If I had to summarize my parenting into three ideas that would be easy to remember they would be:
Repentance and forgiveness
All three are needful around my house to maintain order, build a solid family, and move beyond the mistakes we all make.
Relationships without Rules leads to lawlessness.
Rules without relationship leads to rebellion.
And relationships and rules without repentance makes no difference at all.
Let's take a look at all three.
This is the heart and soul of a family. Cultivating strong relationships with one another makes each individual stronger because there is something supporting them during the good times and the bad. A solid relationship is built around Christ as the center. I do not desire a parent centered home, a child centered home, or family centered home. It is our desire to center our home around God with the family and the individuals that make up the family second to that.
When our children were young, I made a wheel out of paper and put a round cog in the center and labeled it Christ. Shooting out from the center were spokes and at the end of each was an arch with the name of a family member. It was our "family wheel". When we all stayed in our appointed place, the wheel ran smoothly. But as it often happens, one of the spokes tries to place himself in the center of the wheel. At that time, anyone else was free to go up to the wheel and move Christ out of the center and place the name of the individual in the center. It quickly became obvious that the "family wheel" was broken and needed fixing. It was at that point that we stopped what we were doing and sought to repair the wheel and the relationships. (I have to admit it was humbling to walk into the kitchen and find my name in the center. Ouch! But they were usually right!)
Every family needs rules. Without them life would be chaos. But rules are not enough by themselves. We, as parents, are responsible to train our children in how to obey these rules. This means a lot of practice at doing things before expecting that the rules can be followed correctly.
For example, we can tell our children to make their beds every morning but if we don't teach them how to make the bed then following the rule is more difficult. The child may make valiant attempts at obeying but without proper guidance they will usually give up out of frustration because they cannot please the parent. The parent then reads this as disobedience but actually it is the parent that has not lived out their end of the agreement. This is a simple example but it serves as a reminder that...Rules need to be taught not just talked.
But relationships and rules are not enough.
To explain this I would like to share a story.
When I was a young mother I had the opportunity to speak with a group of adolescent girls one afternoon during a Vacation Bible School. In between changing diapers and rocking babies, I asked them about parenting from their perspective. We talked about many different philosophies of parenting. Some they had heard of and others I found myself explaining to them. After we finished talking about some of these parenting ideas most of the girls slowly wandered off into their own conversations. Parenting was an interesting topic to me but obviously not to most of them.
But one young lady lingered behind. She was a friend of one of the workers and did not attend the church. As I sat nursing my infant, she looked right at me and said, "The philosophy or technique is not the most important part of parenting."
Curious, I asked her what she thought was the most important part of parenting. She replied, "All these philosophies that we've been talking about center around changing the character and the behavior of the child. Well that's great. So their character and their behavior get better but what about the guilt?
She had a slight quiver of emotion to her voice as she repeated, "So the behavior improves but the guilt from past mistakes stays around long after. What can I do about that?"
Quickly, I could tell we moved from the theoretical to the very personal. She shared an emotional tale of her past few years as a teen. It was "typical" in many respects and very sad. But she was struggling to improve and changes were being made through family counseling. But the guilt remained.
Sadly, no one had told her that she could be free from the guilt that her past mistakes had put upon her. I shared the truth that in Christ we all sin and fall short but that their is one who can take away the guilt if we are humble and confess.
Thankfully, she understood and that day this young lady walked out free from the guilt that had been burdening her heart.
She wasn't the only one who had changed that afternoon. I also had a new and better understanding for parenting my children. I knew I never wanted to only work on outward behavior but leave the heart unchanged and shackled by guilt. Scriptures says, "If we confess our sin he is faithful and just to forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." I knew that no matter what, I wanted my children to understand that no matter how bad things became there would always hope in Christ if they repent. And the same is true for the parent. We will all make parenting mistakes but if we are willing to humble ourselves, the relationships with the Lord and those we love most, will be stronger.