The Heart of Discipline
The Principle of New Covenant Parenting -
How Rules Relate to Rebellion
The Heart of Discipline - The Principle of New Covenant Parenting and How Rules Relate to Rebellion
One of my goals as a parent is to see my children be well-behaved and function well in society. I remember being counselled not to parent out of fear or control, but to proactively prepare. To prepare my children to be functional members of society, I need to use various means of discipline. For me, this includes instruction, rules and standards, age-appropriate punishment, and affirmation, all done with respect, love, and care.
A common misconception is that if you discipline your children properly, they will be successful in life, and they won’t rebel against authority. This assumption tends to fall short because it only focuses on how well our kids are behaving and doing what they are supposed to — how well they are following rules.
For example, research indicates that those with the most issues with pornography addiction are those raised in families with stringent rules. Stringent rules in and of themselves can be helpful guardrails and guidelines. So, what is missing? The other piece of that research shows that those stringent rules aren’t the problem as much as is the lack of relationship between the rule giver and the child.
If the standards you give your child aren’t enveloped in a loving relationship, your child’s motivation to obey is to not get caught. That means that as soon as your child is out of your care and believes he or she won’t get caught, the child will likely throw out those rules just to show he can. In fact, if the loving relationship is missing, your child will potentially rebel while still in your house. Without that relationship, the fear of consequences doesn’t reach personal conviction, and the risk of disappointing their parents is negligible.
The message is essentially this:
Rules without relationship = rebellion
Allow me to illustrate. Most of us speed on the highway, even if only by a couple of miles or kilometers over the speed limit. We justify speeding by telling ourselves that we know we are safe, that we know the roads, and that the lawmakers don’t know what they are talking about. Our only motivation to follow this law is the potential consequence of a ticket!
In contrast, if I went to visit my Grandma, and before I left, she looked me in the eyes and pleaded with me not to speed — even making me promise I wouldn’t, would I speed on the way home? No, I wouldn’t — especially if I knew I would see her the next day and she would ask about my speed. What’s the difference? I have a loving relationship with my Grandma, and I value her and my word to her!
Arbitrary rules, void of loving relationships, do not prompt or support long-term internal values or moral structures.
How Does this related to the Gospel!?
It’s worth noting that this is something God affirms and exemplifies to us. The New Covenant, arising from the life and death of Jesus, is what ushered us into relationship with God through his Holy Spirit — because trying to follow the Old Covenant of rules without having a personal direct relationship with God didn’t work. Next time you read through the Old Testament, notice how often Israel rebels and God disciplines. The cycle is endless — at least until Jesus comes.
This is a big responsibility for us as parents, it means that we can’t just simply tell our kids what to do or what not to do, at least not without spending time with them. We cannot just rely on discipline and rules to control their behaviour and prepare them for life outside of home. Instead we need to build into our relationship and connection with them, spending time with them, enjoying life with them, and being part of their world. This is vital to their long-term success in society and life as a whole.
My encouragement to you is to please give your children the time and relationship that they need from you, just as God offers us through His Holy Spirit. Every rule that you want them to follow, however well-intentioned, should include a self-check to determine whether you have invested in your relationship with them so they value your heart and relationship, so that they respect the boundaries even when they don’t “feel” like they make sense or matter.
Article originally written and published for The Fellowship Focus