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A Mother's Discipline Should Point Daughters to God's Truths

  • Carolyn Mahaney Contributing Writer
  • 2006 5 May
  • COMMENTS
A Mother's Discipline Should Point Daughters to God's Truths

It wasn't an easy decision, but it was time to pull Kristin out of school. The year before, after being homeschooled for three years, Kristin had begged C. J. and me to let her attend a local private Christian school. We agreed, under one condition: She was to be a difference-maker. But Kristin had not kept up her end of the deal.

Outwardly she was a "good" kid, even an exemplary one. She wasn't deceptive or openly rebellious. She worked hard at school and didn't hang out with the wrong crowd. She did all the "right" things. Yet she remained silent when she should have graciously confronted the ungodliness of her classmates. She was tolerant of sin in her own life and the lives of others. We didn't observe a passion for God. She also failed to show consistent love for home and family, one of the foremost characteristics of biblical womanhood. Though subtle, these were serious concerns.

I knew Kristin wouldn't be happy about our decision to homeschool her again. I knew she might resent us. It was tempting to give her what she wanted in order to avoid a potential conflict and retain her affection. But in reality we had no choice. We knew that God was not pleased with Kristin's lukewarm attitude. So C. J. and I deemed it necessary to take action. As parents, we had a deep sense of our responsibility before God to lead, train, and discipline our children for the purpose of holiness. We were bound to the commitment we had made even before our children were born that, "as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD" (Josh. 24:15). (I don't intend to imply here that parents are biblically required to homeschool a lukewarm child. This was simply the option we believed to be most beneficial for our daughter's spiritual growth at that particular time.)

All parents are bound to the command in Ephesians 6:4 to "bring [our children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." While this verse is addressed to fathers, Scripture is clear that a mother's participation is equally significant (Prov. 1:8; 6:20; 31:26; Eph. 6:1; Col. 3:20).

Pastor John MacArthur explains that the word discipline in Ephesians 6 means "enforced conformity of the heart and the life to God and His truth."1 Discipline is a strong word that implies deliberate and committed action on the part of parents. It insists that we go to whatever lengths are required to deter our children from sin and to instead direct them in paths of righteousness. My husband used to express his resolve to obey this command by telling our daughters, "If necessary, I will throw my body in front of you to prevent you from sinning."

C. J.'s statement might sound extreme; however, I believe it is biblical. Given the seriousness of sin before a holy God, we as parents must seek to restrain our children from bringing reproach to God's name and pain to others—not to mention sparing them the bitter consequences. We must make every effort to train our daughters and redirect them toward a lifestyle that brings glory to God and that aligns with His Word. Ultimately, our desire is for our daughters to experience the blessings and favor that flow from a life of obedience to God.

Our biblical charge to discipline our daughters means that we cannot be passive parents. We must not think that we are helpless or without recourse to deal with our daughters' sin. Neither turning a blind eye nor remaining ignorant are acceptable options. We cannot afford to assume "this is just a phase" or "this is normal for her age." And we must not subscribe to the theory that allowing our daughters to experience the world will make them stronger. Effective discipline requires more than reactive parenting, which only swings into gear when a crisis hits.

Left to themselves, our daughters will not naturally conform to the Word of God. The truth is that we all go our own way apart from the intervention of the Holy Spirit and the correction of godly friends. (This fact should help us guard against self-righteousness.) And if we ignore, minimize, or are at ease with the discrepancies between our daughters' behavior and God's standard, there may be dire consequences.

That's why J. C. Ryle strongly warned parents:

Beware of that miserable delusion into which some have fallen,—that parents can do nothing for their children, that you must leave them alone, wait for grace, and sit still. These persons . . . desire much, and have nothing. And the devil rejoices to see such reasoning, just as he always does over anything which seems to excuse indolence, or to encourage neglect of means.2

Biblical discipline calls for a proactive approach. We must aggressively and intentionally steer our daughters in the ways of the Lord. This idea is illustrated by a television commercial that exhorts parents to oppose teen drug use with the slogan, "Action: The Anti-Drug." We would do well to apply this phrase to our biblical understanding of discipline: "Action: The Anti-Sin." Of course, action alone won't prevent our daughters from sinning. It takes a work of the Holy Spirit, but action is vitally necessary.

However, if our training is to be effective, unity between father and mother is essential. Now unity doesn't mean the absence of disagreement. Differences of opinion are inevitable between couples. What is essential, however, is that we seek to resolve our differences as quickly as possible and present a united front to our daughters. So if you and your husband are not of one mind on discipline, please seek counsel from your pastor or a trusted Christian friend.

To be active in our discipline, we must be watchful, attentive, discerning mothers. We need to study our daughters carefully, ask them probing questions, and maintain a constant awareness of what is going on in their lives. We must be on top of sinful patterns and tendencies (e.g., laziness, self-righteousness, lust, deceit, vanity, pride, and so on). We need to learn their "hot button" temptations.

We aren't simply collecting data on our daughters to file away. We seek to gain insight into their thoughts, temptations, and feelings so we can be poised to bring timely correction, hold our daughters accountable, and set boundaries to protect them from ungodly influences. From there, we want to help our daughters develop a plan to walk in godliness and make progress in biblical womanhood.

However, if our daughters do not show evidence of steady growth in godliness or are unresponsive to our training—dramatic action may be necessary. If a daughter is veering toward worldliness, we may need to cut off ties with an ungodly friend. If she has been dishonest, then maybe we need to remove cell phone or e-mail privileges. Her sin may require measures as drastic as taking away prized privileges or pulling her out of favorite activities. Proactive discipline may mean that you risk upsetting an otherwise "peaceful" situation in your home. It may initiate a conflict or trial. But there is too much at stake not to take action. We want our daughters to reap the sweet fruit of repentance.

But this dramatic action must be accompanied by explanation. Few things are more frustrating to a young person than the "because I said so" answer. This response is appropriate for the small child who does not yet have the capacity to understand our decisions. However, a teenager capable of rational thinking (most of the time!) will greatly benefit from an explanation. Effective mothering involves teaching our daughters to understand from Scripture why we've made particular decisions.

For this reason, C. J. and I had a long talk with Kristin about school, followed by several more conversations. As I had expected, she wasn't happy about our decision. We listened patiently to all of her objections and appeals and answered all of her questions. But then we carefully and thoroughly explained our reasons for bringing her home—our concern for her soul and our love for her. We told her that we wanted her life to bring glory to God and that sometimes that meant we had to make decisions she did not like. We outlined for Kristin the changes we hoped to see from her in the forthcoming year, and we concluded by reaffirming our love and affection for her. Although Kristin didn't agree with our decision, she was confident that we did it for her good. We didn't lose her heart.

If, after you have done all you can, your daughter remains unresponsive to your leadership, may I encourage you to obtain the help of godly friends or pastors? My daughters knew that if they refused to respond to C. J. and me, we wouldn't hesitate to ask others to counsel them. Nicole, Kristin, and Janelle have since told us that this was an incentive to repent. We must not be too proud to position our daughters to receive all the help they need. And in addition to requesting counsel for our daughters, we should seek evaluation of our parenting as well.

The mother of famous nineteenth-century pastor Charles Spurgeon was an example of a woman who aggressively sought to bring her children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Her son wrote of her:

I cannot tell how much I owe to the solemn words of my good mother. . . . I remember on one occasion her praying thus: "Now, Lord, if my children go on in their sins, it will not be from ignorance that they perish, and my soul must bear a swift witness against them at the day of judgment if they lay not hold of Christ."3

May we as mothers all be able to pray as Mrs. Spurgeon prayed. May we be faithful to discipline our children and so help them avoid both the temporary and eternal consequences of sin.

But our discipline must spring from and not be separated from our tender love. In fact, the phrase "bring them up" in Ephesians 6 has a distinct relational component and could be translated "rear them tenderly." We show loving discipline by refraining from harsh or angry correction and by not withholding our affection—regardless of the nature or frequency of our daughters' sins.

Bringing our daughters up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord is hard work. God never said it would be otherwise. But He has promised to provide help and assistance to all who call on His name. This promise gives us the faith and courage to discipline our daughters with the end in view. They may not thank us for it right now. They may not thank us for a long time. But one day they will.

It took some time before Kristin appreciated our decision to take her out of school. But today she is grateful for the consequences she was spared and for the grace she's experienced as a result. And it is so rewarding, as a mom, to observe God's kindness to Kristin. For now she loves the Savior and is devoted to her home and family. As a wife and mother, she selflessly cares for her husband and three small boys. Not only is she a difference-maker in their lives, but she is also seeking to make a difference in other young women's lives. Even her sisters tell Kristin that they want to be like her when they grow up.

The book of James closes with this stunning promise: "Whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:20). Let's be ready and willing to perform this merciful service for the daughters we love.

Chapter 10: A Mother's Discipline

 1. John MacArthur, "A Crash Course in Christian Parenting," audio message (Sun Valley, Ca.: Word of Grace, 1997).
2. John Charles Ryle, The Duties of Parents (Conrad, Mont.: Triangle Press, 1888 repr., 1996), 7.
3. C. H. Spurgeon, The Early Years, Autobiography, Vol. 1 (Carlisle, Pa.: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1962), 43-44.

This column is part of an ongoing series on Mother-Daughter Conversations on Biblical Womanhood. Last month's installment:   Titus 2: Express a Tender Love for Your Children

*This article published August 18, 2006.


Carolyn Mahaney is a wife, mother, homemaker, and the author of Feminine Appeal: Seven Virtues of a Godly Wife and Mother, and Girl Talk: Mother-Daughter Conversations on Biblical Womanhood. During her more than 30 years as a pastor's wife, Carolyn has spoken to women in many churches and conferences, including those of Sovereign Grace Ministries, which her husband, C.J., leads. C.J. and Carolyn have three married daughters and one twelve-year-old son, Chad.



Nicole Mahaney Whitacre is the oldest daughter of C.J. and Carolyn Mahaney, as well as a wife, mother, and homemaker. She assisted her mother with Feminine Appeal, and is the co-author of Girl Talk. Nicole and her husband, Steve, have one son, Jack.

Carolyn and her three daughters keep a  weblog for women in all seasons of life, also entitled "Girl Talk."

This column was adapted for Crosswalk from Girl Talk: Mother-Daughter Conversations on Biblical Womanhood (Crossway 2005) by Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Mahaney Whitacre © 2005 (Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187,  http://www.gnpcb.org.)