1. Repent to God. Unfaithful parenting is a sin, and it is a sin that Jesus died for. Being a Christian doesn’t mean that you don’t sin anymore. It means you know how sin needs to be dealt with. It means you know and have experienced the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus. So before doing anything else, repent to God. Confess your sins as a parent and with your spouse as parents. Confess your inattentiveness, your laziness, your harshness, your lack of care and vigilance. Ask God to cleanse you, to forgive you, and to fill you with His Spirit so that you may be able to teach and train your children faithfully. Believe the gospel of Jesus for your situation, for where you are right now. God meets us not where we should have been but where we are right now. No matter the mess, no matter the tangles, no matter your failures, Jesus died to heal it all. Believe the gospel for your family. Believe the promise that the most important thing you must do to save your family is to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31). The salvation of your family is the same grace that saved your soul. The relentless, gratuitous grace of your heavenly Father is no less for your family than it was for you as an individual. So pour out your heart to God, cast all your cares on Him, and trust Him to save you and your family.
2. Repent to your children. Unfaithful parenting is a sin against your children as much as it is a sin against God. Of course, if your children are very little, they may understand little or nothing about what you mean, but don’t worry about that. Just repent. Ask your children to forgive you for not following Jesus faithfully, for being inconsistent, for being inattentive, for losing your temper, for whatever ways you have not obeyed God and applied His word faithfully. Tell your children that you are under the authority of Jesus, and that just as they are required to obey you, their parents, you as a parent are required to obey Jesus. Tell them that whenever you don’t obey Jesus, you are not setting a good example for them and you aren’t loving them as you ought. Tell them that you have repented to Jesus, and now you are starting over by the grace of God and you will be striving to obey Jesus from now on as you are training them. Say it in words they can understand, but say it to them. This may be one of the most important ways you demonstrate the gospel of grace to them.
3. Remove the log from your eye. This is already what the first two steps are assuming. But make sure it’s clear in your head and heart: when your children are out of control, undisciplined, disobedient, angry, and so on, the Bible says that this is the parent’s responsibility. When your kid is doing the screaming Macarena on the floor in the Walmart toy aisle that’s your report card as a parent. It’s your child’s sin. You are not guilty of that sin. But you are responsible for the conditions in your child’s life that led to this moment. But the lack of discipline you are seeing in your son or daughter is actually a mirror. He/she learned that lack of discipline from you. You may not have thrown a literal tantrum recently, but you probably have areas in your life where you are not practicing self-control, where you are giving in to your feelings, your passions, your appetites, and not being ruled by the Spirit of God. And at the very least, you have not been faithfully disciplining small tantrums in your child. You have a lack of discipline in performing discipline. But the point is that as with anyone else, before you address their sin, first examine yourself and repent of any other specific sins. Remove the log from your own eye first, then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your little brother’s eye. If you’ve covered everything in the first two steps, great, but if there are other things to address do it now, do it quick.
4. Believe the promises of God about your kids. Before you turn to address the problems in your home, believe what God promises about your kids specifically. And what does God promise? He promises that the forgiveness of sins is for you and your children (Acts 2:39). He promises to be a covenant keeping God, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, keeping mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him (Ex. 34:7, Dt. 7:9). The promises to Abraham have become the promises of God to all those who are in Christ, the promised seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:29). And what are those promises? In your seed all the nations and families of the earth will be blessed (Gen. 22:18, 26:4, 28:14). Moses prophesied that one day God would circumcise the hearts of His people and the hearts of their children to love Him with all their heart and soul, and now that has happened through the cross of Christ (Col. 2:11). And this promise is sealed in baptism which both proclaims the forgiveness of sins and God’s triumph over sin through the cross (Col. 2:12-15). Jesus came in order to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers and the hearts of fathers to their children (Mal. 4:6). But these promises are not received by works, by good advice, by copying the people next to you, or by reading seven-step blog posts. These promises are received by faith, by looking to God alone as He offers Himself in the gospel. You must trust and obey, but you must begin by fixing your eyes on the Author and Perfecter of your faith, the Author and Perfecter of the faith of your children. In other words, at the end of the day all our best efforts amount to two rotting fish and a few moldy loaves, and it will never be enough for the job. We need Jesus to work miracles of mercy and grace in our homes. We need the blessing of God on our labors. If Jesus is with us, we cannot fail. So cling to His promises, pray His promises, ask God diligently to keep His promises to you and to your children. Plead with Him, cry out to Him, look to Him. God keeps mercy for thousands of generations. And this presupposes the fact that we need mercy.
5. Start with little bites. The great temptation in repentance, when it suddenly dawns on you that you’re way behind the eight ball, is to over-correct. It’s like falling asleep at the wheel, suddenly jerking your head up when your tires hit the warning ruts on the shoulder of the road, and then swerving across the median into oncoming traffic. For example, if you realize you’ve been lax and lazy and haven’t been spanking consistently, diligently, you may be tempted to go into spanking overdrive. Now it very well may be that you’ll need to be giving more spankings for a bit, but one of the most important parts of loving your children is consistency. And this means that when you realize that you need to create a new normal in your home because the old normal wasn’t healthy, wisdom requires that you think carefully and plan out how you will eat the elephant of faithfulness. If you decide tomorrow to do fifty things differently, you will probably get through five of them, frustrate your children and yourself, and end up throwing in the towel in despair on the sixth, and all before lunchtime. It would be far better to start with one or two simple, black and white, thus-saith-the-Lord sorts of things and conquer them and then move on to another and then another and so on. Remember, God in His great mercy doesn’t show us the full extent of our gruesome hearts all at once. He is a kind Father who unveils the rottenness little by little, pouring His grace into our wounds patiently, bearing with our weaknesses. Depending on the age and frame of your children, you should tackle discrete issues as much as possible, one at a time. There may be 10 sins that need addressing, but start with the biggest most obvious one and then slowly, patiently, prayerfully work on addressing them one by one. And start with the ones that have the clearest Biblical imperatives. If one of the problems is lying and another one is jumping on the couch, take care of the lying first and patiently redirect the jumping on the couch. Jumping on the couch is not a sin per se, but it is frequently a lack of respect and self-control and often rude. Those things very well may need addressing, but start with the big ticket items and work your way down. And while you begin working on the first ones, be praying about all of them. Confess them to God on behalf of your family, and ask God to show you the ways you are contributing to them. Remember steps #1-4 and keep going over them.
6. Love your young children with the rod. The Bible is clear that corporal discipline/spanking is a central, significant means of loving our children. He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly (Pr. 13:24). The rod is a significant tool given to parents to teach their children wisdom (Pr. 29:15). Faithfulness in administering this kind of loving discipline is part of the way God delivers our children from Hell (Pr. 23:13-14). At the same time, there are hard cases (foster children, adoptions, and various kinds of mental handicaps) that make spanking impossible, unwise, or ineffective. However, hard cases make poor laws, and so we shouldn’t build a philosophy of parenting from the exceptions. But there is still plenty of room for well-meaning parents with ordinary sinful children to get the wrong end of the stick (pun intended). And what I mean is that consistency is a very crucial part of the effectiveness of spanking. And I mean consistency in love and consistency in enforcement of standards. Hebrews 12 says that painful discipline is one of the ways you know who your dad is. If God disciplines us, we know He is our Father. If He doesn’t discipline us, we should wonder if we actually belong to Him. But God doesn’t just throw discipline at us, He carefully disciplines for our good. In other words, He doesn’t give us more than we can handle. He considers our frames, that we are but dust (Ps. 103:14). One of the ways parents can mess spanking up is by spanking erratically and inconsistently. This can happen because the standards are ambiguous or because enforcement is unpredictable. Both are failures to love our children. A parent who makes standards vague and ambiguous and then spanks without clear standards of justice is provoking his child to wrath (Eph. 6:4) and cannot throw up his hands in exasperation claiming that he tried spanking and it didn’t work. Abusus non tollit usum: abuse does not take away use. While I certainly believe that careful, faithful, consistent, and judiciously administered spanking is loving our children, I’m afraid that haphazard, moody, and erratic spanking is a form of abuse and the likely cause of many children growing up in conservative Christian homes hating God and their parents. It would be better to have clear and consistent standards and be lax with the rod than to have a moving standard and kids getting whacked intermittently. Of course we rarely have to choose between ditches, and it would be best to simply enforce God’s Word with kindness and grace.
7. The aim is fellowship. Remember, the point of discipline, the point of parenting is to train up disciples of Jesus who love Jesus with you. The reason why unruly, undisciplined, and misbehaving children is a problem is because those habits and sins are training for breaking fellowship with God, Church, and Family. But don’t lose sight of the goal. The goal is not children who have their shirts tucked in all the time. The goal is not children who never speak out of turn. The goal is not a pile of airbrushed covenant robots. The goal is children who love God with all that they are. Our goal is children whose hearts have been changed by the Spirit. Our goal is children who are driven by the gospel of grace, whose hearts are overflowing with joy and gratitude and gladness and thanksgiving. So many of the parables that Jesus tells are about weddings or end in parties and celebrations. That’s because that’s what being part of God’s family is like. God our Father owns the whole world and has purchased it with the blood of His Son. The whole thing belongs to Him, and in Him, it is being given to us to enjoy and share and glorify. That’s what it means to be a Christian. It means that our sins are forgiven, and now every apple pie, every turkey dinner, every marshmallow on fire is a reminder that our Father loves us. If you realize you haven’t been parenting faithfully, remember what Christian repentance looks like. It isn’t depressed and dour. Christian repentance is coming home to your Father who awaits you with open arms and a fatted calf and a loud party with plenty of dancing. If you haven’t been a faithful parent, if you know you need to change, start with repenting. But don’t repent like a pagan. Repent like a Christian. Throw a party, play loud dancing music, heap up double helpings of ice cream with lots of chocolate sauce and peanut butter, and then look your spouse and your children in the eye and tell them that it’s time to go home. It’s time to walk in the light as He is in the light. And when your children ask you, ‘Dad, Mom, what does that mean?’ You call the littlest one over and you take the can of whip cream and you spray a big white volcano into her mouth and you say, ‘It’s like that.’