Monday, October 04, 2004

Reflections on (Christian) parenting

I had an interesting discussion last night with my extended family about parenting. Specifically, we were talking about discipline. The discussion started when Sarah mentioned a book she was reading at the recommendation of her cousin. The book is Shepherding a Child's Heart, by Tedd Tripp. I haven't read it, but Tripp advocates use of the "rod" and talking about the misbehavior of children in terms of sin.

Sarah and I are committed to not spanking our children, regardless of what it says in Proverbs. What concerns me is this idea of misbehavior as sin. My father-in-law, the psychoanalyst, says this idea is rooted in a belief that children, absent intervention from the parents, are naturally evil. Parents must correct that evil (on behalf of God) in order to save their children.

But he suggests that there is another way to look at misbehavior. Misbehavior is essentially a form of communication. Children have unstructured ideas in their heads, and they are acting out in an effort to get their parents (or teachers) to help them learn structure. So rather than looking at "acting out" behaviors as sinful, we can see them as a very natural process in which a child learns to interact with the world.

I really like Eugene Peterson's translation of Proverbs 13:24 (the "rod" passage): "A refusal to correct is a refusal to love; love your children by disciplining them." We do our children a disservice if we don't help them structure their ideas. But it doesn't have to be done in anger and we don't have to see our children as evil.

Granted, my daughter is only 8 months old, so I don't have a whole lot of experience in this area. But this makes sense to me.

On another note, I've been trying to find a way to describe my parenting strategy that didn't make me seem lazy. I love how Jen Lemen put it: "i think that parenting is important and the way you do it matters, but i am more convinced that the real trick is going with the flow of the kind of kids you get."

I think the message is don't try to make your kid into something that they're not. Don't use that strategy as an excuse to not discipline them or put any sort of limits on them, but rather honor the person that they are becoming, not the person you wish they were.

Finally, read Sarah's post about her weekend in Idaho with her cousin. She had some interesting experiences with her cousin's kids and house rules. A good read.



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