I believe that one of the hardest things about disciplining my children is to do it in consistency with Galations 6:1
“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.”
The obvious application is that we should not discipline a child if we are angry with them. If we are also having an outburst of sin, then we need to recruit the other parent to step in and help out. We are not in a position to correct a child’s behavior if our behavior needs correcting. But I believe there is a more subtle application of this verse that is harder to see. It says that we should “consider ourselves”. This means that we should check our own motives and be sure that our correction is out of love. If our motivation for the discipline is selfish, then we should not be disciplining them. The actual rule or command that we enforce in the home might stay the same, but the motivation is everything. This is hard for the parent to recognize, but it is painfully easy for children to see. It is always hard for us to be critical of our own heart and our own motives.
As an example, I might choose to correct my son because he is running through the house screaming. If he does not obey, this will turn into more serious discipline. Is this a righteous thing to me to ask of him? It all depends on my own heart! Am I spiritually qualified to correct him? Am I asking him to calm down because it annoys me that he is being loud? Or am I asking him to calm down because I love him and I know that control over his body will serve him well in the future?
Another example, I might choose to correct my daughter for eating rice with her fingers (this is actually a real and strange problem our house). Am I being nit-picky? too strict? too overbearing? Well, how is my heart? Am I asking her to eat with a spoon because I am so sick of sweeping up rice? Or am I asking her to eat with a spoon because I love her and I want her to grow into the kind of woman who is respectful of others around the table? My tone and my correction will sound different depending on where my heart is. No matter how much I try to convince myself that I am correcting her out of unselfish motivations, she will be able to tell if my correction is coming from a place of selfishness or a place of love.
Ultimately, the whole point of all discipline is to raise people who are capable, stable, kind, respectful, God-fearing, self-controlled, joyful, confident adults. Training up a child correctly has nothing to do with my own comfort in my own home. I am becoming more and more convinced that discipline has very little to do with the actual rules, but it has everything to do with why I discipline and my motivation for the discipline. This challenges me to ask many questions of the rules.
Do we let our children climb on the back of the couch and walk on the coffee table? The answer is not yes or no, the answer is…how is my heart? Do I tell them to get off the furniture because I want clean furniture or because I want them to learn to be respectful of the possessions of others? Do I want to preserve my home like a magazine or do I want my children to learn to be stewards and care takers of whatever their surroundings are?
Do we let our children talk back? Well, actually yes, but only after they have obeyed and only if the “talking back” is in a respectful tone. When our children have a question about a decision that we have made, we allow for questions and discussion, but only after cheerful obedience! It would be far easier for me to make a rule about “no talking back, no questions, no means no.” But it is better training for me to listen to their plea and to teach them how to make an appeal in a respectful way. It is far more self-sacrificial for me to explain my reasons. When I explain my reasons to them, it teaches them that there is a standard higher than me. It gives me an opportunity to explain God’s standards. It also gives me an opportunity to search my own heart and make sure that my restrictions are actually founded on what God requires and not on my own selfish preference.
I love being a mother. I really had no idea how much I would love it. The most wonderful thing about it, besides the adorable chubby toes and sweet drawings, is that I have three microscopes on my life at all times. They are the best motivation for me to confess my own sin. Because I am constantly needing to correct them, Galatians 6:1 tells me that I am constantly needing to go before the Lord and set my own heart right. No slacking off allowed, and I am so thankful for that!