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Background of medium teal with larger photo on top left of large hand symbolizing God's hand reaching down in grace to smaller human hand with cross in between that was the place where our sin was paid for and we were made right with God if we would accept that free gift of salvation. It is the them of this series on God's grace. The theme photo in the bottom right is a child walking with her parents and symbolizes a period when I was learning to parent. Of course, the whole time we were raising our daughters, I was learning to parent! It wasn't just when they ere little.

Photos by Canva

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During our 7 years in Jamaica, we had 3 daughters. We moved there in January 1971, returned to the US in May to have Dawn. She was born the end of June and we returned to JA in August. Twenty months later, Christy was born in JA. Once we had a healthy child and it seemed it wasn’t a high risk to have a baby there, we took that option. Then, 4 years later and 6 weeks before we moved back to the US, Holly was born. (April 1977)

Of course, we had no idea we would be moving back to the US when we planned to have her. We had just returned from a furlough in the US and thought we were going to be in JA for many more years. But one election in December of 1976 proved us wrong. They wouldn’t renew our work permits and we had to leave at the end of that academic year. But once again, I digress.

Parenting: I found the nitty-gritty of it to be difficult when the kids were old enough to rebel. I loved watching them learn new things. Just didn’t like when they wanted to keep bickering or wouldn’t stop a negative behavior.

I’m talking about parenting. I found that learning to be a parent was difficult. I loved cuddling the kids. I recognized when they were doing something wrong, but I wanted them to simply change or have insight to change or even get hints from me to change and move in that direction. I know you are laughing when you read this. This is especially true if you are a parent. I was so idealistic and had no clue about  true human nature.

Let’s put it this way, I believed the truth of the following in Romans in my head. In fact, so much of Romans is clear about the natural bent of our human nature–away from God and obedience. Romans 1:16-2:11 ESV is especially clear. But I really didn’t want to believe it about my little babies who were really cute and lovable most of the time. Maybe there was something wrong with me. Was I too picky? Was my head in the clouds? (Yes. I loved living in La-la land.)  But real life with kids didn’t allow me to stay there for long.

“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”

Romans 3:10-12 ESV

But as time went on, their “No’s” got to me and I found myself clenching my jaw to keep from yelling at them or at times, I actually did yell at them to do what I said. I did not want to be yelling at my kids. I was yelled at often when I grew up or slapped and punished in anger and I did not want that for my children

My husband recommended that I follow through when telling them to do something right away and avoid empty threats…

My husband recommended that I follow through on what I wanted rather than give them extra chances or try to be “patient” with them. Because that was how the anger and frustration would build up. I discovered that he was right. I got tired of being ignored. It made me angry. Rather than talk and threaten, I needed more action early on. On the days I followed through with action, things went much better. When I let things slide because I wanted peace (which was often fake peace, not the real thing) the day didn’t go nearly as well. Mind you, we did not have a long list of do’s and don’t’s. Our home was not an intense place to live in by any means.

But you couldn’t be disrespectful to your parents and thus other adults. We were truth-tellers. The adults tried to be encouragers and teach from that perspective as much as we could. We found things to laugh about. We ate meals together and listened to the conversations and participated too. Jamaica was a very relaxed environment for children to grow up in. People enjoyed children. But they had their place too. They were expected to be polite to adults and not run around like little wild people. I would compare it to many parts of the south in some ways. People adored children and gushed over them

Being a people-pleaser is hard on you as a parent because you won’t be able to be a good parent AND please your child AND make yourself happy at the same time.

Being a people-pleaser did not help me as a mom. I wanted to keep my kids happy and keep myself happy. That was impossible! My kids didn’t understand what they needed for life. There were too many things they would never understand or appreciate as young children because they hadn’t grown up yet. They didn’t understand why they needed to learn some of the things I was going to teach them. Not everything they needed to learn was something they wanted to learn. Not everything they needed to learn was learned easily and in one easy lesson. I knew that all too well.

The biggest thing about parenting that was so hard for me, was that I came to realize that I’m a people-pleaser. Big time. I didn’t like disturbing that happiness of the household when someone needed to be punished with a spank or time-out. I always felt I was throwing off the smooth flow of things. The truth was that the smooth flow was thrown off by the action that caused the need for the punishment. Ideally, I was helping the child learn a better way to live. I hate to think this, but I must have been extremely immature. I was younger than a lot of people there on campus. But I was a few years out of college. I guess I was trying not to do some things I grew up with and that somewhat handicapped me. I couldn’t totally follow that path I grew up with, I was going on a somewhat different one, along with my husband. It was not easy. I was trying to teach my kids to obey in a tactful way.  As I say it now, it is rather laughable. I didn’t want a lot of yelling and hitting. I just wanted it to be something they learned happily on the road of life. Of course, it doesn’t work that way.

What was the Christian way to raise kids? What did the Bible actually teach? The topic consumed me and I read a lot about it. Some styles of raising children were very mean and didn’t sound Christian at all, despite their label. They were cruel and often set traps for their children to fail. Others were super lenient, allowing the child to find their own way. That seemed to me to ignore the fact that the child would not naturally move toward God and obedience. We found something we felt worked for us, At least, we hoped it did.

A scary event that opened my eyes.

One day, one of our girls was coining in from the car while I brought the groceries in. She was about 2. When I came out of the house for some more groceries, I noticed she wasn’t coming in, but was headed for the gate rather than the house. I yelled for her to come to me. She looked at me as if it were a game, and started running toward the open gate. I could hear the sound of a car coming around the curve. If she ran through the gate, the driver would be unable to see her until the car was on top of her. I screamed out her name. “Come, Come!” And I ran as fast as I could. I didn’t see how I would be able to get there. Once again, I screamed her name. By then, she was at the gate. Just then, she stopped to give a cute grin. In that short time, I was able to catch up to her and grab her. My heart was pounding and I had to stop and hold her. The car whizzed by the gate. What a relief!

I shut the gate and got a couple more bags in the house along with her and thanked God for sparing her life. I knew then, that one of the reasons I needed to be strong and tough was not simply to have my own way, but also for simple reasons of safety. Many of the reasons I needed my children to obey me in the ways they obeyed their dad, was for safety reasons. Whether it was for physical, emotional, or spiritual safety, I saw my job in the early years in those terms. Of course, in later years, I had the same goals, but it was all couched in questions and discussions. What do you think? How would you solve this? It was much more back and forth. We had input, but ti wasn’t the same as when they were little and we were more directive with them.

I was helping her learn that it is better to obey your parent because he/she has your best interest/safety in mind. It is better to get along with your sister rather than fight with her because you won’t prosper if you fight with each other. Since then, I have learned that we do better to help our children learn to obey for more spiritual reasons as we teach them to look to God to guide them, help them forgive one another, even learn to obey. I’m not sure I did as good a job there at a very young age. I think I used a more behavioristic model that encouraged them to stay away from the negative behavior because it would be more uncomfortable for them. I realize now that isn’t the best motivation either. It’s a bit robotic. But somehow, God used our faulty discipline and the lives we lived with them and the conversations over the table and in the car to bring them to know Jesus.

I now have a more realistic view of parenting. Can I learn new skills? Certainly. I was always learning new skills. But I will never look back and feel I did a perfect job of parenting.

I am here to tell you that it is the rare person who will look back and say, “I did everything right in disciplining my kids.”  In order to do that, I think the environment in your home would have to be rather intense. I could be wrong. But we trusted that the work God started in their lives, He would continue…and He did. We partnered with our church communities over the years, their Christian School teachers when they had them, and the many people who influenced them and encouraged them in their faith along with us. We are very thankful for all the people who had a part in this process. We definitely couldn’t have done it alone. The verse below gives us much confidence. I was always thankful for all the people in our churches who encouraged our kids. They weren’t always the coolest people in the church, but our girls soon recognized the encouragers quickly and were drawn to them right away.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you
will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:6 ESV