I have been reminded this week through conversations and experience how much courage it takes to be a parent. It is one thing to know what God wants for our own lives and quite another to teach and enforce those things to our children.
We know the Scriptures that teach us to "command our children after us,” to diligently place the Great Command of Loving the Lord our God before their eyes always (Deut. 6). We know we must rear them in the "nurture and admonition" of the Lord, not "provoke them to wrath." But the practical application of "God's parenting curriculum" is very hard at times to carry out in everyday situations.
Some of the reasons and solutions for this difficulty need to be discussed:
- As our children grow, their future isn't only a matter of our "bring up a child", but also a matter of their choice to follow the fear of the Lord, or reject it. In the early, mid, and late teen years, each child faces the personal choice of whether to follow the Lord. I most fear for our children who have made early professions of salvation in Christ and show no evidence of that regeneration in their life. It is very hard to know what to say to a child like this: "Are you really saved?" "You show no fruit?" "If you love the Lord, why do you rebel from His commands?” I confess that I don't know how to articulate the right question to open their eyes to the obvious conflict between their profession and their lifestyle.
Each person individually comes to the choice of whether they will follow Christ. All the desire, prayer, and intent of the parents cannot change that one sobering truth. I do believe the aforementioned things are a factor in their decision, but in the end, your child must choose to accept or reject the way of the Lord. It is this truth that chills my inner man more than anything else about my family.
- Another reason that it is hard to practically teach and enforce God's teaching is the changes that are occurring in our children. There is something very fearful about what happens between ages 12-15. I have had parents comment things like: "someone has taken my child and replaced him with this ‘Attitude.’” Suddenly, our 12 year old doesn't just do things because we say to. They question and actually care “why” they are doing things. They often have "better" ways to do them. Unfortunately, as they grow older and wiser, sometimes their ways are better. Now, how do we handle this? Do we give them free reign to be an arrogant teeny-bopper and say things like adults would say them? Absolutely not.
We need to understand that God is developing them within and that naturally comes with a desire of independence. There is nothing wrong with that - in fact, we need to begin giving them more responsibility and even more say in things that are functional (not moral). It is good in a very controlled conversation situation to hear out your (pre)teen’s thoughts even if they are absurd. I find that I struggle to wait until it is my turn to talk because I want to "blow away" every crazy thought. Please understand with me that what comes out the mouth in preteen and teen years is like a baby bird attempting to fly for the first time. His posture is absurd. His technique is crazy. There is no possibility of successful flying given the continued approach. Gently, lovingly – parents, you and I need to listen and then speak God's truth in love. I confess, I need to work on this a lot.
Within these exchanges however, is a magic line of respect. It is the authority that God has given you as parent that must be honored. You must not allow your child to cross this line by personal disrespect, rebellion, or usurping your authority. Hold the line with determined, unfaltering resilience.
- The last think I will mention is the difficulty of teaching and enforcing God's ways because of the "energy crisis.” Let's face it - we cannot maintain enough energy in our 30's, 40's, and 50's to stand toe to toe with a mouthy teenager that has a seemingly endless supply of foolish reasons why they cannot simply obey or do right. It takes a huge amount of energy to parent. We need strength from God to meet the need. But, first I want to say that we must conserve our energy for battles that really matter. For instance, it may not be worth the fight to insist that your son change the color of his socks because his "fashion statement" doesn't match. Who cares - let him look like a bozo :)
On the other hand, it is not wrong for you to make the decision your way even if it isn't a Bible command. You are the parent and God has given you the right to choose for that child. You must avoid provoking for no reason, but there are times when you just prefer something different than the choice of that child and it is OK to insist on your way. In Tripp's book "Shepherding a Child's Heart" he points out that there are times to say "no" simply to shape your child's will into realizing he cannot always have what he wants. I agree with this perspective.
Another point concerning energy is this: don't "talk it all out" every time. You cannot keep up with the insistent adrenaline flowing in your teen. You do not have to. Understand their perspective, consider in your own heart what is best from God's perspective, make the decision, hold to it, and lay it out to your teen in about a 5 minute discussion. Don't argue back and forth, back and forth. Don't give your teen that liberty. You are the parent; you must make the decision. Do not fret your child holding a grudge or not liking you. You are there to represent both loving and just God and you must do that no matter how they take it. They don't have to like it. They just have to do it with a respectful and submissive spirit. End the "discussion" and do not allow them to spout at you.
One thing that our Sunday school class has discussed is the confidence of understanding as a parent that parenting is a "God-matter". When your child resists you point them assuredly to their rebellion against God. That is really the matter. Stand confidently with God as you parent.
I pray that God give you the great grace and great wisdom that I am also seeking to parent courageously.