"Train up a child in the way he should go:
and when he is old he will not depart from it."
I think about this verse a lot. And when I do, I think about what kind of adults I hope my children will be someday. I want them to be independent (so they don't rely on any crutch– including me!), self-disciplined (so they are able to accomplish anything they set their minds to), cooperative (so they function well with others and know how to communicate effectively and compassionately) and non-violent (so they practice the humility and grace of Christ in all their relationships).
When I think of these values, the daily struggles look a little different. Obedience and submission aren't as important as they may seem in the moment (say, in the grocery store or when my mama pops by and the kids become hellions).
In fact, raising them to be submissive and obedient could very well undermine my higher purpose! If I want them to be independent and cooperative, it would be silly to train them to accept authority unquestioningly (for the record, I haven't found this to lead to robot adults, just to rebellious teens and later pathless adults). If I want them to be self-disciplined, I need them to learn self-control rather than how to suppress emotion.
The point is that having long term goals is central to my parenting.
So the most obvious, logical way I can teach my kids to be the kind of adults the world needs is to be that kind of adult myself! Children learn by watching, listening, imitating.
But that's not enough. Parenting small children means that all day, every day you face a gazillion fights. I was raised to believe that Christian parents spank, period. It is not violent, it is how we show our children that we love them. And if you don't do it, you are permissive, neglectful and aren't stepping up to the plate. (If any of my friends are curious about spanking in this context, I recommend this article from Focus on the Family.)
There is this idea that as a parent you have to choose one of two extremes: beat* your child into submission or let your child walk all over you.
But extreme assumptions are rarely accurate. To have a peaceful home and cooperative kids, I have to discipline, but I don't have to punish. Discipline is about cooperation and aims to teach the child how to behave. Punishment is about compliance and simply seeks to stop the wrong behavior.
The definition of punishment is to subject to pain, loss, confinement, death, etc. as a penalty for some offense, transgression, or fault; to handle severely or roughly. When I think of all the faults and transgressions of my life, I am overwhelmed by the mercy of Christ. I have not been subjected to pain, loss, etc, or handled roughly for my wrongdoing. Instead, I've been shown love and grace and have been gently guided toward a safer path. I believe that this is why, when I have spanked my children, I have felt deep in my gut that it was wrong. I was not following the example of the Prince of Peace; I was hitting my own children.** Even if the offense was really bad, even if the desired behavior was worth requiring, it's not the way I should do it. (The emphasis is added because I speak for myself based on my beliefs and experience, not for other parents. I am no expert.)
I've gone back and forth on spanking. I've thought about it from every angle. As a child, I was spanked and I don't feel scarred. It is a highly effective way to get the desired behavior out of a young child for the short term and establish authority over him or her. It was done in a very controlled way in our home, with an explanation /discussion beforehand and a hug afterwords. In choosing to use different methods with my children, I am not pointing a finger at my folks. Parenting is an experiment and they did their best out of love for all of us.
But I am going to take a different path.
This doesn't mean that I have to let my kids walk all over me. It just means that I have to put lots and lots of thought and time and love into coming up with solutions for the constant situations that come up.
Also, I have to just accept that until my children learn self control, we will not be able to go to quiet restaurants or do other such activities that require preschoolers to act like adults.
There are a lot of great discipline options, but this post is long enough. I'll save that for next time.
*Spanking (by those who practice it) is not considered beating because it is done out of love and never out of anger. "But if it is done right, there are bruises." -someone in whose care I found myself as a child.
**If you read the article linked above, you will learn that mothers are especially soft-hearted when it comes to inflicting pain on their children.