Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Duties of Parents: Part II

This is part two of a series of posts from J.C. Ryle's book, The Duties of Parents. It was first published in 1888, so it definitely has time-tested advice.

3. Train your children with an abiding persusion on your mind that much depends on you.

"...all this is God's merciful arrangement. He gives your child a mind that will receive impressions like moist clay. He gives them a disposition at the starting point of life to believe what you tell them and to take for granted what you advise them, and to trust your word rather than a stranger's. He gives you, in short, a golden opportunity of doing them good. See that the opportunity be not neglected and thrown away. Once let slip, it is gone forever."

These are challenging words to me! I can hear myself in my children's words...sometimes it makes me smile. Other times it makes me wince. I want to take advantage of the opporutnity to "do them good" by filling their hearts with Scripture and Biblical truth. We have been greatly helped by teaching our kids the children's catechism from the time they could speak. It is amazing how easily they can memorize things when they are young. Of course we want these truths to be imbedded in their hearts, so we try to talk a lot about Spiritual things in every context. It doesn't seem like they are listening sometimes, but we trust that God will bring the fruit in his time.

Whether it is the deliberate things we teach them about the Bible or God, or the unconscious things they pick up from us (the way we talk to/about each other) their clay-like hearts are being shaped.

4. Train with this thought continually before your eyes--that the soul of your child is the first thing to be considered.

"In every step you take about them, in every plan, and scheme, and arrangement that concerns them, do not leave out that mighty question, how will this affect their souls?"

There are so many aspects to this point: schooling, friends, actvities...but it is definitely a question that bears asking often and honestly: will this affect my children's souls in a positive or negative way? We are facing this more as the children get older. When they were small, our home was the center of their universe. Sesame Street was about the most dangerous influence they encountered! But as they are getting older this is a question that we need to ask a lot. The boys have several neighborhood friends that pose a challenge in this area. The television shows targeted at their age group are questionable at best. The things they can find (without even trying) on the computer are frightening. As parents, we have to limit the negative influences and maximize the positive ones. The struggle for me is that it takes a lot of time and effort to create positive, soul-nourishing experiences. It is easier to just let them watch a show or play outside with the neighborhood kids so that I can get my stuff done. But this isn't always what is best for their souls. 

One positive thing that we have done is to purposely limit our evening commitments so that we can spend that time as a family. We have made the unpopular decision to forego baseball and softball this year in favor of having that time together. Last year, it seemed like we were all going different directions several nights of the week. It made family worship, and even dinner together, a huge challenge. The kids are disappointed, but we feel that is the best decision for all of us. We are hoping for some fun, soul-enriching times with friends from church and with each other instead. 

There are many things that are culturally acceptable that might not be beneficial to the souls of my children. Sometimes it means going against the tide and making tough decisions. Ryle says, "The time is short--The fashion of this world passesth away. He that has trained his children for heaven, rather than for earth, --for God rather than for man--he is the parent that will be called wise at last."

Again, we thank God for his grace. We cannot even begin to fulfill the task of parenting these children without his daily mercy and grace.  His mercies are new every morning.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Duties of Parents

This past week, the ladies from our church met for our monthly Bible Study. I have made it to very few of these studies this year, but I am always encouraged when I get to go. This time the topic was "Raising Little Ones."  My friend who led it has raised four girls, so she knows what she's talking about! She used a little book by J.C. Ryle called "The Duties of Parents." J.C. Ryle was a preacher in England a long time ago (1816-1900). I love the richness of the language that he uses. I highly recommend this little book to anyone looking for a little bit of encouragement in Godly parenting. 

I would like to take several posts to highlight his "17 hints" and make a few comments about each one. We have passed through the "little one" phase a few times, and now find ourselves in it again! How gracious God is to give us His Word to help us train our children.  

1. Train them in the way they "should" go rather than in the way they "would" go. 
Amazing, isn't it, that we don't have to train our children to sin? They come by that naturally. Instead, we must train them to righteousness.  

Proverbs 22:15 Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.  

Proverbs 29:15 The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.

I remember so clearly when Kimberly was getting close to two, she would stomp her little foot and say, "NO, Momma!" I was shocked! I knew that we needed to train that will. But the idea of spanking my sweet baby was hard for me. I scoured the book of Proverbs and came away a very clear conviction that we needed to use the rod and reproof (spanking and instruction). The book that helped us the most was Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp. What a blessing this book was. He taught us how to use spanking in a Biblical way to train the hearts of our children. 

The key to Biblical discipline is to keep my own emotions in check. We must never spank in anger. Sometimes, we have had to send the kids to their rooms so we could cool down before dealing with them.  We follow a clear pattern outlined in Tripp's book so that we both always know what is happening. We never spank until they can tell us what they are being spanked for. And we always finish with prayer, an assurance of both God's forgiveness and ours and lots of hugs. Tear stained, but smiling, we emerge to continue our day.  We decided early on we would rather miss an opportunity for spanking than do it in anger. This is very different from what most of us have witnessed in the grocery store where an angry Mom is "disciplining" her wailing child. Ugh. 

The other point here is the importance of consistency. Kids are smart and they quickly figure out where or when they can get away with more. My brother and I knew that we could set the house on fire and my mom wouldn't notice if she was on the phone. (Or so we thought, until we got spanked for something we did while we thought she didn't notice.) It is never appropriate to discipline in public. If you have to go home and come back for the groceries later, then do it. (And you'll probably only have to do that once or twice because it will make a pretty big impression on the little darlings.)

It is interesting, isn't it, that the Bible talks about the rod and reproof, but time out and counting to three are never mentioned. Hum....

2. Train them with all tenderness, affection and patience. 

Be willing to enter into childish joys and sorrows. Love, kindness and gentleness will give you access to your child's heart. 

Col. 3:21 "Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged."

Some days I find this very difficult. I tend to be a planner and I have an agenda. When the kids need a lot of extra attention, I can respond with impatience rather than tenderness. I often worry that they will remember me grumping at them rather than hugging them and listening to them.  With my older three, I see the increasing importance of this. I want them to continue to share their hearts with me, and I know it has to start when they are little. 

Andy's mother had this down to an art when he was small. Every night she would sit on the edge of his bed and talk about his day. She would ask, "What was the worst part of your day?" 
"How could you do things differently next time?" and "What was the best part of your day?" They continued this little routine through high school. They both say it was big part of what made them close. 

My son, Caleb, can tell a LONG story. He is very detail oriented and he wants to be sure that you understand EVERY detail. It is hard for me to stop and really listen sometimes. It is worth it though, to enter his world in this way. 

I think this point is especially important for Moriah. I don't know how or when she will need to process through thoughts and feelings about the first 19 months of her life. She will need a tender, compassionate Mom who will listen with great acceptance and tenderness.

There you have it: J.C. Ryle's first two hints.

 I am so thankful for the grace of Christ as I look back on the early childhood of my older three and think about the present with Moriah. I have made so many mistakes! But the grace of Christ gives me hope. These little ones are His and I can trust him to use even my mistakes for their good and His glory. 

Look for two more soon!