by Bruce & Julianne Hamilton |
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Everything that we share here as a couple is the declaration of the truth of what we have experienced, have learned and are still learning and applying. Our hope and desire is that as you read our testimony, you will be encouraged, challenged, and if necessary, rebuked as we also have been, as the Lord has led and guided us regarding the 'training and admonition' of our children. Eph 6:4.
When discussing the discipline of children, we need to understand that discipline is not just a list of hints and techniques to be plucked from the examples of others, or from a book, tried randomly on our children, and followed either loosely or rigidly thereafter. Discipline can only be seen as an integral part of our whole relationship with our children. It can't be pulled out and isolated from the rest of our family's life. The statement contained in the last two sentences is not fundamentally Christian, and is espoused in much of the contemporary literature dealing with the development and training of children. We also agree that we cannot address the discipline of children in isolation from how the family unit functions.
Our context for living
So, what makes our approach different from those espoused in much of the literature dealing with the development and training of children? Quite simply, it is the way that we relate and function together, in the wisdom of God, as a family. This is our context.
The holy ground of our family is the place where we stand. It is the whole context for our growth and relationship together. The ground speaks to us of the place where we work and toil, to bring forth a plentiful harvest. We need to have confidence and faith in the Lord, that as we stand in His order, every need will be met and that our prayers won't be hindered. As parents, we have found this tremendously securing. We no longer need to fear, and peace reigns in the heart of the home.
We have also learnt, that as we are the Lord's first, so too are our children. They are not our possession to do with or to train as we please. Neither do we need to source within ourselves the way forward for them, but rather walk together with them, as we teach and admonish them in the way of the Lord. In this walking together, and through prayer, we will find the wisdom of God for our families. We read in the book of Joshua, 'For then you shall make your way prosperous, and you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage. Do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.' Josh 1:8-9.
Part of the context of the home is the establishing of family routine. This includes all members of the family, even the babies, since all have a place in the family. This provides many opportunities for training and reinforcement. It is interesting to note that 2-3 year olds thrive in an environment of routine where they have their own jobs to do. However, the routine must never rule the house.
The cross at the heart of the home
The conflict that we face daily is that the wisdom of God is foolishness to men, and vice versa. 1 Cor 1:18, 3:19. The challenge of parenthood is to know the wisdom of God for each of our children, so that they may come 'to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ'. Eph 4:13. The problem is that this often cuts across our own male or female perspectives of each matter concerning our children. At this point, the cross of Christ is foolishness to us, and we need to find the wisdom of God in the matter.
Where does this wisdom come from? We know that it is found in Christ. In Christ, as Paul wrote to the Colossians, 'are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge'. Col 2:3. In our family, we have chosen to be Christ-centred, or cross-centred, as opposed to child-centred, or program-centred. The culture of the house is declared to be established after the order of godliness. This is foolishness to the world.
What does that mean for each member of our family? This means that each member of the family is under authority, and is called to exercise respectful obedient submission to the authority of God, which is the mode of the house on holy ground. There can only be the one ground for the family. Otherwise, there would be two grounds – the ground of dad, and the ground of mum. Where there are two grounds and two perspectives in the family, the children can often fall between mum and dad. You can see then that there is not one set of rules for parents and one for children. The only distinction is in the stage or season of the learning and the teaching of obedience.
Our whole life can be seen as a learning curve of obedience. There is a time and season for everything, as it says in the book of Ecclesiastes. The primary focus towards our children is the obedience of faith, whereas the focus of the parents is towards the obedience of love, which encompasses the obedience of faith and being. Children then understand that their parents are also under authority, seeing it demonstrated daily within the home. We say, 'As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord'. Josh 24:15. Children cannot understand authority if they don't see it demonstrated within their own family.
So we say to our children, 'Do as I do'. Our lives are to be an example. Children learn as much, if not more, from actions than they do from words. It is sobering to think that everything our children learn is, in the most part, taught and reinforced by our own behaviour whether positive or negative. The apostle Paul wrote, 'Be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed. But reject profane and old wives' fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness … be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity … in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.' 1 Tim 4:6,7,12,16.
Likewise, we save ourselves and our children by teaching them in word and deed, giving no heed to old wives' fables. At the same time, we direct them to Christ who is also our example. We often say to our children, 'Obedience will save your life'. When we say that, we are talking about relational obedience. It is important for our children to obey without question or reason, in full faith and trust, knowing that our heart's desire in all matters is for their good and their salvation.
Obedience in relationship
As parents, it is important to understand that we cannot force our children to be obedient. Not even Christ does this to us! Obedience can never be forced, or taken. It is learned. The Bible tells us that Christ learned obedience by the things which He suffered. Heb 5:8. When taken or forced, there is actually no obedience on the part of the child. It is just compliance. Even some of the young children have testified that they did what they were asked, but their own heart was not in it until they learned the difference between compliance and obedience. So children need to be trained to understand what an obedient response is, and not just how to please their parents or avoid conflict. They learn this in relationship with their parents.
Obedience of faith
To illustrate the teaching of the obedience of faith, we will use the saying, 'When I say jump, you say, "How high?"' – only we say, 'When I say jump, you jump'. We say it this way because we are teaching our children to obey without question, trusting that we have the best in mind for them. We do not command them just to prove the superiority of our will or authority. To do that would be an abuse of our authority. In this they know that they are found in the fellowship and love of the family, and we care for them.
In this context of love and fellowship, the obedience of faith is taught to our children at every age. It begins with a simple 'no' and it is always that simple. Our children must learn by our words and deeds that we answer to God, and that whatever our response towards our children, they must know that they are loved, and that we will never leave nor forsake them.
However, we will not tolerate certain behaviours. Not because they annoy us or primarily because we disagree, but because it is not what God wants and it is not being true to who they are. There is a place for explanation as we relate this to our children. We always use a disciplining time as an opportunity to point our children to God. To strengthen the importance of our meeting, we encourage our children to always look us in the eye when speaking or being spoken to. When correcting or training our children, we do not want a 'learned' response which carries no meaning, because it is simply an easy way to bring a close to the discomfort felt.
For example, if I ask the question, 'Do you have anything to say?' - I mean it as a prompt to get the child to respond openly and honestly as a measure of what they are feeling and understanding. So they know that relationship needs such a response. A look is not enough. The relational interaction helps to identify issues requiring on-going training. If the child's response is to say 'sorry' when in fact they do not mean it or understand it, then to say 'sorry' just to make me feel better is actually a lie and a manipulation. This then needs further interaction and drawing out of the child into relationship with the parent.
One of the most important things we are teaching our children is to talk openly and freely about their life and their feelings without fear of being alienated or judged, whilst at the same time accepting the consequences of their actions. We are teaching them how to meet. This is critical, particularly as the voices 'speaking in' begin to multiply, for example at kindy or school.
Admonition and training
The Bible tells us to bring our children up in the training and admonition of the Lord. This means that parents need to learn the difference between immaturity and rebellion. To do this, we need to understand the ages and stages of child development. There is no use complaining that your seven month old child is defying you, when you have repeatedly asked him to not touch the pretty vase on the sideboard. A seven month old baby is by nature persistently inquisitive and therefore immature. He is not rebelliously defying you, but being true to his age and stage of life. He is immature, and needs help to stop touching the pretty vase. Its simple removal would be an answer to the situation. But it is also an opportunity to teach the meaning of 'No, don't touch!'
Independence versus accountability
Much of the worldly goal of child development is to see them become independent, for example, to see them become independent readers and independent thinkers. We would rather encourage our children to be accountable, as they think about their impact upon others. In many situations, independence and accountability have the same outcomes, but the road to the outcome is very different. We can illustrate this in an example that we encountered with our seven year old. At school, he is told that his pencils are to be sharpened, and ready for the start of school. This is a classroom rule. One morning, while mum was changing reading books in the classroom, she heard an interaction between her son and his teacher. "Geoffrey, where is your pencil case? You know that you have to have all your pencils ready for the start of school. Where are they?" Geoffrey said, 'I don't know'. His teacher said something like, "Well Geoffrey, you are responsible for your own possessions, you will have to find your pencil case, and think for yourself. I don't have time to look after this problem." As his mother, I whole-heartedly agreed with his teacher. Geoffrey did have to submit to this instruction, and be prepared for the start of the day. But rather than just thinking for himself, he needed to see the impact of his laziness on his teacher, and the rest of the classroom, as opposed to just making sure that his own needs were met. In doing this, he would be being accountable, and not just an independent thinker.
We also have accountability towards our children, and cannot act independently from one another as we address our children. For example, around the issues of piano practice in our home, Julianne is the first point of reference for the children, in seeing that their practice is completed to the best of their ability. The children must give account to her as she instructs them in their practice. However, Bruce is not out of the picture, just because he is out of the home at the time of practice. He doesn't necessarily have to deal with the specific issue, but rather, the relational consequence of the interaction. In this way, the children know that there is no in-between and that they must give account to both parents.
Learning our impact on others
When teaching accountability, we are basically teaching what our impact is on others. There are a number of areas that fall into this category. For example, one concerns the issues of sanctification and honour, seen in the way that we train our children to respect their own as well as others' physical bodies. In our home, the word privacy is used. As soon as they can communicate, we use the word privacy. Our then two year old child was not allowed to run about the house without clothes on after a bath. We would say, 'Privacy, please', wrap a towel around him, and then direct him to his room to dress. An extension of this, without any prompting from us, was when he was a six year old and saw a young woman with hardly anything on, prancing down the street. He said, 'Mummy, she's not showing privacy! She wouldn't make a good mummy would she?' Who is to say whether this young woman would or wouldn't make a good mother? But here, my son was beginning to learn the meaning of discretion.
Guarding the sanctity of the home
A further area we've had to deal with is the impact of external pressures upon the home. We have had to be vigilant and disciplined in many regards to these pressures. For instance, particularly the issue of fads, such as Pokemon and Harry Potter, present innocently, but with closer examination, are presenting a different or contrary culture. In addressing this, our main focus is to see the identity of the child protected by maintaining the culture of godliness. Many of these fads are based around the power over another theme. In our home, in maintaining a culture of sanctification and honour, we try to keep away from any sort of influence that seeks to power over another.
Finally, there is a myriad of issues and concerns in these areas that are peculiar to every individual family. We cannot address all of them here. But we hope that as we share our testimony of where we are now, and that as we share together, and pray daily, that the Lord will continue to lead and guide us in these matters.
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