Lessons From Nancy

As a young mom, I was at my wit’s end with four-in-a-row. Our home was small and we had too many toys. The neighborhood wasn’t a good one, so I was afraid to let the kids go outside to play without me along. Being somewhat of a “creative mess” myself, I did not do well keeping up with their clutter and soon became overwhelmed. They were not well behaved, either. They argued, tattled, and cried over seemingly insignificant things. I didn’t know how to train them to do better – when I felt I was falling short myself. Discipline seemed necessary, but I didn’t really know how to do that without injuring my children’s souls in the process. I wanted to scream at them sometimes but did not want to become a screamer. When I lost control, I felt like a failure.

Thankfully, when it came to managing children well, my mother in law had some experience. She had a day-care in her home, so she was adept at managing large numbers of little people. When I finally humbled myself enough to ask her if she had any ideas about how I could do better, she gave me these tips.

1. Never punish a child when they don’t understand what they did wrong. Use the first offense to instruct them (if that kind of infraction had never occurred to you before). Explain to them what the expected behavior is, and what the consequences (be specific) of breaking the rule, will be. Write them down. Be simple and clear. When they break the rule, show them – in writing – what they have done and what the consequences are. Then give them the discipline you promised. It should be without anger, expected and reasonable. Not every deed would be handled the same way.

2. Do not assume guilt without two or three witnesses (or witnessing the event personally) that a particular child was in the wrong. I would ask – “What have you done?” Confession and making it right could mean that no punitive action was needed. If it was a repeat offense, some would be necessary.

3. Destruction of a brother’s or sister’s toy would require an apology and work to replace it. Lying would require confession and up to seven swats (depending on if it was bearing false witness against a neighbor).

4. Selfishness with toys that were purchased for sharing, would mean restriction from those things. This would include the use of the family TV or video games. Being deliberately unkind would mean isolation for a period of time unless the child immediately apologized and made amends on their own.

The rule of thumb was – if you catch yourself doing wrong, and fix it – you will not be punished. You will receive mercy. (With repentance comes mercy.)

5. Each person’s belongings were to be treated with respect and not used without permission. This included special toys they received for gifts or awards. They did not have to share those. The reason was, if they did share them with a friend, and it was harmed, it would be a loss that they must accept. They may learn from it to not share valuable things so quickly, with those who cannot be trusted. This, in my opinion, is a valuable life-lesson. Do not share what you are not willing to give up. In this way, sharing and giving become genuine, not forced. I did not want to raise little socialists. If I did not value their things, why would they value another child’s things?

6. Their own possessions were their responsibility to care for. They would not be replaced due to poor stewardship. After thinning out their supply of clutter, I tried not to give them more than they could manage.

7. Nothing illegal or immoral would be allowed in the house. If a friend tried to bring something like that inside our home, they would not be allowed back.

8. I would not hear tattling unless they first approached the person that was offending them, and asked them to stop. If that friend or sibling repented upon confrontation, no further action would be needed. I wanted them to learn to exercise mercy also – and extend the grace they received when they repented.

This did not apply to adults harming children, or real danger of bodily harm. Imminent danger of actual harm or illegal or immoral behavior were to be taken to parents – without rebuke.

9. Delayed obedience is… not always disobedience. If they had a good reason for the delay, they had to ask permission. For instance, if their father gave them instruction and I gave them another that conflicted or would take them away from obeying him, all they had to say was, “May I finish what Daddy asked me to do, first?”

I also stipulated that if they had a crisis of their own, and needed a few minutes to calm down, or to finish an important talk, or even to do the last few lines of a story they were working on (while their creativity was going full force), they could ask – may I please have ___ minutes to finish ___ before I do? If it was possible, I would give them the time they asked for. Why? Because I wanted to raise wise and thoughtful children, not automatons. As Jesus taught, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” And as the Apostle Paul said, “Father’s do not exasperate your children, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” God gives much grace when we ask! There is so much freedom in His will and in His love. As a parent, I wanted to reflect what I appreciated so much in Him.

10. Of course, deliberate disobedience with rebellion and defiance would be punished. Loss of privileges relating to the thing they put above God and family would be lost for a time – until they repented. Repentance must include expressing a change of heart and direction for the future. Spankings were not the go-to solution in our home for every offense, but rebellion would be one of those.

It was my personal conviction never to publicly shame my children. If a rule was broken in public, we would either leave, or I would hold up a finger indicating the number of the rule. As soon as practical, the consequences would be administered. If they deliberately caused trouble in public in order to hinder punishment, the consequences would be more serious due to malice and manipulation.

11. We did not sermonize, but when there was a Scriptural reason for what we did, we always shared it.

12. We always told the truth to our children. If they asked for a reason why we wanted something done, or done a certain way – we did tell them. However, it was not allowed to be a delay tactic. They could be more fully informed while in the process of obeying.

Letting go as they got older wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. I was confident that they were good people and would be able to handle themselves graciously in the world.

My mother in law was a great blessing, giving me a toolbox of wisdom to apply in child-raising.

I never did figure out how to get all the work done around the house, but we did have peace. And that made it a pleasant place to come home to, for everyone.

Author: Jane E Clark

I am a wife, mom, grandmother, teacher, and a writer of children's stories, articles, and poetry.

1 thought on “Lessons From Nancy”

  1. One more piece of advice she gave me about babies having a crying fit or tantrum…

    Just blow a puff of air in their face. They will catch their breath and stop crying. Then, quickly distract them. Crying is pretty much the only way a child has of expressing a need. They should not be punished for it. It’s up to us to discern their reason and meet their needs – until they can speak our language well enough to tell us!

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