I have a four-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son, which makes me what’s known as an expert. So, with that out of the way . . .
Being a dad is seriously challenging. Navigating the maze of different parenting ‘styles’ is hard enough–being faithful to my scriptural responsibilities is impossible for this sinner-dad, and I am constantly crying out for grace. (and in the moments I am not crying out for God’s help, I am utterly failing at my task).
No one wants to be the strict, harsh, demanding, authoritarian, stereotype of a parent. I’ve heard that we should try to encourage as much as we correct, so that our children are not always hearing correction, and concluding that they’re “never good enough”. The analogy is like that of a bank account. If you are constantly criticizing, that’s like taking an emotional/relational withdrawal. Encouragement is like a deposit. If you only make withdrawals, there’s nothing left in the account, and an account always bordering on broke is a strained relationship. Make enough repeated deposits to keep a healthy balance.
So far, so good, right?
Just today I had a conversation with another dad about his five-year-old, and I saw beyond the analogy. I think we can do better than The Bank Account.
Encouragement/Criticism as the primary modes of relating to our children is a pretty managerial style relationship. It posits the child as an individual with certain behaviors, and his parents as individuals who are trying to influence those behaviors. Encourage the good behavior (and do that a lot, find stuff to encourage), and correct the bad (which can seem like it is happening ALL THE TIME.)
Here’s my question: How is this any different than an employer trying to get better productivity out of an employee? ‘Sandwiching’ his criticisms with praise as part of a performance review?
The fundamental aspect of the parent/child relationship that I want to cultivate more than behavior modification is the relationship as a good and delightful thing in itself. This means not just saying things, positive or negative, to influence their behavior, but creating shared experiences with them that they enjoy, such that I enjoy them as my children, and they enjoy me as their dad. Reading books together, because they enjoy it, and I enjoy it, and we enjoy each other. Singing songs together as we cultivate a shared love of melody and each other. Adventures. Talks. Wrestling matches. Prayers. Meals. Snuggles. Encouragement and discipline become one more shared experience within a relationship that is defined fundamentally by delight in one another for our own sakes’, not for the sake of some outcome we are hoping to achieve. I don’t want my child to get addicted to my encouragement nor discouraged by my correction–I want them to enjoy me as their dad, and receive all communication from me as flowing from that more essential basis for relating.
Delighting in my kids takes (will take) work. And additionally I have to help them develop an affection for me. It means dying to myself and the things I naturally enjoy, to cultivate this kind of delight. Not reading my own book, so I can read one with them. Rasslin’ when I wish I could be resting.
Lewis famously said, “it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors”. I’m starting to see my children as potential
“everlasting splendors”, immortals whom I’ve been given the task of parenting. Moving beyond the bank account framework is more difficult, but more rewarding, and more faithful to who we both are as good creatures made in the image of God. God help me to love my children!