One spring day a few years ago, I went outside to toss a ball with my sons. My husband had given them a small football, and they were learning to hold it correctly and throw a good spiral. Zion (5) was standing at the foot of a tall persimmon tree in the center of our small backyard.
I had just caught the football when I heard a loud, popping noise. I couldn’t tell where it had come from, but instinct must have kicked in, because the next thing I said was, “Zion, come here.” Zion walked out from under the tree, and a moment later, a large limb fell from the tree’s top and hit the ground with a thud, right where Zion had been standing.
When I told Zion to come, he didn’t know why I called him. I didn’t yell. I spoke. And Zion obeyed without question or hesitation. I don’t mean to say that my children always obey instantaneously. But why did Zion come when he could see no reason for the command?
Zion didn’t stop to think about it. He obeyed out of habit. He was accustomed to being commanded. And he was accustomed to obeying.
For us moms, when we realize that we should beef up the discipline in our own homes, this one thought always pops into our heads: “Well, if I disciplined my son every time he [insert sin here] then I would spend all day every day disciplining. We would live in a pig-sty, the kids would never get to school, and we’d have to eat take-out every night, because every minute of every day would be spent going from discipline session to the next. I’d be lucky to catch a bathroom break.”
But there’s one thing we forget: obedience is a habit. Sure, building a good habit, or breaking a bad habit, is the hardest part. And training for obedience is both building and breaking. But after an initial training period, keeping a habit is relatively easy.
Proverbs 22:6 tells us, “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” This is not a promise, it is a proverb. That means it is just a wise observation of the way things go. If a child is in the habit of going the right way, that habit sticks around.
Our children do not have to weigh the pros and cons of the situation each time we tell them to come. Usually, they simply go into autopilot and do what they are in the habit of doing. As the parent, it is up to us to determine what that habit is.
The child may be accustomed to balk. They may be used to whining. They may always wait to hear the familiar “one, two, three…” But make no mistake. Whatever the habit is, we as parents have fostered it.
Charlotte Mason, a 19th-century educator, said, “Every day, every hour, the parents are either passively or actively forming those habits in their children, upon which, more than upon anything else, future character and conduct depend.”
So we have to decide, as parents, whether we’d like to frontload our workload. We can invest a chunk of time and energy on the front end, and save ourselves a lot of time and heartache in the long run. Or we can keep making excuses to ourselves and to God, saying, “I don’t have time for this!” each time an opportunity for discipline arises. Don’t get me wrong—we can’t get it all out of the way in the early years, and then sit back and relax. Our responsibility to discipline continues until our children leave our home. But our need to train and discipline should decrease as our children grow, not increase.
When we set our faces like flint to set a new standard of behavior in our homes, we are actively forming new habits in ourselves and our children. Around here, we call that intense training period “boot camp.” And we all go through periods where we realize that we’ve been unfaithful in discipline, and good habits have slipped, or were never well-established in the first place.
In our church, a new Sunday School class on parenting has just begun. And that means a number of our families are in “boot camp mode” right now, because we’re being reminded each Sunday morning what our standards should look like. Last week I was at a friend’s house, and in the course of an hour-long conversation, we were interrupted multiple times as she took her children aside to discipline them. After maybe the fourth discipline session, she started to explain that they were in bootcamp mode.
She said, “You see, on Sunday, my husband and I were talking and we realized…” but I interrupted her.
“Oh, I know,” I said. “Ben and I just had the same conversation. Bootcamp at our house this week, too.”
So don’t be discouraged, young mom. Lay the rails, set your child firmly on them, nudge them in the right direction, and don’t forget to keep the wheels oiled. Whatever your child’s age, the “come” command is a good place to start. It can be—get this—a lifesaver.
Very soon your days will get easier. God’s law guides us within a track of safety and growth, and our instruction does the same for our children. Your home will yield the peaceful fruit of obedience.
Feature Image: Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons / “Dülmen, Börnste, Eisenbahnlinie Dortmund-Enschede — 2015 — 9918” / CC BY-SA 4.0. (photo modified)