Why We Need To Pull (Not Push) Our Children

I am so pleased by the big kids my two older children are turning into. They are helpful and kind, especially to their little sister. They have fun personalities and keep me constantly entertained. But for some reason, as they get older, their sinful behaviors have become more of a challenge for me to deal with well. Maybe it’s because they can be so much louder and make such bigger messes, or simply because I’m trying to be their schoolteacher and their mother.

Whatever the reason, when my children argue with each other, are excessively loud, or thoughtlessly make a mess, I find myself tempted to react to them in frustration by saying things like, “Stop it! Quiet down! Watch what you’re doing! Clean up this mess!” I recognize that this is not an appropriate response (“The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” James 1:20).

So what should I do when I find myself becoming exasperated with my children?

Confess

Obviously the first step, as ever, is to confess my sin. Being annoyed by others, being impatient, wanting them to hurry up to maturity so that I can stop cleaning up after them… these are all signs that my pride is rearing its ugly head. So I confess my pride in thinking that my peace and my agenda are more important — that I am more important — than these little souls in my care. And if there’s been fussing, I should confess that, too.

Pull, Don’t Push

Another huge help in staving off the exasperation is to be ever mindful of pulling my children, not pushing them. When we pull people toward us, we are trying to compel them and persuade them to be attracted toward the good. When we push them, we are trying to quickly (and without as much effort from us) get them to obey the standard without much consideration of whether or not they like it. Think about compelling a spouse with kindness and affection (pulling) vs. nagging (pushing).

Push-parenting is all about getting children to comply with the rules as quickly as possible, without taking the emotional- and time-effort to speak to our children’s hearts. Push parenting occurs when we have wrongly allowed ourselves to become exhausted and annoyed: we are setting ourselves up as adversaries of our children’s, hoping they will behave well so we won’t have to work so hard. Push-parenting is about the moment, based on parental feelings. When I say “Stop it! Share! Be kind!” I am shoving my children toward the standard – the good, wonderful standard of the Word of God – a standard I want them to love. But my brusque tone may push them in such a way that I cause my children to stumble over the standard and into resentment.

Pull-parenting, on the other hand, is about the eternal. Pull-parenting puts us on the same team – we’re working together toward living in greater obedience. We are our children’s advocates, showing them how we love the law by modeling confession and humble submission. As one of my former discipleship leaders said, “I’m just the mama sheep helping my baby sheep to follow the Shepherd.” Or as a pastor put it, “I’m just a beggar telling fellow beggars where to find bread.” Pull-parenting puts a check on parents’ hearts: as we think of how to communicate to our children’s hearts, we have to consider whether the standard we’re addressing is actually a biblical standard or simply a standard we’ve manufactured to make our lives run more smoothly. I remember reading something along those lines in Shepherding a Child’s Heart: if you discipline most loudly and quickly for something like shoes left out, your children will think that is your most dear and valuable standard. We never want to allow our own standards to compete with the standards set by God’s Word. (Though to be sure, there is quite possibly a heart problem behind leaving shoes out, and that should be addressed with pull-parenting.)

Examples of Pulling Instead of Pushing

That’s all well and good, you may think, but I’m tired. Pull-parenting sounds like a lot of work, and sometimes I just need my children to stop. I hear you! I sometimes resist these conversations because of a perception of how much time and energy it will take on my part to pull instead of push. It does take thought-energy, but the time required is truly very minimal. Most of these conversations would take fewer than 30 seconds. Let me give you some examples:

If my son is filling all the voids around him with loud noises and words, I can tell him to stop, and he will. But he will feel defeated and that I was annoyed with him (which I probably was). But if instead, we stop and talk about how pollution fills up the air and becomes poison as opposed to life-giving oxygen, he can see how his “noise pollution” is not what he wants to contribute to the atmosphere. He wants to be life-giving with his words (“Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof” Proverbs 18:21).

If my daughter is refusing to share with her little sister, I can tell her to share or even take the toy away from both girls. Problem solved. But outward compliance is not what we’re going for here. Rather, I can talk with my daughter about two grown-ups: one who shares and is kind and seeks to give to others, one who is selfish and keeps things to herself and tries to get all she can from others. Which one does she want to be like as a grown-up? (“Love your neighbor as yourself” Matthew 22:39). My daughter still might need help to share in the moment, but she understands where we’re going and why we’re going there. (This booklet is incredibly helpful for finding Scripture to apply to daily situations.)

Reevaluate your heart

When I find myself tempted toward push-parenting, I know it’s time to reevaluate my heart and my attitude toward my children. It’s time to think of our most commonly frustrating situations and make a plan for addressing them. Pull-parenting is well worth the effort. Instead of pushing our children away, we draw our children to us, pulling them affectionately and winsomely toward loving biblical standards and toward the good God who loves us and so graciously gave us the Word.

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