When we started our family back in the late 70’s our lives and church were full of singles and young couples without kids. Additionally, there were no books on Christian parenting. That’s right…none.
It actually turned out to be a blessing because the only resource we had was the Bible. As years passed and Benny started performing numerous weddings, couples started having children and our own family continued to grow. The thing we most often talked about with others was parenting. You see, most of us had been raised in the church but were worldly hypocrites who posed as Christians and got away with murder because our parents were virtually uninvolved. We didn’t want this for our kids….
We read the Bible and had many conversations about how to apply biblical truth to parenting. We certainly made our share of mistakes, including misapplying truth at times. Looking back, we also tended to focus more on outward compliance than inward change. Yet to us if the Bible said it we wanted to help our children embrace it.
One of the things we worked hard on was confession of sin or wrong, followed by asking forgiveness. The Bible talks a lot about confessing our faults and sins to one another (and to God, of course) as well as going back to the person we have hurt or sinned against to request their forgiveness. We felt that a big way to protect our kid’s relationships with each other was to do our part to prevent offenses from building up throughout their lives.
First, we didn’t allow our kids to tattle on one another. When one of them did something wrong or hurtful, their sibling was instructed to ask them go tell Dad or Mom (or whoever was in charge) what they did, rather than running to tattle. If the sibling refused, they could then come and inform us that something happened that their brother or sister refused to come and tell us. The bottom line was that we wanted our kids to confess their own wrongs, not those of others (which the Bible calls gossip).
This scenario rarely worked just right — especially when the child was first learning the ropes. More times than I can count, we had to correct the child who said something mean or acted unkindly twice….once for whatever they did to their sibling and once for not coming to tell us when reminded. But over the years they slowly learned to come and confess their wrongs. Our hope was that this repeated practice would teach them that confessing things to Dad and Mom (and then others) wasn’t something to avoid but to pursue. Confession should always be redemptive and restorative. Even when what they confessed required discipline, we tried to celebrate their willingness to tell us. Making it easy for the kids to admit to us that they had done something wrong was a priority to us. (More on that below.)
Here’s the problem with not allowing your kids to tattle and gossip: heart issues remain. Benny and I had to repeatedly remind our kids that coming to tell us that a sibling “did something and won’t come and tell you” with a vengeful, self-righteous heart was just as wrong as whatever that brother or sister did or said. But even these encounters were ministry moments with our children.
Second, we helped our kids to confess their wrongs and ask forgiveness. Our family was (and is) like every other family. Lots of fun and memorable stuff went on that was laced with selfish reactions, manipulation and down right meanness. Sibling “rivalry” is just a concise way of saying, “Put two siblings who can at least crawl into a room together and before long you’re bound to hear yelling or crying over something one or both did to the other.”
The Bible is clear: when we do something wrong to someone we must acknowledge it and ask forgiveness. Children aren’t exempted from this responsibility. Children who are trained to ask for and extend forgiveness over and over are more likely to keep their relationship clear of longterm bitterness that comes from repeated unresolved offenses.
Over the years, parents have lamented that this kind of commitment is just too hard. One mom told me, “If I stopped to consistently deal with issues between my kids like this I would never get anything else done!”
I agree. It’s hard work. And some days I felt like all I did was remind and correct my kids for tattling, trying to get their sibling in trouble, dodging responsibility for their sins or failures, and grabbing onto every peacemaking skill I had ever learned to teach them to be kind to one another.
But last weekend I saw decades of gospel-saturated forgiveness in action. An incident happened that resulted in three of the kids disappointing and hurting one another. There were numerous issues to discuss from the encounters. While not every aspect of the conversations went as well as we hoped, one thing was clear: asking forgiveness of their siblings was on the top of the list. My mother’s heart was warmed the next day when I knew my adult children were reaching out to one another to take responsibility for their contributions to the conflict.
It doesn’t always work this way in our family. Sometimes needed confession doesn’t happen or is forgotten. But I truly believe that teaching little ones to acknowledge and confess their wrongs and sins against each other can lead to adults who value their sibling relationships enough to make reconciliation a priority.
Perhaps our method is not the one you feel is best for your family or encouraging humility and acknowledgement of wrong is already something you practice with your kids. Remember that principles are always more important than practices that are not clearly spelled out in scripture. I would just encourage you to find and consistently implement a way for your kids to resist the temptation to gossip about one another and to ask for and extend forgiveness.
It’s just biblical.
P.S. Tomorrow my youngest son, Jake, will share his perspective on this issue…as well as mock his siblings for the many ways they required him to forgive them. Smile.