Qn. How far should I exercise free-hand parenting? I believe my children should be free to decide what works best for them but my husband is against this and insists it would ruin them.
Proverbs 13:24 is the natural starting point in answer to your question. It states categorically that “Those who spare the rod hate their children but those who love them are diligent to discipline them”. At the time this scripture was written, shepherds used various tools to guide their sheep, including a staff and a rod. So, if you are a shepherd, and your children are like sheep (to you) then a rod will work as long as you transport yourself back to biblical times.
If on the other hand, if you live in the 21st Century with us, you and your husband are right in the conversation about how to bring up your children. Indeed, this discussion is as alive today as it was when Adam and Eve had their children. As you will recall, one of them (Cain) killed the other (Abel) and proceeded to insult God (“Am I my brother’s keeper?” – he reportedly asked).
Without knowing how old these two boys were when one killed the other, it is safe to assume that the killer was a “bad” boy, who in today’s parlance, would be said to have demonstrated “psychopathic” features.
In today’s world, a boy who kills his brother would be seen as a difficult child from an early age. In pre-class, he would be the aggressive child who plays in a rough manner, hits out at other children, is unable to wait his turn, and takes toys from others. He would not be able to share anything.
In primary school, all the above would persist and get worse. His grades would be erratic, he would get into frequent fights with other children and go into regular tantrums. He might even start to steal in later classes.
If he gets to high school, drugs and alcohol would be the order of the day. Not only would he use them, he would be the one to sell the drugs to other children. In his late teens, such a child would suffer a great deal in being involved in violence, sometimes involving time in police custody. Many such children die in accidents either on the roads or by sustaining injuries in bar fights.
In killing his brother, Cain brings to mind such a picture in modern times. Now, we get to a paradox. Both boys had the same parents, and one turns out to be a good boy, while the other turns out to be a bad boy. Why, one is forced to ask, was this the case?
Two other boys come to mind in biblical times. In the Gospel of St. Luke 15:11, Jesus tells the story of the prodigal son. The younger asks for his inheritance, and when given it, he is “wasteful and extravagant”. He eventually becomes destitute and comes home as a beggar in tatters after a life eating with the pigs in far-away lands.
Though the Bible is not explicit on the point, one may assume that the boys were of the same father and mother, and were brought up in the same house under the same “house rules”. So, why did one turn out well and the other not?
These rather long winded stories are intended to encourage you and your husband to continue the conversation on how best to bring your children up. As you can see, you are not the first (and also not the last) to engage in this dialogue.
At the end of the day, a number of things are clear. The first is that this is your joint responsibility and not that of the teacher or neighbour.
The second is that the style of disciplining the child must guide, and not punish the child. Many parents mistake discipline with punishment. Discipline guides a child while punishment hurts the child and leads to rebellion. Discipline leads to internalisation of good and positive behaviour.
Consistency in the rules and regulations is key to discipline. If bedtime is 8pm then 8pm is bedtime whether grandmother is visiting or not. Mum and dad stand together on all matters of discipline.
Children are experts in dividing them. “But mum says I can do this or that, when you are not there!” children often scream. If you give in on this one, you, and your children are lost!