Christian parents need a steady stream of wise counsel. How we obtain that counsel, and whether or not we submit to it, is the difference between a home that is growing with chaotic rebellion (even if we deny it), and a home that is growing with consistent righteousness.
No one is near perfect when it comes to parenting, but like all godly pursuits in the Christian life, consistency and faithfulness is something every parent should strive for by the grace of God. To put your parenting on cruise-control is a dangerous decision. To think we’ve got it nailed is equally as dangerous. As parents, we must always be learning, re-learning, and learning again. Humility and diligence is the key.
Several years ago I was sitting through a Wednesday night study on parenting and a 70+ year old father of three grown children delivered counterintuitive advice that impacted our mindset for years to come. He started reading Ephesians 6:4 which says, “And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord,” then he told us that he would be explaining 5 ways to frustrate our children (similar to something James Dobson taught years ago with Focus on the Family). I immediately thought, Okay? I wonder how a negative approach is going to help us achieve a positive outcome. Within minutes, I was taking notes feverishly and completely blown away. Little did we all know, the patterns he described tapped into what so many of us experienced in homes that we grew up in and (or) were starting to repeat. While few would ever admit it, the way many people parent is simply based on whatever dad and mom feel is right — which includes making it up as they go along, insisting they know what they are doing, or getting defensive about the way they do it. Because children are born to us and we have a strong sense of ownership, we tend to make the mistake of thinking that parenting methods belong to us too. But they do not. They belong to God. His Word decides how we parent, even if it feels like a very personal decision. Too often, we lean into parenting methods that are driven by emotions, traditions, or self-anointed “expert” advice that doesn’t come from Scripture. For some, that leads to experiencing the wrath of a father or mother who — in the thralls of their god-complex — eventually shout, “That’s it! I have had enough!” For others, that leads to a hand-off approach that lets kids run the show in the name of letting kids be kids.
But is that God’s design? Is that how God treats us? Is that what Scripture communicates?
There is a better way. Sometimes, a counterintuitive approach is the most helpful way to see things in a new light. As you strive in grace to be a faithful parent, here are those “5 ways to frustrate your children” we were taught all those years ago. Since we all have done these, and do these sometimes, these serve as a reminder that every parent needs the gospel just as much as their children.
1. Set unrealistic expectations
Nothing crushes the spirit of a child quite like a weight they can never carry. Maybe it’s your dreams for their sports career, or your demand for grades that land the scholarship to the school you can’t afford. As parents, we bring expectations to the table that stem from our ambitions, the expectations someone put on us, or perhaps from not understanding the unique way God has made each one of our kids. If we’re honest, when a boss or spouse does this to us, it breeds anger and exhaustion. We do well to flip the mirror around on ourselves when it comes to how we parent. If it’s in the Bible, and it revolves around children, it is realistic to expect it in a healthy way (based on whatever age and stage they are in). Expect obedience. Expect sin. Expect growth in understanding. Expect their understanding to be slow. Expect to be humbled by the process as it cycles around and around again and again. Whatever you do, do your best to check your expectations that go beyond what Scripture prescribes.
2. Over-promise and under-deliver
Every parent has done it. We tell our kids that we’re going to do something and we fail to deliver — for reasons that do not involve weather, natural disasters, or a reasonable mishap. Quite often, parents over-promise and under-deliver. Then, when challenged by our kids, we demand our authority be respected while quoting Ephesians 6:1 (obey!), and Philippians 2:14 (no complaining!). As parents, we may be an authority in the lives of our children, but we are still under God’s authority. When we promise and fail to deliver for no reason but our willful negligence or shifting mind, we are modeling lying. Then, when we deny our culpability and appeal to authority, we are modeling rebellion. Your child may let you know it, or they may hold their frustration in. Whatever the case, they are not just hearing what you say, they are seeing if you live it.
3. Make decisions for them all the time
As a next-gen pastor, I hear this one the most from teenagers. I remember a 17-year old telling me, “I understand parental authority, I understand my role as a dependent, but my parents make almost every decision for me. And when I make my own, they move mountains to change my decision, alter the outcome, and control the situation. I just want to be treated like a man.” The rest of the conversation (and numerous ones before and after) was spent helping him dial down his anger and resentment towards his parents. Again, every parent is tempted to do this. But it helps no one grow. Some ways to exasperate, frustrate, and anger your children:
- Make their bed
- Do their laundry
- Tell them what to eat
- Be their alarm clock
- Make excuses for them with teachers
- Defend them when they are wrong to protect your image
- Pay for all their bills into their college years
- Excuse them from doing manual labor
- Speak for them
- Be their agent
- Be their lawyer
- Be their piggy bank
If you do several things on that list, it is time to pray and prepare to do almost none (perhaps helping with college is something all parents would like to do). Teens may not tell a parent any of this, but when most decisions are made for them or micromanaged, teens feel suppressed, angry, exasperated, stewing, and strategizing. The only reason they haven’t raced for the door yet is because they are financially (and possibly intellectually) incapable of making it in this world because their parent is stifling their growth. But know this: they cannot wait to be out of the house, and they will bolt for the door — and likely another city — the minute they can.
4. Punish them in anger
Disciplining your child in anger will produce anger. When you consistently lash out in anger at your children, it doesn’t matter what they’ve done, you’re doing all you need to raise future rebels, potential felons, and fill the waiting rooms of anger-management counselors. Why does this breed frustration in our children? Mainly, they see the hypocrisy of a Christian parent who looks nothing like the “fruit of the Spirit” they learned about in Sunday School (Galatians 5:22-23). Beyond that, they learn by your model that the way to handle emotions is not by giving them to the Lord (1 Peter 5:7), but rather, by attacking others.
5. Use your love as a tool
Not every path to angering your children involves aggression or blatantly broken promises. One way to provoke your children to anger is by using love in all the wrong ways. Parents who seek to manipulate the behavior of their children by giving or withholding love are modeling a love that looks nothing like God’s. A father or mother’s affection should never been given or withheld based on behavior. We love, care, and nurture at all times — even when disciplining our children. Just like God does (Proverbs 3:12; Hebrews 12:6). God’s love is unconditional and He calls us to live out that kind of love (1 Corinthians 13). It will bless parents, children, and the future if we will regularly ask: am I giving and withholding love and affection with my children based on how they behave? Is my discipline based on my own finicky ways or God’s faithful ways?
Parents Need the Gospel Daily
The point of an article like this is not meant to guilt us all into shame. I’m with you! Parenting is trench work with seemingly little rewards along the way. But like every area of sin and weakness, God’s love for us means He reveals to us how short we fall of His perfect standard. Imperfection is meant to highlight our need for the gospel, and motivate us to strive in grace to learn, grow, and obey. We can parent faithfully (though imperfectly) because we have a perfect God. We can parent faithfully (though imperfectly) because we have perfect Word.
You don’t need to repeat the sins of your parents. You don’t need to wallow in confusion. You don’t need to live in denial. Embrace the conviction of the Holy Spirit if He’s used one, or all, of these points to show you an area of habitual sin, then turn to Christ and follow His ways one day at a time.
You can do it…because He will do it through you.
Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp is excellent for parents with younger children.
Age of Opportunity by Paul David Tripp is an incredible book for parents with teenagers.