Regain & Rethink Your Adult Authority: The Blessing of Christian Discipline

Our 1 year old is all over the place, and for the most part we welcome this new mobile intensity.

Let us sleep through the night and we’re game for most anything he gets into. This morning, this thought, brought me to my favorite coffee mug.

The Mug

Jodee bought me the best Harry Potter inspired, hand maid stoneware mug not too long ago. The struggle is, now that the little man is into everything, every end table, coffee table, and, with a little more ingenuity, every table and counter in the house is within striking distance.

We give him short and clear verbal instructions, and when he touches the oven or an electrical outlet, a bit of hand slapping to reinforce obedience to the verbal instruction. In the case of our barely 1 year old, verbal instructions are pushing him forward towards maturity, to his next level of development. We are not discouraged by his sometimes obedience to verbal commands, because we have a developmentally appropriate and personal (each child is different) expectation for the little man. So, for the time being, I make a habit of setting my coffee mug on top of the bookshelf. This is good for him and good for me.

Orientation Towards Another’s Good

When I consider each of my sons’ developmental milestones, when I set my coffee mug out of reach, and when I have the expectation that they are bent towards selfish behavior, I orient my life towards the good of my boys. Again, this is good for them and good for me.

With these actions, I acknowledge that nearly all of Christian parenting comes down to redirecting my boys towards the good of others, towards obedience to their parents’ higher, benevolent will, to the end that as they learn obedience to parents who know them intimately, who know what they need and when they need it, and who give them grace at every turn, even when I reinforce obedience with corporeal discipline, they are learning how their heavenly Father loves them.

Let me answer an objection you might have to this sketch:

“You are not God, you’re a fallen parent.”

For all of us fallen mommies and daddies, modeling godly behavior requires us to model repentance and reconciliation. Repentance and reconciliation is the goal of all our training because these twin-fold actions signify our turning away from self and towards our Benevolent King, who then calls us to restore and reconcile our broken relationships with one another.

This repentance does not nullify the Christian picture of authority above, rather it reinforces it, because believe me, our kids know we don’t use our authority consistently and unless we acknowledge this before them, they’ll learn that we parent like the Gentiles we are by nature, lording over our children with sinful inconsistency that is never acknowledged or repented of.

Concluding, Practical Example

One practical way we make repentance central in our house is that we require repentance before we discipline. Here’s how it goes:

Son, we do not hit our brother. What do you say?

(insert 1 minute, 25 minutes, whatever time is needed)

I’m sorry.

Sorry for what?

I’m sorry for hitting my brother. Will you forgive me?

Yes son, I forgive you.

(brief side note: read this post about ‘Parenting 001’ by Kevin DeYoung)

Only after this process, which can sometimes take forever, do we enforce an appropriate discipline for the sinful behavior. The Difficult Child, an incredible book for both temperamentally-challenged and near-temperamentally-perfect children, will walk you through a practical guide to discern appropriate discipline for each of your unique children’s actions.

You must have a discipline plan for each child, and you must always be ready to repent of a poorly thought out and poorly executed plan.

Having the discipline come after the repentance teaches our kids that repentance is more important and reinforces that you cannot beat true repentance out of someone. It is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance.

This ordering also gives Jodee and I the pleasure of withholding discipline after his repentance in order to teach him the mercy displayed and justice satisfied on the cross of Christ. To see his eyes light up when he hears the good news of Jesus and does not receive the just punishment for his action is one of the greatest blessings of parenting.

See also my recent post on parenting and Proverbs 22:6, Train Up A Child.