Well, our dog experiment has ended. Although we didn’t really want to, yesterday we successfully re-homed our dog. And while I am experiencing sadness at having had to say goodbye, the greater part of it is for what could have been, but wasn’t.
“He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.” (Proverbs 13:24)
Over a year ago we adopted a beautiful German Shepherd puppy. At just about two months, he was cuddly and lovable, and we were exuberant that my husband said we could keep him. Years ago, when I was expecting our first child, we had also gotten a Shepherd. He was with us throughout our children’s childhoods, arguably being our most loyal friend. Yet in those days my husband, the one experienced in training dogs and the family “alpha,” came home every evening. Time had clouded my recollection, but he had worked tirelessly with him to turn that Shepherd into a creature suitable for coexistence with our growing family.
The situation was different now. The distances had gotten to him, and my husband has been staying in the city during the week for a number of years now. Our family has made this situation work for us, visiting him during the week when we can, but what this meant for our new dog was that as far as he was concerned, the alpha was practically nonexistent for extended periods of time. And we reaped the consequences.
He never did stop mouthing us, and his rambunctious play, merely annoying at first, eventually became downright dangerous. As the most aggressive family member, in my husband’s absence he attempted to become the “alpha,” and began evidencing his displeasure when we did something he didn’t like.The straw that broke the camel’s back, however, was when he began attacking–strangers, our oldest daughter, and eventually even me. We had become at risk physically because of this beautiful animal who was supposed to have been our best friend! What happened?
Experienced dog trainers and behaviorists alike will recognize the errors made, yet the take-away is that just as with dogs, children cannot–must not–be allowed to “live and let live”–to grow up doing as they wish. Both need expectations, structure and guidance, in the absence of which nature takes over, getting them into trouble and making them problematic to others. After all, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him.” (Proverbs 22:15)
Much has been written about the “rod of correction–traditionally understood to mean spanking, which some have suggested is a form of guidance, as a shepherd uses his staff to direct his sheep. And while our children sometimes need guidance and sometimes punishment, the point is that “…a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” (Proverbs 29:15) As parents, we need to have expectations for our children, because we can’t, after all, guide them there if we do not know where “there” is! Just as our German Shepherd–allowed to grow up without any any expectations, training or sufficient discipline–eventually got to a point where he was unmanageable, a child who is permitted to do whatever enters his mind is unhappy and unfortunate.
In the case of our dog, we are hopeful that his new owner will be able to provide the structure necessary for him to yet mature into a loving and well-adjusted animal–and grateful that we were able to locate such an individual. A child-rearing plan gone wrong is not as easy to fix. As much as we love our pets, a child is so much more precious, and the care and attention we afford their development and upbringing so much more essential. So, how should we raise our children?
We should raise our children “…in the training and admonition of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4) In the simplest terms, this means that whatever else we teach them, we must successfully communicate to them the importance of taking God, and what He says in the Bible, seriously. We must also have specific expectations for them.
In our case, we expect our children to respect us. We expect them to be truthful, and we want to know that they will do what we have asked them to do. We also want them to excel. We want them to take seriously the opportunities God places before them and not waste them. When we fund their education, they know that while we do not mind them enjoying themselves, the primary reason mom and dad deny themselves to pay the tuition bill is for them to acquire a degree and honor God with it. And they know how we feel because we’ve said it often enough.
The primary reason our dog training failed was because of the absence of firm leadership, which rather than being an intrusion on the life of the dog would have given him a sense of security and peace. In the same way, firm leadership and clear-cut expectations provide security and peace in the lives of children, and set them up for success rather than failure. “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11)
Give us wisdom and steadfastness to provide the environment necessary for our children to grow up to be secure, productive, and genuinely God-fearing individuals! Amen.