I could use a manual.
That’s what I think most every day as a dad. I think it in all kinds of ways, from trying to help our kids study and realizing they are outpacing my own knowledge to helping negotiate the extremities of pre-teen emotional imbalance. I could use a manual. A checklist. A step by step instruction sheet guaranteed to pop out kids who love the Lord and His church. I don’t think I’m alone in this.
For most parents, I’m convinced life feels a little bit like stumbling through a darkened room, one in which you kind of, sort of, maybe know where the furniture is, but the pathway forward is still not as clear as you’d like it to be. So you stretch out your harms and shuffle, every once in a while busting your shin on something, hoping you can make it through the obstacle course to the other side.
That’s not to say that parenting isn’t joyful. It certainly is. More than I ever dreamed it could be. It’s only meant to point out the fact that most of us regular moms and dads don’t know exactly what we’re doing a lot of the time. So on we press in faith, trusting that the Lord will help make up for what we desperately lack. And in that pressing on, we turn to the Word of God, not to find that fabled step by step instruction manual, but to still find guidance and direction about the deeper meaning of this thing called parenting.
We come, then, to a passage like Ephesians 6, and find Paul 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. Here, then, are three ways we can do the opposite – to not stir up anger in our kids:
1. Know them intimately.
What stirs up anger in your children? Probably different things for different children. Though they might be growing up in the same home with the same parents, they are uniquely created with different personalities. So it makes sense that a blanket pronouncement of what stirs up anger in one cannot necessarily be completely applied to the other.
The only solution, then, is to know our children intimately. To listen to them. To understand their hopes, dreams, and fears. When we know our children intimately, we will also know the best way to communicate to them not only in such a way that they understand us, but also in such a way that does not provoke them to anger.
2. Treat them individually.
One of the way we can stir up anger, whether it flashes in a moment or seethes below the surface for years, is through comparison. Because we live in a Facebook-ed age and time when everyone’s best moments are on display, there is, I think, a general sense of insecurity among parents. When our kid isn’t quite as cute as so and so, or doesn’t say things quite as funny as so and so, or isn’t making the kinds of grades or touchdowns like so and so, we are tempted to let comparison creep into the home. Kids sense this – probably more than we know and certainly more than we are comfortable with. When they do, it’s no wonder they’re provoked to anger because, after all, we wish they were more like someone else anyway.
These are the children God has given me. Not those children. He gave those to someone else. They should be treated individually and not in comparison.
3. Serve them regularly.
One other way to not provoke our children – it’s through service. Service, at its core, is dying to one’s own desires and preferences for the sake of another. That dying to self takes a myriad of forms especially in the home, but I’d propose one specifically when it comes to children. We serve our kids when we display a genuine interest in the things they are genuinely interested in. Conversely, it is a lack of service when we are bending our children to enjoy what we enjoy.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule – I believe that when the days come when little children claim they don’t want to go to church that we should continue to put them in the car and make them go. But when it comes to things like hobbies, books, movies – that kind of thing? Parents, just let it go. Die to yourself, and engage with your kids around their own interests, even if it means you have to learn something new.
When we are willing to serve like this, I think we will find that our kids are not quick to anger. And in the end, our desire to live according to God’s Word and not provoke our children to anger is more than just a good tip for having a peaceful home. It’s one of the ways we model the better fatherhood of God Himself, who instead of provoking us to anger, sent His Son to die in our place so we could live in peace with Him forevermore.