"I'm not your friend anymore."
My 13-year-old son hurled these words at me recently when I said no to buying something for him. His statement was intended to hurt me, but I found a vague sense of comfort in it. "You're right," I replied. "I'm not your friend. I'm your mother. My decision stands."
As a single parent for 10 years, during which time my two boys grew from toddlers to teens, I struggled to be a firm disciplinarian while simultaneously needing affirmation from my children that I was a kind and loving parent. After all, I was rejected by my spouse. Seeing the anger or disappointment in my children's eyes when I made an unpopular decision brought on more feelings of rejection. But as I began to see positive results from disciplining my boys with wisdom and consistency, I knew the effort was worth it.
In 1 Samuel 3:11-13, God holds Eli the priest responsible for his wayward sons: "I [will] judge his family forever because of the sin [Eli] knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them."
The sons' sinful behavior led to their death (and the loss of the Ark of the Covenant), and Eli died shortly afterward. Here is an example of a family destroyed because children were not disciplined.
In stark contrast to Eli and his sons are Timothy, his mother and grandmother. In 2 Timothy 1:5, Paul writes that Timothy's sincere faith was passed down to him from their teaching. We know nothing of Timothy's father, but we know that Timothy's mother and grandmother implemented his childhood spiritual training. They laid the foundation that allowed him to become a remarkable man of God and church leader.
Eli's sons and Timothy show us that children must have reasonable, consistent discipline to help them achieve emotional maturity and enjoy success in all areas of their lives. Our influence on our children directly impacts how they will behave as adults.
The Toughest Job You'll Ever Love
Being a good parent involves putting our children's needs above our own (including our "need" to be popular or to have a life of leisure). It involves sacrifice. Single parenting seems especially difficult as exhaustion is part of the deal, which can lead to a parent's overreacting to certain circumstances or underreacting, hoping that if she ignores the problem it will go away.
Also, because single parents are overloaded with making a living and parenting, they may project unrealistic expectations of how their children should behave. Expecting a 4-year-old to fix her own breakfast and get herself ready for preschool is unrealistic, even if you're running short on time. Unless you give your child priority over your crowded schedule, you'll both end up angry and frustrated.
Dr. Janis Neece, a psychologist who has counseled families with discipline issues and is also a mom of two preschool children, says single parents in particular should have a network of support to help them with discipline issues.
"In two-parent homes, the husband and wife can bounce ideas off one another," she says. "Single parents don't have that, so it's important they have other Christian adults they can go to for encouragement and advice."
Neece also advises single parents to plan a reasonable amount of personal time away from their children, although it may be difficult to pull off. Take advantage of a friend's offer to look after your kids for a while. Resist the urge to clean house on the rare afternoon when your kids are spending some time away. Resting and recharging will help you make wiser discipline decisions and be a better parent to your children.
Doing it Right
Neece also offers the following check-points to help single parents determine if they're on the right track when disciplining children.
Am I parenting for me or for someone else? Single parents in particular may feel like their parenting skills are being examined under a magnifying glass. Make sure your decisions are based on what you think is best, not the desires of a well-meaning friend or your own parents.
Is this decision consistent with rules I've laid out in the past? Your children will be confused if you ignore an unmade bed for weeks and then one day demand it be made.
Am I unusually tired or irritable right now? If you've had a tough day at work, you may need to unwind before making major disciplinary decisions.
What do I need my children to learn right now? Are you making demands that only result in a power struggle, or is there a social skill or a behavioral norm your children need to master?
In our culture of busyness, instant gratification and relative morality, parents find it challenging to discipline with consistency, maturity and unselfish motives. However, accepting that challenge and trusting God to help us meet it yields the blessing of children who, like the Son of God Himself, grow in "wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man" (Luke 2:52).
Reprinted from Christian Single magazine (c) November 2002. Used by permission.
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