Being a family therapist for 30 years, parenting is a big topic for me. And it has recently come to me again what poor marks Biblical fathers have gotten at parenting. Also in my work, I have a client struggling with feeling liked by his children. This week I could tell him, and I will tell you, take advantage of the parent platform and platitude that your children will love you no matter what.
That might be slightly overstated. There are children who don’t love their parents, but those have been some really bad parents. Even abusive parents can be loved, with children wishing they would be different, excusing them, and still longing for love. Children scarred by neglectful, clinically narcissistic parents still wish their parents loved them. It’s a relief for the children to discover they weren’t capable.
That being said children long to be loved by parents. It harks back to Genesis 3:15 where God commits to keeping His imprint at least 50% in us. So be strong because even if you discipline your children they will love you. In fact later they will love you more. Children need discipline.
It’s harder when you are a grandparent. you want them to love you, you want them to want to come and stay with you. You want to help them, you see the need, but you don’t have that built in assurance that they will understand, that they will still love you and want to come back. Now I understand why parents feel the heavy responsibility of guiding their children, sometimes at the expense of enjoying them. Children need guidance.
Left to themselves they would only do what they want. They would be on technology all day long. They would burn out their eyes and brains. They would ruin their health–eat only sweets, all the sugar they want, instead of the green stuff they need. They would stay up too late and get up too late, and never offer to help or even notice anything they could do without you saying something or asking for help. Are these the same kids that used to want to help? you wonder. Welcome to the teen years. Is it possible for kids to ruin themselves in a decade?
The interesting thing is that when asked to help and engaged with you, they seem so much happier–most of them time.
It just proves to me that life is backwards–we were made to run on love but don’t always recognize what it looks like. We would naturally eat all the wrong stuff and not exercise, and let others do everything for us–unless it is something we want to do. Perhaps teen years are just the transition into realizing that you have to choose your life and your way. If you have disciplined and guided them in childhood it will pick up again.
But give them that structure without fear. I am haunted by all the fathers is scripture who ruined their children by being too lenient with them. Aaron (Moses brother), Eli the priest, Samuel the prophet, David and Solomon–and I know there are more–great men who couldn’t seem to fill that role of requiring something from their sons and ruined them. They didn’t want to be hard on them. But can’t we be hard without being harsh? Can’t we require in kindness without shaming them?
Shaming is damaging and is mainly in your tone of voice. It comes from your feelings of irritation or anger, and conveys the messages you don’t have what it takes, you aren’t good enough, why don’t you know this? It can cripple for life, but so does neglect. If you know you aren’t good at discipline, ask God to discipline you, and guide you, then pay attention. He is faithful and gentle. Watch your feelings, pity isn’t healthy, but neither is irritation. Don’t expect perfect kids. You were given to them to teach them: “To guide them in the way they should go.” Development is a process that is much easier with interested loving parents who teach and require. Good discipline ends up feeling like love.