Where love and discipline meet

A Christian Science perspective.

A recently published book on the subject of strict parenting has generated a roar of discussion, comment, and concern around the playgrounds and soccer fields of many communities. “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” by Amy Chua is a frank, and for many, frankly extreme, memoir about raising children under a regime of draconian discipline, rules, and expectations, with the goal of making offspring into high achievers in our fast-moving, competitive society.

This controversy brings into focus important contemporary parenting issues such as, When does encouraging children toward goals become pushy and punitive? When do parents' rules stop being constructive and become oppressive? How much discipline is too much?

Most parents are intuitively on track when they place unselfish love as the best motivation – the default setting – for interactions between parent and child. This is perhaps the key to ensuring that the efforts of parents have only a constructive influence on their children. Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the Monitor, saw the qualities of love as being inherently strong and productive in human affairs. She wrote, “Love cannot be a mere abstraction, or goodness without activity and power” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 250).

In trying to raise children in accord with the spiritual values promulgated in the Bible, I have found that spiritual study and prayer – a willingness to listen to God – can help even a still-learning parent such as myself achieve a better balance between too much discipline or none at all. The trick is to find the moderation and tempering that ensures that a strict disciplinarian “tiger mother” doesn’t morph into a dragon.

I found that this balanced, loving approach twice helped our family satisfactorily navigate the demanding junior year of high school, when students face a battery of courses, standardized tests, and exams important for college admission.

Obedience to parents is undeniably a theme running through the Bible, but parents are also admonished not to be too extreme in their approach to discipline. Eugene Peterson interprets a verse in Colossians in this way: “Parents, don’t come down too hard on your children or you’ll crush their spirits” (3:21, “The Message”). Though adherence to obedience, principle, and law is important in the home, as in all of life, this needs to be balanced – and mellowed – by love.

This balance is reflected in this description of “Mother” in the Christian Science textbook, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” by Mrs. Eddy: “God; divine and eternal Principle; Life, Truth, and Love” (p. 592).

The Apostle Paul indicates that even if we achieve “all knowledge,” it will be meaningless without the motivation of love. If children are propelled only by their parents’ will, even if lofty goals are reached, these accomplishments may well feel less rewarding for everyone involved than if genuine love were the motivation. As Paul says, “Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not charity, I am nothing” (I Cor. 13:2).

Then what about a home where no limits are set, no goals made, and anything goes? In such cases, expressing the strengths of ennobling qualities – an insistence on perseverance, discipline, and respect – can be helpful. In balance, these aren’t just the qualities of a “tiger mother.” In fact, they express spiritual power.

For a generation of children who become aware at an early age that they face formidable competition in college admission, achieving a right balance of love and discipline in the home is of great importance to their future happiness and well-being. In such a competitive educational climate, a willful parenting approach may ultimately infringe the divine rights of children to be guided by God toward a life path that is right for the individual child.

In parenting choices, we can endeavor to do the divine will, not our own individual human will. And God’s will always includes the qualities of Love.

A recent report indicates that college freshmen are exhibiting higher levels of stress than ever before. Given this, parents are wise to consider what they can do to ease stress, rather than create it, for their children.

It helps lift the burden of false responsibility from parents, and also the stress on children, to realize that our Father-Mother God is truly the Parent of all, and that His-Her qualities of Principle and Love naturally mingle and include each other.

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