The Downs and Ups of Parenting Your Children
By Roger Edwards
My first parental act was bending over to pick up my newborn son. I was in the delivery room, and Josh was bundled in my wife’s arms. The nurse had cleaned him up and put the little cap on his head. After he successfully finished his first meal, the females in the room exchanged a secret signal and turned in unison to look at me: It was time for Dad to hold his boy. I leaned over, putting my face close to Josh’s, and wedged my hands under his blankets. Then I performed my second movement as a parent: I raised him up.
WHEN WE DISCIPLINE OUR CHILDREN WE OFFER HOPE AND LIFE
Bending over our children and raising them up are not merely the first movements of parenting; they are also the foremost. We descend to the world of our child. We raise the child to maturity. This is how we are to love our children, because it is the way God loves His children. Christ descended to our world, and He raises us to maturity in Him. When we apply these two movements—bending over and raising up—with our children, we follow the model for good parenting that God provided for us in Christ.
GETTING ON THEIR LEVEL
Josh was born in the first year of our marriage, followed by a daughter two years later, and another two years after that. In five short years, I had three small children gathered around my legs. I thought fatherhood would be about scanning the horizons and looking ahead. But at the time, life was happening below my kneecaps. To be involved with my children, I would have to adjust my vision; I would have to bend down.
Bending down took a number of forms. I walked into the house in the afternoon and spent the rest of the evening getting up and down off the floor. I sat on the floor to read books. Toys and blankets were constantly put down and picked up. At dinnertime, I repeatedly dove under the table to chase a dropped juice cup. Changing diapers, tying shoes, and fishing objects from under the refrigerator all required bending over. In a different sense, so did adjusting my vocabulary, slowing my schedule, and opening my heart to another boo-boo or boo-hoo.
Parenting is full of bending over because that is how we involve ourselves in our children’s worlds. I cannot appreciate just how neat the inside of my son’s Lego house really is until I lie down and look through the window. And I cannot understand how bad it feels to be left out of the older kids’ kickball game until I crawl behind the shrubbery and watch it through the teary eyes of my eight-year-old. I have to squeeze my big ol’ feet into those little shoes—the ones with Velcro straps.
Bending over can be uncomfortable. It often puts us into tight spaces (anyone who has tried to maneuver a child’s car seat into the back of a two-door car knows what I mean). Sometimes the discomfort is not knowing how to respond to our daughter’s tears. Other times it is having to constrict our pride and apologize to restore nearness with our son. But however tight or humbling, the downward movement we make to get involved with our children is almost always right. It is the way our heavenly Father has loved us. God bent over in the incarnation, squeezed Himself into our shape, and humbled Himself like a servant (Phil. 2:5-8). He did this in order to be near and involved with us. But that isn’t the only reason. God also bent over in order to raise us up—the second movement of parenting. As parents, we imitate God by raising up our children to maturity.
THE DISCIPLINE OF LOVE
By the time our fourth child was born, our oldest child was eight. For some time, strange things had been happening in our house, things that suggested our kids weren’t cute through and through. Rivalries emerged, bossiness exposed itself, squabbles erupted, and things were said and done that weren’t good. I wanted to believe that it was all just a misunderstanding. Surely my children wouldn’t be mean or selfish. But watching out the window, I sometimes saw my kids glance around before grabbing a toy from their siblings, splashing water in their faces, or tripping them. When confronted, they denied their behavior with brown believable eyes. But I had seen something different, and it was ugly. It indicated the dual nature of humanity. On the one hand, my children bore the dignity of Adam and Eve and thus deserved my involvement. But they also inherited the depravity of Adam and Eve and thus needed discipline. They needed to be brought up in the training of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).
Raising up a child requires discipline. God disciplines those He loves (Heb. 12:5-11), and so should we. When we discipline our children, we take seriously their inherent depravity, and we offer them hope and life. “Discipline your son,” advises the writer of Proverbs, “for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to his death” (19:18).
Discipline is not punishing our children. It isn’t merely teaching them what they can’t do; it is also teaching them what they can do. Discipline shows them how to live according to God’s principles. It involves reprimands for lying, disrespect, and unkindness, but it also involves training them to know the good gifts of love, forgiveness, and beauty so that they can live purposeful lives.
PARENTING IN MOTION
Involvement and discipline—bending over and raising up—are two sides of the coin of love. To demonstrate a balanced love, we must apply them together. We should make our discipline as steady as gravity, our involvement as lively as a bright red ball.
Deuteronomy 6:7 instructs us to couple discipline with involvement by teaching our children the commands of the Lord “as [we] walk along.” This principle has become especially important to my wife and me since we adopted two boys. Because the boys weren’t infants when they came to us, we knew that we had some catching up to do. We would have to be very intentional about involvement and discipline.
Grocery shopping provided a starting place. Grocery stores are stocked with eye-level temptations for little boys, and our little boys hadn’t been taught how to handle those temptations. So we planned some training trips to teach them how to navigate the experience.
As we arrived at the store, I told the boys, “We’re going inside to buy a few things. But we are not going to buy any treats, candies, or special cereals. You are to stay in the cart or beside us. Afterward we’ll go home and have dinner.” Then I looked them in the eye and asked, “Do you understand?”
“Yes, Daddy,” they said. “We know.” But they had blank looks on their faces. That was OK; my wife and I were involving ourselves with them to help them learn.
So what happened in the store? As expected, they wiggled, begged for candy, crawled out of the cart, and ran behind counters. And not just on that first trip. But my wife and I will continue, over the span of many trips, to communicate to our boys that we’re with them in this thing called life. We’ll bend down and take their hands as we walk across the parking lot, and we’ll enforce guidelines for them until they are mature enough to supply their own self-control. We love them enough to bring our lives down to their level, and we love them enough to help them to rise above it.
That’s how God loves us. He sees our dual nature—our dignity and our sin. He bends down to come near to us. But He is not there to play tiddlywinks; He asks us to rise up to be like Him.
The Apostle Paul instructs,”Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Eph. 5:1-2
For me, that means bending down and raising up, bending down and raising up, and bending down and raising up to love my children the way God loves me.
a b o u t t h e a u t h o r
ROGER EDWARDS works as a counselor at The Barnabas Center in Davidson, North Carolina. He and his wife, Jean, have seven children. On his days off, Roger likes to hike; someday he’ d like to visit every national park.
Used by permission of Discipleship Journal. Copyright © Mar/April 2006, Issue 152, The Navigators. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. www.navpress.com.