How do we respond to sinful behavior in our children? At times children show defiance and disobedience. They talk disrespectfully, they display selfish hearts. When that happens, how does it make you feel? Anxious, confused, angry? I used to feel that way. I have learned to feel calm and equipped. Would you like to parent with confident authority, like Jesus?
When my oldest children were preschoolers, we had a morning play date with another mom. I distinctly remembered her strong, authoritative voice calling out to her son, “You obey!” Her presence was commanding enough that I was hoping that her son would fall in line. He did. He stopped misbehaving. I’m guessing a swift and strong punishment would have come had he not changed his actions. I’m left wondering however, did his heart change? I don’t know.
Authority is the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.
Recently, I read a Facebook comment where a person was instructing a parent to use their scriptural authority to gain respect from their child. There wasn’t any follow up and left unexplained it led me to question how some might follow through on this encouragement. Should the mom use physical means to gain authority? Should she demand obedience as my friend did over a decade ago?
We certainly have authority as parents. We are in charge and responsible for our young children. Jesus has authority as God. Observing His authority over others is a wonderful tool to inform our own parenting.
In Mark 10:35-45, James and John discussion with Jesus exposes a self-centered arrogance in their hearts. The disciples asked to be seated on Jesus right and left side in glory. How can this look in our children’s responses to us?
I want the biggest piece. Let ME sit in the front. If I don’t win the game I’m going to throw a fit. Why should I have to clean up my mess? I don’t want to go bed! I don’t want to come home when you say!
As parents, it is easy to become exasperated. We just want our children to comply, to set aside their selfishness, and not make things so difficult. Let’s look closely at Christ’s response to James and John.
Mark 10:38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
Jesus didn’t respond with annoyance, anger, or a snappy, “Stop being so selfish!” Instead, he asked a simple question. His question opened their hearts to further conversation which eventually brought them to a place of further understanding and wisdom of His will in their lives. In fact, He touches on the subject of authority and how it should play out in the lives of those who know and follow Him. He turned the structure of authority upside down by showing the disciples that in order to be first in His Kingdom, one must give of themselves, becoming a servant to all. (Mark 10:42-45.)
One of my favorite quotes from Clay Clarkson’s wonderful book, Heartfelt Discipline says:
“Many Christian parents, myself included, tend to speak as though [their children] were Pharisees when addressing their children. We can speak harshly and with judgment, implying by our manner that we believe their hearts are hard and resistant. But this attitude is not justified by Scripture. There is no record of Jesus ever speaking to a child in a harsh tone. When the Gospels record Him speaking to a child, it is always with gentleness. Our children are not our adversaries. Though our children’s hearts are corrupted by sin, they are not hardened sinners who have made conscious choices to reject the Savior. Our children are simply immature and childish. That’s why children need the grace of love and compassion, not the legal harshness of shame and guilt.”
If Jesus exercises His authority over us with service and gentleness, why do we exercise our authority over little ones with harsh commands, refusing to understand the hearts of our children?
My three year old NEVER wants to go to bed. As her mother, I know that she needs an occasional nap and proper bed time so she can grow, stay healthy, and happy. When she fights my authority at bed time, I can respond with a heavy hand and say, “You obey and stay in that bed!” Or, I can respond with gentleness: “You don’t like going to bed, do you sweetie? You feel frustrated when it’s time to go to sleep, don’t you?” Typically, this kind of understanding will calm her enough for me to be able to move on with the following: “It’s hard to leave the fun! Let’s snuggle up with a book and sing some songs together.” After some snuggles and laying with her a bit, she is usually in a place where she will submit to sleep time. Upon waking up I will ask, “How did it feel to take the nap? Do you feel better, the same, or worse? Oh, I’m so glad you feel good! When it’s time for bed tomorrow, maybe you’ll remember how good it feels to be rested!”
This line of questioning may seem “pie-in-the-sky, soft.” I do believe however, I’m exercising my scriptural authority as a parent when I work with her to build wisdom in this way. It takes a little more thought than a simple command of, “You obey!” My child is worth the extra thought to keep a connection to her heart.