Raising children in today's society seems to be getting more and more challenging for Christian parents. The Center for a New American Dream reports that 55 percent of young people say they are successful at getting their parents to give in to their wants. For example, about 40 percent of children have asked their parents for an advertised product they knew their parents would not get for them. However, 59 percent of that group keep asking and asking and eventually the parents give up and give in. It takes an average of about nine times before the parents give in.
That is a picture of children manipulating their parents to get what they want. Why do parents do this? For the most part, their commitment to parenting is not strong enough to stay the course. Boundaries would help, but boundaries are not very effective unless there are consequences and consequences mean nothing unless they are enforced.
Some parents came to me with a problem. They reported that their kids were disrespectful and rebellious. Mom and Dad were not agreed on how they would parent and so the kids played them against each other. Mom and Dad ended up giving in to the kids and their marriage began to come unraveled. The kids worked the family system to their own immature and selfish ends. Two parents united in the parenting work could have stopped that tragedy.
It is important that parents stand shoulder to shoulder as they parent their children. Consistency is one of the important principles that must be realized in a family. Without it, children will find a way to get things from their parents that the parents really do not want them to have. This often results in children growing up thinking they can manipulate their way through life. They may conclude that "no" really doesn't mean "no." Their interpretation may be, "If I can just keep asking, I will win." When they later meet with the hard reality that "no" means "no" regardless of how they feel, they can become emotionally distressed and personally devastated.
Parenting is often a battle of the wills. While parents must regard their children with value and treat them with respect, they must also be in authority over them. Children should not be allowed to rule. They must learn to submit to godly authority in the home or they will have great difficulty submitting to authority in society at large.
The biblical practice in Ephesians 6 is for children to obey their parents. It is right to do this. The principle which children should be learning in this process is to honor their father and their mother. A mother and a father never really lose those titles. They will be Mom and Dad for, hopefully, many years. But, they will not be parents for many years. What children learn when they are taught to obey their parents (presuming the parents are godly people who do not abuse their children) is the principle of honor.
Kids who can get what they want by just wearing their parents down by repeated asking will not develop the kind of character and outlook that will help them become quality and caring people later in life. Love does not always give in. There are times when love must be tough, say "no," and hand out the well-earned consequences.
It is so much easier to learn something right the first time than try to relearn it the second time. Parents can help their children learn it right the first time, which will insure a greater potential for purposeful and godly living later in their lives.
Parenting is not about the feelings of the moment, although it must take place moment by moment. Parenting is about doing for our children what is right. It is about valuing them, encouraging them, teaching them, disciplining them, and showing them love. It is not good parenting to give up when difficulties arise. It is not good parenting to give in when pressures come against us. It is not good parenting to give out because our children keep on asking for something we have already denied. Parenting is about caring for our children and bringing them up in the instruction of the Lord. It is about modeling godliness before them. It may sometimes mean asking our children to forgive us.
But parenting should never be turned over to the children. They are not equipped to be parents. They need parents who can say "yes" and who can say "no" to their requests without sending a message of inconsistency.
James Rudy Gray is certified as a professional counselor by the National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors. He serves as the editor of The Baptist Courier, the official newspaper of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.