The Five Ethics of Parenting – Part 2

The Lord disciplines those whom he loves (Hebrews 12:6). May we do this for our children, too: because of our love and our desire for them to please God and men; for their sin and their repentance.

Discipline is a tricky area to discuss. It always has been. The pendulum swings back and forth from family to family, from harsh to lenient, never finding it’s resting place in the center: the peaceful coexistence of love and discipline.

It’s not difficult to see the consequences of swinging inappropriately far in either direction.

My mom was raised to sit still at the dinner table, look adults in the eye and answer them when they spoke to her, to clean up after herself and, God forbid, do chores around the house! She did all of these things most of the time, but she was also afraid of her parents.

Many moms today are hesitant to give their children any rules or expectations in order to demonstrate understanding and friendship. Unfortunately this parenting produces horrible, horrible children.  They do not respond to adults (cue smiling mom – “she’s just shy!”) because it’s not expected. They cannot sit still (cue trip to the doctor for meds). They hit and scream at their exhausted parents’ faces. They boss their parents around (cue son telling mom to stop talking and mom saying, “OK, sweetie”).

It’s not that we’re mistaken when we say that this is just “kids being kids” – it’s that instead of making excuses for our children, we ought to compassionately discipline inappropriate behavior. You can be strict without being calloused and angry. You can be sympathetic without turning a blind eye to disobedience.

The reigning pop parenting philosophy on discipline (based on EXTENSIVE research in child psychology) can be found in Baby 411 and Toddler 411.  The main ideas there are all about “redirection”.  In any area he/she struggles to listen and obey – redirect, redirect, redirect.  If that doesn’t work, the advice is to “ignore” bad behavior altogether. I’m not a fan of the disciplinary advice given in these books, along with many others found on the shelves today.

Redirection can be a loving way to help your kid walk away from sin, but only as a supplement to disciplinary action.

Example: Josiah – you are not allowed to touch the computer. No touch. Come play with this toy! (Josiah will either take the bait or chose to touch the computer again. If/when he touches the computer again, he must receive a punishment for choosing to disobey.

Ignoring disobedience only causes hurt and frustration, and extremely damaging amounts of confusion if you choose to punish them for their bad behavior at some other time. They desire attention, which is what Toddler 411 will tell you, but that desire should be met. We should give our children loving attention: affirmation when they behave well, affection just because, and reprimands when they misbehave.

Out of all the children I have babysat, nannied, and parented, not one has disobeyed without looking at me first (if I was in the same room). Kids want to know what will happen if they do “X”. They want you to love them, and that doesn’t mean ignore or distract.

Our children cry out for discipline because of what it assures them of:  order, consistency, authority.  This is part of what it means to be human.  We obey; that’s part of what we do in life.  It is a travesty to ignore your child’s need for this developmentally; it will not equip them well for a life attuned to authority occupationally, socially, or morally.

May we discipline our children consistently, swiftly, and without anger.  May we ask for forgiveness from God and from our kids when we get it wrong. But let us at least try – for,

“Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.”

Proverbs 13:24




The Five Ethics of Parenting – Part 1

I’ve summarized the ‘ethics of parenting’ as having five basic components:  love, discipline, intimacy, play, and independence.  These are the things your child needs from you to grow and flourish.  They represent what is actually the very best you can give your child (notably absent from the list: education, financial stability, safety – because these are ‘smaller’ virtues).

Love is nothing less than doing what is best for your child.  But, what is that, exactly?  Is it immediately obvious to us how to parent in the most loving way?

Love is the framework for my four following posts, and all subordinate parenting styles. The latter four ideals are simply methods for demonstrating your love effectively.  They are the unique things a child’s heart is hungry for.  Without loving our children in a way that they can understand, their hearts don’t receive the signals we’re sending.

Love is full of wisdom on how to make itself completely known.  Love seeks out and discovers; it is active.  Love comes from the Holy Spirit and it flows out into others (Galatians 5:22-23). It is inviting, and its purpose is life and joy and peace.  

Love is affection, affirmation, and patience. It is time spent with your child and it is physical touch. Love grants your child security and comfort. As God’s unchanging, never-failing, constant love comforts us, so our love gives comfort to our children.  

Love is compassionate.  Your little one wakes up a dried up plant each morning, just waiting to be watered! Shower them with hugs, kisses, cuddles, and wrestling (in the case of my son, lots and lots of wrestling).

Children are fragile, uncontrollable, and as much as we hope to be in control of who they become and what choices they make along the way – they are still individuals. At the same time, every single thing we do as parents affects our children on their journey to adulthood, for better or for worse.

In the next four posts, I’ll discuss why I believe that loving our kids well means giving them a balance of comfort, intimacy, discipline, and space.


“‘The fruit of the Spirit is love.’ Why? Because nothing but love can expel and conquer our selfishness. Self is the great curse…[but] there is deliverance…deliverance from self-life means to be a vessel overflowing with love to everybody all the day. I bring you the glorious promise of Christ that He is able to fill our hearts with love.” – Andrew Murray, Absolute Surrender 


Parenting Mini-Series: The Five Ethics of Parenting – Introduction

I was folding laundry yesterday, and instead of watching one of my four television shows (shocking! I begrudgingly limit my media intake), I set my thoughts on the main components of parenthood.  AH!  Having “something to say” about parenting – condensing the whole wide world of ideals on what it means to be a good parent – is, at the end of the day, humbling.

I firmly believe that raising a child is the most important job in the world. Every facet of a flourishing society hinges upon it.  Children are “the future” – as they say. And we can’t expect them to just magically turn into adults full of good character.

Many of us have thought a great deal about our parenting-style, our specific set of goals, our carefully considered method of how to do it right. How do we act, talk, discipline, and operate in general as a mom (or a dad)? What do we want our home-life to look like?

We want our children to feel loved and we want peace in our homes.  No parent intends otherwise.  If we then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts… why are our homes filled with anger, frustration, and pain?  Why do our children experience that?


Our parenting style is a result of the way we were parented. We either become our parents, or we strive to oppose them.  The road toward becoming more or less like our parents is sometimes out of our control, and more often than not, brings us to a place we did not expect.

Becoming our parents can be a wonderful thing… if we had good parents. But that’s not usually the case, at least to our standards – wanting to do “even better” for our children.

We who become like our parents may experience the hopelessness of damaging family patterns, genetic or otherwise – the consequence of sin visited upon generations third, fourth, fifth – will there be any salvation from it?  To those of us who say – “Well, I’m treating you a whole heck of a lot better than my Dad treated me” – though that may be true, it is a bad infection.  God help us.

The alternative is like the car in a ditch, spinning tires angrily, only for them to catch and send the car into another, different ditch.  So it is with parenting.  We go a little overboard sometimes.

My mom was so furious with her mother for forcing her and her three siblings to eat strange vegetables growing up that she never purchased or cooked unusual food for me and my two siblings…ever.  Now I get made fun of for my lack of culture.

And, oh! Here’s one we can all relate to.  Pretty much every woman I know has experienced some tension with her mother over wedding planning.  Either the mother controls each and every thing, or she has her husband write a check and leaves her daughter feeling overwhelmed, abandoned, and unloved on a very special day in her life. This happens because of our reactionary tendencies, and our inability to balance them.

But there is balance to be had.  Life is not so many options floating around in the atmosphere of “that may work for you, but not for me”. There are real, helpful, true ethics for family life. Whatever upbringing we come out of, there is a ‘right’ way to treat your kid.

We know this because God treats us in these ways, and God is the perfect parent.

So, let’s begin with five ethics that I think sum up what it means to parent your kid well:  love, discipline, intimacy, play, & independence.  We’ll start with #1 next week…or whenever I have a break from chasing my little monster around long enough to write for a bit.


“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. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone [offspring included]…”  Hebrews 12:11-14a