Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Disciplined Parent

Painting by Impressionist Mary Cassatt

There once was a young mother who had multiple children. She bemoaned their misbehavior. "I cannot get them to listen to me," she wailed. "They will not obey. They do not respect what I say."

The mother's friends, colleagues, pastor, and others offered suggestions and potential solutions to the situation, but nothing seemed to help. Indeed, instead of the children's behavior improving as they grew older, it actually worsened.

"I have a plan," the mother would say, and the plan of the day often would have some modicum of merit. "I will make a chart [listing various desirable behaviors or tasks to be completed each day or week]. As they do what they should do [or behave in such and such a manner], I will check it off on the chart and grant specific rewards. If they fail to act appropriately, there will be established consequences." Occasionally such plans would last as long as three or four days before the chart would be ripped in frustration from the refrigerator.

As is usually the case, the primary problem was not that the children lacked discipline--though they did--but that the mother lacked discipline. She would say, "This is the way it will be," but she never followed through consistently. Something would come up, and, in the name of convenience, she would toss the latest plan or declaration aside.

Her children saw that. "Mom doesn't keep her word," they would say among themselves. "She doesn't mean what she says. She'll change her mind. She always does."

The youngest child, a little girl, often heard, "If you are good in the store, Mommy will get you a candy bar at the checkout." Then the child, prone to wild tantrums, would scream and act badly up one grocery aisle and down the next, tormenting the eardrums of every other customer in the store. At checkout, the child turned on the charm and chose a candy bar. The last I heard of that little girl was that she had grown into a teen-ager, spent much time in juvenile hall, and had a child out of wedlock.

Nor did this mother's children see her live the disciplined Christian life, although they attended church regularly. They did not hear her lift their names in prayer before the Throne of our Heavenly Father. They did not see her reading and cherishing God's Word. They did not have deep, probing conversations with her about the things of God.

They did, however, notice that she watched movies and soap operas and listened to music which had obscene content. They did hear profanity slip from her lips when she was especially angry. And they couldn't help but recognize that their mother's "Sunday Jesus" didn't make a great deal of difference in her life Monday through Saturday.

Yes, the children lived undisciplined lives, even into adulthood, but they learned it all at Mommy's knee.

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