Friday, August 12, 2011

A Tale of Two Parents

I discussed yesterday how each of the two different positions that the state can take when dealing with abortion assumes the nature of the "good" that one is seeking to accomplish. But today I want to apply this to parenting. I was in the grocery store the other day, and while there, witnessed a common conversation between a parent and a wildly out of control child. The parent, who I felt great compassion for, as the situation was obviously embarrassing for her, on the one hand, and a bit sad for her, as she clearly did not have a well disciplined kid (likely due to the decisions she or the child's other parent chose to make in raising him) on the other.

But what was interesting about the method she chose to employ, and what confirms the idea that her disciplinary methodology is a failure, is that it fed into his selfishness much like the argument we talked about yesterday. He was screaming wildly, so she said to him, "If you behave, I'll buy you that lollipop." The kid, somewhat, stood immediately erect and quiet, as if his evolution from a lower hominid had just taken place before my eyes. The mother, of course, seemed relieved, and they went about doing their shopping--until the kid got the candy, that is, and then he proceeded in the parking lot to pick up where he left off in the store.

Now, I don't care for bashing mothers whose children act up in the store, as mothers have a harder time disciplining kids because they are usually the less threatening of the two parents to children. If the father had been there, I would have thought less of him (to be honest). There is simply no excuse for children acting that way in front of the father. It displays his faulty discipline or lack of discipline altogether when at home. But she was alone, so I would not judge her based on her kids misbehaving.

However, I will judge her disciplinary methodology. As we discussed yesterday, her methodology feeds into the selfishness of her child. It rewards, rather than punishes, his apathy toward others. If he had not misbehaved, he never would have been offered the lollipop. He now has an incentive to act up whenever he wants something. Her methodology has ensured that he will continue to be selfish and see his behavior as beneficial. She has made no statement that it was bad. She did not spank him, warn him of some punishment to come, discuss why such behavior dishonored her as his authority, tell him that he was being unloving toward her and she would take away his tv or playtime. Instead, she attempted to counter wrong actions with a reward for those wrong actions, thus saying nothing that repudiated those wrong actions, nor called her son to a higher thinking of himself.

Now, this mother had a fish on her van. That doesn't automatically make you a Christian of course, but it does cause me to think that this was an opportunity for a Christian parent to shine rather than despise her experience here. This could have been a great teaching experience concerning God's destiny for him as a human being in the world, making him aware of his falleness from that destiny, and giving an opportunity for this mother to preach the gospel to her child. But it wasn't. Instead, it was a great lesson in self worship, a lesson in which this child will be trained, no doubt, again and again throughout his life. The end product may be a well behaved individual, but it won't be the production of a better person.

This brings me to another point in that the parent is really both state and church, both government and clergy to his or her child. The parent has the obligation to raise his or her child with both law and gospel. This woman, of course, chose to raise him with neither. The child governs here. He controls what his mother will do by his behavior. But I've seen plenty of parents who give either law or grace (note that grace is not the gospel, nor is law the gospel, but the gospel is both law and grace together in Christ).

Law must tell a child that his wrong actions are unacceptable to the parent, who represents God in the relationship, by punishing those wrong actions (which stand as examples of the child's rebellion toward God). Law does not promise lollipops to those who disobey it. It promises punishment. Grace, on the other hand, forgives wrong actions upon genuine repentance, and acknowledgment that law's promise of punishment has been given to Christ. Grace comes through one's relationship with Christ as Lord. It is not arbitrarily given. And this is an important point. Grace does not just forgive without any basis. It forgives on the basis of Christ. For the Christian parent, every misbehaving act is a lesson of the gospel. Law still has consequences, but they should not be relational. The parent may still spank or put his kid in the corner, as a way of saying, I am displeased with you and you have severed a joyful fellowship with me by doing X; but the parent also needs to teach his child that the way to restore that fellowship is through repentance toward the parent, and most importantly, toward Christ. The parent's role, therefore, is inseparably linked to the gospel of Christ, and the parent ought to preach Christ in this way as his or her method of discipline. We must never forget that it is the gospel that brings internal and long term change to a child, calling him away from self and toward love of God and others.

A wildly out-of-control child, therefore, is truly a sad thing, not just because the child doesn't externally perform, but because he doesn't have parents that teach him the gospel through discipline. He will have to get it elsewhere, if at all, and that is the true tragedy of feeding rather than starving the depravity of a child.

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