How can we avoid being permissive in our parenting?
In other words, how can I be patient, loving, and consistent as I exercise my God-ordained parental authority in the home (Prov. 22:6, Eph. 6:4)?
There are many things could be said. But since change is in the details, here are three practices that Mom reminds me and my sisters of regularly.
1. Prepare our heart.
Sadly, my sinful tendency is to be permissive in areas that God has commanded (e.g. obeying completely, immediately and cheerfully) and impatient about things that don’t exactly show up in God’s Word (depositing dirty fingerprints all over the walls).
To realign my parenting priorities, I must go back to God’s Word. I need a healthy dose of the fear of the Lord, and a reminder of what is most important to God for me to instill in my children: obedience, respect, and truthfulness, to name a few.
Meditating on passages of Scripture that outline my responsibilities as a parent helps me cultivate a healthy fear of the Lord in mothering. Listening to a sermon, getting encouragement from a God-fearing mother, reading even a few lines of a good book or a wise blog post, all can be ways of preparing my heart to be patient and consistent in parenting.
And remember, this is a temptation common to mothers! We shouldn’t be shocked or give into self-pity. Rather, we should eagerly receive the gospel opportunity to repent, experience forgiveness, and grow in grace. Given the deep-rootedness of our selfishness we will probably fight these temptations until our children leave home. But God’s grace wont give out before then—it outlasts and all our mothering temptations and needs.
2. Prepare our plan.
Mom is always encouraging me and my sisters to pick one or two areas (max) to focus on with our children. With my younger kids this usually is an area of disobedience, disrespect, or dishonesty; or it may be a sin that is causing the most disruption in the home. If we take five minutes at the beginning of a day or week to prayerfully consider our biblical goals for training our children, this will prevent many temptations to permissive parenting.
Then develop a clear, simple guidelines. What are we expecting and what are the consequences? If we can’t answer this question clearly to ourselves it won’t be clear to our children.
Now it’s time to hold the line. No exceptions. For me, I often have to write my parenting priority at the top of my to-do list. And I pray throughout the day that God will help me to be faithful.
And don’t fret. We can’t eliminate every vestige of permissiveness in a single day. We won’t do it perfectly. Our children probably won’t respond immediately. But we’ll be more consistent and patient than if we had never tried at all.
3. Prepare for a happy family.
When we take a few minutes to prepare our hearts and our plan, this will go a long way to helping us to be consistent and patient as we exercise our God-ordained authority in the home. And the entire family will benefit!
If we are clear on our mothering goals, we will be more likely to resist the temptation to impatience. When we are focused on pleasing God we will be less likely to be permissive. We won’t be carrying around a load of guilt and irritation in our mothering. As a result, we will be more at peace.
And the more consistent we are, the happier our children are. Children thrive in the context of the gracious, consistent, exercise of parental authority. They love to know what to expect. When our children don’t have to worry that Mom is going to blow up about something one day and ignore it the next, when they understand they are being held to God’s standard and not the standard of Mom’s feelings, they feel happy and safe.
So consider, what is one way we can take a grace-enabled step toward faithful, patient parenting this week?
Hi all—sorry for the brief hiatus from posting. We were traveling and unexpectedly found ourselves without Internet access. Home now and ready to resume our regularly scheduled posts with a new Q&A. Have a great Wednesday!
A few weeks ago, in a Facebook comment on our post answering the question “How Do You Stay Patient with Young Children?” Michelle asked a great follow-up:
“I sometimes have a hard time discerning between patience and permissiveness. It seems that some days I’m feeling ‘patient’ and so I don’t pick on certain issues as much, so is it patience or permissiveness?”
I threw this question out to Mom and here are a few of her thoughts:
This is an insightful question, Michelle, because we as parents often confuse godly patience with sinful permissiveness. But the two are not the same.
Patient parenting means we are “slow to anger” in the face of provocation or disobedience from our children (Ex. 34:6, James 1:19). It does not mean we don’t bring appropriate discipline, but that we discipline in love.
As Jerry Bridges explains, patience “seeks the ultimate good of [our child] rather than the immediate satisfaction of our own aroused emotions.”
Permissive parenting often masquerades as patience, but has different motives underlying it. Sinfully permissive parenting is often based on our emotions—whether or not we feel like correcting our children’s sin or whether or not we want to deal with this right now—rather than a commitment to teach our children to submit to our loving authority for their good and God’s glory.
In fact, permissiveness in parenting can be an abdication of our God-given, lovingly exercised authority. Permissive parenting may unintentionally put the kids in charge, which is the opposite of what God has ordained.
In short, permissive parenting is often about how we feel or what we want; patient parenting is about what would please God and help our children to grow in Christ-like character.
For example, it is not patient to instruct our children to do something but then give in to them when they beg off. It’s permissive.
It is not being patient to tell our children not to do something, and then fail to follow through or merely repeat our instructions when they ignore our commands or whine or argue. It’s permissive.
It is not patient parenting to look the other way when our children sin or to neglect to train them to overcome patterns of sin. It’s permissive
It is not being patient to satisfy our child’s every desire and give into his every demand, even if it feels patient because it requires sacrifice on our part. It’s permissive.
Ironically, sometimes the easiest way to tell if we have slipped into permissive parenting is if we are tempted to be impatient. I remember that when I used to get impatient with my children it was usually a sign that I had been growing lax and permissive in my parenting. Because I wasn’t faithful to give clear commands and bring appropriate and loving discipline when they disobeyed, my children’s behavior would grow more unruly and I would respond more impatiently.
Permissive parenting is one of the easiest traps for us to fall into as a mom. Sadly, I can recall many times when I was more permissive than patient in my parenting. But our Heavenly Father is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and patience toward us. He does not ignore our sins of laziness and impatience, but rather he sent his Son to pay for them at the cross. And the Holy Spirit is at work in our hearts, training us to obey God’s Word and grow in Christ-like patience toward our children.
So how does God help us to avoid becoming permissive and impatient in our parenting?
We’ll tackle that question in our next post.
Stephanie has a two-year-old whom she loves to pieces, but who whines a lot. Ashley has five children at home under the age of nine. Both wrote to ask “how do you stay patient with young children?”
I can certainly relate. Impatience is a common temptation for us as moms. So, as I always do, I asked my exceptionally patient mom (she raised me after all!), and wrote down a few of her suggestions. This is not an exhaustive list, just a few things she’s passed on to me that I have found most helpful:
Identify temptation points
Recently my husband and I realized that we were most tempted to be impatient when we had to get our four children out the door. Identifying this temptation-point helped, not only so we could prepare our hearts to be more self-controlled and patient, but also so we could streamline our process and get an earlier start. Less temptation for everyone. Less impatience from Mom and Dad.
More often then not, when I find myself growing impatient with my children, it is because I have not been clear about the rules or boundaries. They are simply following my lead. So why am I getting impatient with them? My impatience is often a clue that I have slacked off in one area or another. It is time to get back to basics and train or instruct ahead of time and then be consistent to bring appropriate consequences. Being consistent helps me guard against impatience.
Don’t do stupid things twice
This one is for me. I am always repeating my own stupid mistakes. But Janelle is the opposite. She’s a fast learner. For example, a little while ago her two-year-old Hudson became obsessed with balloons. He would throw a fit when he saw a balloon in the store. He would even start screaming in his car seat when they drove past balloons outside! Once she realized this, Janelle made strategic decisions to avoid balloons where possible. She took alternative routes home and avoided certain sections of the store, unless she was prepared to buy a balloon. Point is, if you know your toddler is going to throw a fit in aisle three, if possible, don’t go to aisle three for a while. Wait until your consistent training at home makes it possible for you to go to the store without a meltdown. Do whatever you can to avoid walking into situations you know will be tempting for you and your child.
I read a great post on this by someone, somewhere, and now I can’t find it. The upshot was that when we cultivate a heart of gratefulness to God for the precious gift of our children, it counteracts the impatience in our heart. So if we find our impatience is rising, how’s our gratefulness? Let’s thank God for the amazing gift of our children and it will be much easier to be patient.
There is something about going to God in prayer that reminds us just how patient our heavenly Father is with us. This produces humility in our hearts, which in turn, produces patience toward our children. And we need God’s help. So let’s pray. He is eager to help us to model His patience toward our children.
~from the archives
Karissa wrote in with a great question:
In a recent post you talked about “picking one thing” and being consistent about it in the discipline of a toddler. I guess my question is: How? There are multiple little issues of obedience that are clear to my 19-month-old, but I also want to be consistent about tantrum throwing. So what do I do about those other issues? Do I overlook her disobedience or lead her away from the “no touch” object? What do I do about those other obedience issues? Thanks for your input!
Great question, Karissa, and I think you’ve got the right idea. We most effectively train our children when we focus on one or two areas at a time. But very young children disobey in a myriad of ways! So how can we focus on one thing without losing ground in other areas?
I’m sure many moms have more wisdom than me, but here are a few ideas I’ve found helpful:
If temper tantrums are your “one thing” then consider ways to minimize other sources of temptation. If your daughter always heads for her favorite “no touch” item in the living room, maybe remove it for a time. If your son cries when you drive by the local park, then try taking another route home. If your child is eyeing another child’s toy dump truck, distract him with some blocks. Eliminating predictable areas of temptation can help you focus most consistently on the most important things.
If our child sins in ways we can’t ignore, seek to deal with it appropriately and move on. So if our child grabs a toy we need to help him return it, telling him as we do that it is wrong to grab. Or if she won’t come right away we may need to go get her and remind her to always come to mommy right away. These are important areas to deal with and should be our “one thing” sooner rather than later, but in the meantime it may help deal quickly with these issues and move on.
This requires patience. For example, we may find our child’s whining irksome, but if we have already decided that tantrums are a more urgent issue, we may need to bite our lip, smile, and model cheerfulness for the time being.
In conclusion, it might help to think ahead about your day: Where can I distract my child from temptation? Where can I overlook or redirect? And where do I need to focus all of my discipline and training?
Finally, as we’ve said all along, don’t grow weary in doing good. Your consistency in one area will produce fruit in many areas in your child’s life.
Over the last few months Hudson has crossed that threshold from baby to toddler. His speech has taken off, his comprehension level is higher. He’s not my baby anymore. But with big boy words and actions have come big boy attitudes. Mike and I needed to become more intentional about training him to obey.
But where to start? Mom’s advice has always been so helpful here: “Choose one area at a time and be consistent.” As we considered our little guy, we decided to address screaming. For one thing, Hudson’s screaming had become clearly defiant. He screamed when he was mad or frustrated with us, one of his sisters, or with himself. He screamed when we didn’t let him have what he wanted. This was clearly an area where he needed to come under our loving, biblical authority and to learn self-control.
Not only was Hudson’s screaming a clear expression of disobedience, it had ramifications for family life. It made it difficult to take him out to the store or to a restaurant, it didn’t bless Caly or MJ as they tried to play with him, it caused babysitters to run the other direction. His high-pitched, badly-timed screams were kind of hard to ignore.
So a couple of months ago I buckled down and began intensive, focused training on this area. This meant I had to overlook or other ways Hudson lacked self-control such as throwing toys or his near-constant whining. Whenever Hudson screamed I repeated the same simple phrase, “No scream. Say ‘Yes Mommy.” Then I brought appropriate consequences.
Consistency was the hardest part. Sometimes it meant turning off the stove and dragging my pregnant self upstairs to address a screaming incident. But the consistent training is beginning to bear fruit in Hudson’s life.
Sure, he still screams, but not nearly as much as he used to. And even though we focused on this one area, it has spilled over into other areas as well. Most notably, Hudson is happier now. And his newly formed habits of obedience and self-control mean we can go to out to dinner and make memories as a family.
We’re just at the starting line of many years of training Hudson, but one area at a time, by the grace of God, we can make progress in teaching him to obey.
Targeting our children’s hearts is a very important goal in gospel-centered parenting. Ultimately, I want my children to understand that their hearts are sinful and that they need a Savior. I also want to help my children discern the motives of their hearts—why they do what they do.
To this end, my husband and I provide regular instruction about the true state of their souls before a holy God. We also seek to teach them, primarily in more structured family times, about how sin works. Recently my husband, gave them a little Lying 101 lesson over breakfast: “We often lie because we want to look good, make others look bad, or stay out of trouble” he explained.
And in order to shepherd our children’s hearts, we watch them closely. We seek to discover and discern what motivates them, what makes them tick, what are their characteristic temptations and tendencies so we can parent them wisely.
But targeting the heart looks different, depending on the age and maturity each individual child. With our sons, Jack and Jude, who are 9 and 8 respectively, we are just beginning to spend more time talking about their hearts when they disobey or when an opportunity arises.
With our daughters Tori and Sophie (5 and 3) however, I don’t often spend a ton of time dialoguing and discussing their heart in moments of disobedience. Mostly that’s because when a fight breaks out and one of them is involved, there is lots of crying and wailing and I could ask penetrating questions about heart issues, but nobody would hear me.
But I also don’t expect them to always grasp “heart issues” at this young age. After all, as Jeremiah tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” I’m in my thirties and I still don’t always know why I do certain things! I can hardly expect my three-year-old to have it figured out by now.
A good long chat about heart issues may be wise parenting for a teenager or an older child, but what a three-year-old needs is consistent training and discipline. First they need to learn to obey. Heart issues, those will come in time.
So don’t become discouraged if your toddler doesn’t understand why he grabbed the toy or your five-year-old still doesn’t “obey from the heart.” This doesn’t mean you are failing as a mom. As long as you are lovingly and consistently training your little ones to obey and respect parental authority, you are fulfilling God’s commands.
One of the most powerful illustrations is from the relationship of Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller. You may know the story. Helen was a young girl who, at the age of nineteen months, became deaf and blind as the result of an unknown illness. Her parents, at a loss as to how to help their suffering daughter, provided little restraint or discipline. So when Annie was hired to teach Helen, she made no progress at first, due to Helen’s wild and violent behavior. “It was useless to teach her language or anything else until she learned to obey me” Annie reasoned. So Annie began at the beginning. She insisted that Helen obey.
After an extended battle of wills, Annie won. Helen became calm and submissive, able to listen, and able to learn. And oh what she learned! This little girl, whose life was up until now a dark and lonely place, learned to communicate. She learned to “speak” and to “listen” through her hands. She learned to read. And so, Annie wisely concluded: “Obedience is the gateway for knowledge to enter the mind.”
So it is with our children. We have this all-precious gift to give to them—the good news of the gospel. We have much to teach them about God, who He is, what He has done, what His Word has to say about the world and about their lives. And yet to truly practice effective gospel-centered mothering we must first teach them to obey.
“Training must come before teaching” insisted Katherine Howard, Elisabeth Elliot’s mother. “[Teaching] is impossible unless the children cooperate. And they don’t cooperate unless they are disciplined from their earliest days. This discipline lays the groundwork for teaching.”
This is why Scripture equates a parents love with discipline and hatred with a lack of love (Prov. 13:24). Counterintuitive to the post-modern mind, but as true as ever. “Train up a child in the way he should go” Proverbs exhorts us, “even when he is old he will not depart from it” (22:6).
This is both an exhortation and encouragement to mothers. It is an exhortation to moms when we are tempted to neglect loving discipline and training—whether from laziness, busyness, fear of our children’s rejection, or biblical ignorance. We must not neglect this most important biblical mothering priority.
It is also an encouragement to moms who are “in the trenches.” You are faithfully—not perfectly, but consistently—training your young children to obey. You may see very little in the way of results so far. You may be worn out and discouraged. You may wonder if you are on the right track. You may worry because your mothering doesn’t “feel” very gospel-centered at the moment. But your child’s obedience isn’t opposed to the gospel. It is the gateway through which you can bring the gospel message.
So persevere. Be faithful. And I promise—better yet, God has promised!—that you will reap a harvest if you do not give up (Gal 6:9).
Whenever I get overwhelmed and mothering seems as complex as a calculus problem, my mom always helps me put things in perspective. “Gospel-centered mothering at this stage is simple,” she tells me. “Not easy, mind you. It requires sacrificial love, hard work, and consistency. But it isn’t complicated.”
My problem is that I am a professional complicator. If “complicating the simple” was a science they would have tenured me as a professor at some prestigious university by now. I chase every new rabbit trail of a mothering idea, and fret about the roads not taken with my children. In this self-constructed maze, I quickly lose sight of God’s priorities for mothering young children.
But Mom’s right. It isn’t that complicated. It comes down to two basic but crucial priorities: Obedience and Respect. Paul summarizes these twin child-training “musts” for the early years:
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land” (Eph. 6:20).
There are many good things that we can—and should—teach our children. But these two are essential if we want our children to enjoy a long and a good life, a life of gospel fruitfulness. This isn’t moralistic mothering. Training our children to respect and obey is God’s command. And it is essential to helping our children understand what it means to fear the Lord, to walk in obedience to Him.
“The child trained in biblical obedience is better able to understand the gospel” explains Tedd Tripp. “The power and grace of the gospel is most deeply understood, not by those who never face their biblical duties, but by those who do.”
Obedience is the gateway to understanding the gospel.
So as I consider at the beginning of this year how to train my children, I return to these two simple priorities. I ask myself: How am I doing at training my children to respect and obey us? How can I as a mother be more consistent, more effective, at teaching, training, and disciplining my children in these two areas?
Gospel-centered mothering in 2013? Not easy. But real simple.
Our Aunt Betsy (Ricucci) is our dad’s sister and one of the most encouraging people you will ever meet. On Sunday at church she passed on some very encouraging motherhood advice to me, and then followed up with an email yesterday. It was too good not to post. While I wish all of you could be in the same church with Aunt Betsy to receive her specific and godly encouragement each week, I hope every mother who is seeking to diligently teach her children to obey will receive these encouraging words as “just for you.”
I just wanted to clarify my quick encouragement to you yesterday. I had seen Janelle earlier and encouraged her as a mom and she said I should tell you too, so I tried!
As your mom said to me multiple times when I was a young mom: Don’t grow weary of the well doing on behalf of your wee ones! Every time you deny or disappoint their selfishness, no matter their response, is a win for you and ultimately a win for them! Don’t evaluate your mothering success by their response to your training initially, but by the fact that true biblical love looks out for their ultimate best interest. And their best interest is not to have selfishness rewarded but denied and overcome. (And isn’t that true of us too?!) So just know, when you must say “no” for the kiddos best good and their response may be wailing, you can have a biblical perspective that some sin has been wounded but their souls ultimately helped! This is true, biblical, sacrificial love that truly considers the greatest good of others. And those others are the precious lives of your children!
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Gal.6:9 This verse has always encouraged me so much! The promise of reaping a good harvest is not dependent upon the perfections of the good we do (we fail so often don’t we?!) but simply in not giving up. And I must depend upon His faithfulness to not give up. But, “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” I Thess. 5:24
May God reward your faithful mothering with an awareness of His nearness, His working, His goodness and His faithfulness above all else.
Love you so very much!
When we brought Jude and Sophie home—before we could even speak the same language—we had two simple priorities: show them we loved them, and teach them to obey.
The first one was easy. We said “I love you” non-stop in English and Amharic. We gave lots of hugs and kisses and smiles of approval. We bought new clothes and books and bikes. We took them sledding (a first!) and played legos and put together puzzles. We made it clear, through our actions and attention, that they were every bit as much our children as our biological son and daughter.
All these things were hugely important. In hindsight, though, I think they felt our love most of all through our gracious authority.
It didn’t feel that way at the time. To train them to obey we started with a few simple guidelines that were easy to understand: No TV until right before dinner (4:45 pm to be precise), no getting up from the table until being dismissed, and no hitting or biting.
They fought back at first—pouting about no TV or sitting at the table with their legs stretched out to the side, poised to bolt. Some days we were tempted to give up. Were we being to strict? Would they grow to hate us forever? What was the harm in letting them watch a little extra TV? But a well-timed word of encouragement from Mom always strengthened our resolve.
So we kept telling them “I love you” and put the remote out of reach.
A funny thing happened. Instead of becoming more resentful toward us and unhappy with the rules, Jude and Sophie became more compliant and obedient, and what’s more, they grew happier by the day.
Recently it dawned on me. One of the main reasons Jude and Sophie seem to have bonded with our family so quickly (in addition to the sheer grace of God!) is because the clear boundaries helped them feel like they belonged. They know the rules, the way things work around here. And so they feel comfortable because they aren’t on the outside trying to understand how this family works. They are “on the in” of the Whitacre family. Because they know what is required of them, they can relax and concentrate on other important things such as soccer and coloring and learning to read.
Don’t get me wrong, like every family, we have plenty of areas that need work. But this morning, as I write, Steve is downstairs going through our Advent devotional over breakfast. And tonight we will be able to sit down at the dinner table and talk and laugh as a family.
Now that they understand our words, and can sit still long enough to listen, we can tell them the greatest news of all: through Jesus Christ, they can join the family of God.
Obedience is the gateway to understanding the gospel.
“‘For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’ It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:6-11 ESV).