1. YOU ARE THE BOSS.
First, being parents means YOU are in charge. We're not talking about being a tyrant, but you are supposed to be older and wiser, the ones God meant to guide their way. You do not have to ask your children’s permission for anything.
You don’t say, “Would like a bath?” Instead you gently lead them toward the bathroom where you already have the water running and say, “It’s time for a bath!” You don’t ask them, “Do you want to go to bed now?” You begin whatever their bedtime routine is and lead them that way. If you have done this from the beginning, you will not have any problems. It’s only if you are just now trying to change the habits of a two year old that things become difficult. Make it easy on yourself by getting it right from the start.
When I see parents who are afraid of their children, cringing when they have to say, “Not today,” I know something has gone dreadfully wrong. When a child knows she can pitch a fit in a store and get exactly what she wants, she has not learned who is in control.
It is not bad to think this way, no matter what some child raising guru might tell you. This is how you teach them respect for authority. They need to know without question that when mom and dad say they should do something, that’s exactly what they should do. It will make school easier for them (and their teachers). It will make their work lives easier. It will certainly make it easier when they understand the authority of the law of the land. Do you know how many young men have sat across the desk from my husband thinking they could still go wherever they wanted to go even if they were under house arrest? When they wound up in prison for violating their probation, they finally understood.
And understanding and respecting authority will ultimately save their souls. Eli forgot that, and because he did not “restrain” his sons but sat back while they profaned the tabernacle and its worship, they lost their lives and their souls, and he lost his life and his family the priesthood. And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.” (1Sam 3:13-14)
2. YOUR JOB IS TO RAISE THEM TO BE RESPONSIBLE ADULTS.
And of course, as a Christian, you can add, “an obedient and faithful child of God.”
That means you don’t do everything for them. Can they make their own bed? Can they sew on a button? Can they wash their own clothes? Can they iron a wrinkled shirt? Can they write a check? You would be surprised how many kids get to college and haven’t learned any of these things because Mama always did it for them.
It means you make them work and expect that work to be done according to some set standard. Of course you tailor the work to their ages and abilities. You don’t put a five year old out to mow the yard, but he can certainly pick up his toys every night.
It means you teach them common decency and manners. They should show gratitude for gifts and service. I remember that I was taught to say to the woman who had invited us over for dinner, “I enjoyed my meal. Thank you very much.” Which presupposes that you have taught them not to look at a proffered meal over which someone slaved for hours and say, “Yuk. I don’t like that!” We had a rule in our house. If you said “Yuk!”—even to me—you had to eat a double portion.
It means you allow them to fail once in a while. If you fix every problem they get themselves into, what have they learned? Mama cannot fix it when the police come after him. Far better he find out that actions have consequences when the consequences are much smaller. Yes, it will still seem like a lot to him when he discovers that you cannot necessarily replace an expensive toy he left out in the rain, but it won’t be prison time, and he is far less likely to even face that on down the road after he learned this lesson on something less important.
It also means you teach him that he is not the center of the universe. He may be that to you, but don’t let him know it, not if you expect him to become a generous and considerate adult. One way you do that is to make sure your MARRIAGE is the center of the home, not the children. They need to see that marriage played out in front of them every day. They even need to see the mistakes and the fact that you forgive one another and hang in there because of a thing called commitment. When you have finished raising those children and they are out the door, if your marriage has been neglected, you will have nothing left. I have seen it too many times.
Expect them to learn to sacrifice for the good of the family. Dad does not give up a good promotion because Susie doesn’t want to move and leave her friends. If you have done your job, that shouldn’t even come up.
Expect them to take responsibility for their own lives, gradually at first, but eventually learning to do their homework without being reminded, and their Bible class lessons the same way. Teach them to make smart choices. You start by laying out two or three acceptable outfits for kindergarten and allowing them to choose which one they want to wear. You do NOT start by letting them choose from the whole assortment. Appropriate behavior, language, and dress are essential to courtesy. Jesus himself used a parable in which a man inappropriately dressed for a wedding was thrown out, and Jesus approved whole-heartedly. You are not stifling his creativity by not allowing him free rein. From what I have seen, that excuse has less to do with enlightened parenting and more to do with lazy parenting. You are supposed to be teaching them wisdom in their decision making.
David made the mistake of teaching Adonijah that he could have whatever he wanted, no matter who it hurt, no matter what his father wanted, and no matter what God had said otherwise. Now Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, “I will be king.” And he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him. His father had never at any time displeased him by asking, “Why have you done thus and so?” (1Kgs 1:5,6)
So those are my two basic rules. Remember who is in charge—BE in charge--and teach them to become the kind of adults you won’t be ashamed of, in fact, the kind of adults God would not be ashamed of. If you think of those two things in every situation, I guarantee you will do more right than wrong.
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Heb 12:5-6)