In the last post I talked about how the challenges of parenting can be addressed by reflecting on the way Jesus led his disciples and built a discipleship culture. His leadership has so much that we can learn from and imitate to become more empowered, fruitful parents.
There are varying opinions of different stages of child development, but for argument’s sake we will look at 0-7 as the first stage of parenting (L1), the second 8-13 (L2), the third 13-17 (L3), and the fourth 18+ (L4). If you’re not sure what I’m referring to, click here and pop back to my last post.
When Jesus first called his disciples to follow him (L1) he was highly directive and there was high example. He was clear and consistent. There was a strong level of invitation and he expected the disciples to come into his vision, do it his way and learn. “Come follow me” would be a key scripture in L1.
The aim of the parental role in the L1 season (0-7) is to build an environment and culture that demonstrates consistent boundaries and unconditional love. Expressing love can be done through simple things like responses to physical needs, affection, kind words, warmth of tone, and eye contact.
However, we mustn’t underestimate the importance of predictable patterns, rhythms, and routines in this stage of life.
Jesus built security with his disciples. He ate with them and he prayed with them (I wrote about this a bit more here). He modelled regular patterns of retreat from the world and engagement with community.
Predictable patterns build security.
One in ten families in the UK never have an evening meal together, one in 5 only spend less than 10 minutes together around the dining table. I was blessed to grow up in a family where it all happened around the table. Daily dinner was a normal and precious occurrence, so developing that with our kids felt normal. We have journeyed on this and now we have both breakfast and tea together every day (with at least one of us). We sit down and reflect on the day approaching or the day we have had. We pray for each other and engage with God’s word. It’s noisy, fun and full of opportunities to discipline! It enables our children to know they will get daily quality time that is so necessary in maintaining the relational connection between us as a family.
I shared in the last post how there was a lot of fear at play in the upbringing of my children before I realised I could take the lead in my home. One of the places that fear played out was in the area of discipline. I think under the surface I used to believe that my kids wouldn’t know that I loved them if we were always disciplining them. There was far too much consensus of opinion. Both my husband and I are leaders, so it’s no surprise that we have 3 strong little leaders emerging. The problem with creating an environment of consensus too early, is that it causes a vying for that leadership position in the family that rightfully belongs to the parents. It creates a lot of boundary pushing and stress.
I’ve now discovered that discipline is part of love. Love is best expressed through a balance of both invitation and challenge. It’s how Jesus led his disciples and how He still leads us by His Spirit. Discipline is not purely about punishment as I used to think, but about creating an environment where through consistent and clear boundary setting of what’s expected, children feel safe and can learn how to interact with the world.
“Discipline is an external boundary, designed to develop internal boundaries in our children.”
– Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend.
This is the time in their lives to set up rhythms and routines that enable and develop their own growing self-discipline. A simple example of this in L1 (0-7) would be bedtimes. We set bedtimes from 6 weeks old. We are the parents, they are the children. Highly directive. Now, that didn’t always mean that as babies they settled at exactly 7pm! But every night we did the same things so that by 6 months they knew instinctively ‘this is what we do’.
Tea. Bath. Story with milk. Bed.
We did the same things every day and in every house that we stayed in. Sharing our evening time was not up for grabs. Did they try and negotiate on it? Of course they did, let me remind you I have 3 little leaders. But we decided that evening time was ours, and that sleep was what made a happy family.
L1 and L2 is the time to create the culture that you want your children to both thrive in but also to imitate. Your children will follow you, so the culture you create in this season will enable both good and bad imitation!
We have found that one strong area of imitation in our family is around communication. The more peaceful Andy and I are in our communication as a couple, the better the interaction is between the children in our home.
It really is a direct correlation: If we are dishonouring in the tone and the way we speak to each other as a couple, our children will do the same.
Our children will look to us to find a reference of normality. L1 is the time to set what that ‘normal’ looks like for each family. Personally, we get this wrong a lot (!) but when disagreement occurs in our family, we work it out, say sorry, and forgive each other. We really emphasise the need to make it up. We are trying to bring up people that won’t pretend to be perfect, but rather admit their flaws and know how to deal with them.
As the children get older, approaching L2, they start to face the real world. They start to realise that there are families, lifestyles, and beliefs out there in the world that are very different to how their families live. We need to not be afraid of this. I have had conversations with Christian parents who really struggle with sending their children out in to the big wide world. I felt a hint of this as we sent our eldest to senior school last year. Every other educational environment he had encountered was fairly protective, but this was a whole new challenge. He is definitely at a different stage of life to our younger kids and we have learnt that he needs the time to process all that he is encountering in life. We have chosen to make ourselves more accessible and create opportunities, usually at bed times, when he can have a high amount of discussion with us. We are finding that we are coaching him through life at the moment. This quality time enables him to feel that he is sent out into the world, but our home is the place he can come back to, re-group, feel secure, process, and then go back out.
We certainly don’t have this all nailed down! But reflecting on the way Jesus led has empowered us to really understand and know both what kind of culture we want to build in our home, and the needs our children have and addressing those appropriately.
In our next post I will be looking at how the challenges and joys we face in the teenage years (L3 and L4) can be infused with the wisdom of Jesus’ teaching and leadership.
Andy and Annwen have 3 children, Caleb (11), Toby (9) and Elly (6)