A friend wrote an email today asking my thoughts on a discipline matter with his pre-adolescent daughter. Pastors get a variety of questions in our electronic mailbag, and I was in a spot in the day where I could answer him immediately. I wondered later if my reply might help you. You don’t have the benefit of reading his email to me where he lays out the problem in detail, but with his permission I’m sharing my reply to him with you. Being an email it wasn’t written for publication, so pardon some run-on sentences.
I refer to him as “Y” and his wife “X”, and the daughter as “Z.”
I think the central thing here for “Z” is to learn how to trust her parents’ judgment, and you put her discipline in that context—make that connection for her. You’ve judged her actions as unacceptable and of course human nature chafes at this, when someone, anyone, tells us we’re wrong. The more strongly willed one is, the more she chafes at consequences, even if she can see the connection between her actions/inactions and another’s pain, and acknowledge her role in it, even with begrudged or not-as-sincere-as-we’d-like apologies. Because discipline is instruction, it’s the long-haul approach. That is we’ll take incremental progress because we’ll experience some regress, maybe a lot. But you’re right to take the angle with her that discipline aims at correcting patterns in/from her or directions she’s taking relationally that are damaging to others, and to herself too. And also for her to work toward sorrow for the offense more than the consequence, though this part of it is a heart thing in our kids that we can point out but the Spirit has to work in.
I’ve told my kids that if I have to discipline them it is because they aren’t disciplining themselves. Our kids have to learn that self-discipline is for all of life. And I’ve also told ours that as they get older I shouldn’t have to discipline them as much because I am right to expect them to be “getting it” as they get older. “Z” is at the age where she can hear this from you and “X.” You’re calling her up to maturity, and discipline is one of the tools we use in this.
So my parental discipline—which I think I’ve learned from how God disciplines—is to teach/goad them to self-discipline. This is the fundamental difference between discipline and punishment. Punishment is taking condemnation. Discipline is receiving instruction, but it is instruction that pain will often accompany. But again, I tell mine that their lack of self-discipline has put me in the position (their fault!) wherein I have to discipline them because, through whatever it is their misbehavior is, they are signaling to me that they need my help to be/do better in that area of living. The grace in this is that my love for them is not morally indifferent. This is likely a connection “Z” hasn’t made but will eventually if you teach her along these lines. This is how it is that I can discipline my child and love my child at the same time—I love the kid too much to be indifferent toward her actions/inactions. We’re mimicking God in this.
Parenting isn’t for the fainthearted, is it!? And it only gets more complex, brother, as we go on with them into teendom. The bald spot on the top of my head is getting larger, thanks to my children. I now understand why people spoil their grandkids—you’re ready for some children to only like you!
Much grace in our mutual endeavor,