The Parent Trap
As a parent of a teenager, I often feel overwhelmed with the responsibility of governing every aspect of my child’s life. Being tired, frustrated, and longing for the comfort of control, I remember going off on her for being irresponsible. I handed down whatever drastic punishment first popped into my head. She responded, in kind, by being very angry with me. Her weapon of choice is silence. She wielded it against me for a full 24 hours.
After receiving the silent treatment when dropping her off at school the next day, I began to ponder the interactions of the day before. I knew that she needed help fostering personal responsibility and that it was my job as a parent to teach her how to function as a maturing individual. I also knew that my approach the day before had left a bad taste in both my mouth and hers.
Parenting in Relationship
What if we were to treat our kids with the same respect that we would other relationships in our lives? For example, I am a boss at work. I have authority, an authority that (ideally) demands respect. How would I treat an employee who does not live up to their responsibilities? Do I fly off the handle and dole out random consequences? We all know how long that relationship would last if that happened. As with any other relationship, I would first need to examine myself. We are really adept at pointing out another’s sin, but we know that the only sin that we have control over is our own. What sin do I harbor in my anger? What is my role in their failure? How can I best approach and teach them to be better so that they know that I care about them and their performance? Certainly, there would need to be consequences if the behavior continued, but (short of criminal behavior) wouldn’t I first want to identify the problem, lay out expectations, and put a plan in place for success?
As I began to think about how different my approach with an employee would be as compared to how I approached my daughter’s shortcomings, I was convicted. Anger begets anger and we were feeding off each other. I decided my first step was to apologize. Apologize for treating her as less than a human being. We have known our kids since they entered the world, at which time they needed us to control every aspect of their lives. But what happens as they turn into young adults? They don’t need us to make every decision for them. Hopefully, by this time in their lives, they have begun to acquire a degree of autonomy. We want to foster that in them, not snatch it away at will.
Parenting with Respect
But how can I expect to be treated with respect if I have no respect in return? What does my respect for my daughter look like? Do I demand responsibility while withholding the blessings of freedom that responsibility brings? I realized that I had not treated my daughter with much respect. I had not properly relayed my expectations. I had not given her a plan for success. I had not allowed her to reap the benefits of obedience or know beforehand the consequences of neglecting responsibility. I had also sold her short, treating her as an infant that had to be constantly monitored and told what to do and when to do it.
The next day, I picked her up from school. The silent treatment was still in place, but I moved forward. Thinking in terms of how I would handle this conflict with an adult that was under my authority, I called a meeting at the dining room table. We discussed the problem and came up with a solution. It wasn’t long into the conversation before she began to participate and get excited about what we were doing. The specifics of our solution aren’t as important as to what we did together. We defined the problem, set expectations, and a consequence was laid out should she fail to carry out her responsibility, along with privileges to be earned through obedience.
No longer was our relationship defined solely by my giving orders and her obeying. Now we had a plan and she felt respected in the process. Things aren’t perfect, but it’s so much easier to go back to what we both agreed upon to be true than to be constantly making up the rules as we go.
Parenting with Grace
When I was an adolescent, I struggled a great deal with my attitude and obedience. I was the oldest of three children with my youngest sister being eight years younger than me. I felt that my parents considered me to be their babysitter. They ran a Sunday School bus route and visited all day long every Saturday, leaving me to stay with my brother and sister. This meant that I rarely was able to have a Friday night sleepover or Saturday activities with friends. My attitude was poor, my heart was hateful, and I regularly considered myself to be their slave.
I was wrong in my attitude, but when I look back on that time, I do see that I was given an awful lot of responsibility with no felt privileges in return. What I lacked in owning this responsibility was the belonging, affirmation, and meaning that is essential for anyone to have the motivation to wholeheartedly contribute to the mission of the family or any other organization.
My role in the family was defined by a lie. I believed I was a slave. I needed the gospel truth that told me who I was in Christ and, in turn, who I was in the context of my family. My motivation should have stemmed from, not only the fact that Christ had loved and served me, but also the love that I had for my family and desire to serve them. The truth of the matter is that I rarely received demonstrative love from my family. Hugs were not the norm and special privileges came along less often. Special attention came mainly through punishment and discipline. Rarely, if ever, was I recognized for a job well done. My negative attitude (sin) was often the topic of discussion, but any graces that God showed in my life were routinely overlooked. The law was heavy and I never measured up. My reaction to this truth was that I gave up. I never could measure up, so why try?
It seems to me that the answer to the problem of the law is hardly, if ever, more law. It’s more grace. The more we pound the law, the more defeated we feel as sinners. The more defeated we feel, the less motivation we have to even try. This is what happened to me. We are not changed by the law; we are changed by grace.
On the other hand, grace comes to us with a different story. Grace says that I know who you are. I know your sin. I know you don’t measure up, but you don’t have to meet the standard of the law in order to be loved. Grace says that our value is not defined by our attitude or actions; our value is defined by Christ and his cross.
God shows us a million kindnesses every day while we are still in our sin. It is because of these kindnesses that we not only respect God but we feel utterly loved by him. How do we show our sinful children those same kindnesses? We absolutely need to teach rules and responsibilities to our children, along with the consequences, but we should not neglect to show them the privileges and benefits of being not only our children, but God’s children.
Parenting with the Truth
Teaching and training is exhausting. It takes time, effort, planning, and patience. We must clearly define expectations, while, at the same time, give just enough room for autonomy. All of this while constantly exhibiting the same respect, privileges, and grace that we enjoy from our Father.
Remembering the 4Gs may be helpful here:
God is great, so I don’t have to be in control (even of my adolescent child). God is good, so we don’t have to look elsewhere for satisfaction (not even the satisfaction of having completely obedient and submissive teenagers). God is glorious, so we don’t need the approval of others (we don’t have to be the star parent with perfect kids). God is gracious, so we don’t have to earn his favor (and our children don’t have to earn ours either).