The old saying that you can’t give what you don’t have might apply to family discipline. I have found through years raising and homeschooling my eight kids that without discipline chaos rules and few optimistic plans come to fruition. It is not all about disciplining the kids….really it all starts with the parents who must learn be good parents and that means coming up with reasonable, intelligent goals that aspire to fulfill the family’s dreams and expectations. It also involves making smart plans which break down large goals into manageable steps so that no one becomes overwhelmed. Too many great ideas never reach their potential because too much is tried in too short a time span. Finally, there is a need for oversight and follow through. Bringing kids into the world and raising them to be great citizens of this world, as well as of the Kingdom to come, is certainly not for the faint-of-heart or the short sighted; it is truly a long term commitment.
Practically speaking, the parent(s) doing the raising and disciplining have to play by the same rules they set for their kids. They have to follow up on what they say they are going to do – not being held hostage by a toddler, young child, or teenager who wants more than his or her fair share because they insist that you “promised weeks ago”. Kids can have remarkable memories and sometimes they remember promises that were never made. Guilt ridden adults can easily fall for the ploy that what a child demands is actually what they need. But that whole guilt trip can be avoided if you follow up on promises and don’t make promises you can’t keep. The first ingredient to chaos is a guilt ridden conscience whereby a child manipulates the adult because the adult has been too scattered to keep track of what they have said and begins to merely react, rarely acting with thought.
Parents have to make reasonable goals that fulfill, not just the momentary desires of the kids, but the long range hopes and ideals of the family. Prioritizing your plans and knowing when to be flexible is an invaluable skill. First set priorities in your life and then stick to them. Change them only when something comes along to force you to rethink – like a serious health issue, a new educational opportunity or a job change. I have heard this concept called “rigid flexibility”. Once you know your priorities, you can set your day at your pace. Start at the top and work your way down. Things that don’t get done today will be done tomorrow. Life is full of unfinished business but staying on track means keeping your head about you and not being led astray by countless distractions. Remember the priorities when you suddenly have an urge to turn on the t.v. or allow an electronic game into your home. Time wasters run havoc with what could have been a well planned day.
Following your priorities also allows you to slow down because it is not so much about getting everything done as keeping things in proper order. In the first few days of a schedule you may need to change your plans until you match idealistic goals with realistic time constraints and honest abilities. It is far better to plan to do a little less and live in calm peace than to strain yourself and your kids to the utmost trying to stuff too much into a day. In our house, God and prayer comes first, then family and meal time schedules, educational interests, household duties and then projects. Those are broad categories but you get the picture. For us, a prayer life connected to God’s grace and the help of His discerning power make our days run more smoothly. Then family, food and basic home issues, then education, then further household issues and other projects of interest. Every family can set its own categories and order but it takes time, discernment, and honest thought to come up with a list of what is really important to you and your family.
The monastic life reflects a balance between the different aspects of the human person. First we are spiritual beings, hence the need for scheduled personal and family-type prayer. Next we are physical beings, hence the need for physical care of food and environment. Finally we are intellectual beings, hence the need for educational opportunities and intellectual challenge. In the monastic ideal there is a balance between these various aspects of our person-hood, and we learn to keep them in balance by sticking to reasonable goals and schedules.
Family discipline allows us to fulfill our potential not only as members of society but as citizens of Heaven – our highest hope.