Reading through Chapter 30 of Sirach during this first week after my son returned home from college, I was drawn to the practical truth proclaimed thousands of years ago.
“Whoever loves a son will chastise him often, that he may be a joy when he grows up” Sirach 30:1.
Chastise is a strong word. It means to rebuke or reprimand. Being able to reprimand is an essential element of parenting. Our children are still learning how to live and operate in the world. We must guide them of course, but give them also appropriate freedoms to make choices (good or bad), and correct them with love and clarity when they choose poorly!
Too often we either helicopter or take a hands-off approach, rather than finding balance. When we micromanage our children they never have the chance to make mistakes. But this can result in a failure for our children to develop any courage or risk-taking behavior, and be unable to receive correction in the future. Helicopter parenting also prevents the development of emotional resilience, or an understanding of the natural state of imperfection we all maintain.
We will make mistakes, we will need to be rebuked, and we will survive the humiliation when we are forced to encounter it in life.
On the other side, some parents take free-range parenting to extremes. They fail to provide correction, feedback, guidance, and support. These parents can be emotionally or physically unavailable and typically make excuses for their children’s failures (rather than chastising them and helping them grow in prudence or self-control). They often don’t work intentionally with the child to foster positive growth. It could be interpreted as lazy parenting, but many are simply misguided in thinking that what they do as a parent matters very little in the long run. Typically they have a deterministic outlook on parenting which runs counter to actual research from the fields of psychology, sociology, or family studies.
Our children need balance from us. Children need to know that what they do matters, and if they make mistakes they will be corrected and loved through those mistakes. As our children grow into adulthood, with maturity they will hopefully be able to see how that chastisement in the early years kept them on the rails, kept them humble, and kept them growing in the right direction. Reprimands and punishments, when used correctly and in appropriate measure, generally result in appropriate correction of behavior or change of direction.
If a behavior is not corrected and if excellence is not expected, the unconscious message you send to the child is that she is not worth your effort.
I recently praise one of my children for getting a B. She was furious. I had never praised her siblings for a B, and she saw the difference. Without meaning to do so, I sent her the message that I did not expect that she was capable of doing better.
I can’t imagine the sadness of a child who is raised with parental expectations of mediocrity. And that is the expectation you set when you parent with fear (never letting your child make a mistake) or free-range style (failing to provide help and support).
Our culture has unfortunately gotten soft and too often parents fail to use chastisement appropriately. They make excuses for their children’s behavior, rather than actively correcting it. So chastise your child, rebuke, reprimand, and show them that you expect greatness from them. Do it with kindness and charity. Show them that you love them enough to do the hard thing as a parent and step into their lives and provide help. And he will be a joy when he grows up.
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