Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Psalm 127:3 (NIV).
Eugene Petersons rendering of Ephesians 6:4 is; “Fathers, don’t exasperate your children by coming down hard on them” (MSG). Which makes me wonder. How do fathers come down hard on their children? R. Kent Hughes, in his book, “Disciplines of a Godly Man,” suggests five things:
- Criticism. This must certainly be at the top of the list. A recent radio report described a study of parents’ comments to their children. It was found that parents averaged ten negative comments for every positive comment and as a result the self esteem of children is being badly damaged. No wonder Dr. James Dobson, the author of several excellent books on raising children, makes a strong case for parental encouragement of children. For children become exasperated and lose heart when a father uses his words discouragingly, rolls his eyes, gives backhanded praise, or uses a disapproving tone. As it indicates in Colossians 3:21, when fathers embitter their children “they will become discouraged.” Which reminds me of a poem:
There are little eyes upon you, and they are watching night and day;
There are little ears that quickly take in every word you say;
There are little hands all eager to do everything you do.
And a little boy who’s dreaming of the day he’ll be like you.
You’re the little fellow’s idol, you’re the wisest of the wise,
In his little mind about you, no suspicions ever rise;
He believes in you devoutly, holds that all you say and do,
He will say and do in your way when he’s grown up to be like you.
There’s a wide-eyed little fellow who believes you’re always right,
And his ears are always open and he watches day and night;
You are setting an example every day in all you do,
For the little boy who’s waiting to grow up to be like you. (Anon.)
- Over strictness. Some fathers exasperate their children by being overly strict or controlling. They either forget, or don’t know that bringing up children is like holding a wet bar of soap – too firm a grasp and it shoots from your hand, too loose a grip and it slides away. In other words it takes a gentle but firm hold to keep control. That’s difficult, isn’t it? As we try to bring up our children in a materialistic and hedonistic culture, we sometimes end up doing one of two things: either smothering our children with religious legalism or capitulating to pagan secularism. Both responses are wrong. Rather, we should begin by holding the tiny helpless bar snugly, and then, as it grows, we should gradually and wisely loosen our grip by biblically balancing discipline and development. For discipline without development leads to anger and resentment, and development without discipline leads to chaos and rejection of authority. But when discipline and development is blended together in an atmosphere of love, a child grows up to be the balanced person God would have him/her to be. So don’t be excessively strict. Hold your children with God’s pressure and let Him mold them with His love.
- Irritability. We’ve all seen it – and if you’d lived in my house when the children were growing up, you would know I’ve done it. After a pressured or preoccupied day it’s easy to get irritated, to fly off the handle, or become hypersensitive with the kids. As someone once said; “Some say you treat your fellow man on the level but when you get home with the wife and kids, you can be as mean as the devil!” So be on guard against irritability and exercise patience, gentleness and self control.
- Inconsistency. This aggravates many children more than anything else. When the boundaries are constantly shifting a child will lose heart. Conflicting messages and mixed signals confuse a child by undermining his/her confidence and security in a father’s love. So be consistent. Never make promises you don’t intend to keep. And never forget to do what you said you’d do.
- Favoritism. Now admittedly some children need more encouragement than others, some need more discipline, some need more independence, and some need more structure and some less. But no child should be favoured over another. That’s what went wrong with Jacob. He favoured his son Joseph over his other sons and the results were catastrophic. The other sons attacked Joseph, stripped him of his ornamented robe, threw him into a cistern, sold him to some Ishmaelite merchants, then slaughtered a goat and dipped Joseph’s robe in the blood so they could take it back to their father and convince him that his son had been killed by a wild animal (cf. Genesis 37:1ff). Yes, let’s not forget that Joseph’s brothers were disheartened by their father’s favouritism and it’s therefore not surprising that they ended up doing what they did.
So watch out for these father fails by making sure you’re no critical, over strict, irritable, inconsistent, or prone to favouritism.