Where Softness and Firmness Meet

by Danielle Bean 

One recent rainy day, we had one of those not-so-magical late afternoons. The toddler fell asleep on the couch and woke up 30 minutes later ... in a bear of a mood. And the older boys suffered a serious case of cabin fever that resulted in a wrestling match on the living room floor ... complete with bloody lip.

Exasperated after reminding and re-reminding the kids to put away school books, hang up their coats, and stop throwing balls in the house, I finally I did something I thought I would never do.

“Just you wait ...” I shouted above the sound of my 6-year-old daughter’s complaints that a younger brother was stealing her pretty ponies, “until your father comes home!”

The words escaped my lips before I had time to consider them. There was no taking them back. It was official; I had become a clichéd harried housewife of the 1950s sitcom variety.

I like to think of myself as an effective disciplinarian. I make rules and set standards. I try my best to provide consistent consequences. When it comes to really controlling my kids’ behavior, though, I must admit that I lean hard on my husband's “fear factor.”

My feminine inclination is to coo, coax, and cajole. In case you are wondering, these are not effective disciplinary techniques. Neither, according to my husband, is the practice of adding “okay?” to the end of every instruction. Not that I would ever do that.

But what does my husband know about making kids listen? Lots, apparently. Using nothing more than a well-arched eyebrow, Dan can get a willful, defiant child to stand up straight, apologize, and offer to fold the laundry.

It’s maddening. I could twist my face into all manner of threatening countenances, but none of my children will ever snap to attention in the face of my eyebrow language.

One recent bedtime, our 8-year-old Stephen continually got out of bed. He needed water, the bathroom, a library book, and – finally – a plush frog he was pretty sure he had left in the living room.

I reminded him that he needed to stay in his bed ... and then ran to find the frog.

“This will be the last time you come downstairs tonight,” my husband told the boy with a stern look of disapproval.

Stephen nodded solemnly.

“Is anything bothering you, Honey?” I asked as I handed him the toy.

“No, Mama.”

While my husband stood nearby, his arms folded across his chest, I hugged Stephen good night and he flashed me a small, grateful smile. For just that moment, there stood our son – firmly planted between his father's justice and his mother's mercy.

It is in the natural differences between fathers and mothers that our children first taste the wonders God’s love – in the complementary forms of unconditional love expressed in mercy and justice. I soften Dan’s edges a bit, even as he sharpens some of mine. In us, tenderness and firmness meet.

Firmness or flexibility? Statutes or sensitivity? Justice or mercy?

Stephen needs both, I realized as he raced up the stairs to bed.

We all do.

Danielle Bean, a mother of eight, is Editorial Director of  Faith & Family. She is writing a series of columns for Fathers for Good that explore the relations between husband and wife