It seems every few years a new parenting style is “in”—but there has ever only been one best parenting style: God’s parenting style.
God says “Be the parent” to moms and dads of younger children. As children become teens and young adults, Biblical instruction follows His design for their maturity.
Nurture & Admonition in Balance
God tells parents to provide nurture, which is structured discipline, and admonition, which is heart-to-heart instruction and encouragement to make wise choices. It is a very delicate balancing act over a period of 18 to 21 years!
Nurture is the structured discipline that moves a child toward maturity and self-control, but admonition plays an increasing role in maturity.
Younger children are to obey their parents, and we parents like that command! But what about the part that requires parents to balance nurture and admonition in order to avoid exasperating the children or provoking them to wrath (anger, rebellion, disobedience)?
Parents are never responsible for sinful choices their child makes, but they are responsible for their own parenting style, for the models they follow, and for the ways they model life for their children.
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4 (ESV)
I like to visually depict nurture and admonition to parents I counsel with a huge X. Start drawing the X at the top left with Nurture for the Toddler. That means parents lay the groundwork of order (structured time management for meals and bedtimes; reasonable rules with consequences for disobedience and plenty of blessing for obedience). During the preschool years, children are primarily learning about obedience to the authority God has given their parents to teach and train them in obedience to the Lord.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Ephesians 6:1–3 (ESV)
The bottom left of the X is about Admonition, minimal for the toddler. Admonition helps the maturing child begin to understand God’s heart for him. Admonition is a parent’s heart for God that instructs his child in such a way as to encourage the child to seek God’s heart for himself.
Out of the parents’ love for God (Deut. 6) flows the desire to disciple their children in love, which encourages the child to mature in obedience to the Lord (John 14:15, 21). As the child increasingly chooses obedience, the focus becomes more Admonition (instruction and counsel) and less Nurture (structured discipline) until the mature young adult functions out of love for God and others rather than out of “obeying rules.”
So the top right side of the X represents Admonition for a mature young adult. The focus completely changes over the years, moving from primarily Nurture in a young child to primarily Admonition in the young adult. The relationship between a parent and their adult children has become counsel and friendship.
When Parenting Styles Conflict
Most of the years of training fall in the center part of that X, meaning the balance of Nurture and Admonition is extremely important during those developmental years.
Sometimes I see a child/teen who has one parent acting like the army drill sergeant, while the other parent just wants to be the nice guy to make the kid feel good. It doesn’t take long for that kid to be in charge while the parents end up fighting each other over every discipline issue. In that situation, everyone loses! Parental unity in front of the kids is much more important than which parent has the better techniques.
Each parent brings very a different upbringing into marriage and parenting. Even though someone may hate the way his parents yelled constantly, he finds himself defaulting to yelling. Or, an insecure child who believed his uninvolved parents never cared may grow up to be the overprotective parent that hovers over his children.
When a couple can set aside their own experiences with earthly parents and focus on ways their heavenly Father parents His children, they are able to establish a biblical model of discipline that truly works!
Who’s In Charge?
When kids rule, a home becomes chaotic. Boundaries give freedom to mature within the parameters of God’s moral laws and parental efficiency rules. Children need freedom to be kids, to learn and explore, and to have fun. But they also need rules to guide them into productivity and maturity. God gave Adam and Eve only one rule, and then, through Moses, ten rules, and now we have those rules clarified in His Word, admonishing us to follow them! Scripture gives us a clear picture of the chaos that comes when we think we are in charge. There is an authority, but we are not our own, just as children cannot be in charge of their own lives and the home cannot revolve around them.
When parents rule, the home may also become chaotic if they are ruling out of their own beliefs and desires which conflict with one another and with God (James 4). Examples of chaotic parenting are abusive discipline to make the children obey or control that never allows the child to make mistakes and mature. Parenting motivated by fear or by anger always produces negative results.
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1:19–20 (ESV)
The home cannot revolve around either or both of the parents or their agendas. When parents look at God’s model for how He trains His children, they can learn methods that produce desirable results.
When God rules a home in love, the fruit of the Spirit grows in both parents and children. The home then revolves around what the Lord desires, not what either the children or the parents desire. When individual desires are realigned with God’s desires, there is peace and unity. The parents who allow God to rule in their own hearts are then free to teach and train their children, balancing Nurture and Admonition as He does (Heb. 12:5–10).
God has goals for His children and gives them rules, but not so very many that we can’t remember them all. In fact, Jesus simplified the Ten Rules to “Love God and love others, treating others as you would like to be treated” (Mark 22:36–40). There are clear and definable and enforceable boundaries. God wrote them down. He is consistent and clearly states the consequences for disobedience and the blessings for obedience. As mentioned, God gives rules (Nurture – structured discipline), but the real focus is on the issues of the heart, why we do what we do (Admonition – heart to heart instruction and encouragement to make wise choices). Foolishness is treated with a rod, but admonishment suffices the wise (Proverbs).
Our parenting style should follow His style that always combines instruction and correction. The child should not only know what is expected and how to do it, but why it matters to God and to parents that he obeys. When children understand God’s heart for obedience and obey parents out of obedience to God, maturity is happening and parents rejoice! But that takes a lot of consistent work, paralleling the sanctification process in both parents and their children.
I often remind parents to be more corrective than punitive. Punishment comes from anger, while correction is motivated by love and desire to see the child mature. There is a major difference! For example, How to Spank a Child teaches parents to be corrective in loving discipline.
Discipline should be individualized for each child, because for one child, isolation to his room is torture while for another it is a bit of heaven! Know what motivates each child and let the pain of losing those things motivate him away from foolish behaviors and toward wise and mature behaviors. However, keep in mind that the ultimate goal is sanctification, not just making the parent look good through behaviorism.
Parents, take heart when your child doesn’t learn to obey overnight. Neither did you or I. God gives us 18 to 21 or more years to teach and train, love and correct, rebuke and encourage each of our children to maturity. Keep praying and dancing in balance with Nurture and Admonition! They will grow up!
photo credit: Lucy Ann Moll