Family life is chaotic at times, and sometimes, even a little unjust. But as people who are made in the image of a just God, our hearts are wired with a desire for justice. Psalm 33:5 tells us that God "loves righteousness and justice,” and inwardly we know that. Our hearts are wired to recognize justice. God’s loving justice brings order to the chaos of our world, and as his children, our hearts should desire his passions. Often, we think about justice on a massive scale, but under our own roof we can create order and guide our children to better understand equity for all. In our own families, whose voice might we need to intentionally seek out in order for it to be heard? Do we need to be more proactive about mediating sibling rivalry or pay extra attention to the concerns of a small child? How can we pursue more justice at home? The answer is, by making small intentional investments each day.
Parents set expectations for acceptable behavior, not only by what they say, but by what they do. Bring order to your family by teaching children how to respect both God and others in your home. Basic rules, consistently enforced, are a blessing for families because they set the standard for how we are going to care for one another in community. It can start with treating others the way you wish to be treated. Simple rules like no hitting and no name-calling set expectations about respecting one another. Rules help us see beyond ourselves and appreciate how our behaviors impact others. It is easier for children when the rules are spelled out clearly and they don't have to guess whether they are being disobedient or not.
Life goes better when everyone feels listened to. God has placed parents in a position of authority in the home (it's even one of the Ten Commandments!). However, wise parents will take the time to listen to their children. It doesn't have to take long, but it's wise to acknowledge your children's heart. It can be as simple as, "I understand you want to stay up late, but now is bedtime," or "I get that you're angry with your brother's behavior, but hitting is not an acceptable response." Listening does not mean you have to change your rules and modify a consequence you’ve established for your child, but it does show that you care about them and how they feel.
A parent who simply demands blind obedience without allowing children to process their feelings will have a hard time maintaining control as children gain independence. Teens tend to rebel against authority when their voice isn’t honored. Parents help children to live under God’s authority by modeling God’s love for his people. We are called to behave like God in our relationships with others, and nowhere is this more important than in our relationship with our children. So choose patience and grace!
Letting a child’s bad behavior slide isn’t good for anyone involved. It is hurtful to the child when a parent lets bad behavior persist without correction. We benefit when we are redirected to live as God called us to live. Letting selfish behavior go unchecked will only lead to more of that behavior. When parents do not enforce consequences it looks to children a lot like permission to ignore the rules. It is one thing to acknowledge the behavior and choose a grace-filled response, but ignoring an offense communicates that you don’t care enough about either the perpetrator or victim to follow through with consequences. A parent who is a push-over has neither their children's respect nor their obedience. And once you’ve established a pattern of poor enforcement in your home, it becomes even harder for the parent to intervene and redirect bad behavior moving forward.
When most people think of discipline, they think punishment. But disciplining bad behavior should always involve compassion and nurture. There is a big difference between punishment and discipline. Punishment is not interested in fostering better future behavior or in repairing relationship. Instead, punishment is focused on retribution for past behavior. Discipline, on the other hand, focuses on how to create better understanding so there is better behavior going forward. A child who has to apologize and make amends for their bad behavior is less likely to repeat their error. Everyone wins when the fruits of the Spirit are cultivated in our lives and practiced in our relationships.
Even parents need to obey the house rules and accept discipline when they mess up. If mom or dad says a bad word, they should accept the same discipline they would give to their children. Sometimes a parent can benefit from a few moments in the time-out chair to remind them that they too need to live by God’s rules for their life. When parents follow the house rules and bear the consequences, it’s a very powerful statement about justice to our families. If we can create an environment where everyone is accountable for their behavior, then everyone’s behavior improves.
Our homes can become places where we see God's justice enacted and where we all learn to live our lives with God's grace.It is a blessing to our families when we live according to God’s justice. Psalm 106:3 says, "Blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times!"
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Rev. Deb Koster