Recently, my two-year-old daughter kept climbing out of her seat in the grocery cart as I was shopping at Aldi. I told her to stop, but she had her own ideas about fun and safety. The clasp of the safety strap was broken, so I couldn’t buckle her in. Again, she started climbing out, and this time I firmly said, “no,” then give her a quick pinch on her thigh. She cried. But more importantly, she softened, sweetened, and settled in for the ride. Our very unpleasant trip to the store became enjoyable for the both of us.
I recently reviewed Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages of Children. The Bible tells us of a sixth way to love our children, and this one’s universal. Every child needs to receive it as love. It’s called discipline. If we love our children, then we train and correct them. It’s that simple.
There are three obvious reasons that discipline is love.
1. God tells us so. (Hebrews 12:7-11)
2. It keeps our children safe (both physically and spiritually).
3. It restores their relationship with us and with others.
Some of the sweetest times in our home are after discipline—when the errant child (or parent!) has repented, apologized, and asked for forgiveness. These are times of restoration, when God shows us the sweetness of a humble heart.
Discipline and True Obedience
At our house, we have a saying that goes like this:
Slow obedience is no obedience.
This is shorthand for a bigger idea: until our hearts are engaged in the obedience, it isn’t true obedience. It is our job as parents to win the hearts of our child, teaching them to obey with all their heart and not just with an outward obedience.
We all know what it looks like to see a child slump around doing a chore. From the victimized expression on their face to the drooping shoulders to the dragging feet, that child is telling us that it is unfair, that they don’t want to do it, that their life is hard. We are monsters for making them clear the table.
By their standards, they are obeying as they slump. By God’s standard, they are not.
This is pretty basic, right? But think about our work of obedience as parents.
I often find my heart resenting the work of discipline. I feel put upon by my kids. I think God is asking too much of me. It feels like a nasty chore. I put it off. I drag my feet. I scowl and mutter under my breath, just like one of my kids clearing the table. It’s slow obedience, and my heart isn’t in it.
“Look what you’re making me do,” I want to say to my kids. “You think I want to do this?”
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, does it?
Discipline is always inconvenient and humbling. There are so many excuses I find in my heart when I resent the work God has given me of disciplining my children—and they’re more subtle and creative than the excuses my kids come up with.
But imagine what it would look like if I carried out the other five love languages with such an attitude.
For physical touch: “Here, I’ll give you a hug since I have to, you desperate little wretch.”
For gift-giving: “I bought you a gift. It was expensive—don’t break it or I’m going to be really ticked.”
For quality time: “I’ll spend the afternoon with you, but only because my phone is broken and I’ve got nothing better to do.”
Does that type of “love” mean anything loving? Nope—it sends the opposite message. When we show “love” with an irritated heart, it’s rendered useless. The same goes for discipline.
In case you hadn’t noticed, our kids have pretty good sniffers for hypocrisy. They smell it a mile off. When we discipline them for a cranky attitude while our own is undeniably bent out of shape, they know it.
The solution is this: only discipline when your own attitude is squarely in order.
Our children are not exempted from chores while their attitude is out of order. We correct the attitude, then proceed with the task at hand. Same goes for us moms. So keep chugging along, even when you recognize that your heart is chafing at the work. You can start here:
1. Believe that discipline is love. God said it. It’s true.
2. Repent of your own slow obedience. Repent to God, repent to your husband, repent to your children. Tell them, “I’m sorry I resented the work of disciplining you. My attitude is in better order, and from now on I’ll be doing my chores (training and correction) with a cheerful heart and a swift foot.” Your children will be so relieved to hear it, don’t you think?
3. Stop procrastinating: Instead of dreading the moment when you’ll be forced to mete out discipline, look early in each day for opportunities to realign your children’s hearts (and perhaps your own). Look for the times when they need correction, dole it out quickly and cheerfully, and don’t resent when it needs repeating.
4. Do the work, even when it’s hard and you feel like you can’t get your attitude squared away perfectly. Add contrition to the mix, and trust God with it. No heart is perfectly cheerful about obedience.
For more encouragement in the hard work of discipline, check out the latest episode of the Risen Motherhood podcast: