In our desire to bring our children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, parents become very invested in the power of rules. From the Ten Commandments to "Abstain from all appearance of evil" (1 Thess. 5:22), we often use rules as boundaries of behavior and measures of maturity. A few family policies like "If you make a mess, clean it up" are basic and practical.
We can also depend on those rules too much, sometimes at the expense of learning and healthy relationships. Think of the dynamics of the Garden of Eden. God placed His perfect creations in a perfect environment. But He also created the opportunity for choice, and then a rule to govern the parameters of that choice, and to define the consequences.
As we know, they chose to disobey, and God began the process of chastisement and restoration. He started with a question so that Adam first understood the essence as well as the ramifications of his disobedience. Then the Lord lovingly meted out the consequences, and in the same passage gave them hope through a prophecy regarding His plan for redemption.
Is this a pattern we can follow with our children?
From the time they are born, we have the ability to not only build up our children with Biblical principles and virtues, but to allow them to safely test the boundaries of their characters. Unfortunately, what many parents do is build stone walls constructed of rules - some Biblical, some arbitrary - in an attempt to prevent their beloved children from ever experiencing pain, or making a mistake.
When this happens, what are we trusting to keep our kids safe, to teach them morals and ethics? In the rules themselves? In the consequences for breaking them, or the rewards of obedience? In the underlying Biblical principles? In the Lord and Savior who loves them as much as He loves you?
It is important that we keep a balance between what is Scriptural, what is practical, and the true source and foundation of our parental standards. It is essential that we take into consideration where our kids are developmentally, and whether or not their misbehavior is because of immaturity, an incomplete understanding of our expectations, or actual rebellion. It is vital that the consequences are those that appropriately teach the law of sowing and reaping, and are not an effort to extort obedience. After all, an obedience that is the result of fear and intimidation is not a true obedience anyway.
Change of heart is wrought by the power of the Holy Spirit. When we attempt to act in place of the Spirit, we rob our children of the opportunity to be moved by God's Word, hear the convicting voice of the Spirit, and learn how to be doers of the Word and not hearers, or worse yet, whitewashed tombs. The focus of our parenting should not be how our children reflect on us, but what benefits them according to their gifts, abilities and potential.
God has a plan for them, and while the Lord uses Godly parents to lead and guide young people, He does not channel His will through the parent, but speaks directly to them as a result of their own Bible study, submission to His will, and prayer life.
Hebrews 12:9-10 Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.
Our children also need to experience forgiveness and hope. We can fall into the trap of constantly doling out consequences without ever allowing our children to get a taste of the depths of forgiveness that God can grant through our example of forgiveness. Colossians 3:21 warns us, "Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged." Children should be taught, by Word and example, how to give and receive forgiveness, how to apologize, and how to make restitution, They should know beyond a doubt that there is unreserved restoration for them when they've confessed their faults to God, and that restoration works in both directions.
...mercy rejoiceth against judgement. James 2:13