Stephanie, a wise mother of 7, wrote the following to encourage a mother of 5 who feels that using Gary Ezzo’s Growing Kids God’s Way and Michael Pearl’s To Train up a Child materials damaged her older children and who is working on approaching her role as a Christian mother with more grace and gentleness.
Having walked a similar path ten years ago when she was a mother of 5, Stephanie writes that she had a lot of emotions to work through:
I realized that a lot of my anger at my kids was actually based in more complicated emotions I had about other things. I was angry at my parents for the way they treated me growing up, and I was angry at myself for imitating them. I was horrified at myself when I finally admitted to myself that what I had done to my kids all those years was wrong. I had to get through letting go of those hurts before I could move on and accept healing for myself and my kids.
I started questioning all of the things I had been taught about “christian parenting”, and I did word studies in the Bible on things like “obedience” and “discipline”. I was shocked at what WASN’T in there… none of the harshness or retribution I expected; instead, obedience was almost always linked to *love*, especially in the New Testament. “If you love me, you will obey me”… not “if you don’t obey me, you will suffer”. It was obedience based on relationship, not fear of punishment, which was a totally foreign concept to me. I guess in my mind I thought it was “if you obey me, then I can love you”.
I had to really look at how I viewed my relationship with God… is that the way I thought he saw me? If I was obedient, he would love me and be nice to me, but if I wasn’t, he would make bad things happen to me? I couldn’t find that idea anywhere in scripture. Instead I found him saying “if you focus on loving me, you will WANT to be obedient”. The focus was always on my relationship with him, my obedience was supposed to be a natural product of my love for him.
When I started asking God to show me how to parent, it didn’t happen the way I expected. Instead of getting “Holy Spirit parenting tips” on how to make my kids behave, I started getting convicted for my OWN behavior. When I started to get angry at them for something they were doing, I would be reminded of a situation where *I* was doing the exact same thing my child was doing, only in an adult context.
I felt God encouraging me to treat my child the way I would want God to treat me in the same situation. (funny how it’s easy to cry “grace, grace” for ourselves, and “eye for an eye” for our kids) I was reminded of the scripture says “first take the beam out of your own eye, then you can remove the splinter from your brother’s (child’s?) eye” and the one about the man who was forgiven a huge debt he could never repay, and he went out and found someone who owed him a small amount and threw him in prison.
It was very humbling to me. If I could not behave better than my child, how could I be so arrogant as to stand in judgement over him and be less merciful than I would want God to be to me? God showed me all of the times I made excuses for myself for my bad behavior, for being crabby or impatient or selfish, or just plain rebellious towards him. It was so easy to rationalize my own behavior, but my children, who were immature and still learning were expected to jump to it, never have a bad day, never make mistakes? “I know God is telling me to spend more time with my son, but I’m really busy right now… I’ll do it another time”. So much for “first time obedience”.
I had to deal with all of these ideas over a long period of time… letting the Holy Spirit break down my preconceptions little by little. It was very painful at first, it smarted to recognize that I had been wrong, and even mean and cruel to my kids at times.
It was hard to learn not to be so selfish (I want them to do what I want, when I want it, without arguing or talking back…. because that makes MY life a lot more convenient than having to deal with them.) I realized that *I* was the one who had a lot of growing up and maturing to do before I would be qualified to teach my children how to do it properly. If I wanted them to be respectful, then I needed to start treating them the way I wanted them to behave towards me. (“First Time Obedience” can be extremely disrespectful, especially when you are enforcing it! How I thought that would get me respect is a mystery to me!)
If I wanted them to handle frustration calmly and reasonably, then I had to demonstrate self-restraint and not fly off the handle and yell at them when they ticked me off. The idea is not just to *tell* them how to act, but to *show* them what it looks like. After all, how can we expect them to do something we can’t?
One thing you can try is to ask God to help you learn to practice the fruits of the spirit towards your kids.
- suffers long; (am I being patient, or do I expect instant results from my kids?)
- is kind; (is what I am doing to my child kind?)
- does not envy; (who am I comparing my child to? “Why can’t I have “good” kids like other parents?”)
- does not parade itself ; (who am I trying to impress with my child’s behavior?)
- does not get ‘puffed up’ ; (am I trying to make my child behave a certain way because it makes me a “good parent”?)
- does not behave rudely ; (would my attitude/behavior towards my child be considered rude if they did the same to me?)
- is not easily provoked; (am I taking my child’s behavior personally?)
- does not think evilly, nor rejoice in sin; (does it make me feel better to punish my child because I am getting even with them?)
- rejoices in the truth; (what positive things are true about my child, or am I only focusing on their temporary behavior?)
- bears all things; believes all things; hopes all things; endures all things. Love never fails.
Take your cue from the Holy Spirit… one who is called along side to help. Instead of MAKING your kids do what you want, work on finding ways to HELP your kids do what you need them to do. Don’t see yourself as standing over them, but be someone who comes in alongside them and helps them do what they need to do. More kindly coach/mentor and less crabby old school teacher.
These are just a few things that I worked on when I was first getting started with “gentle discipline”. I know there is a lot there, but it can at least give you some things to think about.
There is no real “method” to grace-based discipline, no “when your child does X, you do Y”. It is more of a change of thinking and attitude that can allow you to find gentle solutions to these issues. Every situation should be handled according to the specific needs of those involved. You have to really lean on God to find the answers, and that can be scary. You don’t get instant results a lot of the time, so you are left to wonder, “am I doing this right? Is this actually working? What if this doesn’t work?” It really requires you to trust in God.
This is what makes Ezzo’s books so attractive and why grace-based discipline can seem so hard… because Ezzo gives you a specific plan to follow, and grace-based discipline doesn’t. With Ezzo’s books, you don’t need to ask God, you just look up the answer in the book.
I think God gives us children to perfect us; they make us aware of our own weaknesses so we can work on them. Ezzo seems to believe that it is our job to perfect our children, with the assumption that we are already perfect.
Looking back, I realize that I was a very immature, very selfish and very mean-spirited mom. I didn’t mean to be, I wanted to be a good mom… I just didn’t know any other way to do it. I have come a long way in 10 years. I have a 3 year old now and I can see huge differences in my attitudes towards her compared to when my older kids were this age. I used to be so frustrated with my kids all the time, but I rarely ever get angry at my 3 year old, even though she gets into everything just like her older siblings did. (now dealing with teenagers… well, that’s still a work in progress! LOL)
God has changed me from the inside out. You really can change if you let God renew your mind. Don’t let yourself get discouraged, it WILL get better.
As I worked through my own brush with legalistic parenting practices, I had these same insights pressed upon me. Many thanks to Stephanie for taking time to write this out and for giving me permission to reprint it!