I was embarrassed. Really, really embarrassed.
I took my 6-year-old and 5-year-old boys to the orthodontist while teenage brother and sister were having their braces adjusted, and while we waited in the reception area, with the television broadcasting Food Network and adults perusing Sports Illustrated, my little boys were behaving truly terribly.
They couldn't sit still. They climbed the receptionist's desk. They grabbed toys from each other and hit and yelled. They weren't happy being read to or sitting on my lap. I was mortified.
When Dr. West emerged from the operatory to fill me in on our orthodontal progress, all I could think was that I was darn happy he was a personal friend. At one point during our conversation and as those naughty little boys were pulling at my leg and raising a general ruckus, I told him, "Jeremy, I am so sorry, but their mother is old and tired."
He laughed heartily at my joke, but inside I was cringing. How had I let things get this bad?
"You're going to go home and write him an apology note!", I lamely but sternly warned on our way to the car.
We've been working on it, steadily. Then a couple of weeks ago Dr. John Rosemond's column showed up in my inbox, and it featured the letter of a frustrated mom who felt she was getting nowhere with her young child's behavior. I sat up a little bit straighter when he wrote in response:
"Taking away his bicycle and confining him to his room for 30 to 45 minutes is akin to trying to stop a charging elephant with a fly swatter."
Oy. That's totally the problem here. Because I am older, because I am more tired, because I've been training children for 20 years, because I think they're cute and funny, because . . . does it really matter? I could continue with the excuses but the reality is, I have been attacking the big, huge disciplinary problems of my little boys with a fly swatter.
What does that mean? It means that instead of repeated warnings, I am now working on following through with a "punishment" that fits the crime. Not going to sit where I've told you to sit? Early bedtime. Constantly interrupting conversations even though we've been working on it for a year? You just won't get to chime in at the dinner table. Those things matter to my little boys, and they communicate that I mean business.
What about grace? You know I'm all about the grace. Yes, of course. My job is to point them to Jesus, to make them understand, every day, that He is their righteousness, and that nothing they do can make Him love them any more or any less. Ever.
That's true grace, and in addition I also must help them to become self-controlled young men who will then become self-controlled old men. But it won't make God love them any more than He already does. We free them with the grace of the gospel, while at the same time disciplining them so that they have the tools to serve Him well in this life.
Time to toss the flyswatter, my friends. We've got some work to do.