Who Should Discipline?
I was recently presenting at a conference and suggested that Aaron’s son’s sins of active disobedience and passive disobedience might have been influenced by Aaron’s passivity as a leader. Though parents are certainly not responsible for the choices our children make as adults, we do influence and shape their wills as they grow up.
I strongly encouraged men to fight their natural passivity and engage in leading their homes. One specific application was in the area of child discipline.
At the end of that presentation one mom asked this question, “I have just come from a talk where the female speaker was urging the women not to be pushovers and put the discipline on the fathers. How would you fit your thoughts with hers?”
My response was something like this:
“I don’t think we are contradicting each other at all. In fact, I think these statements are complementary.
Men can have a temptation to be overbearing or passive in parenting. By far the most common struggle is passivity. Moms have temptations as well not to be the “bad guy” and inflict some sort of painful discipline on the little one that the they love. They can be tempted to either spoil them or pass the buck to the father saying, ‘Just wait until your dad gets home.’ As a result, dads may regularly walk into a messy situation at the end of the day and are too often the bad guy in the relationship.
Ideally, moms and dads are on the same page in terms of correction. Mom carries it out when dad is not around. She only refers the ‘big things’ to him. Dad makes sure that the family has a plan and the children are under control.
We might think of this like a Vice-Principle and a Teacher. A good teacher can keep his or her classroom under control. However, at some point one child might be acting out so much that she needs to send him or her to the Vice-Principal. Similarly, the husband takes the lead in making sure there is a family plan. And he backs up Mom by being the heavy at times.”
10 Principles To Guide Our Cooperation
That question prompted me to think about how Sharon and I tried to manage this issue in our household. The following are ten principles we tried to follow. We certainly did not follow them perfectly, but they did guide us.
1. Dad and Mom are a team in leading the household in the area of discipline with Dad ultimately responsible before God.
2. God expects and commands men to discipline their children. Positively he is commanded to bring them up in the discipline of the Lord (Eph 6:4). We are told that he is imitating our heavenly Father when he does this well and will be respected (Hebrews 12:9-11). And carrying out this duty with respect is a mark of a mature man (1 Tim 3:4-5). On the contrary, when a man’s children are wild and disobedient it is a mark against him (Titus 1:6).
3. Therefore, I, as the dad, need to learn about parenting principles and make sure my wife and I are on the same page. As a dad, I can delegate but I cannot abdicate. It is too easy for men to profess ignorance in this area and turn all the oversight to their wives. When it comes to making hard decisions, it is easy to just have a blank stare that says, “I don’t know what to do.” This does not honor the spirit of the previous Scriptures.
4. This means that we will learn godly principles of child-rearing together. Can two walk together unless they are agreed? Unity in child-rearing comes from a common biblical understanding. And that common biblical understanding comes from learning together.
5. Since we are on the same page, Dad will trust Mom as the person onsite the most with the children. She will be most in tune with what the children need. We can see from Scripture and nature that moms are God’s primary heart-makers. In calling men to take up their role, we don’t want to denigrate the insights and wisdom of thoughtful moms. Similarly, Mom will trust Dad’s insights knowing that he has a different perspective in this area.
6. We will communicate often to come up with plans for family discipline. Life is constantly changing. Dad will value Mom’s insight and suggestions. Since Dad is to lead the family, Mom will bring issues to him and thoughtfully engage with his insights. The team needs regular meetings to address changes and remind themselves of the plan. Sharon and I regularly went out for coffee to pray for our family, discuss how we were doing, and make adjustments as needed. This was a vital habit that kept us on the same page.
7. Since we are a team, we will not disagree about discipline in front of the children. We may have those disagreements offline. But in the moment, the children will see a unified team carrying out their parenting plan. Mom is carrying out most of the day-to-day issues with Dad verbally reinforcing their plan when he is home. Disagreements are worked out when there is a better time (See the previous point).
8. Moms should correct and enforce the principles of discipline. Those same commands in Point 2 apply to women as co-regents with your husband. Moms, you will not mess up your kids through discipline. They come messed up already! Discipline and correction are means of turning their hearts back toward you and the Lord. These are acts of love. Jesus said, “Those whom I love, I rebuke and discipline” (Rev 3:19).
9. When Dad is home, he will take the lead if discipline or correction needs to occur. He will not sit passively in the other room while his wife hands out discipline. This grows even more true as the children grow older.
10. Moms will watch carefully their two temptations which are to a) overrule and disregard their husbands as well as b) passively pass all the difficult issues to him. Again, a regular family meeting is a great format to bring up these difficult issues.
These principles will need to be applied much more carefully in a blended family with children from previous marriages.
Discipline is a way of showing love and commanded by God. The Lord has put you in your children’s lives to mature them. And he has put these children in your lives to mature you!