Parenting to the heart. Rules, incentives, grace and godliness


If there’s one thing being a parent has taught me, it is to think about the relationship between house rules or incentives, punishment for breaking the rules or the with-holding of incentives, and when to show grace.  If I show too much grace, then my kids become presumptuous and assume that they can get away with everything, they end up spoilt brats.  If I come down with a heavy hand, or at least a loud voice, my kids become resentful and badly behaved.  If I rule by fear, there’s a grudging obedience, but for how long?  So how do we get the right balance of threat and grace, to bring about joyful obedience?

The following diagram shows that the heart is the key.  If my child’s heart is cold and hard (blue area) it will always result in behaviour which is not motivated by the right desires.  But if my child’s heart is soft and warm (the red area) then doing the right thing will be motivated by the right desires.  The million dollar question is, how do we get there?

The answer to the question, how do we get our children into the red area is to teach the word of God.  There needs to be some kind of explanation for the decisions we make as parents to help our kids understand why we do them.  There needs to be a link between the way I parent my child and the way God parents me.

For example, we recently incentivised one of our children to have a good attitude toward study.  By the time the end of the period of study arrived, with an exam, our child knew that we thought the required attitude had not been there.  She knew that she did not deserve the incentive that we had offered.  Rather than inflict a punishment for poor attitude, we studied Romans chapters 1 to 6 together to clarify the relationship between God’s grace and our attitude to him and our sin.  By the end of the study we had agreed that if we, as parents, choose to give the gift it not because it is deserved but because we love our child, and that this love should bring about a change in attitude.

Of course, there are times when punishment is necessary, but again, it needs explanation (Hebrews 12 this time).  The heart will stay warm if the punishment is enforced with love which seeks to bring about transformation and this is done through calm study of the word of God.

I wish I had learned this before my oldest child had reached double figures.  It’s been a steep learning curve and we still make a hopeless mess of things when the pressure is always to act in haste.  Through parenting, I learn as much about God as I do about being a parent.  Praise Christ for his patience with me.

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