We’ve been through this stage before. Twice before. And by God’s grace, we’ve gotten though it both times. But here it comes again, with all the ferocity you would expect.
It’s the knock-knock phase.
Now our youngest has plunged headlong into the hilarity that is the knock-knock joke. That’s not to say he’s perfected the art; just that he’s well into it. Sometimes the punchline falls right in line, but other times he gets confused and says too much at the wrong time. But whatever the case, you’d better settle in once you start answering the door, because you’re going to be there for a while.
It’s at moments like these when you, as a parent, need self-control. As silly as the occasion might be, it’s also a good chance to make your kid feel important, funny, and clever, but that doesn’t happen without self-control. It only happens instead when you’re able to sit and endure knock after knock.
Not just in the joke world, but in parenting in general, is self-control more than an important characteristic – it’s an important weapon. In fact, it might be your most important weapon as a parent today, and not just because you have kids that try your patience. We all do. It’s because self-control is the way by which you establish and maintain authority in the home. Let’s imagine a scenario to help flesh out that premise.
This is the scenario of moodiness. Let’s say that a kid of yours comes wakes up one day and is particularly moody. So you throw on some music, you make smiley faces on the pancakes, you do your best to screw on a smile, but that kid is in the funk and isn’t coming out. Now in this scenario, you know, of course, in the back of your mind the reason they’re in a funk is because you’ve done something to disappoint them. You didn’t take them to get ice cream, or you said you couldn’t go to the movies, or they couldn’t have a friend over, or whatever – so in theory there is a bullet you can fire from your parenting pistol that will fix the situation.
The thing is, though, the moment you fire that bullet you have ceded control from the parent to the child. You have abdicated your authority and set the wheels in motion, at least subconsciously, that if a certain kind of behavior will yield desirable results. The alternative to that is the road of self-control. Though it would be easier to buy the ice cream or go to the movies or invite the friend or whatever, you maintain your self-control and push forward.
So on you go. And on goes the bad attitude with you. Here again is where you need the weapon of self-control at your disposal. Because after a few hours of this nonsense, you’re just about ready to lose your mind and fly off the handle. That kid is being disrespectful and ungrateful and it’s about time you let him or her know it. But here, too, is where authority and power in the home is teetering between two parties. Because if you lose your self-control and do fly off the handle and say things you shouldn’t and go too far with your discipline, then once again you have ceded control to the kid. It might not have been the reaction they were hoping for in the end, but even so, by their actions they were able to manipulate you into some kind of reaction.
The road of self-control is a measured response. It’s the response that shows you, as the parent, recognize that there is a lot more to parenting than this one, single moment, and that you are in the journey for the long haul. So whether you act or not act, and the measure of that action or inaction, you demonstrate that you have a bigger goal in mind than simply getting through a particular situation.
And at the end of all that, whether you’ve lost control or maintained it, you and I are both reminded of the gospel, in which we have a Father who is never out of control. Whose response is always perfectly proportional to the situation at hand. The One who never says too much or too little, and never acts or doesn’t act in an appropriate way. Thank God that God is a God of self-control. Thank God He doesn’t abdicate His authority to creatures like us, lest we think that by our actions we can manipulate His.
He’s too good for that. And as His representatives in the home, so must we also be.