Featuring guest posts on my blog this year is a wonderful way for me to take some time off AND to feature a couple writers that I think you would enjoy. The first one by my daughter Lucia on Christmas Eve was a big hit. This second one is authored by one of my two younger brothers, Jonathan. In family gatherings this week, I was reminded again of how much I love both of my brothers and their wives for their laughter, deep faith, and genuine love for others. Jonathan’s heartfelt words on parenting are so needed at this time of year as my kids crash after being over-sugared and over-gifted at Christmas. I saw he and his wife live these words in many small moments with their three children (now ages 5, 3, and 1) over the past few days of celebrating Christmas together. Without further ado, I introduce to you my brother Dr. Jonathan Davis, who recently finished medical school and now is in practice at a medical clinic for the underserved using his training in MED/PEDs (internal medicine/pediatrics)
A father’s reflections on discipline (originally written early spring 2014)
In spending much more of my time this past month in our home, I have had the amazing privilege of being more involved with our children. Living at a slower pace of life, I have greatly enjoyed being able to spend more time reflecting on my relationship with my God, my children, and my wife. Since my wife and I are currently in what we like to call a fairly “discipline heavy” stage of our parenting careers (3 kids under the age of 4), much of my reflection has involved the topic of discipline. Here are a few of my thoughts.
on the benefits of consistent discipline:
I see how it is often such a delight to play with my 4-year-old now and how our relationship can be so open, honest, respectful, loving, and deep. And much of this, I think, is possible precisely because we disciplined him diligently as a younger child, and he now enjoys the benefits of having a fundamental respect for authority in his life—namely his parents. I have worried that discipline may result in children that are tense, anxious, lacking in confidence, or simply don’t want to be around me. Yet what I am coming to realize is that precisely the opposite is true. Of course, I am not speaking of discipline done in an abusive way; however, when done in a controlled, consistent fashion by parents who love their children, discipline opens the door wide for the deepest joys of a parent-child relationship later in life. Effective discipline helps clear away the disrespect, anger, and rebellion that are the biggest barriers to a healthy relationship between parents and their children. So take heart! Yes, it is hard to consistently (and repeatedly) discipline my two-year-old, but how powerfully will this loving discipline help to guide him into the path of God’s blessing in his life! This is what I want for my children—I am happy to take on my often difficult, but God-given responsibility to discipline my children because I know this is God’s way, and leads to His blessing.
I teach my children to live under authority not because I am power-hungry and must have obedient ‘subjects’, but because I know that as the adults they are becoming, they will always have to live under authority—ultimately I pray under God’s authority, but certainly under the authority of a boss, policeman, or simply laws of the land in which they live.
on reactionary parenting v. downstream parenting:
In reading Raising Resilient Children and another book I’ve recently been studying entitled The Effective Father, I have been thinking on this idea of “reactionary parenting” vs. “downstream parenting.” Reactionary parenting, which all of us as parents are most tempted to do, involves responding or “reacting” in the moment only. For example, my four-year-old often cries in frustration when he works on Legos by himself, and I typically rush in to help him so that he feels better. This is reactionary. I hear his cry, see the situation, and provide the remedy—helping my son myself. Certainly this approach has its merits, but I would argue I am missing significant parenting opportunities if I approach parenting situations in this way only. Consider the “downstream parenting approach:” I hear my son crying again while playing with a new Lego set. I don’t ignore him, but rather than immediately intervening I squat down beside him and say something like this, “Son, I know this is hard for you isn’t it? Most of these Lego sets have gone together pretty quickly for you, but this one is pretty tough. You know, I often face things that are hard for me to do, too. I think that often the best way to learn is to calm down, relax and stick with it for a while. So I’m going to leave you alone again for a bit and let you try this. I’ll set the timer for 10 minutes and then come back and check on you. If you’re still having trouble and would like some help, I’d be glad to jump in there with you.”
In the first approach (reactionary), I am providing loving support and help for my son. He feels loved by me, possibly trusts me more. But I have neglected to teach him any skills for handling this or similar problems in the future--or ultimately when I am not around. In the second approach (downstream), however, I would be pushing my son to develop patience, endurance, or “resilience” (and I don’t think he would feel any less love or support). It is probably easier and quicker to fix the Legos myself, but my son will be better able to face the next bigger challenge next week, next year, or in 10 years if I consistently parent in this way, looking “downstream” for the challenges that I know he will face in the coming years.
on the time commitment required to effectively parent:
I have also begun to realize how much time effective parenting requires. In the examples above for instance, “downstream parenting” probably takes more time and effort, yet those efforts are more apt to “pay off” in the long run. If I am busily scurrying through my day that is filled with work, school, after-school activities, T.V. shows, etc., then I will not have time for consistent, in-depth parenting encounters with my children. It is worth it to simplify and free up “margins” in my life for my children. I will reap the harvest in years to come.
on my own legacy as a parent:
As I think about my parenting and discipline for my children I wonder what legacy, what lasting impressions I will leave in their minds. Will they remember me as a moralist, a strict and authoritative disciplinarian? Or will they ultimately come away with a deep sense of how much I loved them? Even as I pose these questions to myself, I realize that I am setting up a dichotomy that I’m not sure exists. Is authoritative parenting and frequent discipline incompatible with love? I actually think these do not have to be incompatible. If I am authoritative in my parenting style and committed to regular, consistent discipline of my children when needed (even if one or more children has a temperament that results in frequent discipline), the matter of utmost importance remains the manner in which I carry out that discipline. If my discipline were harsh, mechanical, or angry, then concern for the ill-effects of its frequent application would seem justified. Or likewise, if I disciplined out of irritation or annoyance with problem behavior the same would be true. But what if I see discipline as “rescue” and “restoration”? What if my discipline is thoughtful, filled with calm, purposeful discussion, and physical displays which affirm my love and affection? In this case, I would argue that the child who receives more of this kind of parental interaction would indeed know my love more deeply.
I see this reflected in my own relationship with God. As I go through trying circumstances when I know his hand of discipline is heavy upon me, I feel pain and discomfort in the moment, yet nothing can compare with the simultaneous displays of his intimate love and provision of strength for me. I reach the end of such “disciplining” times from His hand and find my walk with Him much deeper and my love more fervent. If God, as my loving heavenly Father, deals in this way with me, should I not strive to emulate His ways as I love and parent my own children?
EDITORIAL NOTE by Heather: Discipline is a loaded topic, and what Jonathan calls “discipline” here is not referring to nor condoning any type of so-called “discipline” done in a heavy-handed way at the expense of children. It excludes any such action which misuses a parent’s position of authority/power for the ill of the child. This is nothing less than child abuse, defined as: “when a parent or caregiver, whether through action or failing to act, causes injury, death, emotional harm or risk of serious harm to a child. There are many forms of child maltreatment, including neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation, and emotional abuse.” If you wonder whether you’re being abusive in your “discipline,” stop immediately and seek professional help. See this website for more information and for further resources: childhelp.org