The old saying that you can’t give what you don’t have might apply to this topic. I have found through years raising and homeschooling my family of eight kids that without discipline chaos rules and few hopeful plans come to fruition. But it is not all about disciplining the kids….really it all starts with disciplining the parents to be good parents and that means coming up with reasonable, intelligent goals that aspire to fulfil our family’s dreams and aspirations. But it also involves making smart plans which break down the goals into manageable steps so that no one is overwhelmed. Too many great ideas never go any where because too much is tried in too short a time span. And finally there is a need for oversight and follow through. Bringing kids into the world and raising them to be great citizens of this world as well as of the Kingdom to come is certainly not for the faint hearted or the short sighted – it is long range planning if ever there is one!
But practically speaking the parent(s) doing the raising and disciplining have to play by the same rules they set for their kids. They have to do what they say they are going to do - not being held hostage by a toddler or young child (or teenager) who wants more than his or her fair share because they insist that you “promised weeks ago” to do…..what ever. Kids can have remarkable memories and some times they remember promises that were never made and a guilt ridden adult can often fall for the ploy that what a child demands is what they really need. But that whole guilt trip can be avoided if you are the kind of parent (and know this about yourself) who does follow up on plans and if plans change you make it clear that sometimes things don’t turn out as hoped. I believe the first ingredient to chaos is a guilt ridden conscience where by a child manipulates the adult into all sorts of unreasonable things because the adult hasn’t been acting like the adult – too scattered to keep track of what they have said and running full speed ahead without any plans.
Also parents have to make reasonable goals that fulfil not the momentary desires of the kids but the long range hopes and ideals of the family. Frankly – there are a lot of distractions out there that will call your kids in twenty different directions if you let them. Prioritizing your plans and knowing when to be flexible is an invaluable skill. First set priorities in your life and then stick to them! Change them only when something comes along to force you to rethink – like a serious health issue, a new educational opportunity or a job change. I have heard this concept called “rigid flexibility”. Once you know your priorities you can set your day at your pace. Start at the top and work your way down. Things that don’t get done today will be done tomorrow. Life is full of unfinished business but staying on track means keeping your head about you and not being led astray by countless distractions. Remember the priorities when you suddenly have an urge to turn on the t.v. or allow an electronic game into your home. Time wasters run havoc with what could have been a great well planned day. Following the priorities also allows you to slow down because it is not so much about getting everything done as keeping things in proper order. In the first few days of a schedule you may need to change your plans until you match idealistic goals with realistic time constraints and honest abilities. It is far better to plan to do a little less and live in calm peace than to strain yourself and your kids to the utmost trying to smash too much into a day. In our house God and prayer comes first, then family and meal time schedules, educational interests, house hold duties and then projects. Those are broad categories but you get the picture. Basics first! For us a prayer life connected to God’s grace and the help of His discerning power make our days run more smoothly. Then family, food and basic home issues, then education, then further household issues and other projects of interest. Every family can set its own categories and order but it takes time, discernment and honest thought to come up with a list of what is really important to you and your family.
The monastic life reflects a balance between the different aspects of the human person. First we are spiritual beings – hence the need for scheduled personal and family-type prayer. Next we are physical beings – hence the need for physical care of food and environment. Finally we are intellectual beings – hence the need for educational opportunities and intellectual challenge. In the monastic ideal there is a balance between these aspects of our person-hood and we learn to keep them in balance by sticking to reasonable goals and schedules but we must know when to alter plans by discerning when we are called to change course - for as time passes so life’s goals change.
Next time I will discuss some of the practical details involved in disciplining kids and keeping them on track. Unity and motivation is the key. Feel free to write in with any comments or insights. God bless your family!