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Shepherding a Parent’s Heart

Perhaps I should give caveats and qualifications to this excellent critique by friend Anne Sokol on a book that I have heartily recommended but found myself accompanying said recommendations with caveats and qualifications, many of which are similar to Anne’s concerns. Anne raises some issues that have become matters of of concern for me as well. However, I may not be as strongly dismissive of the book because I think there are emphases that are good for certain people. Pastoral experience has taught me that a pastor is much like a pharmacist who mixes and concocts various sources to apply to particular needs. Often there needs to be a big dosage of “Shepherding a Child’s Heart,” however I do think that it should always come diluted with an awareness of problems that Anne has respectfully raised. Her four concerns are succinctly stated here and then expounded on in her article.

  1. The book’s focus on requiring obedience as the primary component of the parent/child relationship and emphasis on parental authority as the right to require obedience.
  2. Tripp’s teaching that spanking is the means the parent must use in order to bring a child back into “the circle of blessing.”
  3. Tripp’s interpretation that the “rod” in Proverbs equals spanking, that spanking is even for young children, that spanking is the God-ordained means of discipline (which parents must obey) and that use of the rod saves a child’s soul from death.
  4. His portrayal of any other style or method of parenting in a derogatory manner and training parents’ consciences that failure to discipline as his book teaches is disobedient to God.

It is not an uncommon experience among many Christian families that the youngest child has a more intimate, loving relationship with the parents than the oldest child. It is also not uncommon that the youngest child had far less spankings in his or her lifetime. This is often flippantly explained as a result of the youngest having the benefit of learning from the consequences suffered by the eldest. Or it is bitterly opined by the older children that the parents got soft. It is also a fairly common observation that older parents are less inclined to spank than younger parents. This is explained by saying that older people are sometimes overly indulgent and lack the energy required to be disciplinarian.

There may be some truth to the above statements, but I really think that another major factor is that maturing of Christian people to the realization that the parent-child relationship does not necessarily have to be defined by, as Anne says, the “rubric” of authority/submission, but by a loving relationship that accepts as very real the fact that a parent does not have the power to make a person change and that “spanking is not endued by God with such spiritual power, nor, in fact, is a parent endued with the power to restore the child.”

I do think that pain is sometimes necessary in discipline. But I also agree with Anne: “In His dealings with us as His children, God does nothing like reaching down and spanking us each time we disobey.”

I think thoughtful parents should carefully read Tripp. They should also carefully ponder critiques such as this.