The Ways of God for Fathers – Consistent Discipline


Father and childThomas Aquinas writes:

In God there is a primary perfection, which is that He never changes His nature. … Let us strive therefore to acquire a stability of spirit…

God does not change. His ‘anger’ or ‘wrath’ we sometimes read about in Holy Scripture is not really God changing His mood or His feeling for us, but is really a reflection of our actions breaking relationship with God.

So what about us? St. Thomas points out:

Ah, how suddenly we pass from good to bad, from hope to groundless fear, and from fear to hope, from joy to unreasonable grief, and from sadness to vain joy, from silence to loquaciousness, from gravity to trifling, from charity to rancor or to envy, from fervor to tepidity, from humility to vainglory or to pride, from gentleness to anger, and from joy and spiritual love to carnal love and pleasure.

In this way we never remain one single instant in the same condition, unless, alas we are constant in inconstancy…..

Not a pretty picture, but pretty true for a lot of us. So let’s examine our constancy as it applies to our vocation as father. (Let us not forget that a whole book could be written with the same outline for our vocation as husband.)

Where do we especially need a stability of spirit as fathers? Well, two areas seem to leap out at us immediately: discipline and love.

We will be spending time with discipline more than once in this journey as later we contemplate God’s justice, forgiveness and mercy. But discipline is so much a part of raising children that is should be considered a primary area of fatherhood in terms of constancy; the details we can work out in later chapters.

First principles: is our style of discipline consistent or variable depending on my moods? If I am tired, stressed or weary are my reactions and punishments the same as when I am well-fed, well-rested, and at ease? More than likely most us of struggle to be as fair and patient with misbehavior when we are tired, stressed, or weary. And the punishments we dole out may be too harsh. Then what happens? In a quiet moment we realize we overreacted due to weariness or stress and rescind all punishment.

What is a child to think?

Children are constantly testing to see where the fences are and where the weakest link lies. This testing is initially not out of some devious gene they are born with. No, children are naturally curious-even about rules. Further, whether it always seems to be the case or not, they crave known boundaries. The more inconsistent we are, the more they will test to figure out where the real boundaries are because we are confusing them. Eventually we teach them by our inconsistency to play a devious game. Unfortunately for them we teach them this game of manipulation which doesn’t necessarily work in the world and certainly doesn’t work with God.

At this point I am not recommending one form of discipline over another. Simply we must be as consistent as possible and not change our discipline style with every mood change. This will also help them be consistent in their behavior, helping them model God’s attribute of spiritual stability or constancy in their own lives.

Now of course, we will fail at times. There will be a day here or there where we fail.

But if these days are the exception most children will be able to distinguish this as an exception and not part of a moving target. Yet beware. At every failure on our part the child will probe our resolve again. It is part of their nature to learn.

While constancy in discipline is of critical importance, there is a more primary and fundamental area where we must imitate and try to achieve this attribute of God. And of course I am talking about constancy of love.


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  • Tom

    Like this a lot Jim. Especially interesting your charitable thoughts on why kids test boundaries. (And I was also interested to read the Aquinas quote, especially given how rock-steady and “Spock-like” he can sometimes come across in his logical style of writing.)