We hear many stories of people who fell away from the faith because of bad childhood experiences where parents became too overbearing with following the “rules” of Christianity that they never truly reflected Christ in their parenting. Because of this misrepresentation, the child grows up with this false idea of Christianity and what being a Christian really means. This false idea centers around the outward appearance of obedience and goodness but doesn’t care to emphasize God’s mercy and grace.
The Gospel is not about how mankind redeemed themselves by following the rules perfectly. It is about Jesus, who came down and lived that perfect life because we never could. He took on the consequences of sin that were rightfully ours, and he rose from the dead to show victory over death. None of that had anything to do with raising a child that will perfectly follow all of the rules. It has everything to do with the grace and mercy that God has for us, so, when your child is acting up, how are you responding?
It is not a bad thing to raise your child to follow the rules. It teaches them discipline, respect, and good manners. It also teaches them what it means to try to model one’s behavior in a way that attempts to model Christ most effectively. It is essential to communicate this to your children and remember this yourself when you are disciplining them. Where parents get it wrong is when they become a stickler for the rules and image instead of Christ. This ends up being a very costly mistake as not only does someone walk away from the faith but the Gospel gets obscured and manipulated. It becomes about rules and looking good in front of the congregation, and children will label it as overbearing and religious trauma.
They are right. When the main focus lies in neither Christ nor the Gospel, the end results will be tragic and some would even say traumatic as the ideas of people pushed them further away from God instead of drawing them closer. There is a way to discipline your children without coming off as being too overbearing. It all starts with communication and laying down the foundations of the Gospel from an early age. When you establish these foundations early on in your child’s life, they will hopefully build on this foundation as they grow older and mature. From a young age though, when they are being disobedient, it is important to sit them down and discuss why they are acting this way, what they want, and why they want it. Getting to the heart of the problem gives you a better understanding of why they are behaving the way they are. If your initial response is to spew memorized scripture that is out of context and only meant to push your agenda, you are unknowingly pushing your children away from anything having to do with Christ.
This parenting style teaches children that by not following the rules, they are insulting not just God and not just their parents, but those around them, especially the congregation. Now, disobedience towards parents isn’t a good thing. The Bible instructs us to be obedient to our parents and wanting that as a parent isn’t the issue. However, expecting a perfect child that follows the rules and already has a full grasp of the Gospel and why one should follow those rules is the issue. A parent who doesn’t understand that ALL have sinned and fallen short cannot raise their children in a healthy Christian manner. No one can live a perfect sinless life. We all at times in our life exhibit rebellious behavior that is contrary to the life of obedience that Christ lived. The beautiful thing is that it is okay. It is through faith in Christ and acknowledging that he died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead three days later that we are saved so that we are no longer in bondage to our sin.
When your child is disobedient, before reciting Ephesians 6:1 about honoring your father and mother, sit down with them and discuss these basic principles. Don’t point out their rebellion in a condescending way but instead in an empathetic manner. Don’t allow them to constantly live in a disobedient manner but allow them to make mistakes and learn from them. Instead of expecting perfection, model true repentance in your actions. When you ultimately fall short at times as parents, be real with your children and own up to your shortcomings and how you plan to put off wrong behavior. Remember that as parents, everything starts with you. How you model your behavior and how you parent will ultimately impact your children way more than you can even imagine.