My children didn't come with a handbook.
When we left the hospital with Lewis, I remember feeling both flabbergasted that they just send people home with children, while at the same time, thrilled to being doing this 'mommy' thing on my own. I think God meant us to feel this way...both holding reverent fear of our responsibility while at the same time feeling empowered by it.
But regardless of our feelings, God has given each parent the task of loving their children by instructing, training, and disciplining them. I don't know about you, but I've felt very clueless about this task from time to time. It seems like I walked into an unfamiliar dark room, and someone wants me to get to the other side without seriously injuring myself on any furniture. I feel around and bang my shins on things, correcting my path as I take each step. But what I need isn't just more guts to keep moving, what I need is some light.
What I've come to realize, is that God provides the light when I ask. While my children didn't come with a handbook, I have been given the bible, godly mothers who I can ask questions to, and a wealth of information about biblical parenting online and in books. It's not like there aren't any instructions anywhere, and God wants to give wisdom generously to those who ask in faith. When we commit our ways to Him, He does give us the knowledge and instruction we need.
Along the way, I've encountered countless 'issues' with our children that I wasn't sure how to handle, and here are some things that have helped me move away from my tendency to be passive:
Act. Learn. Adapt.
I know I heard this phrase somewhere in reference to productivity strategies, but none the less, it applies to parenting as well. I can't help my children correct their heart issues by doing nothing. Most of the time, I just need to try the things I already know and see how they work. If it's going terribly, I learn from it and try something new. My first parenting strategy isn't my last parenting strategy, and I think it's better to change course than to let our children continue in sin and foolishness. We went a long time without correcting one of our children for throwing food on the floor at each meal, and it was because we were so paralyzed by insecurity. But amazingly, once we just starting trying out strategies, it stopped completely. Imagine that!
Here is something to remember...almost NO ONE feels confident in their parenting when they are starting out. I remind myself of this when I'm just totally baffled at what to do next to train and discipline my children. It's good to recognize our inability, but then we need to rely on God and get wisdom. Before Lewis was a toddler, I sat down with a godly and experienced mom from my church and received a "Training and Correction 101" lesson from her during nap time. Even though very little of it made sense at the time (because I still had a baby), the seeds she planted are still bearing fruit in my parenting. At least once a week I'll remember something she mentioned to me about training up children, and it helps me correct my mothering mishaps. I've done this for specific parenting issues as well like, "How do I keep my child from rolling away during diaper changes?". When in doubt, ask someone you respect!
Don't ever underestimate or disregard prayer when your child is in the middle of a major issue. One of our littles likes to throw himself prostrate on the ground and throw tantrums over anything that doesn't include getting his way. When this first started happening, I was so shocked by it that I just held him or put my hand on him and prayed while it happened. I didn't know how to handle it practically, so I just prayed that God would calm his heart, give him a desire to submit to authority, and give me wisdom in the situation. Less than a week later, I ran across a very practical, biblical, and helpful article about how to handle temper tantrums. God answered my prayer and gave me the insight I needed to deal with the situation in confidence of my authority as his mother. I can't tell you the number of times God has provided me practical wisdom as I've asked for it!
Read scripture and do what it says
God provides such amazing and practical help all over the bible. And although he doesn't give a handbook for each individual child, he does lay out many helpful principles like: parents are the rightful authority over children, parents need to teach their children to obey, parents need to train their children to know and love God, parents need to instruct their children in good doctrine and truth...etc. etc. There are lots of helpful arrows to point us down the right path of parenting. The reality is, sometimes I just don't like those arrows. They require me to sacrifice a lot of what I want to do, they force me out of laziness, and they take hard work and planning. Intentional and godly parenting is not something that happens passively. Often times, when I'm not sure how to discipline my child it's not because I literally don't know what's right, it's because I don't want to obey scripture.
Pay attention to my husband's leading
My husband doesn't tolerate as much disobedience as I do. He has a more 'nip it' before it gets worse approach, and that's probably good. I let things go on too long in the name of 'patience', and then behaviors become major discipline issues instead of small course corrections. Often times, my husband sees things that I don't, because he can view our children a bit more objectively. As hard as it is to hear it, my husband is often right when it comes to behavior issues and how to correct them. He usually has a loving and firm approach that I need to adopt.
Sometimes confusion about discipline stems from the fact that I'm distracted, and let other priorities cloud my calling as a mother. I haven't been consistent, or I've been overcommitted, or I've just been lazy. When I'm in this place, it's not that I need better parenting strategies, but that I need to repent to God and to my children (which I've done numerous times). Then it's time to do whatever I need to do to make this responsibility a priority again. Sometimes that means I say no to fun invitations and other times that means keeping the TV or computer off all day.
Just keep going - Remember the goal
The thing I always have to go back to is my goal. One of the reasons my husband and I wanted children, was because of the potential for eternal investment. Being a faithful and godly parent is something that reaps rewards. We aren't promised that our children will become Christians, but there is treasure stored up in heaven for parents who humbly and faithfully raise their children in the way of the Lord. Parents that teach their children to obey allow their children to be blessed. Parents who train their children to submit to rightful authorities and be good workers usually get to enjoy a healthy relationship with a thriving adult child. Again, this isn't a perfect input = output relationship, but the bible shows that much good fruit can result from raising our children well. This is an investment worth making, even if it costs us a lot!
There is no magic bullet for how to discipline every child. They are all different! But over the last 2.5 years, I have noticed that overall, certain techniques do seem to work better than others...but every biblical parenting 'expert' would agree that you must do SOMETHING to teach your children obedience and self-control at a young age. So we mustn't be paralyzed by the dark room we are trudging through, but instead cry out for God to shed some light on the situation...which He is very faithful to do.