A four year old boy and his mother were visiting at our house. It was time to go and he was asked to put away the toys he was playing with, and he said “No.” Not only would he not pick up, but he would not put down the marbles he had in his hand. His mother asked him repeatedly to put the marbles down, but he just ignored her and held them tightly. His mom tried asking nicely, reasoning with him, promising she would buy him the same toy from the store, telling him she would tell his dad when they get home, counted to three, told him she would leave without him, etc. Eventually he did decide to put the marbles down, but after all that, what was really accomplished? Was putting the marbles down really the only goal in this situation? If it was, then the goal was achieved. I’m wondering if that should have been the only goal. Is there any character quality that he could have learned if this situation had been handled differently? This wasn't the first time I've seen this scenario. It was the third time that week, and I see it all the time; parents negotiating with children with the same methods they would with an equal: guilt, threats, reasoning, bribes, debate, persuasion, etc. I wonder if there is something about our culture that makes parents feel like they can’t physically take the marbles out of the hand or pick the child up and risk him crying or throwing a tantrum, or talk to the child about the consequences that he will receive for his actions. Are parents embarrassed to enforce obedience because they might be seen as mean? Or do they think it really is mean to enforce obedience? Where do these fears come from? Should parents give in to these fears or is there a worthwhile reason to conquer them? Is there a positive outcome for the child that results when he is required to follow parental directions?
Ephesians 6:1-4 paints a picture of the parent child relationship in very simple terms. “Children obey your parents…Honor your father and mother…Fathers (parents) do not provoke your children to anger ("exasperate your children" NIV); instead bring them up in the training of the Lord NASB." This sets up an order of authority, the parent is to train and the child is to obey. It also gives guidelines for the manner that this training is to be carried out. “Do not provoke your children to anger (exasperate).” Exasperate means to annoy greatly or make very angry. How do you annoy someone greatly or cause them to be very angry? Treat them unfairly or harshly, spew anger, rub in your authority, overuse your power, intimidate them, etc. So according to Ephesians, parents are to have authority but not the kind that annoys and angers. They are to have the kind of authority that is loving and beneficial to the child. These are the same guidelines that the Bible prescribes for all exercise of authority. The Bible says to honor and obey leaders (Rom. 13:1-2; Titus 3:1; Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 2:13-14 and 5:5) but it also tells leaders to “be servants” and to not “Lord it over (dominate, control, act as if you are better than) other people" (Matt. 20:25-28; 1 Peter 5:2-3). The Bible tells wives to submit to their husbands (Eph 5:22), but it also says that husbands should give themselves up like Christ gave himself up, and to love their wives as they do their own bodies (Eph. 5:25-29). Biblical authority is serving another person in love for their benefit, not for the benefit, comfort or convenience of the person authority. For the husband, serving his wife for her benefit means to put her needs before his own needs in order to make her holy and blameless by looking out for her spiritual, emotional, and physical well being.
What is in the best interest of a child in this dance of authority without exasperating? One of the greatest gifts you can give a child is the ability to obey God, and that ability comes in the form of self –control. Self-control is the foundational virtue that gives a child the ability to develop all other virtues, love, joy peace, patience, kindness, etc. He can’t act out these virtues in his life if he does not have control over himself. Self-control provides us with the power to make good decisions even when they are hard. It helps us to do the hard things that in our deepest being we want to do, but in a way we don’t want to. And it helps us to have the strength to not do the things that we should not do, ie: punch someone, yell at someone, do drugs, have casual sex, lie, steal, cheat, etc. How can we provide this virtue for our child? Train him to obey so that he can practice right and virtuous behavior. A coach makes you do what you don’t want to do, so that you can become who you want to be. As parents we have a similar job, we need to make children practice saying “I’m sorry,” “please” and “thank you” and using positive communication to get what they want rather that whining, demanding, stealing, or throwing a temper tantrum. As they grow we begin to explain the moral reasons why they do these things, and then as they gradually become autonomous (self governing) and separate from our authority they will be able to carry out their desire to act on their deepest desires to be a godly, virtuous and moral person with skill and ability that only comes from practice, rather than act on the fleshly, sinful impulses that come free at birth. We are born naturally gifted at being mean, rude and self centered, but self –control only comes through hard work, and the earlier that work starts the stronger we get. So a parent exercising their authority in a fair and loving way is in the best interest of the child. Don’t let the culture talk you into the lie that children should be your equal, children should never cry, children should never face consequences. You can have authority and be a loving parent, they are not mutually exclusive, in fact they are both necessary. Stand strong on what you believe and don’t be embarrassed for doing what God has directed you to do. Don’t worry about what other people think, do what you know is right. Make your child do things that they don’t want to do so they can become who they want to be and who God wants them to be.