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  • Writer's pictureLauren

Mother Love: Discipline Your Children

This is the seventh installment of a ten-part series on "The Ten Commandments of a Christian Education" found in Mother Love: A Manual for Christian Mothers.

Seventh Commandment: Thou shalt punish thy children when necessary; but for inconsiderateness and weakness not more severely than for sin. Nor shall their punishment be regulated by thy own whims. Let it, on the contrary, be administered with justice and reason in accordance with the duty imposed upon thee by Almighty God.

Discipline in childrearing is a perennial hot topic. Parenting books abound on how to deal with various childhood behavioral issues. Is gentle parenting the key? Is corporal punishment ever permissible? Is the rewards system better? Do we simply allow natural consequences to fall?

How the Father Disciplines Us

The problem with these discipline debates is that we are overfocusing on the how, and not giving enough attention to the why. If we look to Scripture for guidance, as we should for every issue of life, we find God using all manner of disciplinary techniques on His children.

We see the Father employing what looks a lot like "gentle parenting" with Elijah in 1 Kings 19. Elijah, fleeing persecution and seeking to abandon his ministry, takes refuge in the wilderness under a broom bush. The Lord, through an Angel, feeds Elijah and allows him to rest for three days before posing the question, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" The Lord listens patiently to Elijah, and then gives Elijah a glimpse into His own mind and ways by passing before Elijah in the form of a still, small voice. Strengthened and encouraged, Elijah receives new instructions from the Lord and courageously returns to his ministry.

We find examples of corporal punishment in Scripture when the Lord sent venomous snakes amongst the Israelites to bite them for complaining against Him (Numbers 21), or when His angel strikes Zachariah dumb for questioning how his aged wife could possibly bear the child who would become St. John the Baptist (Luke 1). We see rewards based discipline over and over again through the Covenants God makes and renews with His people: with Noah in Genesis 9, with Abraham in Genesis 12 and 15, with Moses in Exodus 19 and 24, with David in 2 Samuel 7, and with us in the New Covenant, promised in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Luke 22:14-23, just to name a few.

Finally, we find many examples of God simply allowing natural consequences to befall His children for their choices, most prominently in the account of the Fall in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve, knowingly choosing to disobey God by partaking of the forbidden fruit, lose their original innocence and must suffer death as a result.

From all this we can conclude that the manner our discipline takes will depend on the particular circumstances at hand. The real question then becomes the why. Why are we disciplining our children?

Why the Father Disciplines Us

If we are honest with ourselves, we can all probably admit to disciplining our children for the wrong reasons. We overreact to the "inconsiderateness and weakness" natural to childhood, treating them as if they were intentional wrongs rather than learning opportunities or simply signs that our children are tired, hungry, or craving affection. We allow our own moods and whims to dictate our discipline, speaking out of frustration or handing out an overly severe punishment or a punishment we know we can't or won't stick to. And sometimes we even fall to the other end of the spectrum, failing to punish bad behavior because we are tired and overwhelmed or lack the strength to fight against the tide of an increasingly pagan culture that relentlessly assails our parenting choices.

The keys to good and holy discipline, according to Mother Love, are the virtues of justice and right reason. The Father disciplines us because justice and reason require it: when we sin against Him, we create a breach between ourselves and God that harms us and our neighbors, and it must be repaired if we are to grow into the "fully alive" humans God created us to be.

This must be the foundation for the why of our children's discipline, as well, and we must take pains to ensure that our children understand the real reason behind the punishments we must occasionally dole out. Everything we do in the Domestic Church must be set in the context of Eternity, for this is the true duty imposed on us as parents by God: to raise up saints to know, love, and serve Him in this life so that we may all be together with Him forever in the next.

Our children must understand that we don't punish them for arbitrary behavior, but for sin. They must be taught that no sin occurs in isolation: even if it seems like a sin only affects themselves, every single instance of sin is a cancer that infects the Body of Christ as a whole, a Body that our children are a part of by virtue of their baptisms. Sin hurts them, it hurts their fellow Christians, and it hurts the Heart of Jesus. We punish, therefore, either by gentle admonishment, a spanking, withholding rewards, or allowing natural consequences to fall, because we, like our own loving Father, desire them to have true life, and have it abundantly!

A Final Thought

One last note on discipline: if true discipline is the rooting out of sin, then we must simultaneously take pains to ensure that our discipline also contains a positive element of helping our children to grow in the opposing virtue. If all our efforts are focused solely on removing vice, our children will end up like one who has been cleansed of a demon, only for that same demon to return with seven more because it finds the house "empty, swept, and put in order" (Matthew 12:44-45).

Scripture commands us to "clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity" (Col. 3:12-14). This is not a passive command, but one that requires calculated action on our parts. As parents, it is our duty to help our children take the step beyond merely resisting sin, but to put on virtue in its place.

The best discipline, then, is one that clearly identifies the sin, aims to root it out, and strives to replace it with the opposing virtue. This is, of course, nothing more than the striving of the whole Christian life, and there is no better place for our children to learn this most fundamental of lessons than within the sheltering walls of the Domestic Church.

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