It is vital that we understand the mistakes we sometimes make as parents that influence our children in ways we might not have anticipated.
Every parent yearns to see his or her child be successful in life. Sadly, this is not always the way things turn out. Some end up in prison, on drugs, having children out of wedlock, or they simply turn out to be unproductive members of society. In a previous Tomorrow’s World magazine article (May–June 2017), we looked at five reasons why some children go wrong. In this article, we will look at five more reasons. These are “big ticket” mistakes to be avoided.
Failure on the part of parents to accept the rule of God or civil authority causes children to do the same. Sneaky parents breed sneaky kids, and if you reject the rule of God and man, your children will add one more to their list of authorities they do not respect: you! Galatians 6:7 tells us, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.”
It is important for parents to be consistent in the respect they show to authorities. How can your children respect the police officer who pulls you over to give a citation, if you don’t show respect? How will they respect religious authority if you take them to church and then serve “roast preacher” that evening at dinner? If you don’t respect civil and religious authorities, why should your children? If you strongly disagree with your church’s teachings or with your child’s teacher, perhaps it is time to change churches or schools. But whatever you do, even if you disagree with an authority figure, do it respectfully. This is especially true in the case of divorced parents. When you tear down the father or mother of your child, in front of your child, you do the child a grave disservice. A child who disrespects his father, mother, civil or religious authority is being set up for failure.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 12:25, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” Let’s face it: marriage is often difficult. Men and women just don’t think alike. Professor Higgins asked the question in the musical My Fair Lady, “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?”—but he missed the point! God made men and women different, and He did so for very good purposes. This is especially relevant when it comes to rearing children. While there are obvious exceptions, in general, women tend to be more tender-hearted than men and are generally less effective disciplinarians. This is why they may be heard saying, “Wait until your father comes home!” This difference is often a cause for dissension between the two. Some women are way too easy on misbehaving children and some men are overly harsh. Or at least, one may perceive the other to be that way.
Parents need to work together, and a lot of this work must be done behind closed doors. I remember a family who set a good example of this. Toddlers can make a lot of mistakes, putting metal objects in light sockets, pulling lamps off tables, spilling milk, and as they grow up they can begin to tell lies. This couple discussed in detail what was most important at each stage. They were more concerned about their daughter running into the street than spilling a glass of milk. By working together, they concentrated on the same priorities, and this gave her a sense of what Mom and Dad considered truly important. Mom wasn’t correcting for one set of values while Dad for another. Parents can’t know everything a child may do, but they can work together on the obvious issues.
An overly authoritarian father and a weak emotional mother who always comes to the rescue will cancel out one another. Under all but the most extreme conditions, it is better to let discipline—or the lack thereof—stand and to discuss it afterward behind closed doors than for there to be disagreement involving children in front of them.
The ultimate family division is divorce. That divorce has become commonplace is a sad commentary on our modern world, but even in divorce, children should be put ahead of personal agendas. Too often, one parent tears down the other in the eyes of his or her children. Even though two people cannot get along with each other, if they truly love their children, they must put up a herculean effort to uphold the other parent. After all, a child has only one true biological father and one true biological mother, and these two people are wonderfully important to the child. Don’t spoil that relationship!
God tells us that children need loving discipline that is consistent, fair, and appropriate for the offense. Some people tend to go to one extreme or the other. Some parents physically abuse their children, while others mete out no consequences for bad behavior.
Discipline comes in many forms, from spanking on the “bottom” with the hand, to time out, to withdrawal of privileges. The Book of Proverbs advocates appropriate corporal punishment (13:24; 29:15), but sometimes people misunderstand the words that are used. The rod spoken of in these passages might better be translated as a small switch. Some jurisdictions allow parents to spank their children with the hand on the “bottom.” However, this is not universal, as some nations forbid by law any use of physical punishment, and parents need to be aware of laws affecting them. Even if spanking is allowed, it must not be harsh or done in anger.
One form of discipline that many fail to recognize is allowing a child to suffer the consequences for his or her decisions. As one wise parent explained to me, “If our daughter (age seven or eight at the time) wanted to wear her favorite dress to a party after wash day, she couldn’t wear it to church that week.” It was her choice, but Mom wasn’t going to wash and iron it for church if she wore it to the party.
As their son and daughter matured, they allowed them to make more significant decisions, but never bailed them out. They had to learn to live with their choices. These parents carefully considered the potential for harm inherent in some of their children’s opportunities to choose and would lay down the law if their kids did something that could have resulted in lasting harm. There were choices they never left to the children to make, such as staying out after curfew or using recreational drugs. Frankly, no parent can guarantee that children won’t do some harmful things, but by giving them appropriate choices from an early age, along with wise counsel, parents ensure their children are less likely to go against parental authority when it really counts.
In the case of my friends, both of their children have grown up to lead successful lives and become solid citizens who contribute to the good of society. They learned self-discipline from an early age. They also learned that while Mom and Dad allowed them to make some decisions, the counsel given to them prior to their making those decisions was most often correct. When the son wanted to spend several hundred dollars on woofers for his car, his father told him that he would be squandering his hard-earned cash, harming his hearing, and using up money on something he would soon get tired of. After a few months, the son admitted to his father that he was right in the advice he gave him. It was an important lesson. Father did know best!
No lasting harm comes from giving age-appropriate choices, as long as parents “stick to their guns.” A few tears shed early in life can save many tears later in life, but too often parents give in and the child never learns that there are consequences to his or her decisions, nor develops self-discipline.
During the last 30 years, a great deal has been written about self-esteem, and in many ways it is a flawed concept. The idea has been put forward that if Johnny has low self-esteem, he will turn out badly, but if we “give him” high self-esteem he will do wonderfully. Thankfully, many authorities have rightly questioned this mind-set and have pointed out some of the flaws in it. Note these two flaws, for starters.
First, when parents only tell Johnny how special he is, this means his well-being is dependent on them. What happens when he hits the real world, where other people may not think he is so special? Do we really want to hand over his well-being to others?
Secondly, what he thinks of himself and what he is may not match. He may think he is special, or that he is great at basketball, because people don’t want to tell him the truth, but if he thinks he is ready for the high school team, he may be living in a dream world. We see this all the time on television talent shows such as Britain’s Got Talent or American Idol. When turned down, some individuals will argue with judges (who actually know something) that they are wrong.
So how did this self-esteem craze get traction? There is a balance, as Dr. Jeffrey Fall points out in his treatise on Successful Parenting: God’s Way, between encouraging a child and demoralizing him. Children do need encouragement, but some parents, especially fathers who lived in a more difficult time when survival was not so easy, tended to be harsher and more demanding of their children. The generation of the Great Depression and World War II wanted their children to have it better, and thus the pendulum swung in the other direction.
There is another reality at work, and that is that fathers in particular, by nature, can be overly demanding. That is why the Apostle Paul warns us in Colossians 3:21: “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” And in Ephesians 6:4: “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.”
Never tell your child he or she is good for nothing, and don’t be such a perfectionist that your children give up trying. Kids are kids. It is okay for them to make mistakes, and they need lots of honest encouragement. When they do well, let them know it, but when they misbehave or are barking up a wrong tree when it comes to talent, tell them honestly and lovingly at an appropriate time.
Some parents tell their teens, “I know that you will probably get drunk, try drugs, drive too fast, or get involved sexually before marriage.” Some parents go so far as to provide birth control pills to their daughters. This kind of advice often comes from a parent who did these things when he or she was young and therefore expects that all teens do the same. It is true that many teens make these mistakes, but not all teens. Some never get drunk, never try drugs, and do save sex for marriage. When a parent expresses low expectations, it is tantamount to giving permission.
A better approach is to pass along the expectation that your children will not do these things, yet understand that they might. Then, if they make some very bad decisions, let them know how disappointed you are in them for falling short of family expectations. If the bar is set low, children may not live up to their capabilities. If set too high, a child may not even try. There has to be balance in rearing children, but minimal or low expectations encourage failure.
All these points add up to one word—love. We communicate our love to our children by being people they can look up to and respect. We live a consistent life without hypocrisy. We show wisdom, treat people fairly, and are unselfish. We demonstrate our love to them by spending time with them. We demonstrate our love when we take time to diligently teach them the way they should go and when we set an example of respecting authority. We demonstrate our love to them when we, as parents, put aside our differences so we can train them with a unified approach. Love is shown when discipline is dispensed with fairness, in right measure, and with consistency. And we show our love when we refrain from demoralizing “put downs” and instead build our children up through honest encouragement and let them know we have high but reasonable expectations of them. We reap what we sow, and if—by our actions—we sow love, our children will grow up in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6)!