As people made in the image of a just God, he has wired our hearts with a desire for justice. We all have an inner compass that understands right and wrong. God "loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord” (Psalm 33:5). God’s loving justice bring order to the chaos of our world, and our hearts should desire his passions.
Family life is chaotic at times, but under our own roof we can create order and guide our children to better understand justice for all. Within our families, who are the weak that we need to protect? Whose voice needs special attention in order to be heard? Do we need to mediate sibling rivalry or pay attention to the concerns of a small child? We can pursue more justice at home with some intentional investment.
Parents set expectations for acceptable behavior, not only with their words, but especially with their follow-through. Bring some order to your family by teaching children how to respect both God and others in the home. Basic rules, consistently enforced, are a blessing for families because they set the standard for how we are going to care for one another in community. It can start with treating others the way you wish to be treated. Simple rules like no hitting and no name-calling set expectations for respecting one another. Rules help us to see beyond ourselves to appreciate how our behaviors impact others. It is easier for children when the rules are spelled out and they don't have to guess whether they are being disobedient or not.
Life goes better when everyone feels listened to. Parents are still in charge and it is their opinion that holds the final sway, The wisdom of parents is part of why God placed them in the position of authority in the home (it's even one of the Ten Commandments!). Even so, wise parents will take the time to listen to their children. It doesn't have to take long, but it's wise to acknowledge your children's heart. It can be as simple as, "I understand you want to stay up late, but now is bedtime," or "I get that you're angry with your brother's behavior, but hitting is not an acceptable choice."
A parent who simply demands blind obedience will have a hard time maintaining control as children gain independence. Teens tend to rebel against authority where their voice isn’t honored. Parents help children to live under God’s authority by modeling God’s love for his people. We are called to behave like God in our relationships to others so choose patience and grace!
Letting bad behavior slide does not do anyone any favors. It is hurtful to let bad behavior persist without correction. We benefit when we are redirected to live as God called us to live. Letting selfish behavior go unchecked will only lead to more of that behavior. Lack of enforcement looks a lot like giving permission to ignore the rules. It is one thing to acknowledge the behavior and choose a grace-filled response, but ignoring an offense says that you don’t care about either the perpetrator or victim enough to actually follow through. A parent who becomes a push-over will have neither their children's respect nor their obedience.
Disciplining bad behavior should involve compassion and nurturing, and that response may be different for different people. The desire is for individual growth and fostering interpersonal connections. There is a big difference between punishment and discipline. Punishment is not interested in fostering better future behavior or relationship repair. Instead, punishment is focused on retribution for past behavior. Discipline, on the other hand, focuses on how to create better understanding so there is better behavior going forward. A child who has to apologize and make amends for their bad behavior is less likely to repeat the error. Everyone wins when the fruits of the Spirit are cultivated in our lives and practiced in our relationships.
Even parents need to obey the rules and accept discipline when they mess up. If mom or dad says a bad word they should accept the same discipline that they would give to their children. Sometimes a parent can benefit from a few moments in the time-out chair to remind them that they are not above the law and even they need to live by God’s rules for their life. It's also a very powerful statement about justice to our families. If we can create an environment where everyone is accountable for their behavior, then everyone’s behavior improves.
Our homes can become places where we see God's justice enacted and where we all learn to live our lives with God's grace.It is a blessing to our lives and our families when we live in justice. Psalm 106:3 says, "Blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times!"