Who’s in charge?
If someone were to ask us, “Who’s in charge at your house? Who has authority?”, most of us would probably say, “I am.”
The question Tedd Tripp, author of Shepherding a Child’s Heart asks is: “Why are you in charge?”
We know we have authority as parents, but before we start strutting around the house, let me share a quote from the book that hit me squarely between the eyes.
“As a parent, you have authority because God calls you to be an authority in your child’s life. You have the authority to act on the behalf of God. As a father or mother, you do not exercise rule over your jurisdiction, but over God’s. You act at His command. You discharge a duty that He has given. You may not try to shape the lives of your children as pleases you, but as pleases Him.” (emphasis mine)
Gulp. Am I the only one squirming here? This paragraph totally took the strut out of my strutter. It takes the ball out of my hands and puts it back where it belongs – in God’s.
I may be ‘mom’, but that doesn’t make me the Queen of Sheba. I’m exactly what my children are: under Someone else’s authority. We’ve been given our children – not to lord over, but to raise lovingly. And as parents, we answer to God.
If our children see us obeying God’s Word – parenting, loving, and disciplining as God wants us to rather than by our own whims, they’ll see that we aren’t creating our own set of rules, but implementing God’s. We’re following God’s example by parenting in the same loving way He does to us.
“Dr. Tripp’s material on parenting is the clearest, most Biblically framed, and most helpful that I have ever encountered. It has become the backbone of my own parenting. I am not alone, either. His seminar tapes are by far the most frequently requested teaching materials among my students, counselees, and friends.” – Dr. Edward Welch, Christian Counseling and Education Foundation
Our failed method of authority
Have you ever found yourself counting to three, yelling in anger, using bribery and making agreements, or even creating a system to reward good behavior and punish the bad.
We have – and as much as we thought they’d work for us, none of them did.
Now that last one seemed pretty harmless: reward good behavior and punish the bad. It seemed like a method that should have had some merit to it. But this was oar that sank the ship. . .
When it came to authority at home, we could feel it slipping, so Travis and I came up with a game plan.
Recalling our elementary school days, and wanting the kids to understand consequences, we started the ‘check mark’ system on our school marker board. We decided that disobedience, picking on a sibling, etc. would mean one check mark. Each check mark they received meant they were sent to bed fifteen minutes early.
It didn’t take but a few check marks for the boys to shape up. I mean, horror of horrors, no one wanted to go to bed early! This worked splendidly for a few months, but after awhile the check marks didn’t seem to matter. Behaviors didn’t improve. And, unfortunately, if someone got out of line our response simply became, “give yourself a check mark”, without any follow-up.
Another issue we were dealing with was their complaining when asked to do something. They would do what we asked, but there was usually a mumbled complaint to go along with it. We don’t expect them to be perfect, but there are certain characteristics we want them to develop, and grumbling wasn’t one of them.
So we devised another plan of attack. Along with a consequence (the check mark) when doing something wrong, we’d reward them for doing something right – things like volunteering to do a job, helping with supper preparations. . .extra things besides their everyday chores.
We were excited about this new addition to our plan. We figured this would encourage them as we’d be rewarding them instead of getting after them all the time. They would earn ‘points’ for each task they willingly helped with.
For the first several weeks I was bombarded with, “is there anything I can do to help, mom?” It was great! I was ecstatic to have so many helpers. They were actually looking for things to do! Again, however, this plan only lasted a few months before my volunteers disappeared one by one. Eventually my requests were met with a calculated, “how many points is it worth?”
For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. ~ Philippians 2:20-21
This is the point when I grabbed Shepherding a Child’s Heart off the bookshelf and packed it in my suitcase. Upon reading it again, Travis and I began to understand where we’d begun straying.
By implementing the ‘check mark’ and ‘point’ system, we’d unknowingly trained them to have the wrong motives. We were teaching them to be selfish by working for rewards. They were learning that ‘volunteering’ meant they got something out of it. They were learning that we’d essentially bribe them into have an outward appearance of willingness rather than a true servant-like attitude.
When we arrived home from our vacation, we had a ‘family meeting’ in which we carefully explained how we’d been wrong and how using this system was making them think only of themselves.
There were several moments of silence as they chewed on this. We could see the wheels in their heads spinning, and eventually they admitted that it was true. When they volunteered, it wasn’t because they saw that I was overwhelmed or that Travis’s to-do list was getting long. They didn’t pick up toys or straighten a room without first finding out if it was worth their effort.
I was relieved they were honest enough to see the fault in our method and didn’t put up a fuss when we dissolved it. We were back in authority because we were the parents, not because we were worth points. 🙂
Yes, children do need to know what consequences are, and yes, you can and certainly should praise your children for doing what’s right. However, we shouldn’t need a check mark and point system to teach them to do what’s right.
Part 3: The Gift of Communication is coming next, along with how some of these ideas are put into practice.