(I got this question from a reader a few weeks back and, with her permission, I'm sharing it here. I think it's an issue that a lot of us with little ones can relate to.)
Thank you so much for your honesty on your blog! I am always encouraged when I read your posts. I have 2 little girls, 2 1/2 years old and 4 months old. I am honestly looking for some practical wisdom from other moms about how to bring the gospel to bear in my 2 year old's life specifically right now. We have really good days, and really not good days. This week has been a lot of not so good days and I am just scouring the internet after she goes to bed, trying to find wisdom to glean from other moms who have been there and who love the Lord. So...how can I live out and teach the gospel in the terrible twos? What does gospel-centered discipline look like for a 2 year old?
And here's my response:
Thank you so much for your question. I'm honestly on this quest with you. I am practical with a capital "P." While I understand that understanding the "whys" are important, the bottom line is I want to know the "whats" and the "hows" of this whole parenting thing. You've found a kindred spirit in that sense.
Obviously, if I had all the answers, I'd be a multi-millionare because who doesn't want to know the practicals of how to do this thing right?
But, that being said, I think I'm coming to some conclusions that have a practical impact on how I discipline my 2 and 3 year olds. Here goes:
1. It's more about the process than the end result. Each child is so unique in the way they respond to certain types of discipline. While I can't give you specifics on spanking and time-outing and privilege removal and discussions and such for your child, I do think there is something that all gospel-centered discipline has in common: The gospel. I know, profound, huh? But seriously, here's how it has an affect in the nitty-gritty. My child is throwing the tantrum of the century and no method works no matter how lovingly and calmly I execute it (read my post about my experience with that here); gospel-centered parenting can still be achieved, no matter the outcome of the tantrum. Here are more of my thoughts on "successful parenting" that I think might encourage you.
2. I find it uber-discouraging when other parents tell me I'm just in a hard phase where my child is old enough to know that what they're doing is wrong, but too young to understand explanations and consequences and that this is just a period of their lives where I have to be consistent and "endure."
Here's where I've landed on that issue: While I know that they definitely don't understand all (or even most) of my little explanations about Jesus and the Gospel and God and the Bible and on and on, I believe they can (and often do) grasp more than I give them credit for. On top of this, regardless of whether they understand what I'm saying, it is invaluable to me as the parent.
I started using Scripture and pointing my oldest to Jesus during discipline when he was about 18 months old. The first few weeks and months of it were AWKward! I fumbled over my explanations, felt self-conscious doing it in front of my husband and a little like I was over doing it for trying to turn vegetable conflicts into something spiritual. Looking back 2 years later, I am SO glad I started working my way through those conversations then. I've got a long way to go for this to be as natural as I'd like, but I don't bat an eye about those insecurities I felt at the beginning. I think the long term benefits will be incredible too. I'm hoping and praying that by starting these conversations when my little ones could barely speak, that the years to come will prove to be open lines of communication about spiritual things. (I imagine that if it felt awkward and forced with a 1 1/2 year old that it would feel much more so with a teenager if it wasn't a normal way of talking between us).
So, while this may not be a stage where my child's heart is transformed, my heart can and I can practice, practice practice and get ready for those years coming soon when these conversations will matter even more. I seriously look at parenting through new eyes since making an effort to point them to the gospel
3. So I guess on to some practical thoughts I use with my own. Like I said, I'm not going to prescribe an actual method. We use a combination of consequences with our kiddos. I think the key in that area is consistency and making sure the punishment fits the crime (not going overboard or being too lenient). Once the punishment has been administered and we're ready for reconciliation (usually when they've calmed down enough to be respectful while I speak), I point them to Jesus. With my youngest, conversation is pretty limited and I do most of the talking. I say something like, "Aren't you so glad that Jesus can forgive you even when you refuse to pick up your toys?" With my oldest, I ask him, "Do you know who died so you can be forgiven of your tantrum?" or something that requires feedback from him.
If I lost my temper in the process of the discipline, I make sure to point that out too. I apologize for my harsh words or anger or executing a punishment that didn't fit the crime and ask for their forgiveness. Then I remind them that Jesus died for me too by saying something like, "I'm so thankful that Jesus forgives Mommy's anger." Sometimes we wrap it up by praying and thanking God for the grace he extends to our family... sometimes not. Each circumstance has a different feel, so sometimes it's literally a 5 second thought tagged on to the end of the ordeal and sometimes it's a conversation that lasts a minute or two. Sometimes, in all honesty, I'm in no frame of mind to point them to the gospel (and for that I am even MORE thankful for the gospel!).
You know as well as I do that those "not so good" days can be so long. There are days where I feel like I'm lucky if I point them to the gospel even once throughout the day. Then there are days where my frame of mind is more centered on Christ and the statistics fare a little better. I don't say that because I think it's okay that this is my reality, but to encourage you that this IS my reality and it's only the grace of God that everyday at our house is not a complete failure.
I pray that you find some encouragement in these words. Keep pressing on and "fight the good fight" and I think that you will find that the gospel will come to life more and more for you and for your daughters.
What advice or thoughts do you have for how to live out the gospel with a two year old?