Respect Your Children – the fine line between passive parenting and giving grace

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Doesn’t the Bible say for children to obey and respect their parents? Yes, yes it does. Ephesians 6 to be exact.

But Ephesians 6 also says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (ESV).

For the longest time I had no clue what this meant, and while I’m sure I don’t completely understand it now, I do feel it makes more sense. When he was younger, E was an easy child. He never threw a temper tantrum, didn’t say ‘No’ to everything as a two-year-old, and the closest thing we’ve had to the terrible twos have come later in life. He was always compliant, sweet, and easy. God knew I needed this in that particular stage of life. Being a single mom, working, in school full-time, and living on my own (with lots of help and wisdom from my parents, plus a roof over my head for a few years) was enough for me without dealing with a strong-willed child.

Because he was so compliant, I developed this mentality that completely disregarded Ethan’s personality. It’s easy when kids are young to just assume they are a blank slate without preferences and wants. Now obviously they make plenty of requests, which E did. But ultimately, I still controlled pretty much all of his food, toys, bedtimes, and daily activities. A lot hasn’t changed in the last 10 years except now Tyler and I are parenting together. In the midst of E growing up and life getting hectic with a new baby, I forget he doesn’t always want exactly what I want, and it’s ok for him to be different.

Do not get me wrong. He does need to obey and respect my decisions. However, I also should remember to not exasperate him with my control. On a daily basis, I forget he isn’t 9-year-old-twin-Melissa-in-boy-form. I think what I want will be what he wants, and he can get over it if he doesn’t like it. Not only is this completely selfish, but it leads to frustration for both of us when he wants to do something different than what I had planned.

And I freak out. I get mad about him wanting to play on the computer for 30 minutes instead of playing on his iPad for 30 minutes like I had thought he would. I’m not alone. Sometimes Tyler wants Ethan to wait to cut the grass (E loves to cut grass) because he just doesn’t feel like watching him to make sure it’s done properly. Tyler wants to relax because he worked a long day, and who can blame him? However, always putting Ethan off or telling him to wait in a selfish way leads to frustration, especially when E is trying to help.

It’s easier to respect other people’s children and give them options and let them make their own decisions while we sit around and control our own kids to the n-th degree. Obviously some of that comes from them not being our children, but also it stems from our selfish nature as parents and feeling like we can take advantage of what is already ours, what we’re used to, what we claim to love the most.

In about 20 years, how will this take a toll on Ethan? If I don’t respect him, but control and exasperate him, what will the end result look like? Will he be able to make his own decisions as an adult? Will he struggle to be a leader and just follow whatever anyone tells him? Will he be able to pick out his own clothes and match? I don’t know.

I do know that as he grows and matures, we long to bring him up in the discipline of the Lord. That is our end goal. If Tyler and I look at each moment of each day in an eternal perspective, so many things we long to control in his life don’t matter. Raising a child to become a Jesus-loving adult is a process we will not see the end of for as long as we are on Earth. Keeping that goal in the forefront of my mind shows me how my daily parenting tasks should be more gospel-related, full of grace, and far away from provoking Ethan to anger.

I’m not suggesting being passive as a parent because we’ve all seen the kindergarchy of American culture: Kids rule, parents drool(I’m sure that was on a t-shirt when I was a kid). Many parents give in to every whim of their child to pacify them and avoid conflict. We definitely don’t follow that method in our house. We’ve swung too far in the other direction. I control too much, say ‘no’ too much, and generally selfishly guide E based on what I want in the moment. Our culture revolves around the individual and individualism, which has broken many relationships. However, I feel our culture lumps all children together and focuses on the individualism of adults, once children have “found themselves” in their adolescent years. It implies that children can’t know anything about themselves or who they are as a human.

If I respected Ethan as a person the way I want to be respected, this could be avoided. This is what the Bible passage is pointing to. I’ve seen Ethan get exasperated and frustrated so many times because I’m unnecessarily saying no or making him do things that could be done later. Sometimes he’s frustrated because he wants to be lazy or is being disrespectful. But sometimes he’s only frustrated because there isn’t any reason why I’m saying no except that I just want things done my way. When I see him getting frustrated and mad and realize there is no need for the situation to escalate as it is, I have to apologize. I have to ask him to forgive me for thinking of only myself. I have to try and work with him, do things his way sometimes, and enjoy that we are different, and realize sometimes it’s not a big deal to say yes and then yes again, as long as I’m loving and guiding him towards the cross, towards Jesus, and towards discipline in the Lord, which happens to include that he honor his parents.

And Martin? I haven’t even gotten to that aspect with Martin yet. For now, we’re just working on sleeping, eating, and changing diapers.