Ephesians 6:4Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Psalm 127:4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth.
I had a dream about my son Evan, who is rapidly expanding his boundaries as our most social child. He's an extrovert to be sure. In my dream I was at a house party with some other people from Awana, a Bible club we bring our kids to each week, and there were a whole lot of kids there. It was late, around midnight, and Evan wanted to go outside with a friend to play for a bit. The atmosphere was quite free and there wouldn't be any danger, but I didn't want to allow him outdoors at that hour of the night so I said no. When he asked why, (he does this often), I could only tell him it was too late. An Awana leader who’s walk with God I admire was there and sort of pulled me aside to let me know there was no harm in allowing him and his friend to hang out at the front of the house for bit. I wasn't convinced, but couldn't think of a good reason to stick to my decision, so I told Evan to go ahead, but only for a half-hour. I woke up and after the spider webs cleared, I found myself with an object lesson to depict what can happen when we try to hold our children back beyond what is reasonable.
Picture yourself with a little Risk™ soldier under your thumb on a table. As you push harder on the Soldier, one or more of three things will likely happen: 1.) The Risk™ piece will slip out from under your thumb and skitter away from you, 2) The Risk™ piece will be crushed under your thumb and be unfit for use with the game anymore, or 3) The Risk™ piece will withstand the pressure until it punctures your skin and injures you.
Our children are like that Risk™ piece. As they get older, they want - they need - to branch out and spread their wings a bit, enjoy some freedoms and be allowed to make mistakes. We can tend to put our thumb down on them to keep them under our control, thinking that we're helping them by saving them from making bad decisions. If we’re honest, sometimes we’re just saying ‘no’ out of sheer laziness, not wanting to deal with the possible fall out of a ‘yes’ answer. If we're not careful though, we can push too hard. At that point our children can be like that Risk™ piece, doing one or more of those three things: 1.) Slip out from under our control and distance themselves from us, 2.) Have their wills crushed thereby injuring them and hampering their emotional and spiritual health, or 3.) Totally rebel, resulting in much emotional pain both for themselves and for us as their parents.
In looking back over my upbringing I realize that I was one whose father pushed too hard. The thumb came down and this Risk™piece had all 3 reactions. I shudder to think of where I'd be were it not for God's grace and mercy! Now decades later, I’m finding the same pattern wanting to repeat itself in my own parenting. The two big differences are that my heart is soft toward God, and I’m happily, no - ecstatically married. I adore and respect this woman. I know God has given her wisdom, and I try to listen to her, sometimes unsuccessfully. I’m not saying she’s always right and, thankfully, she’s not the sort of woman who would say that about herself. What I am saying is that this parenting thing sure becomes easier in the context of a loving marriage where both spouses are looking in the same direction. Where I falter, she excels and vice versa. In addition, where we both falter God is there to pick up the pieces, brush off our clothes, and set us upright again.
It’s a noble thing to want to shield your children from pain; we have been called to protect, nurture and equip our children under God. But there is a point where that God-built program in us can cross over into fear. When fear takes over, wisdom is out the window, and faith is only a memory. That’s when our children reap an ill harvest.
So I will pray. Pray for my kids, and pray for my wife. I will ask God for wisdom to navigate parenthood as he designed it to be navigated and when all is said and done I’ll have seven straight Risk™soldiers, sharp arrows that will fly true and hit the mark.