3 Questions to Help Parents Know Which Hill to Die On

“Are we going to die on this hill?”

My wife and I often ask this question to each other. Quite often in fact.

Children grow, and as they do, they begin to test the limits of their parents. It seems to me that it’s a natural (and therefore sinful) thing for kids to push on the established boundaries and preferences of their home to see how firm they are. I’m not even sure they know they’re doing it, but doing it they are nonetheless.

To be clear, I’m not talking about outright defiance here. I’m talking more about issues of general expectation or commitment. These are issues like doing homework as soon as you get home rather than waiting until later in the evening. Or choosing to wear your hair in a certain way, even though mom and dad would prefer something different. Stuff like that.

Which leads back to the question: “Are we going to die on this hill?”

In other words, we ask ourselves whether this particular issue that the child is pushing on is worth putting all our own weight on. Implicit in the question is the knowledge that you can’t die on every hill, because if you do, then your stand becomes less and less meaningful. So you do know if this is the right hill on which to take your stand?

Here are three diagnostic questions that might help:

1. What is the deeper issue?

When it comes to issues like these – issues of preference or expectation – it’s worth asking why we, as mom and dad, have that preference or expectation to begin with. What is the deeper, heart-level issue here? If you can identify that, then it will help you know the true importance of the issue. Furthermore, it will help you know if this particular thing is really worth standing firm on, or whether you can let it go.

2. What is the true win?

What are we really after with this expectation? This is related to question number 1 because it helps us know what we are trying to instill in our kids. If, for example, a child wants to buy something foolish with his or her money, the deeper issue of one of stewardship. And the true win is for the child to see that they are stewards of what God entrusts them with, and therefore not to act foolishly. So if that’s the true win, then the best thing to do might be to let the kid go ahead and buy that toy that’s going to break in five minutes so that we can better communicate the truth. It might, in other words, be the true win to back down from the hill and let them take it.

3. Are we prepared to follow through?

To put it another way, how committed are we to this? Have we already established consequences for this action, and are we ready to follow through with this promise we’ve made? This is a good question to ask because the worst case scenario would not necessarily be for us to back down as parents; it would be worse for us to stand firm and then not follow through on what we have said would happen next.

Parents, you can’t die on every hill. Nor should you. May God give us wisdom to know when to stand firm and when to back down.

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