On your birthday Daddy and I took you to the pumpkin patch just down the road from where we live. You had so much fun toddling around and stooping down periodically to touch (and taste!) any gourd or pumpkin that struck your fancy.
Although we were the only people there at the time, I am confident that your demeanor and actions that morning would surely have earned you the “good baby” label in the minds of strangers. You were quiet, you never cried, and you only fussed for the few seconds it took me to get to you when you struggled to get up after a fall.
After the pumpkin patch we went to a nearby store to run a few errands. You started the trip out in the shopping cart. Within minutes you were pointing towards the items on the shelves, then bouncing and grunting, your way of telling us you want something.
Unfortunately, you were pointing at a row of spray paints. Lifting you out of the cart, I brought you close and said, “I know you want to check out those paints. They are not safe for you. Let’s look over here instead.”
Among the many things I have learned this past year, one is that you are very persistent. So when I redirected you to something safe to play with, it did not come as a surprise that you rapidly flung yourself backwards in my arms, reached towards the paints, and screamed. That “good baby” label you might have had going on prior to this episode? GONE.
Now your Momma certainly is not a mind reader, but she herself is a recovered parent judger. It is very hard to admit this to you, but I know the parent-judger thought-process all too well. It goes something like this: “That mother needs to get her child under control! Is she going to demand obedience? Is she going to step up and discipline him/her?”
As we stood in the middle of that aisle, you flailing and crying at this point and me rallying all of my strength to keep you from falling out of my arms, I could feel several parent-judgers staring at us (this was later confirmed by your Daddy). In this moment I had a choice to make: I could save face, so to speak, or I could respond to you with grace in a manner that placed your best interests before my selfish pride. I could conform to the ways of the world by flicking, hitting, shaming, or isolating you, or I could seek to honor Christ.
By grace, I chose grace. And then through the lens of grace I was able to see that you were not giving me a hard time (cognitively you are not yet capable of that), but rather that you were having a hard time. The parent-judgers disappeared from my consciousness as I hugged you and whispered softly into your ear, “I hear you, and I know this is really hard. You want to play with the spray paints so badly. They are not safe. Momma wishes they were safe for you.”
Some believe that parenting with grace is parenting permissively, and that it is a failure to discipline. Permissive, according to Webster, means: a) granting or tending to grant permission, b) deficient in firmness or control. And discipline, according to Webster, means: a) punishment, b) training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character.
I think everyone would agree that your momma did not grant you permission to play with the spray paints. I suppose some would think that I was not firm enough or in control enough. I will step out on a limb here and conjecture that those same people probably believe that children are somehow more sinful than adults. God is very clear on this, however.
Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
And stepping out on another limb, I must say that firmness and control are not synonymous with punishment. As you will find, our culture works hard to instill this fallacy in us, but it is still just that, a fallacy. And speaking of culture, even Webster himself is not free from its grasp. 🙂 Culture, after all, is where word meanings are derived.
And now for discipline… This one is intricate and deserving of a post in and of itself (coming soon!). I will be brief here. Those who believe that your momma failed to discipline you (and Christian parents are undoubtedly called to discipline their children) are deriving their understanding of the word “discipline” from the broader culture (unbeknownst to themselves) and from several “Parenting Passages” (most are in Proverbs) that do not accurately portray the meaning of related words contained in the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts.
Therefore, although the English dictionary does include punishment in the definition of discipline, this rendering of the word is not Biblically rooted. It is purely cultural. The dictionary does not claim to be anything but cultural. And your momma would be very wrong to turn to it, and subsequently the culture, to somehow determine God’s will for parenting.
Translational concerns aside for the time being (I am planning an in-depth series on the misconceptions of the “Parenting Passages”), I want you to know that your momma is striving to the best of her broken human ability to treat you as Christ treats her – with patient, gentle, wholly undeserved grace.
1 John 2:6 Whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked.
When I sin, He does not bend me over His knee, pull down my pants, and hit me on the buttocks. No, not at all. In spite of my sin – my kicking and screaming – and what the Pharisees say, He draws me near, speaks to me gently, and waits patiently.
Mark 2:16-17 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
“Why does she hug that sinful baby boy?” the parent-judgers ask amongst themselves. Because that is precisely what Christ would do.
Love you dearly,