I remember a point in my early parenting when I felt way over my head. I was highly aware of all that I didn’t know when it came to parenting a child with a sin nature. I was overwhelmed and clueless and felt completely inadequate to disciple my kids in godliness and wisdom. In my desperation, I reached out to an older woman for insight. Her advice: you’re not disciplining enough or with a strong enough hand–she viewed a multitude of spanks as the sole means of correction. She was convinced that though I was faithfully addressing sin issues, I was giving too much grace and was not harsh enough in admonishment.
I’ll spare you the many details, but while I’ve received deep wells of wisdom from older moms, this one wasn’t it. She insisted that if my kids weren’t obeying the first time–every time– with a cheerful heart, I just wasn’t parenting in a godly way. It wasn’t the first or the last time I received advice that sounded a bit like that. Maybe you’ve heard that too. Can I suggest that there might be more grace for us here, while still addressing the sin in our kid’s hearts?
I believe discipline is necessary, but I also believe that God demonstrates to us many ways that we can lovingly call our kids out of sin and into repentance and righteousness, with grace and compassion. Let’s consider just three:
- We bathe our children and our homes in the Word.
I recently sat with Psalm 119 for a couple of weeks, studying and meditating on the chapter. The Psalm (all 176 verses) largely focuses on loving God’s Word, but one verse, in particular, stood out to me: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to Your word.” (Ps. 119:9).
Isn’t that a desire of every Christian parent? That our children would maintain a life of purity before the Lord? The writer of the Psalm wasn’t necessarily inferring sexual purity as we often think of when we hear that word, but instead, is speaking of a life lived righteously before God. My greatest desire for my kids is that they would walk in purity before the Lord, delighting in His Word, obeying Him, and living devoted to Him.
The reality is, we cannot change our kid’s hearts. We can guide them towards Christ, we can teach them the habits of obedience and to have a heart rightly ordered–submitted to the Lord. But it’s God, by the gracious work of the Spirit, that must make them alive to Christ–it’s God who saves and transforms. But as Christian parents, we must also be proactive. So we cover these days with our children in Scripture. Not as a magical and foolproof trick that will save them, but because we trust that Scripture is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17)
Maybe in your home, this will look like reading Scripture in the morning as a family or around the dinner table. Maybe it means listening to an album of scripture put to music, memorizing, or studying the Word together. Whatever it is, take seriously Scripture's ability to cut to the heart, and to train our children in righteousness, in ways that we cannot.
I was humbled to see how God reacted to His rebellious children as I recently read through 1 and 2 Kings. He decidedly dealt with their sin. But not before extending grace to them, offering them opportunities to turn back to Him, wooing them, demonstrating to them His trustworthiness and lovingkindness to them, and most significantly, sending them His Word. Through the prophets, God bathed His people in His Word in their seasons of disobedience. By the prophets, His children were reminded of His character of faithfulness, His justice, His covenants with them, and the hope of restoration and redemption that He’d bring despite them.
What a privilege it is to emulate the Lord in our homes! Friend, seek to add the Word in more. When our kids are acting up, it’s time for an extra memory verse, to read together more at meal times, to add it in anywhere, and whenever you can. Really, isn’t that what our hearts need too when we’re struggling with sin and disobedience?
- Call sin sin
Sin is sin, and our kids need to know that. I recently heard a Christian mom refuse to call her child’s sin by that term for fear of imparting guilt. Friend, sin does that on its own. A potential weakness of the popular gentle parenting movement is a propensity not to call sin what it is. We must reject this as believing parents!
We use catechism questions and answers in our home to help discuss sin, and one that comes up commonly is this: Q: What does every sin deserve? A: The wrath and curse of God.
We don’t use this to produce skin-deep guilt in our kids, but to address sin as what it is–rebellion against God–and to communicate the gospel to them daily (let’s be honest…sometimes it’s hourly). Teaching our kid’s to call their sinfulness what it is allows them to know the radical beauty of repentance and forgiveness. For we know that confession and repentance of sin are the stages on which we see the glories of God’s forgiveness toward us (1 Jn. 1:8-10)
Our kid’s lack of self-control, and ensuing actions and attitudes, might be triggered by an overwhelming situation and require our grace and understanding in the moment. Still, when the dust has settled, our kids need to understand that a lack of self-control is the putting on of sin. What a gift it is that you can counsel your children through sin at a young age, teaching them that there is One who lived a sinless life, and has given His life in sacrifice for them. Rather than giving them guilt, this is the constant gift of the gospel!
- Confront your sin
If I’m totally honest with you, the hardest days in my home are often the days when my sin is clashing up against my child, as if we stand on a bloody battlefield opposing one another. My sin stands like a weapon in hand, refusing to throw up a white flag of defeat or surrender, and in their sin and pride, they gladly mirror me. But what if we repented to our kids? What if they saw us regularly repent to the Lord, confessing our sins and turning from them?
I could theorize about the impact that might have, but I don’t have to, I’ve seen it. I have vivid memories of my parents apologizing to me. I remember the way it took the wind out of my own anger. I know it shaped me, for the Lord has reminded me and strengthened me to do the same with my children. I’ve seen friends and mentors do this, and watching from a slight distance, have watched the beauty of repentance and reconciliation happen. I’ve experienced the beauty of my parents’ confessing, and have experienced grace and forgiveness as a result. I have also felt the grace of forgiveness extended to me by my kids.
This is far from exhaustive, but if we were sitting down over a glass of iced tea, it’s what I’d tell you has been fruitful and beautiful in my home, with my family. There’s no formula for getting this parenting thing exactly right. But friend, we do have immediate access to the perfect Parent, He who willingly and generously grants us wisdom when we seek it in faith (James 1:5). Let’s strive together, to address our sin, and our children’s sin with grace, patience, and the faithfulness of our Father.