Do you have a bunch of rules for your kids? No hitting. No whining. No screens before homework is done. No messes in the living room. Having rules provides structure, and some basic ones are essential.
When your kids struggle with obeying the rules, do you ever try to regain control by making more rules or making the penalties for breaking them harsher? And even though your intentions may be good, do your kids get more resentful and rebellious? We’ve often heard parents say things like, “It doesn’t matter what I take away; this kid is just defiant!”
If you are tired of your child’s increasing defiance in response to firmer rules with harsher punishments, you’re not alone. When Moses gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments, he seemed confident they would follow these rules (Exodus 20:20). But the Israelites were rebellious, despite strong confrontation by prophets and “punishment” from their enemies. Eventually, more and more rules were created by the Pharisees to close all “loopholes.” The rules mostly showed the people that they were incapable of keeping them. The hearts of God’s people were tired, discouraged, and many were ready to realize, “We need a different way!”
Enter John the Baptist, commissioned to prepare the way for Jesus, the different way!
“And he [John] will… turn the hearts of the parents to their children
and the disobedient to…
WAIT! Do you think this verse is about to say, “to obedience”?
Nope. John’s job was to turn the disobedient to…
…the wisdom of the righteous—
to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Luke 1:17
The goal was heart-felt connection that supported wisdom based in God’s purposes. Just as the fear of punishment wasn’t enough to keep the Israelites from sinning, behavior management based on fear won’t help your kids in the long run either.
If your family is tired and discouraged, maybe you’re ready for a different way.
Families flourish when parents present household rules with love, life and meaning in a way that draws kids toward God’s love and purposes.
As we focus on guiding kids toward God’s love and purposes, many of the “Don’ts” can be much more effective (and may even become unnecessary) when supported by a passionate, proactive focus on “Do’s.”
Romans 7:6b puts this well: “Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.”
Here are some practical examples of how to replace “Don’ts” with “Do’s”:
- Don’t: Don’t leave your junk around the living room. I mean it. I’m going to throw it away this time.
- Do: Let’s work together to get this place clean and comfortable, and then tomorrow we’ll invite the neighbors over. Our hospitality really blesses others.
- Don’t: Don’t you lie to me! OR You may not talk to me that way!
- Do: I want to have a great relationship with you! When would you be ready to communicate honestly and respectfully about this?
- Don’t: Stop whining and complaining about dinner every night! You can just skip dinner if you keep it up.
- Do: Let’s work together to figure out how you can take charge of caring well for that good body God gave you.
- Don’t: Stop hitting your sister! That is NOT OK!! No video games for you this week!
- Do: Jesus made a way for us to have close, connected relationships when he offered us true forgiveness. We want that for you too! Before you get distracted by your video games or head off to play with others, you need to reconcile well with each other because this relationship is so important.
What is an area where you have gotten stuck in a “Don’t pattern”? How might you inspire and encourage your kids with a “Do” that leads them toward God’s purposes for them?
A wise parent encourages, comforts and urges his children to live lives worthy of God,
who calls them into God’s kingdom and glory. Adapted from 1 Thessalonians 2:11, 12
As you celebrate the birth of Jesus into our messy world, remember that He didn’t come to add to our list of rules. He came instead to offer abundant life and the transforming power of grace, forgiveness and God’s wonderful purposes.