I am grateful, as a parent, for the times in Scripture when we find straight forward commands directed at us. We find such a command in Ephesians 6. Paul has taken up writing about the family structure to this portion of the early church. In chapter 5 he broadened their minds to understand that marriage in and of itself is a gospel issue, for the deeper purpose of marriage is to be one of the means He uses to reveal what the gospel looks like in action. And when the chapter moves from 5 to 6, we find Paul giving some instruction in the realm of parenting:
“Children, obey your parents as you would the Lord, because this is right. Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise, so that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life in the land. Fathers, don’t stir up anger in your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:1-4).
Clearly, then, we as fathers in particular have the capacity to stir up anger in our children. I don’t want to do that; I would imagine you don’t either. True enough – our children are going to get mad at us. They are going to be disappointed by our rules and decisions. They are going to be frustrated at our inability to understand everything they are feeling. But Paul isn’t writing here about the occasional dispute between dad and kid. Rather, he’s describing a consistent style of parenting that builds up a spirit of anger in our kids.
What kind of parenting does that, especially from a dad? Here are three examples of such a pattern:
1. The Inspector Dad
One type of father that will stir up anger in his children is the kind of dad who is always inspecting. To be clear, there is a difference between observing and inspecting; one is simply taking care to notice what their kids are doing, how they are acting, and what feelings or circumstances might be prompting that behavior. But inspecting is different. Inspecting is watching with the expectation that the child is going to do something wrong or at least not up to standard.
Imagine living not under loving observation but instead feeling a constant sense of scrutiny. Surely that would cause anger to start bubbling up inside.
2. The Distracted Dad
Another type of dad that will provoke their kids to anger is the dad who might be present, and yet never be present. This is the kind of dad who never gives his kids his undivided attention. He always has the phone, or the TV, or at least the preoccupied mind. He never looks his kids in the eye and simply listens because there is always something else to pay attention to.
I have heard it said before that the best way parents can express love is simply time. But that time should be devoted time, not distracted time, or else I fear we will find ourselves living with children who have an angry spirit.
3. The Unsatisfied Dad
And then there’s the unsatisfied dad. Now this type of father might hide his dissatisfaction under the guise of “helping the kids reach their potential” or “valuing excellence” or something else. Those are fine things, but we would do well to be careful that our ambition for our kids doesn’t communicate that they can never do anything that is quite good enough. We do that when we never enjoy the moment, and instead are always pointing to something in our kids’ performance that needs to be improved.
Even as I write these words, I’m reminded of the greater Father. The One who is not an inspector. Who is not distracted. And who is not dissatisfied. And I’m reminded that we have this Father not because of our own performance, but instead because of the merits of Jesus. God loves us. As a father should. And His love is the kind of love that does not provoke us to embittered anger.