Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Leading our children

A few more thoughts on my struggle with the question of balancing love and authority at home….you might want to go back and read that post to get the background.

I was prepared for the “warm fuzzy” part of motherhood: the loving, the cherishing, the snuggling. The God-given maternal instinct, with a little help from American Airlines and Johnson & Johnson commercials, are all part of the propaganda that encourages independent young women to suddenly desire a life holding sweet-smelling babies and become interested in home decorating.

I was even prepared for some of the management responsibilities of motherhood. I could cook, I could sew, and I could change a diaper. I could balance a checkbook and handle power tools. I’d read tons of parenting books and taken child development courses.

Now I even had a few kids. I was "doing" everything right. I had all the pieces, but had trouble putting them together. I knew I wanted my kids to make their beds. To speak kind words. I wanted to raise them to know and love God, and to enjoy warm relationships within the family. I somehow knew authority was a huge issue, but so far my attempts at keeping control did nothing but create antagonistic relationships right and left.

About the time things came to a head, I was outnumbered by kids, sinking daily into the mire of constant conflict. Dennis was in graduate school, which was great for him, but created even more opportunities for me to lose it, often left on my own with the kids. Since his major was Organizational Development, I got to read lots of his papers and books.

I found myself drawn to the accounts of great leaders. Churchill. Washington. Lincoln. Jesus. I saw many parallels between visionary organizations – from armies to nations to businesses – and that intangible "something" that I so desperately wanted for my home. That’s when I realized the piece that was missing for me:

I wasn’t leading.

Oh, I was an authority figure all right, by virtue of my being bigger than everyone, and by my position as Mom. I wielded plenty of power. But I tended to fall into the poor me, "hapless victim of huge family” role. And when that didn't work, I whirled into "do it or else" mode.

I wasn’t the kind of leader that inspired anything or anyone. I began to ask myself: if given a choice, would my kids want to follow me?


I knew something had to change. I wanted to be more than just reactive. And I didn’t want to coerce my children. I wanted to become a LEADER in my home.

Authority (in the unbalanced sense of the word) conjures up a fear-driven fiefdom in which serfs jump to the every whim of an aloof dictator. My children have seen me operating in Mussolini mode, and it is not fun for any of us.

Leadership, however (according to John Maxwell), is influence.

In my mind, an effective leader is in charge, is strong, but is not manipulative. A leader provides a vision and a dream that inspires others. A leader has passion and purpose. A good leader sees the potential and gains satisfaction in seeing others succeed. A good leader makes tough decisions based on deep convictions, and is not swayed by public opinion.

Most importantly, a leader has proven himself or herself worthy of being followed.

Yep, more is caught than taught. That's why I could be "doing" everything right (and have obedient children) and still not have the hearts of my kids.

Especially in the home, this meant I needed to shift my focus from controlling to modeling and relationship. To quote John Maxwell again, “Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them.”

Okay, so it's not a fiefdom, but I'm still in charge. What does this look like at home? I wondered.

Isaiah 40, a chapter we read this week for Advent, talks about the Messiah, the One Who has ultimate authority.

He has power (verse 10):

See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him.
See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.

And yet, in practice, look how He leads (verse 11, my emphasis):

He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

Jesus is the perfect example of a leader. He has all power, and yet it’s “the goodness of God [that] LEADS us to repentance” (Romans 2:4). He doesn't scare us into it, or coerce us into it. Everything about Who He is leads us there. It is His love that compels us (2 Corinthians 5:14).

Some leaders are born, and some are ordinary people who find themselves in a crisis in which they must rise to the occasion. Others choose to become leaders, and they carefully develop skills that help them lead effectively.

In our case as mothers, God has put us in a position of leadership in our families - whether we want it or not (for me, this falls somewhere between a choice to lead, and a crisis!). We have authority, and yet we are to carry our little ones close to our heart. Love and authority are not mutually exclusive. This gives me the assignment (should I choose to accept it) to inspire and pass on a vision for the kind of home life I want our family to enjoy, whether I see it now or not.

Part of this process naturally includes dealing with negative behaviors in our children. I can choose to be passive, frustrated, or even angry at the “circumstances” (aka children) when I see them deliberately choosing to disobey. It's much easier to (1) throw my weight around, or (2) refuse to get off my duff and deal with conflict in a way that models “followable character” for my children.

But if I am to be an effective leader, I must fearlessly stick to my purpose. Yes, obedience is important and I need to insist on it. But just as importantly, I need to keep in mind that how I respond is influencing my children as much as what I do to them or for them. "Who I am" should be leading them toward repentance.

I must choose to reject passivity (responding in anger, or ignoring behavior, hoping it will go away) and rise to the occasion. Before I respond, I need to ask God to do the work in me before He can do a work in them. Sometimes this means asking His help to undo negative patterns of relating that have developed over time.

As I mentioned yesterday, we have some patterns that started in the preschool years that are having implications years later in our home. But God is so good. He gives second (third, fourth, fifth) chances, and He restores. It is NEVER too late. I am getting glimpses of that grace with my older children, and it is beautiful.

And a final thought...

It helps me keep things in perspective when I realize the reason God wants us to lead our families is for the express purpose of making His name known to the next generation (Psalm 71). (Remember, leaders have a strong vision and purpose!)

Settle it in your mind now: It is NOT so that we can control every move our child makes. It is NOT so that we can order our kids around, have convenient lives, or so that our children will be able to sit for long periods of time in church. It is not so that they will never embarrass us in the grocery store.

He wants us to use our leadership - our relational influence - day in and day out before our families, so that our children will literally follow us to God. Our lives (whether we do everything "right" or not) should compel them to realize they need a saving knowledge of Christ - a heart change - for themselves. When hearts change, behavior eventually follows.

So yes, we teach, we train, we discipline. But lovingly. Gently. Mostly we follow Him (the perfect Leader), and, in turn, by teaching our children to follow us, they learn to follow Him, too.

So back to the original question: No, I do not believe that loving and consistent discipline from parents who gently lead their children will send kids down the road to rebellion. In fact, leading them in this way can prepare their hearts to know their Savior.

And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.
Mark 10:16
In case this wasn't long enough and you just want to keep reading:
James Dobson on How to Shape Your Child's Will
Reb Bradley on Beyond Obedience


dawn klinge said...

That is a beautifully written post with much for me to try and apply to my life. Thank you for taking the time to write this.

Lizz @ Yes, and So is My Heart said...

I've been reading your blog for a while now and it is great. We're getting ready to have our third child, and just today I was looking at my toddler and thinking something needed to be done about his behavior. Thanks for this reminder that it goes beyond keeping him in his seat at mealtimes. It was no accident I read this today and I'm grateful. Thanks.

Mindy said...

Thanks Katherine for the encouragement. It is so good to remember that it is not only the way we discipline or sometimes fail to discipline, but the whole, big picture of how we lead. How we live.

Anonymous said...

I just sat and read yesterday's post and today's. I am positive that most of what you were sharing sounds like my attitude! I have a almost 4 year old and 1 1/2 year old. I sometimes want so bad for them to just obey and behave like little soldiers, that I feel like I am missing out on just enjoying them. There is a balance, and I wnat to find it!! Thanks for the encouragement to do so.

I read your blog often and truly enjoy it:)

Jolanthe said...

Wow. Lots to think about. Thanks so much for posting this and the other post. :) It's a lot of what my husband and I have been talking about lately.


Marian said...

This is your best post ever, Katherine. Thank you. And feel free to continue as you are led. ; )

Susanne said...

I am so bookmarking this post and am going to read it again and again. This was wonderfully stated Katherine. "Leadership is influence", that is powerful!

Cori said...

As so many others have said, this was a beautifully written post and just what I needed to read at this point in my journey in motherhood. Now if only someone had a roadmap for this! Balancing my selfish nature, my desire for a loving relationship with my children and the need for discipline in all of our lives is a tough juggling act!

Joni said...

Wow, Katherine! Thanks, once again, for your transparency. I so appreciate how honest you are about where you've been and where you are now.

I can relate to much of what you said about understanding (after a bit of parenting experience) that it's not about control, it's about leadership, meaning influence. I can "control" my children all I want, but what I truly want is for them to long to follow God, which means I must develop relationship and let go of the idea of perfect control!

God brought to mind the verse this summer that you mentioned --that His KINDNESS leads to repentance. I thought of all the ways throughout my life in which He'd led me so gently, and I was humbled by some of the choices I'd made with my children, all in the name of "good Christian discipline". So, kudos to you. Though I don't comment much, you, who are further ahead in the mothering journey than me, inspire me so!

kittyhox said...

Thank you thank you thank you.

Awesome post. Love the second article. (Will read Dobson's later, ran out of time). So full of insight - both the post and the link!! I'm going to print it out and read it with my husband.

That is exactly the kind of parents we want to be. Loving, first and foremost. Love as our motive for discipline, love as our primary family value, and (Christian) love as the ultimate goal for our children.

Thank you for sharing what you've learned with us newer Mamas. :)

Alycia said...

This is so beautifully written. I came across your blog today and was SO blessed in doing so! Thank you for these words, I am going to print them out and reflect over them. Blessings...

Melissa Stover said...

excellent post. certainly a struggle for me as well. mind if i link to it?

Family O'Foxes said...

This post has God timing written all over.

We are working on these things in our home.

Thanks for giving me things to think about.
P.S. I like John Maxwell books also.

Brenda said...

Great advice from someone much farther down the road than myself! I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks for these posts...they were good. I will have to re-read them.

Lisa said...

I couldn't agree more. I must model the behavior I want to see in my children. And it is not always easy!
I read a book about 5 years ago called 'How to Behave so your Children Will To' and it changed the way I act, and parent.
I lead with good behavior and I really do see the children following. (Some of the time!)

El Shaddai Ranch said...

Thank you so much for this reminder. I re-read Shepherding A Child's Heart this summer, but now that winter is here we are starting to digress. I needed a good reminder of why I'm doing this mom thing.

El Shaddai Ranch said...

Oops - meant to include this quote...

"Children are a message we send to a time we will not see." Anonymous

Jennifer said...

Thank you so much for this post. We are a blended family with an 8-year old son and are expecting another son in February. I struggle with controlling discipline vs. authoritative correction and your post was written beautifully. Your insight is greatly appreciated!

Unknown said...


Once again you beautifully hit the nail on the head. Just yesterday I was thinking about how our purpose is to lead all men to Christ, and how often my efforts are diluted in my own family by becoming distracted--all those battles that seem important and aren't really, yet bring out the dictator in me! Lately--this month--we are discovering a sweetness in our family that comes from driving straight at that purpose instead of getting side-tracked. It is a beautiful experience. It requires a lot of letting go for me, and a lot of focus, so it's not easy. But I think I am catching the vision! Thank you for the huge dose of encouragement and hope . . .


GranolaGirl said...

Thanks for this post today, Katerine. I just fussed at my 2 year old b/c I wanted some "me" time on the computer... and then I get angry when he's selfish and fussy? Thanks for sharing you wisdom and experience.

Elspeth said...

Great words, Katherine. Thank you.

Sarah said...

Great thoughts and insights Katherine, thank you! It's so easy, especially with preschoolers, to be focused on developing the respect and obedience that we find ourselves reacting in anger or frustration a lot. I want to lead in the exact way you described, that is my new prayer!

Julie@HighFive! said...

This is just what I needed to hear, thank you! I've been learning these very things and it was very encouraging to read these words.

Sometimes I'll pretend to myself that my oldest is actually the's the funniest thing, suddenly the pressure is off and I feel like I can enjoy him a bit more. Something about the oldest child seems to bring out the authoritarian in me, I expect so much.

Anyway, thank's nice to know we all have the same struggles.

Jennifer@DoingTheNextThing said...

This post was a blessing. Thanks!

Queen to my 3 Boys said...

Great post. I'm glad I read it. Something to pray on and ask for help with, especially when we just welcomed another one into our family and are reeling from the 'shake-up'.

Megan@SortaCrunchy said...

Oh Katherine. Thank you for this. Yesterday was, uh, not so good around here. Lots of whining and crying and pity parties - and that was just from the mama. Even though it's been a week since you wrote this, I really needed to read this today. It inspired within me both conviction and hope.

I am printing this out to post on my refrigerator. Seriously. Thanks for your gentle leadership of us mamas to young ones.

Etta said...

I know I'm a little late in commenting, and you are on sabbatical, but I just SO needed this post lately. I have been dealing with conviction about how I am dealing with my 4 1/2 year old who is, let's just say, HEAD STRONG, just like his mother. I have a very large temper and I'm struggling (mostly failing) to keep it under control as he tests his limits. Thanks for this post. I think I'm going to have to print it out and keep it in a safe but VISIBLE place as a reminder.

Enjoy your sabbatical.

Joyfulness said...

I always love the way you put things in a way I can understand, feeling encouraged yet also challenged.

Aleah said...

Wow! This was nice to read. I've been struggling with the balance of everyday life with our 4 lately. Thanks for pointing out some great books too!

I have a good life said...

What powerful thoughts. What a great way to think about Mommying and that is how I want to be! Thanks for the inspiration.