Before I had kids, I had a picture of exactly what sort of parent I would be. As a teacher and a nanny for many years, I had lots of experience with children. I read lots of parenting books while I was pregnant. I loved kids, and I looked forward to being a parent.
And, of course, I knew exactly how to be the perfect parent. I would not be a friend; I would be a parent. They would tow the line because I would be in charge, not they. I was sure that I would be an excellent disciplinarian. I had experience. I read all the books. I had a plan. I was ready.
And I had my first child. He was a complacent child, very much a pleaser. I had no other children to distract me, and he was the focus of all my attention. Parenting went pretty much the way I’d always envisioned it would. Not to say that it was always easy or that he was perfect, but I was confident in my parenting skills, and he was a quick study. He was attentive and responded well to correction. He was respectful and obedient. I was proud of what I accomplished with him.
Pride. We all know where that leads.
Then I had my second child. She is a different animal. She is much more complicated than her brother. I’m told “it’s a girl thing”. She is not such an eager student. She is flighty and exuberant and silly. She’s in her own world sometimes. She very conveniently doesn’t usually hear me the first ten times I give her instruction. When she feels like she’s in trouble, she knows just how to make me laugh and forget that I was reprimanding her.
Then the third child came along, and she has her own unique personality. I am not always sure how to deal with her little temper and her separation anxiety.
So now my time and attention is split three ways. Each child has his or her own set of needs. I’m tired. I’ve gotten lax.
And as they get older, parenting seems to get more complicated. I’m not dealing just with behaviors anymore, but also with attitudes and with heart issues. I am concerned about my children’s actions, but lately I realize I need to be more concerned about their spiritual well-being.
It seems easier to be inconsistent than to follow through sometimes. I find myself overlooking bad behavior all too often. I am not always sure when to extend mercy and when to administer punishment. I forget to reward good behavior, so oftentimes I feel like the tone in our home is more negative than it should be. I find myself nagging and becoming irritated more than I like, and I wonder if it is because I have been neglecting discipline.
It saddens me to punish my children. I don’t want to be the cause of their grief or pain. I want to believe that I spare my children from discipline because I love them so much, but that is a lie. I want to avoid the pain it causes me when I have to discipline my children. And yet, they are the ones who will be hurt in the long run. I know that I do them no favors by allowing them to get away with wrongdoing, but sometimes there is a great divide between knowing the right thing to do and putting it into practice.
It occurred to me last night, when I was debating how I should deal with a certain someone’s latest mishap, that parenting well is much harder than parenting badly. It is far easier to be a permissive, inconsistent parent.
And yet, I am reminded that true parental love will not neglect its responsibilities to discipline and teach children right from wrong. True love will do the hard thing when it’s called for.
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6
So I pray. I pray that I will have the strength and the courage to take the road less traveled. I pray that I will be consistent to follow through even when it isn’t easy, and I pray that I will have the wisdom to discern when to extend mercy and when to administer justice.
Most of all, I pray that I can effectively communicate the love of our heavenly Father so that even at a very young age, my children will know God’s love and witness it in me. And I trust that, despite my shortcomings, God will be at work in their little hearts and minds, softening them, calling them to himself, so that they may know him.