Posted by: mamaamy | August 11, 2008

The Heart of the Matter

This is an excerpt from a letter that I wrote to a friend who had stayed with us for a week with her husband and little children. She wrote to me questioning whether she was serving the Lord enough, and she also was wondering how she could help her husband and train her children better. I felt that one way to serve the Lord and help her husband was by training her children. It is in seeing that all the time and effort that we spend with our children—cuddling, reading, teaching, training, talking to, serving, loving–is service to the king of our household and the King of kings. Anyway, I thought that this may also interest you and give some more insight as to our viewpoint.

First, we want to stress that we are not trying to make anyone like us. That is not the goal at all and that would never work. The Lord trains each son individually, just as we train each of our sons according to their own personality, talents, strengths and weaknesses. The goal is to help one another live up to God’s best for our lives–to be the sons that God saw in His mind before we were in our mother’s womb. That is our goal for our own sons and I know that is what God intends.

You asked what you could do. Well I want you to know that I have witnessed vast improvements in your attitude and actions with your husband and your family. You are on a great path and I can see that your heart toward the Lord (and consequently your husband) has changed for the better over the years. Mitch and I are very proud of you and all of your obvious efforts. I want to encourage you in this.

I think that, as you said, the key is to seek first the Kingdom–Prioritizing by the Kingdom. What is most important in a Kingdom? The King–honor and obedience to him. So in the kingdom of our families that is the priority—the kids are not the priority, the king is. I feel that if our heart is towards the wishes of the king, (whether they be intimate time, meals, house in order, obedient children, etc.) then we will be in right standing with the King of kings. This is our service as a help meet. It is also our work in the Kingdom.

As far as your children are concerned, I know that you have been working with them a lot and there is always a lot to do, especially when they are at these ages (3 under age 5). It is a tough job, but God has equipped you to do it and He will back His delegate. If I may make a few suggestions, though, I did observe some things that may help you as you train your kids. Please know that, again, my intention is to assist as an “older woman” in your life, to help make your life better, to help you love your husband and children and help raise them to be true sons of the King. I am not judging or trying to make them into Cowarts, just assisting in the work of the Kingdom in your little realm as a fellow laborer.

Ideally when we train our children, the goal is not to have kids that will just do what they are told. But instead, the goal is to have children that understand that obedience brings joy. Our goal is for the children to have obedience in their heart and not rebellion. We, as the parents of little children, can make them obey, by manipulation and intimidation. (Bribing and yelling are extremes of manipulation and intimidation, but there are also very subtle ways that we manipulate and intimidate.) Often a child is more obedient when the dad is around mainly because he is more intimidating. This is not the ideal. This will often lead to temporary compliance, but it does not address what is in the heart of the child. If the child obeys but pouts, hits or strikes out, stomps his feet, drags his feet AND eventually obeys, whines while obeying, or just looks blankly and doesn’t obey etc…these are all signs that obedience is not it the child’s heart, but instead they are compliant out of manipulation or intimidation (subtle as it may be), because they know that eventually they may get a spanking or yelled at. I observed this with your kids on various occasions. They eventually obey, but the attitude in which they obey is defiant, angry or pouty. This indicates that it isn’t in their heart to obey. This is a very important aspect of child training and as I type it, I realize that it is a difficult concept to articulate. I have several mothers right now that are asking me very specifically how to train little ones and how to tell if they are being too hard, too lenient, etc. on the child. It is a tough call, but the biggest indicator is the attitude in which they obey. I am regularly talking to my kids (different ones go through this at different times, and some are more apt to do it than others) about attitude from the youngest to the oldest.

One of the first lessons in home-schooling is obedience and the fruit of obedience is a good attitude. Or, it can be said that a good attitude is often an indicator of whether or not obedience is in their heart. Learning “reading, writing and ‘rithmatic” is far less important in the beginning than training the child in obedience. Home-schooling will be much more effective and enjoyable for everyone if the child learns this first lesson of the Kingdom. Obey the King (or in this case, His delegate.) In other words, if the child can say his ABC’s but refuses to because he has rebellion in his heart, has he really learned the important lesson? Conversely, if the child is compliant to obey the teacher in everything because obedience has been trained in him, he will be able to learn and do whatever is required in “school.”

So how do you train the heart of the child? What is particularly difficult here is bringing to the conscious mind of a child the awareness that the attitude reveals what is in his heart. This is an abstract concept—That there is an attitude of the heart. So it is necessary for us to first be conscious of it and then take every opportunity to point out manifestations of it. We are looking for opportunities to address what’s in the child’s heart—subtle indicators that reveal it. We are not necessarily looking for big, bold behavioral actions, but subtle indicators like a look in the eye, a smirk on the face, drooped shoulders. We, the parents, must utilize our God-given intuition or sensitivity to these types of indicators. In fact, when Mitch or I take note of a subtle “bad-attitude indicator”, we actually test it by a random command like, “Please, go touch the door”, to test if obedience or rebellion is in the heart. (Mitch adds: On occasion the child responds with a “No!” (or similar rebellious response) and then our suspicions are confirmed…rebellion reveals its ugly head, and now we can address it confidently. Other times the child obeys immediately, walking over, with a “good” attitude and touching the door, and our suspicions are put to rest. In the second scenario, the child is often self-correcting as the exercise emerges or unfolds. THIS IS PERFECT! This trains the child to use self-discipline…so that we don’t have to discipline them. ) As you can see, this type of test illustrates the irrelevance of the actual behavior, (door touching) but emphasizes the importance of what is in the heart.

Here is an example of a training session Mitch and I had with Moriah this past weekend (now keep in mind that we have been talking to her about having a good attitude and using self control since she has been able to understand English.) We asked Moriah to go and change her skirt because it didn’t match her shirt. She said she didn’t want to. We told her that she needed to obey even though she didn’t want to because obedience brings joy. Mitch administered some minor pain. (In this instance it was in the form of a little pinch at the top, back part of her leg.) She pouted and dropped her head and shoulders and turned to go obey. We called her to us, Mitch again administered the minor pain, and asked her if she wanted to be obedient, she said yes, so we asked her to be obedient with a good attitude. She needed to smile and keep her head up and quickly do as she was told. She adjusted her attitude and went on to change her skirt. When she came bouncing back, she had a completely different demeanor. We congratulated her on doing a good job and having a good attitude. We called her to us, hugged her, and told her that she was obedient. She happily snuggled us with a look of pride on her face. We said, “That’s so good! Don’t you feel good that you were obedient? See, obedience does bring joy! Thank you for obeying.” We really don’t care that much about her non-matching clothes, but we do care about the rebellion in her heart as revealed by the pouting, pitiful attitude.  This was a training opportunity, an opportunity to address what was in her heart…so consequently we were compelled to address it until we could see that what was in her heart had changed.

Now what if she didn’t use her self-discipline and change her attitude? What would we have done? Ideally, we would have set all else aside, and spent the time needed to continue patiently and calmly asking her to obey and change her attitude, administering minor pain if she balked or refused. Then, when she finally did obey, we would ask her to obey 2 or 3 random commands, like “put your hands on your head” or “touch the door and come back” just to secure that she was truly disciplining herself. On the rare occasion that she refuses these random commands, then the training session continues until there is complete compliance with a good attitude. Rarely is this necessary if from a very young age they have been trained that obedience brings joy, and that a good attitude must accompany the obedience. There have been rare occasions when the children have gone through a very long training session—each once or twice in their lives—but we have tried to drop what we were doing (going out to dinner, teaching school, making dinner, etc.) and let everyone involved with our plans know that a training session was necessary so please excuse us for a while. Going the distance with these sorts of training sessions is so worth the effort because they rarely have to be done twice in the life of the child if the parent is consistent to enforce obedience on a regular basis. The child’s brain then becomes trained that the attitude and actions of obedience bring joy and therefore they truly desire to have “obedience in their hearts.”

Of course Mitch and I are not perfect in our training of our children, as I am sure you have observed, because it takes discipline on our part to do it. Sometimes we don’t make it a priority because so many other things are going on, sometimes we are not in our own home or we have guests, sometimes I have been tired from a pregnancy, etc. There are many things that can distract us from this work, but this is indeed Kingdom work and we would do well to put the training of our children as a main goal of each day. This is one very valuable way we can honor and serve our husbands and consequently the King.

Mama Amy



  1. thanks for posting this!


  2. Amy-

    Enjoyed the article and found it helpful. What about older children who you have been training for years, but who seem to be regressing/ taking on poor behavior and attitudes? I’m seeing this with our eldest who will be 9 in Nov. What’s the best way to address retraining at this age? I can also see the younger one, age 5, following some of this negative behavior from his brother. Since we have a 3rd coming in Nov., I must address this quickly.


  3. Stacy,
    Thanks for checking in on the blog. I agree that it is always good to reinforce our work with the older ones before we add a new and big responsibility to our life. In your situation I would take a look at a few things. They are big issues and it would take a while to talk specifically about each one, but I will give an overview and then you can ask more specific questions if I am too obtuse or if you want me to develop the ideas more:

    There are 5 big questions that I would ask myself in regard to the behavior of my son:

    1. Does he have a Narrative that is big enough to support the question, “why should I behave?” The Narrative is what Mitch and I call the big story that guides our life…the details of Narrative can be found in the article, “What’s the Story?” If we know that our story or narrative is based on raising kings for the Kingdom, then obedience is an absolutely necessary and valuable part of training for Son-ship. There is purpose to obedience—and it has nothing to do with “’cause I said so” or so they don’t embarrass us in public, or whatever.

    2. The father is delegated authority as the head by God in Ephesians 5. The father then delegates his authority to the mother as she is usually the one who spends the most time with the children. The question is “Is the father backing his delegate (the mom) as it relates to the children?” Are you and your husband of one mind with regard to discipline, are you both being consistent, and does your husband ultimately uphold the authority that he has delegated to you? If the older son doesn’t see a united front, he will often see that he can manipulate the more emotional mom into getting his way.

    3. Are you continuing to develop your relationship with your son? Are you and your husband interested in his new and developing interests? Are you continuing to “tie strings” with your son and not just nagging or griping? Are you limiting outside influences and continuing to know your son and how he is really doing? Do you spend time finding out how life is going for him? As our kids get older they become more active with their peers and it is so valuable to stay close to our kids. We want to keep enjoying them and for them to keep enjoying us. So activities and events that bring the family together are great help to this—not just going to watch our kids at sports events…but making events where the family is talking together and actually being together.

    4. Are you continually reinforcing the standards that you and your family have set up for your family? Mitch and I (and the kids) have spent time choosing four or five standards that have become the ideals of our household. (ours are Obedience, Respect, Gratefulness, Love, Appropriateness) We all uphold these standards and when we have issues we always refer back to the standards. Are we upholding the standards? For example, if one of the standards is Respect, and one of the boys speaks harshly to me, then he is no longer upholding the standard and must be receive discipline and usually Mitch will address this, because his delegate (me) was disrespected.

    5. Are you and your husband interpreting the changes that are happening to him as a young man? One of the main tasks we have as a parent is interpretation of events and feelings. If your son begins that crazy transition into manhood, are you interpreting what is happening, letting him know what to expect and what the proper responses are to these changes? Can you or your husband give examples of how you felt or responded when you were that age? Let him know that many kids don’t respond properly to issues, but this is how your family responds. Your son needs to know that he has an advocate as he moves into manhood. He will try to find one somewhere…will it be you? (We actually talked to our kids about hormones and that when the boys begin to move into the teen years, the hormones would begin to affect their outlook on life…we told them that we were not the ones that would change, but we would remain their friend and advocate—loving them as always. They would go through changes, but we would be as always. This seemed to help prepare them for the feelings they began to encounter and when they felt strangely at odds with us, we reminded them that we told them it would be that way.)

    Here is a great article about relating to youth and teens that I think would be great to read. Mitch and I really got some insight from this.

    Please let me know if this helps or if you want to talk further…

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