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.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