Letter From a Wife

Now I will convey to you the complications I seem to have with rearing my three children.

I praise our Lord for a wonderful Christian home. But with the struggles of each day, the varying differences between my husband and me seem to intensify with the delicate process of rearing our three children. They are ages 10, 6 1/2, & 4. As a result of my husband becoming a true and genuinely active Christian after the age of 36, he has contrarily maintained a somewhat conflicting and contradictory viewpoint in specific relation to the more liberal attitude toward training and disciplining our children. This obviously creates a greater difficulty to uphold a truly consistent pattern of discipline. I believe godly principles dictate a parental enforcement and reinforcement of obedience to God and parents.

I am interested in your answer to one specific area of dispute. My husband contends that a ten-year-old little girl is “too big” to spank, but I disagree. Could you please clarify this according to your principles of understanding.
Another specific concern might be with regard to negative attitudes from children at the time of completing an instruction to do household chores or daily routines. Please present your viewpoint on this issue. Thanks so much for the godly instruction you provide.

May God richly bless your ministries as well as you and your family.

Sincerely,

Vastly conservative mother of 3

Michael Answers

Thanks for your plain letter . I will be equally plain in my answer. You have described your family problems from your one-sided perspective, which is the way we usually hear the details of a conflict. From many years of counseling I have learned to never take at face value the interpretation of only one member of a controversy. And with no more than the contents of just one letter, it is difficult to be certain in my interpretation of the situation, but to answer, it is necessary to make some assumptions.

If there were just 100 questions with 100 answers, I could match the answer with the question. Like your question as to whether or not it is appropriate to spank a ten-year-old girl: There is no one right answer that covers all circumstances. Fathers usually cease spanking girls at an earlier age than do mothers. Perhaps for him she is too old; for you, maybe an occasional spanking is still in order. It differs with the child and the relationship you sustain with him or her. Under normal conditions, where training started sooner, a ten-year-old would not need spanking. You had better get the job done in a hurry—she will likely be too old for a spanking by the time she is twelve.

As to your question regarding the bad attitude of children faced with unpleasant commands, again, there is not a single answer that covers all situations. I cannot say that all children with bad attitudes should be spanked until they smile, or given double workloads until they are thankful, etc. We have offered several practical solutions to this issue in our books, No Greater Joy, Volumes One, Two and Three. The main thing is to never allow the child’s attitude to control your expectations, unless it is to cause you to demand more.

Understand me. Family is first a matter of relationships, not techniques and appropriate responses. If you are running a correctional facility with inmates, you could spell out the proper penalty and response to a given infraction of the rules, and by being consistent you could maintain discipline and order. But our goal in parenting is to train a soul into godliness, not just gain compliance.

From the child’s perspective, training is better instituted through emulation rather than capitulation. If we lose the child’s heart, we have lost the battle before we even know what the issues are. The attitude of parents—the mother in particular—is the fountain from which flow all family relationships. Mother is the morale of the family. Therefore, as counselors, until we have dealt with parental attitudes, we are wasting our time. A technique that is right for one person can be wrong for another when it is dished out with the wrong attitude. A rod can heal or destroy. A rebuke can bring repentance or communicate rejection. A warning can turn the heart of the child before it gets out of hand or it can produce rebellion. There is no technique or appropriate response that can conceal a parent’s heart and produce fruit different from the parental root.

To answer your questions—the questions of any parent where conflict is the issue—I must address the attitude of the parent; I must make some bold assumptions. I am limited to generalizations, limited to the many personal experiences I have had in hearing questions phrased and then digging deeper until I could attach a disposition to them. It helps greatly to look into the eyes and read body language, but I must know you through your words.

The general content of your letter assumes that the fault in your home is your husband’s. Before you begin to discuss the issues, you say the right words: “praise the Lord for a wonderful Christian home” and for a “true and genuinely active Christian husband.” Those statements are not consistent with that which follows, for in reference to your husband you say “varying differences between my husband and I seem to intensify.” He has “contrarily maintained . . . conflicting and contradictory viewpoint” with an attitude that is “more liberal” than your own. Your husband creates a “greater difficulty.” You have “one specific area of dispute” with him. Your husband “contends,” and you “disagree.” If this is a “wonderful Christian home,” don’t expect any converts.

You must understand we are all possessed with an inordinate drive to control. That one is seeking to control others in the realm of religion does not sanctify the selfish drive. If the Devil was limited to imparting just one vice, I suspect he would choose a religious, controlling spirit. The drive to dominate has worked more evil in the world than any other factor. Homes are destroyed and children are scarred, not by bad training techniques or by one member of the family that is “too liberal,” but by two people competing for domination. The children can survive a little liberality. They can survive too few or too many spankings, but the conflict that arises between two parents seeking to control each other, even for the greater good, creates a caustic atmosphere that rots the souls of their children.

It is a great beginning to accept the reality that there is only one person in the world we can control—ourselves. Self-control is a lifetime challenge managed only through the Lord Jesus Christ. To control others is an elusive sweetness reserved for the violent and the mesmerizing cultist. But there is hardly a marriage that is not bleeding from attempts to control and dominate. The mother cuts the father, as you have done in this letter; the father cuts the mother, and the children bleed. They ask me for medicine to give the children to stop the bleeding, and when I tell the parents that they are the ones who need to take the medicine, they are sure I am directing my advice to the other partner, the one that will not cooperate.

Your letter implies you cannot be a good wife and mother, and you cannot train your children, because your husband will not cooperate. Understand this. You cannot wait until the world is a good place before you become good. You cannot wait until the church is revived to experience your own revival. And you cannot wait until your spouse is right before you do right. You must be the kind of person God requires despite the condition of your spouse. Your spouse is outside the limits of your control. Accept that and go forward, or stop here and dig in your heels, which will create a grave for your children. If you make your husband’s compliance a condition to the success of your parenting, you have already lost the battle. Children can survive inconsistency, but they will never survive dissension and discord.

I am not using hyperbole when I say your children would be in a better condition if you were as “liberal” as your husband, believed exactly as he does, and the two of you were joyously in sync at his lower level of “enforcement.” They would grow up with sloppy habits, possibly a bit lazy, and probably lack a high measure of self-control, but they would be emotionally secure. They would feel loved, valued, and, most importantly of all, they would not be bitter and rebellious as they will be if raised in a home filled with parental conflict. You can minister life to your children by providing an atmosphere that says you are absolutely delighted with your husband, but you only minister death if they feel you are in disagreement with him. By your rejection of your husband—the ultimate authority in the home—you erode the very concept of authority in the minds of your children. Regardless of your words, you are training them in rebellion.

This concept is the most important training principle I can give you, and it is the most common need. It reminds me of an experience I had when I was about ten years old. My parents left my eight-year-old brother and me at home. We were ordered to do the dishes, after which we could split an entire chocolate pie. I loved chocolate pie. To be able to split a whole pie into two equal pieces and eat half by myself was joy beyond description. As we washed the dishes we began to argue over who was going to cut the pie. Neither of us trusted the other to be fair in dividing it. I was two years older and was obviously more qualified to enforce my broadly experienced will. But my brother was equally determined to make sure justice was accomplished. When the last dish was put away, we both rushed to the table. I pulled the pie over to make the cut. He pulled it back his way. We struggled until the pie landed upside down on the dirty kitchen floor. I can still feel the total sense of loss, seeing that beautiful chocolate pie splattered out in a two-foot circle, the cat lapping at the edges. Of course it was his fault for not appreciating my judgment. But he thought it was my fault for enforcing my will. When our parents came home and heard our complaints, they only laughed, saying something about “hoping we had learned our lesson.” I’m sure he didn’t. That was 63 years ago and still he has not repented. Oh well, he just wouldn’t listen to sound advice.

Now, my slightly embellished story is certainly funny today; from time to time when we get together we laugh over it. But I hope you were able to interpret my little parable. Parents that struggle over how to raise the kids end up spilling the whole pie. It would be better to resign yourself to eating the little piece of pie, no matter the cost to your pride, than to demand your rights and end up standing over the mess. Is blame so sweet that you would risk the pie just to see that he doesn’t get away with anything? You say, “But it is different; I am fighting for the right for my kids to eat pie.” A big piece of pie eaten in tension may cause indigestion or regurgitation. A little eaten in peace with thankfulness is the good life.

I have often said, if you find that your expectations of your spouse or your children are so high that you are angry at them for failing to comply, it is far better to lower expectations to your smiling threshold than to scowl at them from your high perch. We are not asking you to compromise truth, but to resign as policeman of that truth. We are not asking you to lay aside your convictions, but to lay aside the conviction that you are duty bound to pass those convictions on to your husband, and that he should be obliged to follow your lead. Truth, love, discipline, justice, joy, and obedience are not well supported by criticism, blame, anger, and accusation.

You are not responsible for the actions of your husband. If he is truly less capable than you are, demonstrate your expertise by training your children in such a way that they never suspect there is any conflict. They may know that you are tougher and absolutely consistent, but they will suppose that such is just normal. “Daddy and Mama love each other dearly. He lets us get away with more than she does, but we know that when he is not around we had better walk the line.”

Mother, you spend far more time with your little ones than he does. In most homes, the mother is responsible for more than 80% of the training time, and the father for less than 20%. If you do your job right, he will not be able to undo it in the evening, unless you set up a tension that causes the children to lose respect for the both of you and for authority in general. In that case, they will rebel against you, knowing that they are working two opposing sides. When parents are not known to be in perfect agreement and do not present a unified command, in the minds of the children it leaves an authority vacuum, and the kids will step in to fill that vacuum. You, Mother, are the only one that can communicate the concept that there is divided authority. The children will never interpret the differences between the liberal father and the strict mother as divided command unless you communicate that through open challenge in their presence or through slights you make when he is not present.

I know what you are thinking: “But I cannot just give up and resign my children to what I know is going to be very bad training. They are too important to allow my husband to spoil them.” You are still assuming that you can fight a battle with your husband and change him. You are still convinced that if you just push harder and demand more, he will eventually see the error of his way and follow you in your greater wisdom. Yea, and if it happens, it will be the first time in the history of the world that a husband has bowed to pressure from his wife and matured as a result. No man ever crawled out from under the criticism of his wife to become a better man. Such is the illusion of a controlling spirit. I am not commending the male ego; I am stating reality. Flow with it and prosper, or resist it and die with the satisfaction that it was your husband who destroyed your family—you stood on your principles.

If parents withhold affection from a child on the condition that he deserve it, he will never seek affection from his parents and will eventually reach a place where he will resent affection and reject it if they try to give it. Likewise, if a husband withholds love from his wife on the condition that she honor him, she will dishonor him with the zeal of a fanatic. And she will deliberately make him aware of those whom she does honor, just to show him what he is missing. And so it is that if a woman withholds honor from her husband on the condition that he become honorable, he may become honorable for others, but he will never become honorable for her. If you fail to take into account the reverse psychology of a fallen, perverted race, you are building on fanciful imaginations.