I’m a truth person. Because of that, though I am far from being an expert in parenting with sympathy, teaching my children to obey is something that comes more naturally to me. The commands for parents to teach their children to obey and for children to obey their parents are clearly stated in scripture: Ephesians 6:1-4, Colossians 3:20-21, Proverbs 22:6, to name a few. So training our children to obey is not only good for them, but also honors God because He is the one who has commanded us to do these things. I love my children and want them to learn to obey, but what I’ve noticed in myself is that I can begin to be controlling toward them sometimes rather than really caring for their souls. When that happens, I lose sight of what’s best for them and begin to parent them to obey because it’s convenient for me. Obviously, that’s not what God had in mind when he gave those commands, and that is a sure fire way to provoke my kids my kids to anger (Ephesians 6:4) and teach them to obey from the wrong motives. This is also not the way that God has loved us. He sent His Son to come down and be made like us so that He could rescue us from our sin and be a merciful and faithful high priest (Hebrews 2:14-18). I have been learning some pitfalls to avoid and applying scripture to my heart in the areas of sin where I struggle in order to grow to be faithful in training my children in obedience while maintaining a heart of Christlike sympathy.
First, I have learned to avoid the pride of wanting to control my children, replacing it with the attitude of Christ by being a servant toward them. I have not been called to control my children or my circumstances, but rather to be self-controlled (Galatians 5:22) and to trust that God is in control (Psalm 135:6). The humility of Christ that came down to enter into our weaknesses, joys and fears is the kind of humility we should emulate to our children. God the Son left the comfort of heaven and entered a corrupt and sinful world in order to rescue us from our hopeless state. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:3-5). This humility of mind means that I must put my “rights” aside in order to consider my children as more important than myself. So, when I am busy doing something and one of my children disobeys, considering them as more important than myself means stopping what I’m doing in order to discipline them patiently instead of being inconvenienced. It also means that I spend time doing the things they love doing, like building Legos, coloring, playing outside with them and engaging them on their level. Doing what’s best for them means training them to obey what God’s word says and being faithful to carry out my role as a parent despite how I might feel. When I fail to be patient or sin against them in any way, being humble means to ask them for forgiveness and point them to the hope that I have in Christ who forgives me. Lastly, it’s not my authority as a parent that is the end all. Only God’s word has the authority and the ability to change their hearts: “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Parenting with humility means that I need to use the word as my authority and as my tool in training their hearts so that it’s clear that they don’t need to obey me just because I don’t want to be disrespected, but because God is the one who is dishonored when they don’t obey. When they sin, it is against Him, so I shouldn’t take it personally. It helps me be sympathetic toward them because using God’s word constantly in our home reminds me that I am accountable to God for how I parent the children He has entrusted to me. They are first and foremost His children, and I get the privilege of humbly serving them and pointing them to God.
Second, I have to be careful not to think of them as a burden in any way, but rather genuinely love them and enjoy them. I love this quote by J.C. Ryle: “Love should be the silver thread that runs through all your conduct. Kindness, gentleness, forbearance, patience, sympathy, a willingness to enter into childish troubles, a readiness to take part in childish joys, – these are the cords by which a child may be led most easily, – these are the clues you must follow if you would find the way to his heart.” (The Duties of Parents, J.C. Ryle, pg. 8) Finding the way to my children’s hearts has to be at the top of my goals as a parent. The last thing I want to do is to teach my children to comply outwardly while leaving their hearts in defiance. Children are very perceptive. Using harsh and demanding tones quickly closes off their hearts. They might obey with their conduct out of fear, but their hearts will be hard. God is the only one who can change their hearts, but it is wise to follow His example for how He leads us to repentance. “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). It is His great, sacrificial love for us that motivates us to obey. He is kind and gentle in the way he deals with us. Similarly, I must be kind and gentle in dealing with my children, especially in the way that I speak to them. To help with that I’ve been meditating on Colossians 3:12-14. The biggest struggles that I face in my speech come when I’m tired or wanting them to obey for my convenience. Putting those things aside, I have been purposeful about greeting them cheerfully (with a smile on my face and an excited to see them voice), and being gentle and kind in my tone towards them even when they disobey, remembering that the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God (James 1:20). Also, I’ve been trying to enjoy their childishness every chance I can. That means stopping to wrestle with them on the floor, or playing tag with them outside, and just letting them see that I really enjoy being their mom. As I’ve been growing in this area, I have seen much more of a relationship between us and softer hearts from them in their obedience. Praise God for the sanctification that comes through parenting!
Though I cannot save my children, I can, by the power of the Spirit, show Christlike love to them every chance I get and pray that their hearts would be won by Him. I pray that as I continue to train my children to obey they would always meet a sympathetic, benevolent mother, and in that, see the heart my Father has shown to me.