“It’s not my fault … she started it.” Words familiar to almost any parent.
Every child has an instinctive desire to blame others – whether it’s the 4-year old, who’s just knocked his best friend to the ground (“He took my special car.”) or the 14 year-old whose little sister is quietly sobbing, her carefully-chosen outfit the object of ridicule (“I was only being helpful. If she goes out wearing that she’ll look ridiculous).
We see it in ourselves, too (only, perhaps, in more sophisticated language). “I had to shout at you because I’d told you 3 times to put your shoes on, and you weren’t listening to me …”
OK, I know I shouldn’t have done it. But you made me. It’s your problem. I’m only reacting to your sin/selfishness/foolishness. In the words of Taylor Swift: “Look what you made me do.”
Right? Wrong! In the words of James 4:1 “Do you know where your fights and arguments come from? They come from the selfish desires that make war inside you.” (International Children’s Bible)
It’s not you. It’s me. My heart. My selfish desires – for control, or comfort, or the approval of others, or the last chocolate biscuit – waging war on my desire to love God and others.
Realising this can significantly affect our parenting.
1. We can repent, and model repentance to our children
Whatever the issues with our children’s behaviour (and there may be many …) we can’t focus on their sin while ignoring our own. And we certainly can’t blame them for our reactions, fuelled by our own selfish desires. We must repent of our sin, casting ourselves on the mercy of our Saviour, Jesus. Just as we want them to learn to do, too. We needn’t be afraid of admitting our sin to our children (especially when they’ve just seen it clearly displayed!) If we want them to grow into adults who know how to repent and depend on grace, they need to see the adults in their lives doing that too.
2. We can recognise, and welcome, our heavenly father’s discipline of us
Once we see that we have at least as much of a sin-problem as our children have, we will also start to recognise how God is lovingly disciplining us, using our experiences as a parent to reveal our sin and teach us Christlikeness.
3. Our discipline of our children can become more fruitful
If we discipline our children primarily because of our sinful desires (e.g for comfort, or a quiet life) then we are likely to be inconsistent, unfair and impatient. That skews the discipline and rarely produces good fruit. However, if we deal with our own sin first, and discipline our children out of a heart that is fixed on God, and desiring his glory, then effective, fruitful discipline is possible.
To hear the full conversation between Ed and Tim, listen to episode 12 of the Faith in Parents podcast.
For more on wisdom on Christian parenting from Tim Chester, read ‘Gospel-centred family’ by Tim Chester & Ed Moll, published by The Good Book Company. 12 very short, easily readable chapters including practical wisdom for parents, some bible passages to ponder and very helpful reflection questions to help you apply what you read in your own parenting. Why not plan to read this over the summer, along with your spouse, or another Christian parent from your church?
By guest author: Cathy Dalton