I recently spent time with a young mother of a 1 1/2 year old little girl. As our children played together, I was reminded afresh about the importance of relationship in parenting. In the span of the 2 hours, I observed the young mother bark out commands, snatch “non-childproof” things from her child’s hand, and grab & move her child whenever she threatened to head in a part of the home that was “off-limits.” At first, it seemed entirely appropriate as her child sought to discover her new “play ground”; however, as the afternoon wore on, it became evident that this little girl was increasingly becoming inwardly rebellious.
As her mother continued to interact with her, I began to notice something was missing: a relationship. The young mother was trying to direct her child’s behavior without communicating to the child that it was for her own good. She was rightly trying to guard her child from handling things that might harm her (or that she might harm :)), wandering into areas of the home that were not appropriate for her to be in, and keep her from acting on every little childish impulse (like taking toys away from others). Unfortunately, it was communicated in such a way as to come across as a bunch of arbitrary rules (i.e. “dos” & “don’ts”) rather than loving instruction from a shepherd. There was no sense of relationship between mother & child.
Then it occurred to me that, as parents, we must strive with all of our might (knowing that we are going to fail at times) to represent God in our relationship with our children. In other words, we must aim to interact with our children in such a way that they see Christ in us. We must relate to them the same way that God relates to us, as His children. We must establish rules and clearly communicate them to our little ones, but it should be motivated by a heart that is seeking their ultimate good (not simply our child’s submission as the ultimate goal). We must establish boundaries for them; but not for the sake of establishing a sense of control over them, rather to guard and protect them from things that might harm them. At times, we must snatch things out of their hands if their good is at stake, but it should not be the normal mode of interaction with them. We should model politeness and ask our children to surrender willingly surrender objects over to us instead.
Then, in the normal flow of everyday activities, we should be seeking to build our relationship with our children in such a way that when we are called to enforce our rules, boundaries, and confiscations they can trust that it is rooted and grounded in our love for them. Not some arbitrary desire for control over them. Have fun with them, be affectionate with them (hugs, snuggles, kisses, etc), verbally express your love for them (even if they don’t quite understand the words just yet … they will discern your heart behind it!), hang out with them, play with them, get down on their level and look them in the eyes when you speak with them, and use tender hands when interacting with them, in short, model Christ to them. Enforce the rules, boundaries and confiscations, but be consistent and loving in your implementation. Use “the rod” if necessary, but never out of anger or self-righteousness or pride. Always discipline out of a heart that is striving to teach your children what is best for them. After all, this is the way that our heavenly Father deals with us! 🙂