I have been thinking a lot about my parenting philosophy and practices lately (or my lack thereof). I know I am doing something wrong, but I am still so unsure of what that is.
In my Bible study group today, we were talking about how to apply the truths of Genesis 1-3 to the world of parenting children. A couple of really important things came up as we looked at how God interacted with Adam and Eve after their sin. We noticed that he met them in gentleness and love, getting his own hands bloody to create a covering for their shame. My pastor's wife pointed out that God did not curse Adam and Eve. Certainly the serpent and the ground were cursed, but the words that he gives to Adam and Eve about the pain that life would bring were not a curse or a threat. They were just an explanation of the way things would be, the consequences of their sin. When God sent Adam and Eve out of the garden, it was a chance for redemption. Instead of living eternally in the garden in brokenness, they were promised a new life, healing, hope that would come from God.
So what do these truths have to do with parenting? They must be applicable if our role as parents is to mirror God's role as our Father.
First, God always acts toward Adam and Eve out of gentleness and compassion, not out of pride or anger. Though he is the offended party, God approaches Adam and Eve in love. He asks gentle questions, giving them a chance to see their errors and to take responsibility for them. When they don't take responsibility, he does not attack them or walk away in anger, he simply explains the consequences of their sin and reminds them of his love. There is still discipline, but it is not a discipline that heaps on more shame or condemnation.
How often do I deal with my children's disobedience so gently, still showing them the consequences of their actions but not letting my pride be offended? Is my goal to defend my pride or to help my children see their error, accept the consequences, and still know that they are loved? Do I approach my children with compassionate questions or harsh, self-righteous words?
Second, God never forced Adam and Eve to obey him. He left them a choice, a tree from which to eat or not to eat. When they made a bad choice, he dealt with it. But he never stepped in and muscled his way between Eve and the serpent, grabbing her wrist and forcing her to drop the apple. Sometimes we wish he had, but what would the result have been? Obedience, yes, but obedience out of fear and obligation, not out of love and respect.
How often to I try to muscle my children into obeying me? What results do I see when I force obedience instead of teaching it in a relationship grounded in love? Resentful, angry attitudes arise when children are coerced and strong-armed into good behavior. Rather than muscling, I need to practice modeling. Do I show others (my husband and even my children) the love and courtesy I expect my children to learn? I can still be the authority without being authoritarian.
Finally, God chose to cover Adam and Eve's shame, their nakedness, through his own initiative. He respected their personhood, their value as people created in his image. He did not leave them in a state of guilt and vulnerability or tell them to go off and deal with their brokenness alone. He loved them beyond what they deserved.
Do I value my children as unique creations in the image of God? Do I willingly step in to cover their shame at personal cost to myself? This does not mean taking away the consequences of their sin. It does mean making sure that they feel secure and loved so that they do not live in shame or wallow in guilt. It means practicing redemptive love that frees them to live in hope, to strive for better.
I am still working out how this applies on a very practical level. A few things I do know:
It means yelling less and approaching in love more, by using a calm voice, gentle questions, loving touch, even in the midst of discipline.
It means not parenting by coersion or threats. My children are learning every day what it means to make choices. When I ask them to do something, I don't need to threaten. God certainly told Adam and Eve the consequences of eating of the tree, but he did not threaten them with his power or authority. It was enough to tell them lovingly the way of things and to calmly explain the consequences of their actions. My children do not need me to tell them all the time that I am in charge and can punish them. They will learn that either way if I am firm about showing the consequences of sin and enforcing the rules.
More than anything, my children need to hear and see and feel from me every day that I love them, that I respect them as God's unique creations, that I have compassion on them sometimes even beyond what they deserve.
Lord have mercy.