As we continue our series on parenting, it seems appropriate to consider some thoughts from a well-received and respected authority on the subject. In his book Successful Christian Parenting, American pastor and founder of Masters College and Seminary in Santa Clarita, California, John F. MacArthur Jr. suggests some biblical strategies on how we can be better parents.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul encourages fathers not to provoke their children to anger through how they parent. Rather, fathers are to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. For this to be accomplished John MacArthur suggests that parents should employ several strategies to help keep from provoking such anger.
Freedom: neither toomuch nor too little
1) Avoid over-protecting your child. This is really an issue of over-controlling your child. If parents are too zealous in their parenting efforts most children will come to resent the extended control over time.
There needs to be a happy medium on the amount of freedom and the amount of restraint that is given to our children. If we keep pulling back on the reins for too long with them, when they finally are given freedom they will not know how to handle it, and they will run for their lives from the barn.
So be careful not to be overly protective. Encourage them to experience the world along with its joys and its sorrows so that they are well-prepared for adulthood.
2) Avoid over-indulging your child. If you give them everything they ever want, they will have a rude awakening in adulthood when they find that they aren’t able to have what they want.
Everything in moderation is the policy here. Too much of a good thing just isn’t always a good thing. So be careful as you dole out resources and privileges. We have always found it beneficial for our children to earn the privileges they enjoy, whether through good behaviour or through various assigned responsibilities from time to time.
A poor price to pay
Of course, children who are over-indulged will likely end up becoming incredibly selfish, discontented, unappreciative and spoiled. This kind of child always reminds me of Veruca Salt from the original Willie Wonka movie with Gene Wilder. Her song went like this:
I want a feast. I want a bean feast. Cream buns and doughnuts and fruitcake with no nuts so good you could go nuts. No, now! I want a ball. I want a party. Pink macaroons and a million balloons and performing baboons and Give it to me now. I want the world, I want the whole world. I want to lock it all up in my pocket. It’s my bar of chocolate. Give it to me now! I want today, I want tomorrow, I want to wear them like braids in my hair and I don’t want to share them. I want a party with roomfuls of laughter. Ten thousand tons of ice-cream. And if I don’t get the things I am after, I’m going to scream! I want the works, I want the whole works! Presents and prizes and sweets and surprises in all shapes and sizes. And now! Don’t care how I want it now! Don’t care how I want it now!
Nobody wants a kid like this, so be careful not to over-indulge your child.
3) Avoid playing favourites. There probably isn’t anything more hurtful to children than when they see their own parents favouring their siblings. It is a delicate dance but it is possible to share the love that you have for your kids in the most uniform and unqualified way you possibly can.
Not playing favourites will also help bring peace into your household. If everyone is equally loved, then there is no need for our children to exercise their own sibling rivalries for attention and favour.
Spreading the love
Again, showering affection over one child and neglecting the others is just incredibly hurtful for those left out in the cold. This childhood pain and anguish is often carried into adulthood, being manifested in overt resentment, anger and relational dysfunctionality toward siblings and parents.
I have seen this kind of relational dysfunctionality rear its ugly head at the funerals of the parents who didn’t work hard at alleviating sibling rivalries. So don’t play favourites. Every child of yours needs to be loved by you equally as much as possible.
4) Avoid setting unrealistic goals. We all know the kind of parents who believe their kid is going to be an NBA star or the next David Beckham. Unfortunately many parents place many unwarranted pressures on their children to be various things that the parents are envisioning for them.
When these pressures are brought to bear on a child who really has no desire for the activity or the career choice, great frustration and conflict can ensue.
Children have a natural desire to be pleasing to their parents. When they feel inadequate or unable to please mom and dad, they can end up wrestling with great guilt, shame, resentment and bitter frustration. Just because your kid is the smartest in the class doesn’t mean that they are going to want to become a lawyer or a doctor.
Again, be careful with your expectations. Is it possible that you are trying to live vicariously through your child? Kids will take a lot upon themselves in hopes of pleasing their parents. Be careful what burdens you place on your child.
My dad was an engineer and none of my older brothers or sister followed in his footsteps with the family trade. However, even at a young age as the youngest of four siblings I showed a great interest in building models and drawing things. So my dad assumed that I would be the family engineer.
My senior year in high school he made a drafting table for me and he even hooked me up with a very nice drafting machine. But the reality is yes, I liked to build things but that didn’t mean I wanted to be an engineer too.
I am now a pastor. Am I building things? Yes, in a way. I long to build people’s lives, not tractors or buildings, through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So I am an engineer in a sense, a spiritual engineer.
5) Avoid discouraging your child. It is very easy for us as parents to be a discouragement to them. They come and show us their scribbled picture of a pony and we say, “Oh, that’s nice. It really doesn’t look much like a pony”.
All in good time
Well, what do you expect from a five-year-old, a Rembrandt? I do believe that we need to be realistic but would it hurt much to faun over our child’s first attempts at art, or sports, or chores?
It is very easy to be hypercritical, and if we are this way, our children will determine that there really isn’t any way to please mom and dad. They will either quit trying or find someone else who really does care.
So work hard at encouragement. Continue to guide, train, correct and direct but give appropriate praise and encouragement along the way. We all are longing for encouragement.
We will look at a few more tips next week from John MacArthur Jr. But for now you have plenty to work on. Our children are longing to be encouraged and loved. So be careful not to over-protect them or over-indulge them or play favourites or set unrealistic goals.
Rather seek to be your child’s biggest fan as you encourage them with your interaction and presence in their life. You really only have one shot at this. Be sure and make it a good one.
– Reverend Bradley S. Belcher is the senior pastor with the International Baptist Church of Budapest, www.ibcbudapest.org. Should you have a question or comment regarding this column, email email@example.com.