I’ve seen it. You’ve seen. I’m pretty sure we’ve all seen it.
And to be honest, I’ve been it.
What am I talking about? That angry parent at the grocery store/playground/anywhere who’s scolding their kid a little too loud for everyone to hear. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying discipline is bad. But instead of being loose on the rules, like a pendulum, I’ve often swung to the complete opposite end. There’s something in me that wants to view my role as a parent more like an enforcer of rules, ready to pounce on any child that belongs to me whenever they yet again do that thing I told him not to do for the twentieth time.
Imagine a shepherd in a pasture, watching over his beloved flock, making sure they have everything they need, and ready to protect them if any predators get too close. There are times when a shepherd needs to be firm with his sheep, but it’s for the sheep’s good, to protect them.
I think God designed the role of a parent to look like that–a shepherd coming alongside our kids to gently lead them in the right direction, taking care of their needs along the way. But what exactly does that look like on a day-to-day basis? How do you act like a shepherd when you want to strangle your children?
Here are 3 ideas for being a shepherd to your kids.
1) Be patient with them
My son has recently been learning the art of saying “I’m sorry”. It’s beautiful to me when he walks over and sadly says the words “I’m sorry, Dada”. It’s especially beautiful when he does it without being told to, because I know it’s sincere (as sincere as a 2-year old can be).
But he had to be taught that. There were numerous times where we told him he needed to apologize to someone he was playing with and his response was screaming, utter refusal, or a tantrum. Or all three at the same time.
One day, he’ll understand the importance of it at a deeper level, but he’s not there yet. As his dad I need to remember that. I need to be patient with where he is at now. As you’re raising your children, remember, they’re not there yet. They’re in training. And when they fail, don’t blow up on them. Discipline them if necessary, but be patient.
2) Serve your kids
If we’re really honest with ourselves, sometimes we act more like tyrants than parents. At least I do, maybe you’ve got your stuff together. But as parents, God wants us to serve our kids, not bark orders at them, not force them to do what we want them to do. A shepherd takes on full responsibility for the well-being of their sheep, and they do whatever it takes to make sure their sheep are taken care of.
Even Jesus–the Creator of the universe–served His disciples. He went so far as to wash their feet, something a household slave would do for their master’s guests. For us as parents, that may mean getting a refill for the sippy cup, letting our kids sob on our shoulder when they stub their toe, or cleaning up yet another diaper explosion.
We’re servants, not dictators. Shepherds, not tyrants.
3) Encourage them
While I haven’t done this perfectly, I’ve tried to make a habit of telling my son “Good job” when he does something like clean up his toys, or go to the bathroom by himself. I think he’s caught on to the concept–he’ll sometimes say the same thing to me, usually when I’m doing something totally monotonous. “Good job, Dada!”
I try to encourage him frequently because he needs it. More than I understand, perhaps. Celebrate your kids’ small victories. Root for them. If you don’t, no one else will. And besides, encouraging them will do more than yelling will.
Right now, shepherding my kids involves small or mundane things. But there will come a time when shepherding will look more like having serious conversations about life, walking with them through the consequences of their choices, or taking privileges away as discipline. When those times come, our kids will need us to come alongside them to help and correct them as a shepherd, not a rule-enforcer, or a dictator.
Embrace your role! With God’s help, you can do this.