about the picture we are portraying for them of who God is through both our words and our actions. Are we showing them a God who loves them so deeply that He was willing to die for them, or are we inadvertently telling them that God is scary and mean, ready to destroy them if they make one misstep? As they mature and begin to ask "why" questions, they will want to know things like why there is only one way to heaven. They will ask why Jesus had to die for their sins; why that was the only acceptable payment. We can share with them stories of how before Christ an animal always had to die for someone's sin, but now that Christ has come there is no further sacrifice necessary.

As we teach our children, we need to keep in mind that God created human beings with a will because He wanted us to freely choose Him. He did not want us to be like robots, forced to trust Him. While God gave the law to show us our sinfulness, He has never and will never use scare tactics to get us to trust in Him for salvation.We need to look to God for discernment as we teach our children spiritual truth; we need to share this truth with them without inducing fear. Only God's spirit can give us wisdom in this matter.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Hypocrisy

I am reading a freshly-written, poetic, thoughtful book by Donald Miller, Through Painted Deserts. I love Donald Miller's writing. He puts my thoughts into beautiful words, words that, like a butterscotch candy, I can taste long after I have read them. I am going to quote something he said that really makes me think:

"The rising question of why had been manifesting for some time, and had previously only been answered by Western Christianity's propositions of behavior modification. What is beauty? I would ask. Here are the five keys to a successful marriage, I would be given as an answer. It was as if nobody was listening to the question being groaned by all of creation, groaned through the pinings of our sexual tensions, our broken biochemistry, the blending of light and smog to make our glorious sunsets. I began to believe the Christian faith was a religious system invented within the human story rather than a series of true ideas that explained the story. Christianity was a pawn for politicians, a moral system to control our broken natures. The religion did seem to stem from something beautiful, for sure, but it had been dumbed down and Westernized. If it was a religious system that explained the human story, its adherents had lost the grandness of its explanation in exchange for its validation of their how lifestyles, to such a degree that the why questions seemed to be drowning in the drool of Pavlov's dogs...What does all of this mean? Are we animals nesting? Are we rats in a giant cage, none of us able to think outside our instincts, always getting me to my happiness, or is it larger, explaining the why of life, the how a shallow afterthought?"

Well said!

At the risk of making some sweeping generalizations, I will say that our culture finds meaning in outward appearances. If we can look successful, appear happy, and act religious, we are content. The why questions make us uncomfortable, relationship with a God who can't be fully understood makes us  uncomfortable. Heaven forbid that we would ever be sad or struggle with depression. Heaven forbid that we would live without much. Heaven forbid that we would live from faith to faith, not having plans for what will come next.

We need to be careful about the messages we send to our children with our parenting. Are we teaching them that appearances are everything? Are we teaching them to hide their true selves because their true selves, their human struggling, sometimes hurting, sometimes angry, sometimes inexplicable selves make us uncomfortable? Are we teaching them that the "why's" of life don't matter? That there is no meaning to life beyond living day to day, earning money, owning a house?

Are we teaching them that: "Christianity was [is] a pawn for politicians, a moral system to control our broken natures." Our broken natures are broken. They can never be better, though they can be covered with outer shells of good behavior. We use behavior modification to teach our children to do this. We often teach our children to be wonderful hypocrites. We do this in many ways. We only smile and accept them when they appear to be lovable to us. We punish them when they do wrong, so, out of fear, they become sneaky, hiding their sin from us.

I propose that we teach our children that sin is sin, without shaming them. We need to love them even when they sin. Jesus did. He died on the cross while we were still dead in our sins. We need to teach them instead that they cannot fix themselves, that Jesus died so that they could be made new. We need to lead them to the cross where they can live tenderly covered in grace.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Growing Pains

I read this the other day: "Kids go through developmental surges. You can mark it on your calendar. Somewhere around their birthday and their half birthday, you can expect trouble. They'll get cranky and uncooperative. They might be incapable of doing what they were able to do just a few weeks before. Nothing seems right. They're easily frustrated...Their inner systems are restructuring, creating a new, more complex way of understanding the world. Think of five building blocks. Stack them one on top of the other until you have a tower of five blocks. This is your five-year-old, his inner structure that controls how he sees the world and responds to it. It works well for him but as he nears his sixth birthday, changes begin to occur. A new block will be added to the structure, but it won't just be added to the top of the stack. Instead, the tower will come crashing down--it will disintegrate and a new structure with six blocks will be formed...It will be a totally different structure" (from Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka).

I have definitely seen this in my little guy. Right now, he has reached a stage of equilibrium. He is happy with life. But we are coming out of a stage of disequilibrium and I know that soon enough we will enter a new stage of growth and change. God made it this way. He wants new human beings to enter this world as babies. He wired their brains so that they would slowly learn and begin to understand the world around them. This learning takes time.

Have you ever read in the gospels how Jesus interacted with children? At one point, Jesus' disciples were trying to shoo the children away from Jesus. I ask myself why? The children were probably being loud and noisy. Maybe a few of them were crying. The disciples thought that they were disrupting Jesus' ministry. Jesus responded with such kindness. "Let the little children come to me," he said. "Do not put a stumbling block in front of these children," he warned (this more literally means "Do not cause them to sin"). "Become like a child," he admonished. He turned everyone's attention to the children. How different this is than what we often hear today: "Make sure that your children don't affect your marriage. Make sure that children don't bother anyone; keep them quiet. If children misbehave, put an abrupt end to the misbehavior--usually, so that they don't embarrass you, the parent."

Children are learners. They have so much to learn. They have so much harsh reality to come to terms with as they grow older. If we can put ourselves into our child's shoes, and see things from their perspective, it will help immensely with our parenting. We will be more understanding, and we will know how to help them progress through their stages gently, kindly, and firmly.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Consequences, Part 2

Parenting is about relationship. This should be a filter through which I see my little man. Little man, newly two, is a toddler, an explorer, one who is learning that his desires are not always the same as ours.

I am shocked at the advice most Christian parenting "gurus" give as to how to treat our children. Instead of looking at the whole of Scripture, and at who God is and how He deals with us, these gurus take a few verses from Scripture and build a whole doctrine around them. I challenge moms and dads to read the New Testament carefully, looking at the way that Christians are told to treat each other, and looking at how God deals with believers, as they strive to biblically parent their children.

I love reading through a whole book of the Bible when I read the Word of God. It keeps me from drawing wrong conclusions about verses because I see the big picture that said verses are couched in--it is all about context! Recently I read 2 Timothy. Paul urges Timothy to stand firm and to uphold sound doctrine. Interestingly, he does not say, "If people do not listen to you, go ahead and be really harsh and give them a piece of your mind. Whack them upside the head if you have to!" No, he says, "The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth,
and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will." 

Gentleness. Am I correcting my toddler in a spirit of gentleness?

Not quarrelsome. How am I parenting? Am I drawing battle lines and engaging in useless power struggles that result in rifts in our relationship? Or do I view myself as my child's guide, standing beside him, helping him towards the goal in mind, with gentleness?

Kind to all. It is easy to be kind to people I only see every now and then, brothers and sisters in Christ. But be kind to my child? If my child cannot sleep at night, or wakes up cranky one day, or clingy, am I kind then? Do I step into my child's shoes and picture how I'd want to be treated in the same situation? Am I remembering that by responding to my child's needs kindly and empathetically I am laying a foundation of trust that will carry us through the many bumps in the road of parent/child relationship?

Patient when wronged. If my child disobeys or responds with disrespect, how do I respond in turn? Am I being patient, gently correcting, letting my child try again, realizing that he is just a child and sometimes needs the chance to do over, or sometimes just plain needs my help?

Able to teach. Am I so steeped in God's word that truth about Him shines out of me? That it flows out of my mouth freely?

When I am walking with God, these things will be true of me as a parent.

That being said, my toddler is learning, he needs me to train, to teach him. This needs to be with gentleness and patience, devoid of shame and punishment.

Consequences, though rarely needed, are there to enable my child to succeed and learn; they are in place for when he is unable to control himself. With my toddler, consequences are cause/effect, and should be natural. Toy gets thrown, toy goes bye-bye. When playing with measuring cups in the sink, if water gets dumped on counter, measuring cup is taken away, or sink time ends (this only happened once...little man has spent many happy days playing in the sink since then). When little man gets bigger: "you hit, you sit," but not as punishment, just as a chance to cool down.

Natural consequences are a teensy tiny part of my parenting with Aydon. Building relationship with him, helping him obey by walking through the steps with him if necessary (the way the Holy Spirit helps us), not backing him into corners, giving him warnings before transitions and always following through, but with kindness and gentleness, understanding if he is upset or angry about the follow through, letting him be human.

Ok, this makes it all sound so perfect...like a method that anyone could follow. I have tools that I use, but each day is different, and I need God's wisdom in dealing with each situation. More than that, parenting is not about some formula or technique, it is about building and maintaining a relationship with my child as I walk with God. I often fail! But the mistakes are reflective times for me; times for me to enjoy God's grace to me. They are times that I can look back on and think, "How could I have handled that more proactively to avoid the power struggle? I should have given him a transition time between activities. I should have followed through when he didn't listen, and helped him obey by coming alongside him, whispering in his ear, holding him close and walking him through the steps."

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Grounded in Love

Paul prays for the Ephesian believers: "...so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God."

Christian motherhood finds its source, its beauty, its uniqueness, it sustenance, in Christ's love.

We cannot give our children love that we do not have. We cannot exhibit love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control unless our eyes are on Christ, unless we begin every day cuddled up in God's arms, listening to Him, drawing strength from His incomprehensible love for us. If we try to force this fruit of the spirit out, it will come out twisted and gnarled and corrupted. We will be gentle in one breath, and hateful in the next. We will run out of energy, and wind up depressed. 

Paradoxically, when we have our eyes on Christ, when we bask in His unconditional love for us, He becomes love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control in us, and it flows naturally out of us to our children, to our husbands, to all others that we encounter.

Satan wants to deflate all mommas by focusing us on our behavior, by enslaving us to checklists of "good things that good moms always do".

Let's put our eyes on our risen Savior, who tenderly loves and cares for us. Let's let him nourish us daily so that we can nourish our precious little ones in turn. Let's turn our eyes to the author and finisher of our faith, and stop living in endless regrets and fears. Let's ask God to use us to touch our children's lives, but not worry about what that will look like. 
May we be rooted and grounded in love, after all, that is, in the end, what helps all children flourish.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Drawing Closer

"Today, the moment when I am most repelled by a child's behavior, that is my sign to draw the very closest to that child." --Ann Voskamp http://www.aholyexperience.com/

I read these words tearfully. This is how God loves on me! How often do I wallow in sinful thoughts and words, or cower in self-condemnation?  And yet God, the Prodigal's father, is always there, arms open wide, drawing me to Himself, unrestrained love in His eyes. It is not God who causes me to struggle or suffer, it is myself! I always have the choice to run to Him, and I am always forgiven: no need to condemn myself or shame myself or hurt myself first...I can simply, boldly, approach the throne of grace.


I read these words, and the next day I had the chance to put them into practice. My normally happy little boy woke up feeling sick and acting very negative and grumpy. Where he normally is happy to comply with just about any request, this day was a "NO!" day for him. When the first "NO!" flew out of my son's mouth, my internal reaction was "NO...don't talk to mom like that" back. Instead of saying these words, I started to pray. Then, like a gentle whisper, I heard, "Today, the moment when I am most repelled by a child's behavior, that is my sign to draw the very closest to that child." This would be a day for me to give a little of the grace I had been given. 

So, the next time my grumpy little guy said "NO!" I scrunched up my face, and in a very silly voice said "NO!" and giggled. He stopped in his tracks and looked at me quizzically. "No!" he repeated, more softly this time. "NO!" I said again, scrunching my face and giggling. Two more repeats, and then, my baby boy was giggling himself. "Come here and let mommy give you a hug," I said, arms open wide. Diapered bottom waddling, my sweetie bounced into my arms.


The day was not perfect after this. My little boy even had a few meltdowns before I was able to tuck him in for an early bedtime. But I saw every issue that day as a chance for me to give a little love, to extend a little grace. Instead of climbing into bed that night a frazzled grumpy mess myself, I laid my head on my pillow rejoicing because I had an opportunity to practice what God does for me every day.


I also had a chance to watch my husband practice grace with my little boy that day, and it warmed my heart. We are selling our house, and there was a showing that day. My husband asked our little guy to put away his toy vacuum cleaner. What do you think little guy did? He said "NO!" and threw a whopper of a tantrum. My husband had just woken up (he works nights and sleeps through the day), so he was caught off guard by our son's behavior. But this is how he reacted:

"What's wrong, Aydon?" stated in a tender, kind voice.

"Waaahhhh...no!" Aydon says. 


"He's doing his silly no thing," I explain to dad. Tantrum stops. 


Dad asks, "Aydon, would you like to put the vacuum cleaner away by yourself, or would you like me to do it with you?"


Aydon says, "Ayna do it," and happily picks up the vacuum cleaner and puts it in his room.