As parents, we want to control the behavior of our children, but there is a danger of becoming content with outward obedience while failing to reach their hearts. We must, by various means, constrain our children to obey, but it should always be with an eye toward conditioning them to desire the joy of wholesome obedience and conformity to the rules that govern family and community.
Again I say, parents want to control the behavior of their children. But controlling behavior is not necessarily training or nurturing. Sometimes in the battle of wills, while seeking to maintain an equilibrium in the home, parents forget that just controlling behavior on a day-to-day basis is not the whole of training up a child.
Though it is not the norm, I have observed several cases where parents were diligent to control the behavior of their children, especially in public, but their children all turned out to be foolish, undisciplined losers. Generally speaking, when children are caused to render consistent obedience, they grow up to be self-disciplined and diligent in life’s duties. But some homes lack joy and purpose, and no amount of constrained obedience will produce self-control and respect for authority in the hearts of their children.
I don’t know how many times I have said it, but it needs to be said over and over again: “More is caught than taught.” Sometimes our attitudes scream so loudly that our children cannot hear our words. Children are the best psychologists in the world. A parent can say “Good job!” for the umpteenth time, and the astute child hears, “I am too distracted with my own concerns to be engaged by what you are doing, so please grow up to be emotionally stable even though you will seldom receive any serious involvement from me.” The positive affirmation “good job” in response to a lousy job done divests the words of their meaning in the mind of the child. When I was in high school and the art teachers critiqued a work with the words “That’s interesting,” every student knew they were on the lowest rung of performance.
I have observed some really inept parents—broken people who are generally irresponsible—raise stable, secure, disciplined, moral children and not lose a single one to slothfulness or sin. Looking at it closely, I observe that though they lack any of the psychologically approved rules of effective child training (like saying “good job” at every turn) they did one thing right: they loved their children with their time and their best energies, engaging with them in every aspect of life. They never left their children alone to be idle. There was no TV or electronic media to compete with family. Or if there was some form of electronic entertainment, it was shared as a family event. Life was a constant corporate chaos of cooking, building, playing together, planning a big event that usually failed to get beyond the dream stage, and sometimes fighting over one thing or another. But they were together and fiercely loyal to family. By the time the children were grown they felt they had become overcomers with their parents and siblings. They had a history that would forever bind them together. And they knew there was a group of people (family) that would love them always, just like they are.
In contrast, I have observed deeply religious parents—nervous about the outcome of their parenting, always turning the screws and imposing strict discipline, careful to isolate the children from evil influences—lose all of their kids to the world by the time they are eighteen years old.
There are a number of areas in which you can fail as a parent yet still succeed in producing great kids if they are raised on genuine smiles and hugs, engaged in the conquest of life with enthusiasm and a positive outlook.
In short, parents who are filled with the joy of God’s creation, steeped in sweet fellowship, speaking words of thanksgiving and praise, and sharing their lives and resources with others will raise wonderful kids—duplicates of their parents.
Rather than try harder, just care more; care with your smiles and with interest on your face; care with your time and best energies. Look at your children and smile approval and delight. Cause them to know for certain that they are essential to your happiness. That is the kind of soil that produces great kids and adults.
Your kids are your mission field. Hear the call to lay down your life for them. Get on that altar, take a deep breath, light that match and toss it in the tinder. Be vulnerable regardless of how critical they may be . . . and give your life for your teenager.