Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Tough Parents Or Best Friends To Your Children?

All healthy parents want to be known by their children as being “loving parents.” We want a long term relationship with our kids that will last all of our lives, sharing the best of life and holidays together.

Unfortunately, American society has come to believe too many lies about parenting which has turned many parents down the wrong path of attempting to be their child’s best friend, and their source of self-esteem. And yet, after all that effort you see so many young adults grow up with disdain for their parents, treat them poorly and without respect, all the while their parents are chasing after their love and affections. 
Neglect consistent discipline and children will grow up to resent you for it.

So what goes wrong when parents who try so hard to be friends end up public enemy number one in so many households?  Why can’t these young adults, now that they are a little older, look back and see all of the energy and effort their parents put into them, and give them the love, respect and friendship that these parents feel they have earned? Some do finally get it, and turn around to care about their parents, but many maintain a sourpuss stance and stay aloof far into their 30’s and 40’s, if not downright ornery and unloving to their parents throughout their adult life.  The grand experiment of friendship and self-esteem building is a failure and the one shot they had at creating a true lifelong family is blown apart by a lack of knowledge and wisdom.

For our family, Lori and I decided that the only way to attain our lifelong goals for our family was by teaching values, not by friendship and self-esteem. Oh, we loved playing with our kids and had a wild time some nights jumping all around the living room, wrestling, playing and enjoying our little ones. But when a value lesson presented itself, instantly our parenting took over and we taught the important values.

Immediate obedience is a vital value. Think of all the authorities we must obey in order to live a peaceful, productive life. “Time for bed,” Mom would announce at 8 p.m. and without a whimper the four headed for Daddy in his big arm chair and gave him a hug, then off to brush their teeth, get in bed, where Mom or Dad would read to them a Bible story.  Then lights out and rarely another peep out of the little ones. No need to sit at the top of the stairs all evening waiting for the little curfew violators when one or two good swats can solve the problem forever.

No whining or complaining. Now this is a value I wish my parents had done a better job on with me. Whining and complaining are such ugly traits and they stem from an attitude of ungratefulness. Oh sure, we heard a bit of whining at times, but quickly our parenting kicked in to teach how thankful we must be for all the wonderful things God has given us. We also were quick to say “no” to a whining child who wanted more treats, or more play time, or did not want to pick up their room, or do their chores.  No way in our house were we going to put up with whining kids.  Why?  Because when you accept a bunch of whining you actually are teaching your kids that whining is an acceptable behavior. It not a behavior that friends, or family, or a future spouse is going to appreciate, so why would we allow it in our children or our home? "No way, Jose. If you are going to whine, go to the fire place!”

Be responsible and keep your commitments. Being irresponsible always led to tough consequences in our home. And why not?  It certainly leads to tough consequences when you don’t turn in your essays in college, or meet your deadlines at work, so why would we want our children to be given a break when it comes to responsibility? We also had lots of rewards for being responsible; like a dollar sitting in the middle of your bed when their room was spotless, and a dollar taken out if it was messy and did not take their responsibility seriously.  We rewarded with kisses, hugs, money, treats, trips to Chuckie Cheese. In our home you could get lots of rewards, but mess up on any value and at a minimum you got a lecture, or spent time on the fireplace step, or got a swat, depending on the offense. Even to this day Lori and I hold each other accountable for keeping our commitments to each other in what we eat, what we say, our attitudes or what I watch on TV. Our reward is a feeling of well being that comes from self-discipline, that same feeling our kids go to sleep with each night as it is instilled deep within them.

Swats and spanks were generally reserved for outright defiance, or out of control behavior, not for value issues. Missing a known value issue like being unkind to a sibling would have various consequences, including getting the exact same experience shown to you so that you would know what that feels like.

One evening my oldest son, probably four years old, looked right at me, then looked at his brother as he took his hand and pushed him flat back on his butt.  As the howls came out I said, “Come here,” and I took my hand and pushed him flat back on  his butt in the same way, and another howl rang out.  Then I picked him up and comforted him and began the teaching of values.  “Do you think your brother liked that?”  “No,” came the answer. “Then don’t do that again.”

Usually such lesson times went right into training correct thinking. “You know Alexanders treat others with kindness. Alexanders are nice to everyone, and you must be especially nice to your brother because he will grow up soon to be your best friend, and will defend you and protect you some day because that is what brothers do.”

Yes, the Alexanders, like the Pearls were very tough parents. We were not exactly sure how our one opportunity at the grand experiment of parenting would turn out, but we were convinced that we would not raise brats, and that we would raise godly children who would grow up to love and serve the Lord Jesus with all their hearts. To the consternation of some friends and family members who thought us too demanding in discipline, we tried to explain that the greatest gift of love you can give a child is self-discipline. Many of these same detractors in later years have privately told us “You did it right.”

To give God our very best as parents we felt we had to be tough. Why?  Well maybe because the world is tough. Maybe because, except for this little window of the past 50 years in America, the entire world have been one tough place to not just earn a living, but to achieve even the necessities of life. Perhaps that little four year old tike is going to be marching off to war with a gun on his shoulder in 14 years and I wanted him tough enough to know what he was fighting for. God’s values that have become now his values.

We take for granted that this world we live in, this microcosm of heaven on earth, is somehow going to continue long term, and it is not.  We live better than Kings and Queens of old, and too many parents treat their children as if they are nobility, lavishing gifts and entitlements before they have ever earned a thing in life. It is no wonder we have a whole generation of “hand outs” with artificial self-esteem developed in them by parents who bequeathed it as a gift without making them earn it, or instilling any real values, like hard work and supporting a family. True self-esteem and happiness comes only when one lives out the true values of life, not the pleasures of life.

Our Lord promises tough times for all who will follow him.  He tells me that my family and I must be prepared like soldiers to withstand the lies of the evil one by putting on the values of truth, faith, and the Word of God. These are the values we taught our children when they woke up and when they went to sleep, at each and every opportunity that was presented to teach God’s ways over man’s ways, the ways of the Spirit over the ways of the flesh. And we began such training in godliness at a very young age, maybe even six months old by starting early on issues of self-control. By three years old, maybe four, our children had learned enough self-discipline to obediently and joyfully please their parents with with rarely a cross word or need for a swat.

Were we perfect parents? No way, that is way too big a burden to ask of any parent. But we did the very best we knew how, knowing that God did not ask us to be best friends with our kids, but to raise them in the nurture, admonition, discipline and love of the Lord Jesus. I love my relationship with my children, and the respect they show me and Lori, but most of all I love watching each one of them live a disciplined, godly life that seeks to serve their Lord Jesus Christ by living out the values that we so diligently instilled within each one of them.

The goal of Christian parenting should not be to become a best friend with your child, but to make them into a best friend of Jesus. To do this parents must suffer the sad times when we must be strict, tough, and say “no” to sleepovers, questionable friends, unsupervised parties and trips, and whatever may take our children out from under our loving protection.

We live in an ugly world of sin, and don’t think that the Christian school you are sending your kids to is immune from the ugliness, it’s just a better alternative to the unchecked godlessness found in most public high schools and universities. The only protection for your children once they leave your home is the values you have instilled within them… the training to do things God’s ways so they may reap His blessings over man’s ways and man’s fleshly pleasures.

So we chose to be tough parents, and guess what? Our kids are very much our friends and we have a wonderful loving family. When you can go every year for 25 years to the same spot for vacation and rarely hear a whine, a complaint, a fight, or unloving word for two weeks at a stretch… this is pure joy. To know that God is working in the lives of our little ones who have become responsible adults and have taken God’s values as their own.  

Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Ephesians 6:13-17