Confused About Parenting?
What do the experts say?
When I hear young Christian parents talk about parenting, there seems to be an underlying sense of confusion. Their ideas are often a hodgepodge of reactions to their childhood, what they studied in college, what their friends are doing, a podcast, or a blog author offering the magic bullet, (which if followed, guarantees sweet bliss and happiness for the duration of childhood.) Culture experts have much advice to give. However, the family is God’s domain. Rarely do I hear the confidence in the principles found in the Bible. To embrace the wisdom of man without holding it up to the light of God’s word is profoundly foolish.
The question is, are we as believers equipped to evaluate cultural ideas against the truth of scripture? Do we even try?
I’d like to examine some of the current ideas regarding parenting and see how they stand up against the perfect word of God.
Never use Negatives or No.
Let’s begin with the idea that you should never use negative words to instruct or direct your children. Never mind that I’ve already used a form of no/not/never in just trying to articulate the rule. According to this precept, I guess the proper way of stating that is to always use positive phrases, rather than negative ones, to direct your children’s behavior and attitudes. That begs the question, at some point in life, is it okay to use negative words, or is it never okay? See my point?
Parenting by sound bites is not wise. Let’s flesh it out:
I’m not sure where this idea of never using negatives came from. If it originated in the Christian community, perhaps its beginning was Ephesians 6:4, which instructs us not to provoke our children to anger/wrath. I’m guessing that someone derived the idea that conflict with our child’s will provokes them, and that the way we cross their will most often is by telling them No.
But God didn’t seem concerned about using a negative word for instruction. He said early on in Genesis 2:16, “And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”
If God in His perfect word uses a negative instruction, we would be fools to determine that all negativity is wrong. What are we to do?
God gave Adam and Eve both positive and negative instructions in the garden of Eden and told them about the consequences in advance if they disobeyed. They weren’t left to wonder what His expectations were. God clearly stated his expectations and how to please Him.
And the rest of Ephesians 6:4 tells us what to do – bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. That means that you and I are concerned with what we are proactively teaching them.
If we follow God’s example, we will educate our children according to what we expect, so they can succeed!
It is good to refrain from constant negativity and the word No as the main form of instruction with your children. If you and I are telling our children No at every turn, we are likely to provoke them to anger. Consistent use of No as a means of directing behavior is the sign of a lazy parent who has not taken the time to consistently teach and respond to their child’s actions.
What is the alternative?
I propose we spend the same energy required to police our words and spend it teaching our children what we expect of them FIRST before we need to correct them at every turn. Once we have equipped them with the knowledge of what is expected, we can more easily train through reminding them of the expectation rather than merely correcting with No. If we’ve proactively taught them our expectations, we have other words besides No at our disposal.
Without prior instruction in exactly what the acceptable behavior or attitude is, our children are left to discover that by trial and error. In education circles, the idea of discovery learning, as opposed to direct instruction is promoted as a wonderful way to truly make knowledge your own. Discovery learning means that we set up the experience for the student to find answers for themselves. Direct instruction means that we teach it explicitly, and the student learns it from our instruction. That’s a broad principle that works well in some areas of study and not in others. It doesn’t translate exactly to Biblically parenting. To discover through trial and error what is acceptable is a painfully ineffective and frustrating way for a child to learn.
When we were young parents, before we understood how to teach our child acceptable behavior and attitudes, my days were filled with lots of ‘No,’ ‘Stop that,’ ‘Don’t,’ and ‘Why are you doing that?’ It was frustrating and exhausting for both me and my son. It wasn’t sustainable over the long haul, and it sure wasn’t something we wanted to experience more often. (As in, do we really want to have more children?)
Even still, sometimes we must correct. To use No wisely means that we do not bark at our children. Delivery is everything. When the need arises, a wise, self-controlled adult simply responds with the negative. There is no harshness, no condescension, no yelling, no whining (and thereby making one-syllable become two as in “Nnnnnooooooo”).
Nosimply means No.
Sometimes, No is the most freeing thing we can hear or say. Think about these questions where the answer No is the right answer. Would you like a third piece of cheesecake? Would you watch this X-rated movie with me? I need some money; would you reach over there and steal that woman’s purse? Can I go play in the street?
A firm No can be a gift. Used properly, it is a boundary. It offers safety, security, freedom from sin, bondage, and bitterness. As with all things, No was created by God. That means it has a perfect place in our world. And in our parenting. Use it wisely.