01 June 2013

Proactive Parenting, Part 2: Principle #1: Authority

Dear Lissy,
Summer is officially here along with scorching temperatures.  We finished the 2012-2013 school year yesterday despite an ENT infection that's given us all vertigo. . .wheeeeeeeee.  I'm doing my housework by little bits today, and writing you to cool off and catch my balance in between tasks.

Proactive parenting says:
"I will look ahead to see challenges or difficulties that will arise in the care, love, and guidance of my children, and take appropriate positive steps to ensure their physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional safety and growth."

Principle #1:  Children need strong authority and boundaries to thrive as much as adults need personal sovereignty and freedom.

God gave parents His own authority to rule their children's lives. 
God put parents in charge of their children "as God" in their little lives. He demands that we parent our children in a calm, assertive way on his behalf.  Ephesians and Colossians command children to obey "in the Lord," and we see the same principle time and time again throughout the Old Testament.  We made it a point to refer to ourselves as "mommy" and "daddy" not "I" or "me".  It is our role that gives us authority, not our person.  Authority doesn't displace intimacy, but friendship between equals will have to wait.

Take that charge seriously, Liss!  When you are under God's authority, and acting in His stead in your child's life, you have tremendous responsibility and power.  In the tween and teen years you will begin transitioning your child to the Holy Spirit's authority, but during the preschool and elementary years, they simply don't possess the physical ability to think abstractly.  Asking them to self-govern is like asking a kindergartener to run a chop saw.  One of Daddy's favorite sayings is "how your children obey you now is how they'll obey God as an adult."  

Choice = power. 
Remember the story of Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady?  Or better yet, Eve and the Serpent?  This is one of the unbreakable laws of the universe.  If I allow you to choose, I am handing you power.  Because we want you to have the ability to choose wisely for yourself by the time you leave home, choices, and therefore power, are slowly and carefully given. 
A child should have no choices until they consistently demonstrate immediate obedience and the ability to grasp at least the short term consequence of their choice.   At that stage, we slowly increase choices until you are able to self-govern.  Don't make the mistake of purchasing peace at the cost of power like I did with you.
Example:  In our home, A two year old might be given a piece of peanut butter toast, a few banana slices, and a cup of milk for breakfast.  A four year old might be given the choice of pb toast with banana and a cup of milk or a bowl of Cheerios with banana slices. At ten, we ask you to eat one serving each of carb, protein, and fruit for breakfast.  Nate, our 15 year old,  is welcome to fix any breakfast appropriate foods he desires.  No snacks are available until 10:00 a.m, when you're allowed a piece of fruit or cut up veg.
In the above example, if a 4 year old decides she wants Cheerios instead of pb toast after we've already fixed pb toast, the answer is a gentle "No, you chose toast.  You may have Cheerios tomorrow."  If that happens more than 2-3 times, she'll go back to no choice until she stops the power play and understands that a choice has a consequence.  We also regularly tested you as pre-school children by not giving you a breakfast choice once a week or so.  If you put up a fuss, we knew you were being given too much autonomy too soon.   While this sounds a little "control freakish" to some Americans, in the rest of the world it's culturally normal to give little to no choice at the dining table and few to no snacks during the day.
Children who are given choices, or too many choices too soon, develop choice addiction.
This is the #1 family problem Daddy and I see.  Parents refuse to exercise their authority (because of personal authority issues or laziness) and instead allow their children to call the shots as long as it falls within loosely acceptable parameters.  The child becomes increasingly demanding and willful because he's been given power before he's ready.  By 3 or 4 years of age, the child is pushing those parameters beyond the acceptable limits, and has become a pint-sized dictator.  The whole family revolves around the child's demands. Throw in a few equally demanding siblings, and the parents wonder why they ever chose to have kids at all.
In scouts, almost all of the children under our care had severe choice addiction.  Their parents were usually gobsmacked to see their nearly unmanageable children become sweet, loving, and cooperative under the strict authority and rules imposed in Scouting.  We were dealing with knives, fire, and other hazardous situations that required absolute compliance with the rules.  Our friend Dennis reported the same changes in kids that trained in Tae Kwon Do at his Institute. 
Choice addiction typically comes to a head in the young adult years when teens start making choices without regards to the legal or moral consequences.  Samson is a classic case of this hideous disease.
We've been dealing with a mild case of choice addiction with you for years.  I was too lazy to stay the course with you when your brothers were already safely through that stage of life and had many choices.  What I failed to have the strength to do for 2-3 years, I am still paying for 8 years later.  No fun.  It's a common pitfall for large families, and one I want you to be keenly aware of.
Choices with moral consequences require a great deal of discipleship and accountability.
Example:  Screen time and content is a distinctly moral choice.  We carefully control both until well into the teenage years.  We talk often about why we limit time, and what sites or programs will decrease our sensitivity to Christ.  Bit by bit, you are given more control over both time and content.  Once completely autonomous,you are still accountable.  We encourage that accountability to transition outside the home in the late teens.  We believe every adult should have an accountability partner outside their own home for the time and content of their computer/tv usage.
Dad and mom need to prayerfully and intelligently set family rules and enforce them.
There are only two master rules:  Love & respect God (and God ordained authority) and love others as yourself.  Every other rule, large or small, has to fit within those two.  It doesn't show love or respect to others to allow your child to snap another child's crayons in half or steal their toy, even if you promise to replace them.  Allowing a child to take valuable pots, pans, and utensils to the sandbox instead of using their own sand toys doesn't show love or respect for mom, even if she "doesn't mind".  A teenager halfheartedly weeding the garden isn't showing respect for God-given authority.
The second half of this equation is mom and dad consistently enforcing the rules, day in, day out.  This is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I get so tired, I often have to remember why I care.  Those rules we had prayed and talked over seemed far less important at four in the afternoon after a day with three kids under five.  By 8 or 10 years old you would try to reason with me, and I had to uphold rules that even I doubted at the moment.  We'll talk about consistency a lot more in the next principle, but for now, I'll leave you with a couple of stories.

Example:  When we prayerfully decided that 45 minutes of screen time twice a week was more than enough, that was true no matter the weather.  I felt like world's worst mother as eleven year old Nate would sit there on rainy days writing code in his notebook with a pencil for hours after his computer time ended.  "What's the harm?" my brain would argue, "there's nothing else to do."  Fast forward four years, and his final exams for AP Computer Science as well as any and all college Comp Sci exams are paper and pencil coding, something that gives most students a tremendous challenge.  He just laughs and reminds me of his notebooks full of code as a kid.

Example:  We had a handful of non-negotiable "church rules" when you were little. There were consequences for breaking these rules every. single. time.  It didn't matter if you were tired, or "so and so was doing it," you were held responsible.  This often meant interrupting some of the only adult social time during the week to attend to a naughty child.  All three of you have been called down from the pulpit at least once.  It always tickled Daddy's funny bone to see people who had been texting, doodling, or sleeping sit up straight and pay attention after he called one of you down publicly.

As problems arose, we dealt with them in light of Love & Respect God or Love and Respect Others, not by creating infinite new rules.  

Example:  At two or three, Matt decided to hide one couple's car keys in his boot so they couldn't go home.   We didn't make rules against hiding keys, we took the time to teach him how that action didn't show love and respect for a family he dearly loved. 

Dad and mom need to train each child's strengths and weaknesses, whether or not the child sees them as "fair."
Each child is unique and special. They have their own set of weaknesses and strengths that need to be parented. While we have general age guidelines in our home, those are strongly influenced by the unique mix of character traits each child possesses.  It is only because of my God-given mission to raise each of you into His capable, devoted servants that I have the strength to parent this way.  I have the usual firstborn's sense of fair play at any cost, and often have had to pay the price when I go my way instead of God's.
Examples:  At three, you were required to stay "in arm's reach" following church services even though many of the other children your age were allowed to run and play freely. You had demonstrated more than once that you weren't able to follow rules when we weren't present.
 I have different "food rules" for Matt than I did Nate at the same age.  Nate learned to self-regulate quantity and sweets fairly young.  Matt would eat a quart of cookie dough without blinking. 
We now allow Nate several hours a day of computer time because he's programming Dad's business website and working for Google's coding apprenticeship program.  
The big takeaway?  Your children aren't miniature adults.  They have the God-given right to have two decades of loving, thoughtful training before they are fully responsible to interact with a sin-sick world.   YOU have the privilege of being their God-given teacher, coach, and mentor to prepare them to follow the Word and respond to the Holy Spirit.  Rise to your calling.

Love ya,

P.S.  My aunt and uncle, unbelievers, exercised authority and raised four stable, moral, civic-minded men.  I admire all of my cousins immensely.  While it is harder to make a case for parental authority without God, it isn't impossible. 


  1. Mrs. Rebecca, I appreciate you sharing these letters online for others to benefit from. My husband and I are about (Lord willing) to reach our 1-year anniversary, and we often talk about how we will raise our children (in the future, if He wills) in the Lord. It seems a daunting task, but a great privilege, to raise soldiers for Christ. Reading about other parents' journeys is incredibly helpful. I've not found another site quite like yours! You are so open about what works/what doesn't, what you liked/what you wished you would have done differently. I appreciate finally being able to read an honest approach from someone who is attempting to uphold God and His Word.

  2. Thank you so much for writing these posts. I really need help in the direction of discipline and consistency. I struggle with it daily and your posts, so lovingly written, offer priceless guidance. Thank you.