Pure & Simple – Part I

Given the way I feel tonight (and I’ve felt all day), I know I won’t get through the entire subject tonight. It occurred to me today, that I ought to pick up on the last post and further clarify the issue between mercy and judgement. In the previous posts on this subject I have been free to interchange the word punishment and judgement. I would call the Ezzo/TTUAC parenting method a judgement based method. I have consciously interchanged the words because the two acts are inextricably linked. You cannot punish someone, unless you have judged them and found them to have failed to meet up with some standard or measure (eg. a law).

Now, in the last post I wrote/quoted that from a Christian perspective mercy triumphs over judgement. This means first of all that it is the Christian belief that mercy is stronger or more powerful than judgement. The second thing this implies is that the two are not compatible. If they were in some way compatible, then they would triumph together. They are exclusive to one another. That only one or the other can be directed toward a single object. As it relates to someone having failed to meet a standard, to have mercy toward that person is to forgive them. Forgiveness is a common thread through Christian doctrine.

When it comes to someone having not met the standard (i.e. what Christians call sin), the single choice that must be made first, by an offended party, is whether to judge or to forgive. If a sin is forgiven, then there is no punishment. If a sin is punished, since a form of recompense has already been administered, forgiveness from the administering party is no longer possible (except if/when the punishment is later repented).

In the Old Testament, Israel was instructed to forgive 7 times. The disciple Peter asked Jesus for clarification of that. Jesus replied that he was to forgive 7 time 70 (490) times. Jesus was not telling generations of Christians that they needed to carry around a little note book where they tallied people’s offenses against them. What He was telling Peter was that if he was counting, he was not forgiving. To look for the day or time when you might justly dole out the appropriate recompense for offenses is not forgiveness. Whether the offending party is an adult or child makes no difference because that state of mind (perspective/world view) is yours and not that of the offending party.

While thinking through this subject, there were a couple of things which occurred between Emma and I over the last 6 months or so. The first was a month or so before her fifth birthday. One day, she wanted a treat of some kind and told Andrea that I had said the night before that she could have it. At an opportune time where she could ask in private, Andrea asked me if I had told her that. I hadn’t. I told Andrea to not worry about it and not say anything to her about it. That night it was Andrea’s turn at putting her to bed (reading stories, etc.) Emma had already given me my good night hug and kiss and gone off to her room with mom. She was only there a few minutes and she needed me. When I entered the room, she burst into tears and said, “Daddy, I made a lie.” And through those tears proceeded to tell me what I already knew.

If I were to follow the advice of many, I would have punished her, ‘to teach her that lying is bad/sin’. If what I have described has not already compelled you to see that she already know’s that, I don’t know how to explain to you that children already know that. What I did, instead, was hold her and allow her time to say everything she needed to say. Then, I whispered in her ear, “I forgive you.” This was followed by a few sobs of relief and then she was ready to resume her bedtime routine.

Over the last 3 or 4 months, Emma had taken to saying, “I promise.” and then not keeping it. Until a few weeks ago, the only parental thing I did toward that was remind her that she had promised. What I did a few weeks ago was explain to her that when she said, “I promise.”, she was telling someone that she was going to do something. I further explained that I understood that the reason she was saying it was to get something or around something. (Bear in mind this is not an adult, lecturing a child but a 2-way conversation between us.) Then I told her that I did not want her to say, “I promise” unless she was going to do what she promised. (I want to be clear her that I did not in any way hint or suggest that there was some sort of consequences if she didn’t do what I said. Instead, I told her what I expected of her.) To the best of my knowledge, she has not ‘promised’ since. She definitely hasn’t to me.

I have to be honest and say that what I am describing to you was learned through trial and error. Through all the parenting I’ve come to realize that the Christian parent’s primary duty is to model the character of Christ who said:

Thy sins be forgiven thee.
Go, and sin no more. And
Forgive them, for they know not what they do.

And who among us, moreso that children, know not what they do? I’m not saying that they don’t realize that they are doing something wrong (eg. lying). What I am saying is that children do not understand the implications of what they are doing (it is not as though the soldiers who were crucifying Jesus did not know they were crucifying someone).

As a father, there is only one way for me to teach my children that when they say, “Father,…forgive me my transgressions?” to believe that those transgressions will be forgiven. And that is to forgive them before they learn how to say forgive me, forgive them to the degree and consistency that cultivates a relationship where such a request is welcomed. Secondly, I must model a character that seeks forgiveness from my children. This 2 sided approach is the only way that a child can learn what it is to be both an offended party and an offending party. I can punish until I am blue in the face and my children will not learn nor know forgiveness.

Author: Ron

Homeschooling dad of 4 (ages 27 - 14), grampy to 3, WordPress core contributor, former farmboy & software developer by profession.

15 thoughts on “Pure & Simple – Part I”

  1. Very well said. I think this also illustrates one of the reasons I don’t understand how some people can ‘take what they need’ out of something like the Pearls’ book. The basic philosophy is just so incompatible with my basic philosophy.

  2. Ron – I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said. And not only should we forgive our children, but we should ask them for forgiveness when we have wronged them. Will you further elaborate on how discipline is handled at your house? I’m guessing there are times when there are consequences needed for more serious infractions. Maybe I’m assuming too much, I don’t know, but I’d be curious to hear more.

  3. OK, I understand this example — and similar instances have happened to us as well. BUT are you saying (I don’t think you are, but am interested in clarification) that you *never* discipline your children for disobedience, that you always give them mercy? I just don’t see that working. What if your son has a curfew (maybe you don’t do that, he seems pretty responsible), or just doesn’t tell you where he’s going or when he’ll be home. You don’t take away a priviledge or anything? It just seems so, I don’t know, permissive, lol!

  4. If you punish a child for doing something wrong then what you’re teaching him is that prevention of punishment is the reason not to do the wrong thing. What I think we really want to be teaching our children is that the reason not to do the wrong thing is BECAUSE it is WRONG.

    Look at it this way: if someone tries to talk your kid into shoplifting, do you want him to say:

    “No, my mom will be mad if she finds out and then I’ll get into trouble.”


    “No, stealing is wrong.”

    Of course, both answers have the same immediate result, which is that your child is not going to shoplift, so in that sense they are both good answers. But the former implies that the main reason he is not going to shoplift is because of fear of punishment/reprisal/anger. The latter is a statement that the child understands that the action is wrong.

    You can send the child who makes the second statement out into the world with the reasonable expectation that he has a good moral code that will serve him well. Can you say that about the child who makes the first statement?

  5. I’ve been thinking all day, and I can’t remember the last time any of the older children were willfully disobedient, at least not since they were young children. They are 13, 15 and 18 now, for new readers.

    With regard to Gem’s “what if”, well we don’t really have a curfew because the kids tell us where they are going, who with and when they will be back, even before they have permission to go.

    It wouldn’t occur to Addison, for example, to not tell us where he was going because that would foremost be inconsiderate to the people he lives with. When they are going to be late, they know we expect them to call. It only took one time to be met with a locked door and upset, worried parents for that to stick.

    For someone as young as Emma (5), the last “wrong” thing I can remember her doing is writing on one of the doors. I discovered an “E” in blue marker on the white door between the kitchen and foyer. I asked her nicely why it was there. She explained her rationale for doing it (to let people know where she was) and I asked her if we were supposed to write on doors and walls. She said no. I then asked her what did she think we should do now and she said “clean it up and not do it again”. She also pointed out a spot I had missed on a nearby cabinet. We cleaned it up together and talked about an alternative to what she wanted to do. If she wanted to tell people where she was, she could make a sign and tape it to the door instead.

    In case you think this was overly permissive and she missed punishment, she did learn that by writing on the door, she had to stop what she was doing and clean up a mess she made. It also inconvenienced another person and was disrespectful to the house and the other people in it. We also talked about this as we cleaned. When we were done, she turned to me and said, “I’m sorry mommy,” and we hugged.

    This was only the second time she has written on the walls, doors or furniture, and the first was more than a year ago. I don’t expect it to happen again.

  6. My oldest son, almost 18, recently said to me something like — Y’know Mom, we have the least rules of any family I know, and yet I am probably the least bad kid of any guy my age I know.

    He’s right – he doesn’t break any of the rules I would have if I had ever thought to have any rules.

    But, I have two more coming along, so I’m not declaring any “guarantees” (if you do xyz, your kids will never cause you any trouble).

    Still, oldest son is at least “anecdotal evidence” that you don’t have to spank or use authoritarian, punishment-oriented parenting in order to have a kid you can be proud of.

    We chose the tough middle road of “loving guidance,” neither permissive nor authoritarian. One of the things I have been happiest about is that my kids are not blindly obedient to authority, but work hard to see the ethical and moral choices they’re presented with.

  7. I had the “promise” talk with my son a couple months ago after he had broken a promise he had made. The thing itself he had promised to do was of little import, but when he had not done what he promised I explained to him that do not make promises that we don’t intend, or are unlikely to be able to keep. He hasn’t made one since, though I’m happy to say he has done most of the things he has said he would do.

  8. The marker story is exactly what would happen here.

    Children can feel remorse without having it beat into them. People give too little credit to the Holy Spirit.

  9. “Now, in the last post I wrote/quoted that from a Christian perspective mercy triumphs over judgement. This means first of all that it is the Christian belief that mercy is stronger or more powerful than judgement. The second thing this implies is that the two are not compatible.”

    I do not agree that the two are not compatible, as I believe that God exhibits both perfect judgement and perfect mercy. Nevertheless I sincerely applaud you for stating your view so plainly. I think one of the more painful miscommunications I’ve had was excaberated by the other party’s unwillingness to state this belief.

    I appreciate the opportunity to read a clear and respectable account of your view on the matter.


  10. Thanks for all the comments.

    “I believe that God exhibits both perfect judgement and perfect mercy.”

    As do I. There is nothing in what I wrote that suggests otherwise. What I do not believe is that it is possible to arrive at a judgement toward a single thing which determines both mercy and punishment.

    When someone goes to court, excepting cases where there is no judgement (eg. mis-trial) a case is either decided in favour or against them. To make that determination is the sole purpose of the court. Using that analogy, mercy would be not guilty and punishment would be guilty.

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