I have five children. Their current ages are nine to eighteen. I love being a dad. It is one of my very favorite things. I think I have become a good one. How do I know? I really like all my kids, and they seem to like me too. Of course, I also love them. I would love them even if I didn’t like them, but I do like them.
Here is some brainstorming on how this came about:
- I see myself as an image bearer of God. Furthermore, I am a redeemed image bearer because Jesus saved me and gave me his Spirit. This has many implications, but importantly for this topic, it has caused me to like myself a lot. Why wouldn’t I? God does. He has made me, and made me clean. I am so thankful. I’m not perfect, but I seek to grow, and will seek to grow until I’m out of time for growing—either dead, or with Jesus at the judgment.
- I see everyone else around me as image bearers. This impresses me to no end. This means I will not be justified to dominate any of my fellow image bearers. This means that all my relationships are horizontal, not vertical (except the one with God. He is higher than us. He created us out of nothing). But other humans are my impressive equals. If they are messed up, they could begin growing by the grace of God and by concrete biblical principles applied with power through the help of the Holy Spirit, a gift of God in Christ. It also means, btw, that I would not allow a fellow image-bearer to assume any power over me personally. If he or she is a vested authority from God, such as the cop who pulls me over for speeding (right? —- because he represents the state, who in a sense represents the God who has empowered them to make and keep laws, and protect his people (Romans 13)) I will obey them because I obey God. So there is no one to fear, and there is no one to dominate us, or be dominated by us.
- Therefore, I also see my kids as impressive fellow image bearers. I am in awe of them because I am in awe of the God who created them. And therefore, I will not dominate my kids. I will, however, wield my vested authority as God’s servant (Ro 13:4-5). I will make rules and enforce them as God’s agent. But, that doesn’t leave room for anger or insecurity on my part to get in the way of my job. It’s not personal.
- This means that I can focus on what is most important and that is building our loving relationship. If I don’t have to personally dominate them, then they don’t have to feel that they were dominated, and they don’t have to rebel. Do you think your kids won’t rebel if they feel dominated by you? Think again. They will definitely rebel, and you will start to dislike them as much as they dislike you.
- Another way to say this is that I respect my kids, and I make sure they respect me and their mother. I don’t do this by dominating them, but by personally not putting up with any, at all, of any kind, words, tone, body language, disrespect. I say, “hey bud, I respect you, you need to respect me, especially because God says your life will be awful if you dishonor your parents. So, I love you, I’m not personally threatened (this is important, although I don’t actually say that part), but you are going to have a consequence for the disrespect (or disobedience). And then I give them one. It is how I can respect them, teaching them that consequences have actions, even for saved Christians.
- I spend an inordinate amount of time teaching them to think in principles, have courage, love the truth, and make their own choices whenever possible. If I have to pull rank on them, I say, “I’m only going to tell you what to do until you are eighteen, so I’m going to take advantage of that while I can.”
- I never ever take our disagreement personally, and I pastor them to do the same. I have no problem with them disagreeing with me. We’ll talk, and then if I have to pull rank, they understand that I would not do that if I didn’t have to, and if they don’t like it, just wait until they are grown and they will no longer have to deal with it.
- It also means that I hold my kids with an open hand. They don’t belong to me, but to God. My job is to teach them the truth by instruction and example. This means I am responsible TO them, but not FOR them. I’m sure this is where most of us screw up in our responsibility of leadership in any sphere (I am also a pastor in a church). I’ve heard it said it’s like that old adage, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” I think it’s better said, “You can lead a horse to water but IF YOU MAKE HIM DRINK IT YOU ARE COMMITTING EVIL AGAINST HIM.” When you force personal will and power on another human, you dehumanize them. I’m not talking about the consequences from breaking rules. I’m talking about any yelling, manipulating, rewarding behavior that makes a kid behave the way you want them to. Instead, teach them to make their own choice whether-or-not to obey and avoid the consequences or disobey and face them. That preserves both their dignity and your relationship with them. Isn’t this the way God Fathers us?
Bonus: Consider never saying, “Good job (or especially good boy or good girl)” to your kids. It sets you over them in a dominating way that makes you the judge of their personally. They will learn to love pleasing you, instead of loving to do a job well done for the sake of it. It also creates a fixed mindset. I want them to have growth mindset (see Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset).
If I can think of anything else to say, I’ll post a part 2. Feel free to comment if you disagree. We can sharpen each other.