Hell hath no fury like a child who has been told no. Am I right? Each of my three children has their own special kind of fury they unleash when they’re disciplined. I have one who stomps off to sulk in his room, one who cries so long and loud that his lips turn blue when he forgets to breathe in and I have a tantrum thrower. He flops around like his little fish out of water moves are going to make me suddenly realize I should let him play with the set of knives he is trying to reach.
While these descriptions may have made you chuckle, they rarely make me crack a smile at the moment they’re happening. More often than not, my children’s continued disobedience makes me think things like: “How many times do I need to repeat myself before they listen and obey? How can I discipline the exact same behaviors day after day without losing my mind and my cool? How do I not get discouraged when it seems all of my words are going in one ear and out the other?”
I began searching for the answers to these questions because I desperately needed them! I was not going to make it 18 MORE YEARS by gritting my teeth through “please be kind to your brother” 277 times each day.
As I searched God’s word for hope and help in the area of discipline, I found something that has brought joy and peace into the process of correcting my children. I found that my focus on discipline was all wrong.
Too often I pointed my finger and raised my voice to a child who was acting up with the goal of coercing them to behave better. It’s tempting to think that the more obedient the child, the happier and more peaceful our home would be. But that is not true. Joy flows most freely in a home where connection is fostered above perfection.
We get this example of connection over perfection from Jesus. Romans 5:6-10 emphasizes this beautifully. “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came…and died for us sinners.” “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die while we were still sinners.” “Our friendship with God was restored…while we were still his enemies.”
Jesus gave his very life for us while we were far, so very far, from perfection. Motivated by pure love, he laid aside his own desires and gave all so that we could be forever in a relationship with God.
As parents, we have the opportunity to live this gospel love to our children. If they see that our goal in the midst of their willful disobedience is closeness to them first and their obedience second, they will see Jesus’ unconditional love for them through us. They will feel seen and known and accepted when they are at their very worst. And a relationship will form that will build a foundation for them to receive our correction and eventually lead to their continued growth.
For me, this looks like laying aside my frustration, anger, pride, and convenience to stoop, look in their eyes, take them by the hand and correct them gently.
Can I tell you what happens when I choose to do this?
Their eyes soften, their chaos calms, and the tension between my child and I all but disappears in a moment. And when they make the same mistake again five minutes later, I lay down my frustration again and correct them gently again.
My children will never be perfect, but I can choose to connect with them in the middle of every imperfect moment. And if I choose connection over perfection, I will find joy in that most unlikely place.