The following two questions are similar in reflecting the discouragement we can often feel as parents. Though the details vary somewhat, the principles are similar and so I thought I would address them together.
I am a home school mom who is having a difficult time with obedience. My oldest son is 10 and has always had a hard time with self-control. He is pretty wild although he has calmed quite a bit as he has gotten older. He has a bad attitude about helping with chores (everyday) and they are often not done correctly. He seems to have a new attitude of not caring so much about correction. My husband doesn't discipline. We both end up screaming and yelling but ultimately no real punishment is given because we feel bad for losing our tempers. I want to train my children to do right the first time, right away, and with a happy heart…but I am failing. I feel so overwhelmed and I fear it is too late for my family as I see my 5-year-old and 3-year-old picking up the same behavior. I am unsure if I should be super-stern or super-forgiving. I can't find a balance that works. There is so much written about how to train a toddler but what about those of us who are trying to fix what we failed to do earlier? I feel as though I need the “super nanny”....hahaha. I am only laughing though if you don't offer that; if you do, hurry! What advice and tangible ideas do you have on finding balance and setting limits for starting late???
And here is the second question:
What hope can you offer parents who have teenagers and who feel like they have blown it? What hope can you offer moms or dads who feel like they are parenting alone even when there is another parent in the home?
Thanks so much.
Dear Discouraged and Hopeless:
The Scriptures give parents the permission and the conviction to train their children. Even unbelieving spouses appreciate the character and behavior of a biblically trained child whether or not they believe the Bible. They are usually fine with the outcome even if they relinquish, neglect or scoff at the process and the true — and, at times exhausting — work required. (By the way, this scenario does not merely apply to some cases of unbelieving husbands, but also to mothers and wives with believing spouses who have a “hands off,” passive attitude.)
Nevertheless, we as mothers are the primary nurturers and trainers of our children, because that is our God-given role, and because we are usually with them so much more than fathers. When fathers neglect their role to be the “back up” for Mom and the final authority in the home, the system is strained —but not hopeless. As parents, we know that “training up” requires a tremendous amount of time and attention before we see the results down the road. Proverbs 22:6 reminds us, “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” And Galatians 6:9 says, “Do not lose heart in doing good, for in due time you shall reap if you do not grow weary.”
As children grow, they may buck the system and begin to take Mom for granted or “tune her out." They may develop attitudes that are dismissive, disrespectful, and disobedient. Undermining, manipulative tactics of selfish behavior meant to throw Mom completely off course will likely soon follow. Most every mother at times feels as if she has “blown it," failed, that her training is ineffective, or that she has “doomed her child to life on the dark side.” I certainly have felt this way at times. But children also have a responsibility for their own growth and this responsibility increases as they mature.
Be encouraged just knowing that this is a common concern among mothers. The Lord is with you in this process, even if your spouse is not. And if your child has come to saving faith in Christ, then the Lord promises to work in him or her and bring forth sanctifying fruit in His timing. Of course, there are still years of faithful training required on our part!
It is imperative that you build a tender connection with your child — one that takes the necessary time to establish, and that will guide them throughout their lives. You will want to take special care to guard this connection through the rough and tumble teenage years. Spend time together — just the two of you — for at least several minutes a day, and whenever possible eat dinner as a family to keep the lines of communication open. Have special things (they may be very simple things) that you look forward to doing together. Work as a team on things that give them a sense of growth, accomplishment, respect, increased responsibility, increased privilege, opportunities to help to others, and so forth.
Entrusted with a Child’s Heart offers a diagram (see below) that helps to clarify this training process. It shows that as your child matures, your role as parent will gradually change. Your child will become more and more responsible for his or her own actions and you will be watching for the desired outcomes (in the bottom row).
The first column (with the heading, AUTHORITY) generally applies to the ages of 0-5, the next (TRAINING/CORRECTION) comes in around the ages of 6-12, and the third column (GUIDANCE) covers the teen years. During their adult years, you will maintain a close connection but the roles and outcomes change considerably. This is the time when you truly reap what you have sown.
As children are maturing, they will “test the anchors” of your training. We, as parents, must be watchful, careful and prayerful to stay the course and to keep that relational connection. If we are trying to control their outward behavior only, we will lose their heart and that important connection in the process. As parents we have been entrusted with the task of moving the hearts of our children from a state of self-centeredness toward one of God-centeredness. We want to build a lifelong loving connection but at times we can't be their "best buddy" because we have a responsibility to faithfully train them and establish limits in their lives. However a close loving connection will hopefully endure as they mature and roles change. Often parents get so caught up in the external behavior that they lose the internal connection with the child's heart, the child pulls away and becomes unresponsive or disrespectful, and the connection is lost.
Do not be overly discouraged, but recognize and handle manipulation. (The self-centeredness that is erupting will erode your relationship if not addressed.) When these situations arise, step back and assess it without diving into the heat of the moment. After you have determined a plan of action, address it with your child/teen. Have a calm but firm discussion about your assessment and be willing to listen and hear them out. It may be that some repentance and forgiveness needs to take place to mend the relationship, or maybe they simply need a renewed understanding of your expectations. Remember, as they are getting older, we are easing up on some authority and giving them leeway to learn from their choices.
Choose one or two important things to address rather than “dumping the truck” on them. A basic principle for them to learn in this guidance phase is that:
Lack of responsibility = Loss of privileges
Increased responsibility = Increased privileges
(Note the term, “privileges,” not “rights.” There is much confusion in the current generation between the two!)
Be consistent, understanding, and willing to discuss, but undeterred from the true task at hand. For further teaching on “Manipulation and Disrespect” see the following chapters in Entrusted with a Child’s Heart:
“Managing a Child,”
“Committed to Discipline,”
“Recognizing and Handling Manipulation,” and
“Dealing with Rebellion: Never Give Up.”
I Samuel 12:23 offers encouraging instruction for parents, “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you; but I will instruct you in the good and right way.” The Lord continues His sanctifying work in our kids—and in us! Isn’t it great to know that we do not have to make sure they are "perfect”?
Phew! This was a long answer! There is so much here to ponder, pray over, and put into action. Let’s pray together for strength!
I pray for these mothers whose hearts are burdened. Please grant them a sense of Your nearness, and a good measure of Your grace to patiently parent their children with a proper balance of love, limits and perseverance, knowing that their work is not in vain. I would even ask that You would greatly encourage their hearts today by revealing “buds” of the fruit yet to come through their labors. Help us all as mothers (parents) to be committed to the parenting process to which we are called, knowing that the true sanctifying work is accomplished and completed by You. We thank you for the sweet privilege to invest in the lives of our children. Please equip us to capture their hearts and captivate them with the wonder and blessing of living for You. Amen.
Joyfully for Him,