Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Monday, May 15, 2006

Other People's Children

Recently, my wife and I took our three boys to eat breakfast at Mimi's. It is one of our more favorite places to have breakfast. As we were gathering up our things to leave, the waitress who served us was walking by our table and she says,

"Your boys are sooo good. They were so well behaved. I wish I could trade you for mine, they won't mind me for anything."

On another occasion, my wife was attending a ladies Saturday morning Bible study with some friends, so I took my two older boys to Denny's (alone, mind you) for some pancakes. As we were eating our food, a young woman passes our booth and in a loud, Southern California brogue exclaims,

"Like ohhh my gawd, you have to be like, so busy! Like, how old are they?!"

After we exchanged pleasantries, she looks over at her two year old daughter standing in the booth behind us and says in the loud talking voice,

"Like do you see how these two boys are sitting still!? Do you see how they're eating with their forks!? They're not making a mess with they're food and they're not yelling!"

The daughter flashed an impish smile and then returned to gnawing on her crayon.

When my wife and I find ourselves in these conversations, we of course beam with humble, parental pride and thank the person for the compliment. We even make our boys thank the person, too. But afterward, as we drive home, we both turn to each other and say, "Do these people think our boys were just born to us well behaved?"

Since being parents now for three years or more, my wife and I have become increasingly aware of those parents with the mind set of the waitress or of the loud taking woman: either my kids will be well behaved or they won't. It is like these folks believe they accidentally stumbled into the wrong cabbage patch or something when they went to pick out their kid. Or maybe the stork missed a house. Never do these folks place the blame for disobedient, ill behaved children where it really belongs: their lazy, do nothing parenting. Rarely do they ever think their child's disobedience is due widely in part to them. Even worse, many of them are the type of person who becomes passionately indignant when their lazy parenting is exposed.

A good example is the reaction to the current movement among several cafe owners across the country to post signs telling parents to control their children while they are in the cafe. These cafes tend to be located in well to do areas like Berkeley or Santa Monica, where the enlightened, social liberal crowd congregate on Sunday mornings to eat their organic oatmeal and homemade granola muffins. Apparently, there has been a growing problem with obnoxious children running riot through the cafe, while the aloof parents sit in the corner booths eating their oatmeal and exchanging Bush bashing anecdotes. When they are indirectly called lazy, good for nothing parents by the sign asking for them to watch their children, they express a scornful disdain, as if the cafe owner has personally offered their kids a cigarette.

As a parent, I can confess being annoyed with people in public who are unwilling to long suffer just a bit with fussy babies or rambunctious children. I can remember once when we took our first boy to Olive Garden. I believe he was around 6 months at the time. Something disturbed him and he began crying and refused to be comforted. While my wife tried helplessly to quite him down, I happened to gaze over to a nearby table where I saw a woman with her elbows up on the table and her head in her hands staring blankly into space. I caught her the moment she says to the man sitting with her, "I can't believe these stupid babies!" Her and the man she was with had that "We teach world literature and political science at the local community college" look to them, so more than likely, the only thing they have actually raised has been pure bred pugs, but I was bugged at her impatient thoughtlessness none the less.

Yet, at the same time, I can understand how kids are a nuisance. An unruly child can quickly turn a pleasant evening of eating out in to a big downer; even worse, a 3 hour flight to Dallas into a hellish nightmare. The unruly child is bad enough, but the mousy parent or parents who respond to the child in the same manner the U.N. responds to religious genocide in the Sudan beats all.

So, what is to be done? Does my wife and I have some magical words to keep our kids under control?

The first thing is that we as parents approach child rearing with a biblical Christian worldview. This is not to say non-Christians can't raise good, well-mannered children. Anyone with enough patience and fortitude can bring their kids to being outwardly well-behaved. Our Christian faith, however, provides us an advantage not experienced by non-Christians, because we start out with a mindset to please God with our parenting and a desire to utilize biblical principles in the process of raising our children. Where as non-Christians see the Bible as outdated, or maybe one wholesome approach among many parenting models, my wife and I believe scripture provides the only wise model in which to raise our boys.

Along with that mindset, we have encountered a couple of published resources that have helped shape our parenting. Tedd Tripp's Shepherding a Child's Heart and the Pearl's book, To Train Up a Child. Tripp's book provides a theological grounding as to what parents are dealing with in children, particularly their sin nature and how to shepherd heart issues rather than just shaping outward behavior. The Pearl's book provides some practical ideas to help implement parental training in a loving manner.

Now, just so you have a heads up, Tripp is more biblically sound than the Pearls. The Pearls are KJV onlyists and advocate perfectionism, so I leave it to the reader to exercise discernment and not be surprised or think I have gone off the deep end when you come across Michael Pearl's kooky ideas.

Put together, we approach parenting with training and discipline in the following manner:

1) We recognize that it is our God giving responsibility to raise our kids in godliness. This is a command from scripture. We are to teach them the law of the Lord and not provoke them to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Additionally, God has established my wife and me as our children's authority. In a manner of speaking, were are the enforcers and dispensers of God's law in our boys' lives. We are to uphold God's authoritative revelation before them and hold them accountable to it. We treat this as a major responsibility for us. We don't want them to merely obey us for the sake of sparing us public embarrassment when they active disruptively in a restaurant. They are to obey us because God's command has said for them to honor mother and father. We hold them to that standard.

2) We believe what the Bible reveals about the sin nature in children. God tells us that in the heart of a child is bound up foolishness. Biblically defined, foolishness is more than just goofing around and getting into trouble. Pslam 14:1 explicitly states that a fool has said in his heart, there is no God. That doesn't mean the fool hasn't found any compelling evidence to prove God exists, but it means he refuses to submit to the reality of God's existence that he knows is true. Thus, the fool lives his life without submitting to the authority of his creator.

3) We are responsible to shepherd our children's heart in the truth of God's Word. This inherent sin nature orients a child downward to selfishness, so that if he is left to himself, he will grow up with a worldview in rebellion against God. It is our duty as parents to recognize this downward orientation and bring to bear upon our children the Word of God. We are to hold our children accountable to the Word of God and enforce it in their lives.

Now obviously, we cannot assume quoting a bunch of Bible verses at a kid will bring about his or her salvation. This is where the tender shepherding comes in to play. We as parents need to confront the disobedience, bring the child to scripture and demonstrate how what they did, regardless of how innocent it may seem to a child, is disobedience to God and not just mommy and daddy. And for those who think a young child does not understand such shepherding, believe me, children know way more than what we often give them credit for understanding.

How much a child understands when you are training him or her raises an important question: How exactly do you convey biblical truth to a one year old or younger?

To some degree, you are limited as to what you can convey to a young child, but they can quickly come to learn your parental authority over their lives when you tell them simple things like "no touch." You establish authority by training them to respect your authority. How exactly do you do that?

By training them to listen to your voice with a little switch to the hands.

Yep, you read that right the first time: Teach them to listen to your voice by switching their little hands. Notice I did not say, smash their hand, or cut their fingers off their hands, or paddle their hands, or any other number of torturous horrors fantasized by anti-spanking kooks.

A child must learn quickly there are consequences to disobedience. A sting on the hand reaching for a knife is one of those consequences quickly learned. I made a little switch out of a glue stick cut long ways into quarters. One glue stick can yield 4, foot long switches when cut properly with a razor or box cutter. The little sticks are flexible, don't leave any marks, and provide just the right amount of sting to get a reaction from the child.

Now, let me explain how we implement our training in this area. My wife and I have been at several dinner parties where a couple with a 9 month old will clear a semi-circle swath on the table to prevent their child from reaching for utensils, glasses, napkins and other interesting items for a 9 month old. All through the dinner, you have to keep any personal items out of the "no-grab" zone or you risk injuring the child or having your tea spilled.

My wife and I never did this. We intentionally put every table utensil imaginable in front of our children. In fact, my wife set up an entire place setting. As soon as you sit the child in the seat, he will immediately go for the shiny stuff like forks, spoons or glass. We gently, but firmly speak "no touch" and then lightly switch his hand with a homemade switch. Of course you have him pulling back the hand, puckering the lip and getting mad, but you are training him to respect your authority when you set the boundaries of what he can or cannot touch.

In order for this to be effective, we as parents have done the following:

i) Maintain consistency. In other words, don't change the rules after you have establish the law. If you tell a child "no touch" but then don't switch until after the third or fourth command, you are not being consistent. This also applies for older children. Don't threaten discipline unless you plan to follow through with it and make sure your children understand the terms of the discipline so they don't take your response as being capricious.

ii) Don't give up. I have heard frustrated parents proclaim they try to train their children but it didn't work. The problem more than likely is that they were not consistent, as I mentioned above, and they gave up too soon. You can't give up after telling your child just 8 times not to touch the fork and your kid is still reaching for the fork. You have to stick with it UNTIL he gets it, and believe me, he will. Some children are more stubborn (I think they call it "strong willed" these days) than others. But you must establish the authority of your will over that of your child's and that is by being consistent and not giving up.

iii) Say it once, don't give second chances. We tell our boys that delayed obedience is disobedience. In other words, if you have to give instructions to your children several times, you are training them to do what you ask when they want to do it. At first, you will have to tell the child "no touch" and give the switch. Eventually, you will move to just telling the child "no touch" and he will comply; however, some temptations may prove too strong and as soon as you say "no touch" he will keep on reaching for it. No matter what it is, say it once.

iv) Don't raise your voice. There is no need to become emotional or shouty with a child. Begin early with training them to listen to the words, "no touch." If you get emotional and raise your voice, you are training them to listen to the intensity, not the actual command. Hence, they will learn to obey when you raise your voice, not when you issue the command for obedience.

v) Be long suffering and prayerful. That is obvious. Kids are kids and they are experiencing life for the first time. Things look so inviting to touch and it is important we keep that in our minds as we train our children. Most importantly, true obedience comes from the heart, and true obedience can only come when God does a work in the heart of a child. Keep up the training and bringing them to the Word, but also before the throne of God in heaven. We pray daily for God to change the hearts of our children and to draw them to Himself. This is a priority all Christian parents should pursue.

Also, keep in mind you may want to do your training with the curtains closed and with the minimal amount of attention being drawn to your family. There are mental patient activists out there in the world just waiting to turn over Christian parents to the authorities who genuinely love their children and merely want to raise them according to God's revelation. They hate correction of any kind, especially anything involving spanking or switching. With out sounding paranoid, I certainly recommend looking out the windows to see if any neighbors are watching before you do anything like what I laid out above.

Paul writes that obeying parents in the Lord will allow the child to live long and well upon the earth. He lives long, because the parents have taught him to discern properly, but he also lives well, in that others will speak well of him for his obedience. Believe me, if you parent God's way, you will certainly see the fruits of this promise.


Blogger Paul Doutell said...

Wow. Now that you've mastered parenting in three years, what comes next for you?

8:29 PM, May 16, 2006  
Blogger D.J. Cimino said...

Hey, thanks for the post! I recently bought Shepherding a Child's Heart and we already had Training Up A Child. I was scared away from giving Training Up A Child a chance because it is a leftover of out IFBx KJO background, but since you mention it I will eventually read it.

Thanks again.

DJ Cimino

7:41 AM, May 17, 2006  
Blogger Fred Butler said...


What comes next? We plan to tackle classical Greek. We hope they will be fluent with in a couple of years.


Just make sure you take his practical points separate from his goofy theology and you will do fine.


10:31 AM, May 17, 2006  
Blogger Joanna Martens said...

We got spanked.

4:53 PM, May 17, 2006  
Blogger Paul Doutell said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:01 PM, May 17, 2006  
Blogger Stephen A Morse said...

We have nine children (12 years old and younger). I always tell people that I leave our 'real' ones at home in the closet and these are just some we rent when we go out!

Anyway... Most people act just like you have described! Like we just happened to get 9 of the 'good' kids!

WOW! where are they when the discipline hits the fan at home?

I used to take it as a compliment but now it offends me! We have to work HARD!

I would also recc the books that you have given. Tripp's book is stellar! Pearl's book I call "To Beat Up A Child!" but your description is good. It is great behavior modification material and I use some of the techniques.

Another book that my wife and I read was "The Heart Of Anger" by Lou Priolo. Have you read it? What do you think? Amy and I thought it was really good.

1:36 PM, May 18, 2006  
Blogger TulipGirl said...

We get the same sort of comments when we are out with our boys. Not that our four boys are perfect (they have energy!) but they are well-behaved, compliant kiddos.

One of the conerns I have about the Pearls book especially is that they teach that children are sinners in need of a spanking, rather than sinners in need of a Saviour.

In Tripp's book (though some of his articles convey a different idea) teaches that our children are sinners in need of the Gospel--so we better spank them from the time they are infants.

See the logical disconnect?

If we see our children as being within the covenant, which we do whether Baptist or Presbyterian, why are we so slow to apply the Gospel to their little lives?

8:47 PM, May 29, 2006  

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