Spare the Rod, Spoil the Parent

I think she might actually hate her child. She sat beside me at the soccer game, her daughter competing against mine. Meanwhile, her son sat beside her. Or he did for a minute, at least, until he got up and began to look longingly at the concession stand. He demanded a treat, first plaintively, then insistently, then angrily. She protested for a while, saying something about not being his personal bank machine, but she caved soon enough and dug a few dollars out of her wallet. She told him to at least get something they could share. “I haven’t eaten yet today.” He wandered off and came back with a bag of jujubes. “But you know I can’t eat those,” she said. “Now I can’t share it with you.” He smiled.

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It went on like this for the whole game. For an hour they bickered back and forth. For an hour she tried to control him with anger, with bribes, with threats. She tried to make him apologize for his offenses. He just didn’t care—he didn’t care that he was displeasing his mom. She didn’t care either—she didn’t care that I and the others around were squirming with discomfort as we heard it all unfold. By the end of the game it struck me that she might actually hate her own child. I’m not convinced he’s any more fond of his mother.

You know what Solomon says about parenting, that “whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Proverbs 13:24). To discipline our children is to love them; to fail to discipline our children is to fail to love them. He echoes this later in the book when he says, “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die” (Proverbs 23:13). Whether or not we take this as a mandate for physical discipline, we can certainly understand it as divine instruction to diligently discipline our children. There are consequences if we fail to do this—we put the child’s very soul in peril. A child who does not respect the authority of his parents will never respect the authority of his Creator. If we fail to discipline our children to obey us, we fail to discipline them to submit to God.

But on the sidelines of that soccer field I saw another dreadful consequence of failing to discipline our children. To be fair, I don’t know anything about that mother and child apart from what I heard on Saturday afternoon. I wouldn’t want to be judged on the basis of my worst moments of parenting and I wouldn’t want my children to be judged on the basis of their worst days. But let’s suppose that the way she behaved there is a reflection of the way she generally responds to her son when he is rude or demanding. You don’t have to be Tedd Tripp to see that there will be consequences. She will spoil her son, but she will also spoil her relationship with her son. She will come to hate him. Of course she will! She will hate him because the lack of discipline made him unbearably rebellious and self-centered.

The parent who spares the rod does not only ruin the child, but also ruins a future relationship with the child. The parent who spares the rod hates his son, but he also hates himself. He denies his son the blessing of learning to submit and obey and he denies himself the blessing of a child with whom he shares a loving relationship. “The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice; he who fathers a wise son will be glad in him” (Proverbs 23:24). If the father of a righteous child rejoices, the father of a rebellious child laments. If the mother of a wise son will be glad in him, the mother of a foolish son will be ashamed in him. However, parents who diligently discipline their children become the delight of their children. “Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their fathers” (Proverbs 17:6). Diligent discipline is repaid in lifelong respect, enduring relationship.

What I saw from the sideline is the very thing Solomon addressed all those millennia ago. Discipline your children—you’ll love them and they’ll love you. Neglect to discipline your children—you’ll hate them and they’ll hate you. Spare the rod and you spoil the child, sure, but spare the rod and you spoil the parent as well.