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Consistency is defined as "steadfast adherence to the same principles."
We have already learned six "key" principles we must follow in order to raise godly children. But it is not enough to just understand and be aware of these principles. We must consistently apply them - we must "steadfastly adhere" to them, and we must continually apply the "same principles" without variation. This applies to all six areas we have already discussed:
(1) We must consistently keep our purpose before us and take all actions with that purpose in mind: to raise our children to serve God.
(2) We must consistently plan our actions in harmony with God's word, and put our plan into action.
(3) We must consistently act in love for the whole family, making our decisions according to what is best for all.
(4) We must consistently instruct our children to know God's will.
(5) We must consistently use authority for the good of all, expecting obedience and respect from children.
(6) We must consistently motivate our children to obey us by means of proper, diligent application of punishments and rewards.
We are not saying to just be consistent, regardless of the principles you follow. It is possible to be consistently wrong! We must learn the right principles, then we must steadfastly adhere to them.
Lack of consistency is one of the biggest problems facing parents. We often fail, not because we do not know what to do, but because we are not diligent in applying consistently what we know.
Note some specific areas in which consistency is needed but is often lacking.
Both parents must "steadfastly adhere to the same principles." They must work together, not against one another.
Sometimes they disagree about what rules the children should be required to follow or about how the children should be punished. They may even argue about matters like this in front of the child.
Typically, one parent is strict and the other is lenient. The lenient one thinks the child is being treated too harshly, so he/she compensates by being increasingly lenient to make up for the strictness of the other parent. The other parent sees this and reacts by being even stricter to make up for the leniency of the other spouse. It becomes a vicious circle in which the parents pull further and further apart.
The child is completely confused by this. One parent punishes him, while the other parent protects him. He doesn't know what the rules are. He has no sense of security, but becomes the pawn in a power struggle between the parents. But he soon learns to play the parents against one another. He goes to the parent who will let him have his way and uses that one to protect him from the other parent.
But the end result is the child really does not respect either parent. If they cannot decide the rules, why should he listen to them? Often great strife results within the family. And most tragically, the child does not grow up to learn the qualities of character that either parent wants him to learn.
Isaac determined to bless Esau, but Rebekah wanted the blessing to go to Jacob. Rebekah and Jacob deceived Isaac and cheated Esau of the blessing. The result was strife between Jacob and Esau so severe that Esau determined to kill Jacob, and Jacob had to flee from home.
God is not the author of confusion, but of peace. The result of such conflict between parents is sure to be strife, not peace. God is not the cause of it and does not approve it.
A house divided against itself shall not stand. But a house is surely divided when parents are so inconsistent and disagreed about raising the children. It cannot possibly accomplish its real goals.
Parents should not provoke children to wrath. But such inconsistency between the parents invariably causes wrath and discouragement on the part of the child.
Go back to step #2 - planning. Discuss the matter between yourselves based on the principles of God's word.
Even before marriage, you should discuss your basic approach to child raising. If one of you is fundamentally more lenient than the other or if there are other fundamental disagreements, this needs to be discussed and an understanding reached. Otherwise, marry someone else.
As you raise the children, continually discuss the principles you will follow. Try to decide the rules you will follow even before the problem comes up. Then there will be no need to argue at the time of the problem.
Communicate with your companion about specific situations. If you give a rule to the children, tell your spouse about it so he/she will know; then the children cannot play you one against the other.
If you have a disagreement about how to handle a specific situation, don't argue about it in front of the child. The father and mother should go into another room for awhile to talk about it.
Ephesians 5:22-25 - The husband is head of the family, but he must act in love according to what is best for the family. Let the parents discuss the matter. Let the wife express her view respectfully. If appropriate, let the children express their views. Then let the father make a decision.
When the decision is made, the whole family should accept and honor it unless it requires the wife or children to do something sinful (Acts 5:29). There should be no nagging, grumbling, or pouting. Specifically, the wife should submit to this decision with the same good will that she wants the children to submit to her authority.
Parents need to adhere steadfastly to the same principles both in what we do compared to what we say we will do. This is especially important in the rules we make and in how we enforce those rules.
We tell our children they must do certain things; but if they stall or manipulate or flat out rebel, we don't make them do it. We may threaten a punishment or offer a reward, but then we don't keep our word. "If you don't ..., I'm going to ..." (or "If you will ..., then I will..."). But we don't do what we said.
Some parents make ridiculous threats that everyone knows they don't intend to carry out (and if they did carry it out, it would be sinful). "If you don't do what I say, I'll break every bone in your body." Such threats may be made in humor, but often the parent appears to be quite serious and hopes the threat will lead the child to obey.
Such statements often occur when parents are trying to control children by threats and anger, instead of by action (consider our earlier discussion about "Motivation"). We need to consider whether it is right to threaten to do something that would be sinful if we did it. But we also need to consider whether it is right to make threats or promises that we do not keep and in many cases have no intention of keeping.
Hebrews 10:23 - God is our example of a perfect Father, and He is faithful to His promises. We are motivated to obey Him because we know He will always keep His word. If we could not trust Him to keep His promises, we would have little respect for Him and little reason to obey Him. Parents should be likewise faithful to their promises.
Romans 1:31 - Listed among those worthy of death are "covenant-breakers" (NKJV - "untrustworthy"). People who make promises they don't mean or who give their word but don't keep it, are covenant-breakers or untrustworthy. Note that this is true whether we promise to give a reward or a punishment.
James 5:12 - Let your yes be yes and your no, no. Do not lightly say you will do a thing. If you don't mean it, don't say it. If you say you'll do it, then do it. This is true of both your "yes" and your "no."
We tend to think we are obligated to give the rewards we promised our children, but it's OK to forget the promises of punishment. After all, the children don't want us to keep that kind of promise! But a promise is a promise, whether we promise a reward or a punishment. We must keep our promises; otherwise we are not being true to our word, and our children will not truly respect us.
Colossians 3:21 - Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. Failure to keep their word is one way parents commonly provoke their children and discourage them. One time they keep a threat or promise they made, but the next time they do not keep their word. Children do not know whether or not to believe and trust such parents.
There are times when we make a poor decision and promise something, then later we realize it would be best for everyone if we change our mind. In that case, let us apologize for our mistake and explain our reason for changing. But don't lightly make threats or promises and do not lightly break them.
Parents should not play favorites with their children, but should "steadfastly adhere to the same principles" regardless of which child they are dealing with.
Sometimes parents just like one child better than the others or play favorites for some other reason. So they may be more lenient with one child. The favorite can do what is forbidden to others, or he or she is not punished as severely as another child would be for the same violation. The favorite may receive gifts or favors that the others do not, etc.
Note that this does not we should ignore the fact that different children may have different circumstances. Sometimes children quickly and unfairly accuse parents of favoritism simply because one child is allowed to do what other children are not allowed to do, etc. But sometimes rules are justifiably different because of different circumstances.
For example, if one child is older, he may get to stay up later or go places the younger ones cannot go, etc. The point is that rules should be the same for all children in the same circumstances. And the rules should not be different just because we like certain children better than we do others.
Favoritism harms all the children. The ones who are discriminated against become rebellious. They are jealous of the favorite and angry at the parents. They feel unloved and may deliberately disobey parents to get attention.
But the favorite is also hurt because he grows up thinking he deserves special treatment. He thinks he is more important than other people and can break the rules and get away with it. He will have great difficulty adjusting to real life, because the world won't treat him that way. And God certainly won't treat him that way.
Bible examples show the consequences of favoritism.
Isaac and Rebekah each had favorite children. Isaac loved Esau but Rebekah loved Jacob (Gen. 25:28). This resulted in such strife and deceit that Esau sought to kill Jacob, and Jacob had to leave home.
Genesis 37:3,4 - Later Jacob also played favorites, which caused hatred between his sons. His favorite son was Joseph, so the others sold Joseph as a slave and almost killed him out of jealousy.
Acts 10:34,35 - Our heavenly Father, who is our perfect example of a father, does not play favorites. He does not respect persons, but treats us entirely according to how we act toward Him. Especially in administering rewards and punishments, God treats us on the basis of our conduct with no partiality shown (Rom. 2:11).
James 2:1,8,9 - Likewise, God forbids us to show respect of persons. Partiality violates the Royal law, which requires us to love our neighbor. Partiality is sinful just as surely as murder or adultery, yet many people are guilty right in their own homes!
Colossians 3:21 - Again, we must not provoke our children to discouragement. But one of the surest ways to discourage them is to treat them unjustly and unfairly. And one of the surest ways to be unjust is by practicing favoritism. [Matt. 7:12]
We must "steadfastly adhere to the same principles" in the same circumstances every time. We must not allow what we disallowed in the past under the same circumstances.
Sometimes we let our own mood, rather than the child's conduct, determine what the rules are or what discipline we give. If we feel bad or had a bad day, we take it out on the children. We scream and punish them for little things. But the next day we're in a better mood, so they get little or no punishment when they do the same things.
Sometimes parents are too busy with other things and just don't pay attention to their children. We give them instructions; but then we get so involved in work or conversation that we overlook their disobedience. If we notice them, we correct them. But at times we are not diligent enough to check up on them.
As a result the child learns that, whether or not he gets punished, will depend, not just on what he does, but also on the parents' mood or involvement in other things. So it is a calculated risk on his part whether or not he can get away with disobedience. Or he becomes an amateur psychologist and tries to judge our moods. But what we have taught him is, not respect for authority, but manipulation of it.
Hebrews 6:10 - God is not unjust. Jesus is the same today as He was yesterday (Heb. 13:8). He is not divided against Himself (1 Cor. 1:13).
How does our heavenly Father deal with our disobedience? Does the punishment we get depend on the mood He is in? Does He get so involved in other things that He overlooks our sins? God is the perfect example of consistency in dealing with our wrongs.
Matthew 23:23 - Justice is one of the weightier matters of the law. This includes justice toward our families. When rules are not enforced consistently, that is injustice. We would object if we were to receive that kind of treatment by the civil government or an employer. Let us practice justice by enforcing rules fairly.
Colossians 3:21 - Again, we must not provoke our children to discouragement. Inconsistent enforcement of rules is one of the greatest causes of wrath and discouragement in children. Today the child is punished severely for doing the same kind of thing that he did yesterday with little or no punishment. This is unfair, and the child knows it.
Obviously, humans are limited in our ability to know every wrong our child does. Whereas God has perfect knowledge, at the best we are capable of being fooled at times. Children know this and do not disrespect us simply because occasionally things happen that we cannot know.
But the problem often occurs simply because we are not trying hard enough. We are too concerned for our own moods and our own interests, so we are not concerned enough about the conduct and training of our children. As a result, they deliberately and knowingly get away with disobedience, because we are not "on the ball." That is injustice.
Consistency is the key that ties together all the other keys. We must be consistent in applying all the principles we have studied - "steadfast adherence to the same principles."
Parents must practice each of the "key" principles that we have studied. But note further that, if we practice each of these "key" principles, we will find that each of them in turn will instill a related quality in our children.
(1) If raising our children to serve God is our main goal, then the children will develop serving God as their main goal.
(2) If we plan our training of the children based on God's word, then our children will learn to plan their lives on the basis of God's word.
(3) If we always act in love for our children, then our children will learn to act in love for everyone around them.
(4) If we diligently instruct our children in God's word, they will develop, not only an understanding of God's word, but also a desire to in turn instruct others.
(5) If we properly exercise authority toward our children, this will instill in them a respect for authority and an understanding of how to exercise authority when they need to do so.
(6) If we motivate them by proper use of punishments and rewards, then they will learn to seek the rewards and avoid the punishments offered by God (and other authority figures).
(7) If we are consistent in applying these principles in training our children, then they will learn to do right consistently. Because we demand right conduct all the time, they will learn to act right all the time, not just part of the time.
Raising children is one of the most awesome responsibilities any human being can face. Our conduct as parents will influence our children, not just for life, but for eternity. You and I will largely determine how our children live their lives and where they will be in eternity.
Yet many parents face this responsibility with far too little concern and far too little understanding of proper principles. We emphasize again that our goal as parents must be to raise godly children. While many people do not know how to do this, there is no need for us to be ignorant. God's word tells us the principles we should follow. To successfully raise godly children, we must understand and practice God's keys for raising children.
Dare to Discipline, Dr. James Dobson (abbreviated DTD).
Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, William Bennett, Heritage Foundation, et. al.; 1993 (abbrev. Bennett).
Training Up a Child, Gwendolyn Webb; The Old Landmarks, Denver CO, 1977 (abbreviate TUAC).
Click here to return to Raising Children Introduction
Copyright 2004, David E. Pratte
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