Parents as pastors
A soft answer
I stopped oscillating like a poorly installed ceiling fan,
and instead stumbled by God's grace onto a parenting mode that was firm and loving and didn't leave me with a guilt hangover.
I remember talking to a police prosecutor, whom I often opposed in court in my previous job as a criminal defence lawyer. He and I didn't see eye to eye on many things, and this was no different.
He was complaining about how inadequate criminal punishments were these days. His solution would be to constantly escalate the response to their offending until they saw the error of their ways.
It all sounded a bit like the prisoner in the Monty Python dungeon singing the praises of crucifixion: ‘Nail some sense into 'em, I say!'
The prosecutor's ‘solution' was overly simplistic and unlikely to work often - people simply do not work that rationally. The sad irony is that I often try to parent my kids by ‘nailing some sense into 'em'. 1
Unfortunately, when one of my little miscreants kicks into tantrum mode, my first reaction is often to raise my voice and think up consequences for continuing the tantrum. After the tantrum (usually after the defendant has been tried and sentenced to some time in his or her room), I usually try to sort out what the problem was, and to teach my not-really-contrite child where they went wrong and what they need to apologise for.
I might as well be speaking to a tree stump most of the time - if I'm very lucky I'll get a sullenly mumbled ‘sorry' before my little tree stump runs off to play again. Meanwhile, I wallow around in daddy guilt wondering what I can possibly do to stop my kids growing up to be pirates or axe murderers or, worse, drug barons.
Other parents 2 fall into the opposite trap - the bleeding-heart-criminal-defence-lawyer snare.
It sounds a bit like this:
‘What are you doing? Stop hitting your brother with that stick!'
‘Oh, he hit you first? And you're tired and hungry? I'm sorry, darling. I should've taken better care of you. Here, have an icecream and sit quietly with a book.'
There is always some reason for misbehaviour, and that reason is usually my parenting failures of yesterday. So of course, I am to blame - and I'd better feed and placate all my children and then go and sit quietly in the corner in disgrace.
So imagine my surprise and delight the other night, when I stopped oscillating like a poorly installed ceiling fan, and instead stumbled by God's grace onto a parenting mode that was firm and loving and didn't leave me with a guilt hangover.
Firm in that I stuck to my guns with my daughter; loving in that I didn't raise my voice or need to imagine some terrifying consequences for disobedience.
The argument was about sharing the swing or some other toy. The kids had not slept properly for a few days. My daughter was hysterically enraged with her siblings, in tears and screaming. I sent her to her room to calm down, and then followed in a minute or two.
When I got there, she was still crying, so we sat and cuddled for a while until she calmed down. Then we talked about her tiredness, and invented a secret code so she could let me know that she needed her daddy to help her get some ‘alone time'. She listened well when I talked to her then about her tantrum with her siblings, and went off to apologise and sort out their differences.
Solomon knew what he was on about when he wrote: A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Prov 15:1)