The Home Must Provide Daily Demonstrated Love.
The love of God
We are enjoined,
Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.
1 John 4:11
If we ought to love our brothers in Christ, certainly we ought to love the brother who happens to be a child.
All the childrearing measures recommended so far will accomplish nothing if, in the last analysis, the child does not have a warm sense of his parents' total support and love. Many Christian parents, including pastors and missionaries, have lost their children simply by neglecting to love them enough. The leading cause of rebellion is lack of discipline. Of this there are many Scriptural examples (Cain, Esau, the sons of Eli, the oldest sons of David—Amnon, Absalom, Adonijah). But the second leading cause is lack of love. Loveless discipline is what the Lord is denouncing when He says,
. . . Provoke not your children to wrath: . . . .
If parents are unstinting in both discipline and love, their children will not disappoint them.
I have met very few parents who did not claim to love their children. Even an abusive parent says, with all sincerity, "Oh yes, I love my children." Yet many children are deprived of true love. Many come from homes where the important adults lack either emotional depth or emotional expressiveness.
Lack of emotional depth is a mark of contemporary society, which is producing adults governed not by deep-seated feelings but by momentary impulses. Although at one moment they may be carried along by a surge of tenderness, tenderness may quickly yield to indifference, and indifference to hate. Hence, lacking emotional depth, they are incapable of any abiding, dependable love for children. The Bible prophesies that in the Last Days there will be a sharp decline in natural affection (2 Tim. 3:3).
Even among parents with deep affection for their children, many lack emotional expressiveness. More fathers than mothers are prone to be too reserved. A man's expressiveness generally depends on how he was treated by his own father. But even the coldest father can, if he wishes, turn up his temperature. A Christian father must remember that when the Bible describes the essence of God, it says,
. . . God is love.
1 John 4:8
In his children's eyes, a Christian father is a picture of the Heavenly Father. So, if he wants his children to have a true picture of God, he must show them God's love. If from their earthly father's example they surmise that God is cold and rejecting, they may decide that they want nothing to do with Him.
Parental love is of no value to a child unless it is visible, dependable, and believable.
Love must be visible.
You should tell your child that you love him, respect him, and care for him. When he is little, you should hold him in your arms and on your lap. You should let him sit next to you and cuddle up to you. When he has outgrown the need for constant closeness, even when he is a teenager, you still should frequently give him a good hug.
Love must be dependable.
Give your child a sense of love even when you are administering discipline. There are four purposes of discipline.
- Discipline teaches the child to hate sin. Your child must see by your angry reaction to sin that sin is hateful. Jesus was full of anger when He cleansed the Temple. Yet He did not fly into an uncontrollable rage. Neither should you, when you mete out discipline. If you lose self-control, you merely show the child how to throw a tantrum. Yet, on the other hand, you should not act like an emotionless robot. Our emotions are an instrument to use for good purposes.
- Discipline teaches the child that sin has negative consequences. If you do not judge and punish your child's sin, how will he learn that God judges and punishes sin? Do not punish every one of his failings. Be merciful. Pick on the failings that, at his age, he must learn to overcome. And any punishment you inflict must be humane. Do not hit a child on the head, or twist his arm, or pull his ears, or beat his frail limbs, or rap his knuckles, or pinch him, or lock him in a closet, or shake him (shaking an infant can cause brain damage), or wash out his mouth with soap. The best punishment takes advantage of his well-padded rump, which God has furnished so that he can be punished safely. Of course, spanking is not the only method of punishment. The many alternatives may be sufficient to manage a docile child. But there are times when only a spanking will do. Some parents underuse spanking because they fail to recognize that it is actually more humane than the methods they favor. Unlike a deprivation, or a chore lasting a long period of time, a spanking quickly ends the unpleasantness and restores a loving atmosphere.
Some parents of a gentle disposition give spankings that are much too weak. A child spared from painful strokes develops little fear of spanking, with the result that each spanking he receives is somewhat less effective than the last. The spanking done by a mother's hand is likely to be worthless if the child is older than four or five. But as soon as I suggest that some parents spank too mildly, I remember with a shudder that some parents spank too severely. A spanking should never be energized by an angry desire for revenge or retribution. Corporal punishment should never leave marks lasting more than a few minutes. A Christian should be the last person to harm a child.
Susannah Wesley believed that a parent should spank until the child whimpers, showing submission. She said that the loud cry at first is merely anger. But it is wise to be guided by common sense rather than by any rule. Susannah's rule may be helpful in managing a little child, but if an older child is spanked until he whimpers, he will soon learn how to manipulate you. To avoid punishment, he may whimper as soon as you get the paddle. But you do not want the child to be a whining coward. Let him learn to take his punishment "like a man." Or, to goad you by his obstinacy, he may never whimper. But you do not want to spank him excessively and so give him an excuse for feeling ill-used. Therefore, it is better to measure out punishment according to the offense.
- Discipline brings the child to repentance. A parent who lets a child use defiance to bully his way out of punishment is teaching him to be a bully. A parent who lets a child use denial to talk his way out of punishment is teaching him how to lie and manipulate. A parent who lets a child use apologies to wheedle his way out of punishment is teaching him cowardliness. Such apologies are not repentance. To bring a child to true repentance, you must take the following steps.
- Before you punish him, you must make him tell you what he did. You can expect God's help as you consider whether the child is telling the truth. If he lies, you should increase the punishment. It is best to know the facts yourself before you deal with the child, but in case your view of the situation is not exactly correct, you must give the child a chance to explain himself. You may find that he is innocent and does not deserve punishment.
- You must state exactly what he did wrong and what the punishment will be.
- You must administer the punishment.
- You must extract from the child an admission that he deserved the punishment.
- You must extract from him a resolution not to commit the same misdeed again.
- If the matter is serious, you should lead the child through a prayer seeking God's forgiveness.
- Discipline restores a loving bond between parent and child. After the punishment has been administered, you must put your arms around the child and assure him of your love. Your warm comfort at this moment will not only heal much of his hurt and humiliation, but will also seal in his heart a greater love for you.
Do not be hypercritical. A father who is continually cutting down his children will certainly lose their respect and obedience. Hypercriticism is a form of provoking children to wrath. If you are a father, test yourself with the following questions:
- Do I live practically my whole life at some level of rage? Do my children ever see me without a snarl?
- When I come home from a frustrating day at work, do I pour pent-up anger upon every convenient target, including my children?
- Do I use intemperate language? If you badger your children with the idea that they are good for nothing, they will certainly live up to your opinion. They will turn out to be good for nothing.
A good rule of thumb is that every negative should be balanced by a positive. You sometimes must be negative. That is, you must get tough with a child and rebuke him sharply. But after you knock him down with negatives, you must pick him up with positives.
Love must be believable.
You make your love believable not by giving your children expensive gifts or adult privileges, but by giving them yourself. Let them have your time. When my sons were small, I taught them how to read. Over the years, I have spent thousands of hours playing with them on the floor, reading to them, taking them on picnics, joining with them in sports and games, teaching them music, and doing many other things. Children are an investment, and like any investment, what you get out depends on what you put in.
In conclusion, let me say that the goal of these seven measures is not to make perfect children. I do not know any perfect children. Nor do I know any perfect parents. So, as the result of implementing these measures, do not expect to see your children become cherubs with halos. Every child goes through titanic difficulties in self-management. At times, every adolescent thoroughly exasperates his parents. Yet if you rear your children properly, they will outgrow all the struggles of youth and enter adulthood as committed Christians.