So we all have preconceived notions about parenting. Like the one that involves counting. Because kids obey better on 3 rather than the first time parents ask. That is in 1st Confusions 3:3 right after Paul’s assistant, the good Jewish convert Yakob, explained the five guaranteed ways to ensure your teenager won’t rebel, not even one little iota.
Seriously, there are some notions we hold that are a slightly more influential in the very ways our kids think about and view God and His world and the people around them. This week, let’s examine three of them, one today and one Wednesday and one Friday, and draw some debunking and/or affirming conclusions about whether we should continue to hold these presuppositions.
Today’s commonly held parental notion:
When a kids acts up, saying “You better stop that. Don’t you know any better?” is an effective approach.
So you are in the grocery store. I have been there. You know. The place that has packaged grub in very well-organized, where-do-they-get-all-this-food, corn-is-the-main-ingredient-in-everything store. Well, when you walk in the sliding doors, there is always a scale. It is as if management is reminding you that you are a little on the heavy side. Not a great marketing tool to encourage people to buy more food.
Anyway, my kids always want to get on it. And you probably haven’t noticed, but there is a laser beam that envelops your child every time they step on the scale and plants into their skin just above the elbow a grocery-store gene that deactivates when you push your cart out of the exit doors. This gene takes over the moment you push your cart through the bakery. It conspires against you in three ways as you walk through the store. First, your child says, “Can I please have a cookie? They are free.” This is nice you think, but it is a subtle step toward anarchy. Next, the sugar kicks in about the time you are deciding between colby-jack or four-cheese-Mexican cheese. Your child asserts, “Look! Oreos are on sale!!! They are the only packages cookie without trans fat! Mom told me!!!” Statements like these are concocted and blurted out for the remaining ten aisles and three departments. Finally, you reach checkout. You are likely ready to actually check out, just when your child screams, “I want to press the green button! Can I put in the numbers?!?” To top it off, your child now repeats your pin code very loudly as you observe two suspicious individuals take out a pen and write something down on their palm. You push your cart out the exiting sliding doors. And your child shivers a bit, then looks up at you and says, “I love you so much! You are the best parent ever!!!”
Hyperbole? Yes. Far from the truth? No. And I can’t tell you how often I have heard a desperate mom or dad as well as myself thinking and saying something like: “You better stop that! Don’t you know any better?”
Is this approach “right on” or “not so much?”
“You better stop that!” Is this a grace and gospel exhortation? On one hand, yes. The call to stop going in one direction and turn around to go the other way, from indulge self to deny self, is called repentance. This is very much a grace and gospel thought. But it is different when coupled with the question, “Don’t you know any better?”
While the answer to that question might be yes I know better, grace and gospel asserts that my knowing better or not knowing better doesn’t enable or disable me from behaving better. Applying a little of Paul’s letter to the Galatians would be appropriate here. I may know better, but that doesn’t always mean I do better (Romans 7:25-8:2). In fact, the implication of this commonly practiced parental notion is that the child can stop doing a behavior and not do it again because they know better. That is not true.
So, why do we parent that way? Don’t we know better?
Enter grace and gospel. The parent nor the kid should be judged on the basis of behavioral perfection. Both need to be challenged to “stop doing that” – in the sense of repentance, but both then need to be encouraged to confess and pray to Jesus asking for help and wisdom. Neither need expectation-based chastisement, for this is never an effective approach toward cultivating for ongoing transformation of the heart (and therefore actions).
You might say, “The problem is that my two year old doesn’t understand this alternate approach based in grace and gospel.” Well, I would counter by proposing that he or she may understand more than you think, and the problem may not be with them. The problem regarding this notion is typically with the parent, not the child.
We as parents are so busy trying to get to the checkout line that we check out on relationally parenting. It takes more time to draw in close and lovingly talk to our children about an issue, but it is so worth it over the long hall.
The “stop, you know better” approach doesn’t cultivate for a humble, contrite heart. That approach highly values the modification of behavior. And sending a child off to college who has learned how to modify behavior for the audience of the moment is a dangerous, unnerving thought. All college students will likely do things they regret. However, sending them with a humble, contrite heart might allow for the security to confess and stand again in grace.
What do you think? Suggestions and rebuke welcome. We parents are all learning. 🙂
WEDNESDAY _ the parental notion: “If you want your kid to be Christian in college, keep him away from all non-Christian influence until then.” Right on or not so much?