Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
There I stood, open-mouthed, wondering if she knew that I WAS a good parent. I felt my cheeks burn. Doesn’t she know that I do discipline my child? After all, we are parents dedicated to training our children up in the ways of the Lord. I felt old urges and desires come up in my heart. My sharp tongue, ready with its defense of my parenting as well as explaining my child. I felt so disrespected.
I suppose I deserved it. I, at one time, had been the parent to judge my friends and other parents. I, at one time, looked condescendingly at screaming children in the store whose parents were desperately trying anything they could do to pacify them. I, at one time, looked at my friends with their different parenting styles I may have considered inferior and offered them unsolicited advice that would surely help them be as great as I knew I would one day be.
But something has changed in me. Having a strong-willed child has enabled me to lose the pride in my own parenting and realize I am hopelessly dependent on our God who loves my children more than I do. Having a determined child has allowed me to empathize with others who struggle with their children a bit more than what we typically see. It has also enabled me to remove an idol from my heart — the idol of being the perfect parent. Because nothing else like an independent, headstrong child will humble you and reveal that idol. Nothing else like colliding with your child on a day-by-day, minute-by-minute basis makes you run to your Father in Heaven and beg for strength — realizing that He is the source from which you MUST parent.
Take the Reins
We have been called as parents to raise children who love the Lord. That job is a bit more difficult when our child is constantly questioning our authority, disobeying, testing, smarting off, challenging our position, and screaming “No!” (You gotta love being told by a 3-year-old that he will shoot you if you put him in time out, right?)
But let me tell you from personal experience and from an understanding of Christ’s charge to all parents — we must take the reins. We must stand up in Christ and fight every day, tirelessly, to train our children to respect and honor us, others and ultimately God. They need us to be stronger than them. And when we aren’t stronger than them, we know we have Christ to help us find that strength.
I really respect Dr. James Dobson. In his book, “Bringing Up Boys,” he offers some incredible insight into what our mission as parents is. Even though this advice references boys in particular, it applies to raising girls as well:
“(Our) objective as moms and dads is to transform our sons from immature and flighty youngsters into honest, caring men who will be respectful of women, loyal and faithful in marriage, keepers of commitments, strong and decisive leaders, good workers, and men who are secure in their masculinity. It’s a tall order but one that can be achieved with wisdom and guidance from the Father. The primary mechanism by which these goals are realized is the application of confident leadership and discipline at home, tempered with love and compassion. It is an unbeatable combination.”
This confident leadership at home that will turn our children from challenging, disrespectful, ignorant young beings who are just looking for their limits must come from a source of never-ending strength — God. Not having a parent who is stronger can have lifelong, damaging effects on our children.
Courage to Do It God’s Way
I didn’t have a strong parent growing up. I was that strong-willed child looking for structure, discipline and training. Unfortunately, I was stronger-willed than my mother, and it showed in my disobedience, rebellious heart and the broken road that I traveled.
It took the Army and God’s provision in my life to begin to bring about order and discipline — something I longed for and desperately needed. Finally, it took God’s complete and undeniable intervention to bring me back to Him. Surely, it was the result of my mother’s incessant prayers on my behalf. She knew that, ultimately, what I needed was God’s strong, yet merciful hand in my heart — I needed to surrender my own will and take on the will of Christ for my life.
As a leader of soldiers, my job was to take independent soldiers and bring them together into a cohesive unit and team. My job was not to make them meek, mild, submissive and whimpering. Nor was it my job to trick them into temporary obedience or the appearance of order, discipline and respect. Rather, it was to build them into strong individuals, with their own minds, who could think outside the box in moments of pressure. I was charged with training them up to be leaders in their own rights — fully capable of stepping into my role or any other command position in the face of battle. They had to be a member of the team, operating under our mission and for our common goals, but they had to be independent thinkers, fully capable of making the right decisions for themselves, able to stand strong in what they knew was right and what they knew would help the team accomplish the mission. No matter what.
I didn’t see it then, but now I do.
This is similar to our job as parents. Our mission is not to raise weak-willed individuals with no mind of their own or ability to stand up to social pressures. Our mission is to help our kids grow in strength, allowing them to feel safety and belonging within our family unit, developing their own identity, encouraging them to stay strong in their beliefs, having the courage to say no when it counts and the determination to keep going no matter what. All of this is to be for the glory of God, teaching them to pursue His will above all else is paramount.
It’s a Tough Job
How do we do that, especially with strong-willed children?
We’ve learned some things along the way. We have to stand strong in what we know is right. We must expect respect from our children, for us and for others. We have to determine what is unacceptable and disrespectful, establish effective discipline tactics, and then follow through — all the time, every time, and consistently — no matter how many times or how long it takes. We love them unconditionally, have wild and crazy fun with them. We pay attention to them and compliment them when they do good things, being careful not to reward them for doing what should be done because over rewarding will devalue the rewards and require less and less from them. We expect good behavior. I know, I know — it is way easier said than done, but there are a lot of encouraging resources out there. Seek them out and devour them!
Above all, just as my mom did, we PRAY for our children — pray without ceasing that the Lord would be more than enough, that He would show himself to be gracious and merciful — overcoming our shortcomings and filling them with a love of Him that will surpass all earthly understanding.
It’s a tough job, and it never ends. Each day with my children, especially my son Aaron, is challenging, but so rewarding. At the end of the day, when I get to cuddle my little man in his bed and listen to his prayers and hear him talk about how he really does want to help people who don’t have anything and take care of people, despite his earlier threats to be the mean guy, my heart glows, and I feel the reward of persistence. The road is not easy, but the journey is worthwhile and the destination must always be kept in mind.
If you know someone who is the parent of a particularly challenging child, come alongside them in love. Offer your ear for them to listen and offer very little advice unless asked. If you are a parent of a strong-willed child, consider yourself blessed with a high calling. You are now responsible for guiding, shaping, and molding this young person into a leader of the next generation, a leader of God’s kingdom. Realize fully that you cannot do this in your own strength. Realize that there will be times when you will fail, and miserably so — stop comparing yourself to other parents; it’s fruitless.
Your child is a unique blessing with a unique set of instructions. Realize that God Himself loves your child more than you ever could. Also, realize this: Having your children is just as much about growing you in your relationship with God as it is in your responsibility to train him or her in the ways they should go. Come to the end of yourself; realize it’s not in your own strength or by your own brilliance or by your own wonderful and creative parenting that your child will love the Lord.
It is by the guidance, grace and never-ceasing patience of God.