I love newborns: their sweet smell, their soft skin, their bright eyes trying to take in the wonder of the new world.  It’s delightful and delicious and is touched by the holy. It is also momentous and sobering when new moms are handed that tiny person who is so utterly dependent on them. This new relationship has often been likened to a dance, with mom learning to listen to her baby’s cues and baby learning to follow mom’s lead.

Any well-practiced dance duo will tell you it takes lots of time to learn the nuances of each dance since all routines are unique. They will also tell you it is imperative that only one person be the leader. Switching roles mid-dance would totally throw off the rhythm and flow and create chaos.

With all my daughters and other young women, too, as they have babies, I’ve encouraged them to listen to their baby’s cues, but never to forget they have to be the one in charge. I’m also a strong proponent of them keeping their marriages first and not letting their children become the center of their families’ universe.  The balance and beauty of a great dance comes from knowing each other’s limits, but most importantly from knowing who leads and who follows.

Discipline of a child is really training for the dance of life. As I have looked over this week’s posts, I’ve been reflecting on how important it is to remember that the best training always begins early. When new moms come to the realization that they are responsible for this life and the direction their child will go, it can feel overwhelming. But it can be done.

Early training begins in the first weeks by scheduling a baby with a tailored routine that fits the parents’ and the baby’s needs, but is neither rigid nor child-directed. It also includes training the child as he becomes mobile to respect boundaries the parent sets for his or her safety. And as the baby becomes a toddler, previously-set boundaries regarding safety expand to include boundaries for what is unacceptable, like throwing food or temper tantrums or taking things from another child.

As the child grows, so does his capacity and ability to disobey and to rebel. Depending on the choices of the parents, the once innocent, helpless babe can quickly become an out-of-control tiny tyrant. Parents are often surprised by this transformation and wonder where it came from.  But it is so crucial to begin with the understanding that this tiny baby is capable of great sin, disobedience, and destruction so that parents will—from the very beginning—establish their loving authority in the relationship with their child.  Doing so lets the baby/soon-to-be toddler know from the beginning that Mom and Dad are in charge, not him or her. And that is the key to healthy, balanced training and loving discipline.