I’ve seen a lot of talk on “Christian” parenting that advocates seeing your children as sinners to be brought under control. As enemies whose will is at war with yours.
They see children and children’s nature as something to conquer and subdue, using force to get obedience. But I would say that a Christian attitude towards your children is very, very different from what people like Debi and Michael Pearl teaches. Consider the following thoughts:
1: We should become like them!
Heavily punitive parenting styles is all about changing the child to be like the parents. To go where the parents want to go. To act as the parents would act. But while there is certainly a place for that in growing towards maturity, there is also truth in the opposite. Jesus said:
Mat 18:3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Are you, in your attempt to make your children like you, forgetting that in some ways, you should (leave them as they are, and) become like them?
The first and most basic truth about humans, it seems to me, is not that we are sinners. The first, and most foundational truth about us, is that God made mankind in His image. (Gen 1:27) Mankind became flawed by sin, and I don’t want to underestimate the importance of that. But we are firstly created good – in the image of God – and secondly flawed later. And the gospel message say that the flaw is repairable, in Christ. An unsaved child is a creation of God, marred by less willful sin than most unsaved adults.
A toddler waddles around the house, sticking his hands out to touch and explore. The children -are-sinners parent may say: “Hit the sinner, and teach him not to touch the glass vase. His natural inclination to touch things should be curbed. If he can’t see the difference between glass vases, and things he can touch, he should rather learn instant obedience – and no touching – than to touch glass vases.” The children-are-made-in-God’s-image parent will be more likely to say: “His desire to explore, and know things, are from the omniscient God who promise that one day, we will know in full. We should not curb his exploration, but hide the things he should not touch, until he is old enough to understand.”
3: Christianity is about love, not externals
God calls us firstly not to obedience, but to love. Loving Him with heart, soul and mind is first, and loving others as yourself is second and equally important.
Punishment gets people to do the right thing from fear, but doing things from fear is not the same as doing them from love:
1Jn 4:18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
You can make all the right movements from fear of punishment, but if they do not come from love, it means nothing. (1 Co. 13) Spanking children can produce external results, but it cannot make their hearts more loving.
Please note, dear reader, that I never commented if spanking should be used or avoided. The pros and cons of spanking are not the topic here, nor are the rod-related texts in Proverbs. I only claim that punishment has no direct value in producing the central virtue of Christianity: Love.
Because of that, nobody could promise your children will turn out as mature Christians if you spank right. And any child rearing method that focus much on spanking, focus much on externals and not the heart.
4: Children are a blessing
God do not give children in order to give you an enemy to war against. He give them as a blessing – to enjoy, to love and be loved by, to laugh with. Heavy-handed authoritarian attitudes treat this blessing, somehow, as a demon to conquer.
5: We should love others as ourselves:
You want to go home. Your child want to stay a bit longer. Unless you have a very good reason to want to go home, there is nothing inherently superior about your desire.
We should love others as ourselves, and our tots are others, whose needs should be regarded as highly as our own. Asserting your will “so that the child do not become a tyrant” is not avoiding a tyrant, but creating one: Yourself. This becomes harder the more children you have, but modelling Christian love means caring about their wills as much as about your own.
On some things of course, your knowledge make your will (my child should eat vegetables) better than the child’s (“I hate vegetables“). On others, your child’s will is no less important than yours. Neither the child nor the parent should be a spoiled brat that wants their way 100% of the time.
At least this is how I see it.