I was recently presented with the scenario (paraphrased): I bake cookies that my child wants. I tell my child to not eat them, as I made them for supper. I leave the room for five mintues and when I come back, the cookies are all gone. I ask my child if she ate the cookies and she tells me “No”.
Now my child has committed willful disobedience and lied to me to avoid punishment, because we’re all born sinners with a desire to please our earthly bodies. This means that I discipline my child for disobeying and lying and explain why I did it.
As an Adventist, I believe we are born sinful in a sin-filled world. I agree that children are not born with an innate desire to do right. I also see time and again in the Bible and in my own life the truth of the verse, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11 NKJV).
Do I believe that God leads us into temptation? No. That is Satan’s province. God promise is to help us through temptations. God does not set us up to fail.
Ron & Karen Flowers said it well, “The responsibilities of the parent, if natural consequences are to be effective, include (1) making the child aware of the consequences, (2) allowing the child the freedom of choice, and (3) guarding against the child being placed in situations where the choices are too weighty for him, or where a wrong choice would affect the child’s safety or unduly harm his health.”
One of the areas where I think I differ from others is in the interpretations of the word “discipline”. At our house, discipline is not a one-time event.
***Discipline does NOT equal punishment.***
Rather, discipline is a lifelong process that started when we knew we were going to be parents of this particular child. It is setting them up for success and being by their side when they fail. It is understanding where they are so that we can disciple them. We are not punitive, we are not permissive. We have very clear boundaries and we help our children learn and follow through on things. We love our kids unconditionally and do a lot of goyb parenting.
And at our house, obedience is not a matter unquestioning, first time, all the time, with a happy heart doing what we ask. That is a formula drummed up in churchianity. Obedience is choosing to do what has been asked of you, because of the ongoing respect in the relationship. Sometimes my kids can do that on their own and sometimes they need help.
***But needing help obeying does NOT equal disobedience.***
If I have a child for whom I know that having a cookie is a temptation for them and I deliberately leave that child in the room with cookies for an extended period of time, I have caused temptation to occur.
But if I want to be like God says He is, then I will help my child. I know that cookies are a temptation, so I will set them out of the way or bring the child with me. I will help them through that temptation. I will help them obey.
If I know that my child has done something wrong, I’m not going to waste my time asking if they did it. Again, that is setting them up for failure. I’m going to say, “You ate the cookie when Mommy told you not to. That means you don’t get a cookie after supper, when the rest of have them.”
Then we would talk about obedience and after supper, the child would experience again the consequence of eating a cookie beforehand.
As adults, we can for the most part understand the reasons behind things. We get that if we continue lying, we’ll get caught. We’ve had enough life experience that we can see that if A leads F, that B and C will probably lead to F too. Kids don’t have that experience. Kids are in the process of learning that.
What I am amazed about over and over again is the type of logic that children have. And what people would consider willful disobedience is often an outworking of that logic. For example, last week my youngest (21 months old) protested me putting her shirt on. She kept on taking it off and crying through the whole process. The first it happened, we HAD to get somewhere, so I just put it on, regardless of the protests. Same thing happened the second day. The third day, I remembered that she’s 21 months old and that means she’s ready to enter into clothes independence. So I offered her a choice of shirts. She picked one and happily put it on. Since I started doing that, no protests. I could have said, “She’s being disobedient and needs to be punished.” But since I understood normal child developmental stages, I was able to pinpoint a possible reason for the “disobedience” and come up with a solution where I honored her needs, she could obey me and our relationship was preserved.
Or my friend’s two-year old that suddenly started not listening and obeying and didn’t nap or sleep in his own bed despite all the spankings, time-outs and CIO his parents did. Two weeks later, they found out he had a very bad double ear infection. He hadn’t been willfully disobedient—he didn’t hear them and had been in severe pain when he lay down to sleep.
I refuse to spend my time trying to decide if my child is being deliberately disobedient or willful or any of those other things. It’s not my job to decide their heart’s motivation and then punish/reward as necessary. That is God’s job. He is the only one that truly knows and understands motivations. It is not my job to compel them to love God—I cannot make them love God. It is NOT my job to make my children God-followers—that is their decision.
But it is my job to disciple my children and lead them, as they are able, to want to make the best decisions. It is my job to help them obey. It is my job to live a life in passionate love with God and model that for my children so that they want to live in relationship with God. It is my job to present God and lead my children to Him. But it is my children’s job to make that final decision.
That is why, for our family, it is important to work with God in loving and discipling our kids AND understand basic developmental stages. How can I truly serve and understand my children if I don’t know where they’re at developmentally? “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things” rings true for us.
As our kids get older, they will have more opportunities to learn. They’ll be able to reason through things better and make choices that are good. And they’ll know they can come to us when they have failed and we will still love them as they learn through the natural (not imposed) consequences. Over and over and over I have this happen with my kids.
What they can do now, the ways they obey now, is a reflection of their maturity level increasing, not a result of punishment/reward. They are building on the Godly foundation we are providing, day in and day out. It’s pretty awesome to see the ways God is taking my husband and I’s fumbles and lessons and love and turning that into helping our kids develop into His kids. God is pretty awesome that way.