Parenting By The Book

I’ve taken a week off from blogging, happily consumed with the celebration of my eldest son’s 20th birthday. We rang it in over the course of several days of dinners out, dinner in, a trip to Couer d’Alene and lots of calls from the relatives, all of whom feel compelled to sing Happy Birthday to a young man who pretends not to love it all. I continue to marvel at the reality that while one son is a committed vegan, the other begins his third decade thrilled to pieces that we got him four filets mignon from Omaha Steaks. Plus pork loin, even.

Honestly, they really are brothers. I was there when they were born and everything.

So I’m a little sentimental these days. Jeff and I are half-empty nesters with a sophomore in high school and a sophomore at the UI, and the house seems so quiet at times without both boys always around. I’m blessed with two wonderful, kind, intelligent, funny sons, and being their mother continues to be the role I treasure most. Nothing else I do matters if I don’t honor God by mothering them with the love I learned from Jesus.

I’ve been given a lot of opportunity over the last few months to counsel young mothers and fathers who ask me about parenting — what books did I read, what ministry did I turn to for guidance, did we spank/breastfeed/let them play with toy guns, etc. I think I’ve been a pretty good mom, and I’m always grateful for the opportunity to help young parents learn how to be good parents. But Jeff and I didn’t read parenting books; I think I finished one, maybe, when my youngest was about five. We rejected the model of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family as being far less Biblical than culture-reflecting; Dobson and his ilk demonstrate much of what’s wrong with contemporary Christiandom, and I wasn’t about to school my sons in their methods. We spanked only a few times, and I consider each one to have been a failure on my part. I breastfed longer than most American women do, and we didn’t let them play with guns. The greatest blessing of my life has been that I could stay home with them, and we read, we cuddled, we explored, we talked, and we did it all again, many times, every day. Yes, it was sometimes exhausting; no, I wouldn’t take back a minute of it. And maybe it shows, if not in me, then in my kids — people ask me about parenting quite often, and I have only one thing to recommend, only one parenting style or household management plan that’s ever made sense to me: the Fruit of the Holy Spirit outlined in Galatians 5.

I wasn’t raised in a Christian home and neither was my husband. We both had much to unlearn and much more to learn, and as we grew and lived together in Christ, the fruit brought about by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, mercy and self-control — began to be the guide and the goal for how we brought up our sons. If I demonstrated love, kindness, peace, mercy, gentleness, patience and self-control in mothering them, and if I trained them to develop within those qualities, they, their dad, and I all found not just a sane and safe household, but tremendous joy as well. If I approached every interaction, every opportunity, every spilled glass of milk, with patience, mercy, and self-control, it had an amazing effect, both on me and on my boys. If we opted for true discipline — training, modeling, and encouraging good behavior — and not punishment, we got the kind of behavior, generally, that we wanted. And when we didn’t, it became, with self-control, patience, and mercy, much easier to approach each incident by asking first what it is they needed, and then trying to satisfy that. So if there was a mid-morning meltdown, for example, I learned to ask myself, and later to ask them, what it could be that they needed — a snack, a diaper change, a hug, a “book break,” a time out, or whatever. The fruit of the Spirit within me prompted a relational approach to parenting, not an adversarial one, and I think that’s the model God intends in our every interaction as Christians.

Even with, especially with, our children.

Lamentably, too many “Christian” books and methods thrive on adversity and control, not to mention spanking, and for the life of me, I can’t see Christ in any of it. You don’t “discipline” your kids by spanking them. That’s punishment, not training, and the ease with which parents equate the two is a fruit of something else entirely. Kids need to be punished sometimes; I just doubt that it’s as often as the prevailing Christian culture demonstrates, and I reject that the “rod and staff” that comfort us in Psalm 23 is meant to be used to whip ‘em in Proverbs 13:24. Kids can be taught not to touch the knickknacks on Grandma’s bookshelf without spanking or threats thereof, and the lesson learned by an infusion of the fruit of the Holy Spirit brings forth kids who are not just trustworthy and self-controlled, but also gentle and joyful. In a culture roiling with violence and smothered in fear, I can’t think of any better gift to have left my children.

They’re good men. I can’t wait to see the gifts they offer to the world around them.

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