Parenting in the Modern World

canstockphoto85839313rd in the series, “Modern Family?”

Ephesians 6:1-4

Larry L. Eubanks, First Baptist Church, Frederick, Maryland, April 17, 2016

Maybe you know who comedian Jim Gaffigan is. He has five children. Yeah, I know. Nowadays if a couple has more than three kids, the whispers start behind their backs. “Don’t they know how this works?” At six or seven kids we actually think they are a little weird. Or they are trying to get on TV.

There was a day when that wasn’t so. My father is one of seven children in his family, which wasn’t so uncommon in farming communities in the 30’s.

I grew up with a lot of Catholic friends back in the day when Catholics took birth control advice from celibate men, so having friends with four, five, six siblings wasn’t that unusual either.

With five kids apparently people don’t whisper they just come up and ask, because Gaffigan says he gets asked all the time, “Why so many children?”

He says, “Well, why not?”

I guess the reasons against having more children always seem uninspiring and superficial. What exactly am I missing out on? Money? A few more hours of sleep? A more peaceful meal? More hair? These are nothing compared to what I get from these five monsters who rule my life. I believe each of my five children has made me a better man … Each one of them has been a pump of light into my shriveled black heart. I would trade money, sleep, or hair for a smile from one of my children in a heartbeat. Well, it depends on how much hair.

We get that, right? All of it, including the “monsters” part. Parenting is a wonderful experience, and it is among the hardest things to do. It can be scary, and it can be heartbreaking.

Today we look at parenting in the modern world. Actually we’ll look at it next week too. In fact, next week we’re going to look at a truly modern form of parenting which I’ve called kidolatry, which is when kids truly do rule our lives. We’ll look at that and helicopter parenting and stuff like that next week.

This week I want to take another look at Paul’s section on the family in Ephesians 5-6 and focus in on what he says about parenting. So look at Ephesians 6:1-4:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”– this is the first commandment with a promise: “so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.”


And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

When I started studying these verses, two questions popped up in my mind.


Two Questions:

1. Does “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ,” apply just for marriage, or for the entire passage?

Is it the topic sentence for this whole section on the family, or just for marriage.

It’s definitely a topic sentence, that idea after which is explaining. It kind of rules the paragraph. Most interpreters seem to think that 5:21 controls the section on marriage, that what Paul says to both the husband and the wife, particularly the husband, is to be seen as fleshing out this idea of husbands and wives being subject to one another.

But few seem to think that it relates to fathers and children or masters and slaves, and that makes sense. We understand that children are subject to their parents’ decisions, not the other way around; the same goes with the master/slave relationship.

What trips us up is that word “subject,” which pertains to who has to follow whose orders. We understand that husbands and wives shouldn’t be ordering each other around like servants or lowly employees, but we rather expect our kids to do what we say, and there are lots of verses in the Bible to support that.

But when you take a closer look at this passage you see that Paul is trying to break down this whole idea that the family is about who gets to give the orders and who has to obey. He’s trying to break down that hierarchical structure and replace it with the idea of serving one another.

And we can see ourselves serving our children, right? We do it all the time. In some ways we’ve gotten too good at it, which is what I’ll address next week.

But if we hear the opening sentence as, “Serve one another out of reverence to Christ,” it makes sense.

The second question is,

2. What does “do not provoke your children to anger” mean?

Because with a two-year-old or a 16-year-old, that’s pretty much impossible, right?

Mom gives a 2-yr.-old some juice in a blue sippy cup and the kid falls to the ground in rage. “I want the red sippy cup!”

You don’t need an example for the teenager, right? Just envision setting curfew or, you know, breathing too loud.

So Paul isn’t saying that you shouldn’t ever make your kid angry. That’s going to happen, and sometimes should happen. If all you are doing is pleasing your kid, you’re raising a spoiled little monster.

Paul is talking about that love/power relationship that we explored last week. If your parenting is about making sure that you are the boss and that your every command gets obeyed without question, and if you rarely if ever allow your children to have a say in their lives, then you are building a deep-seated resentment in your children which is going to boil over in destructive ways as they get older.

It’s going to affect how they respond to authority at school, how they relate to their first boss when they get their first job, when they relate to the police—all sorts of ways.

It’s going to affect their marriages, and how they treat your grandchildren.

It’s that deep-seated resentment and pain that comes when a child is deprived of the love they need to function.

Let’s be clear: you can parent out of a power center or out of a love center, but not both.


Power vs. Love

Last week we talked about how power and love increase or decrease in inverse relationship to one another. The more a relationship is characterized by power, the less love there is. The more it is characterized by love, the less power is exerted.

Now, you may be saying, “Wait a minute, my kids are young and I have to exert a lot of power over them. Otherwise I’m not really loving them.” And that’s true.

When they are little we exercise almost complete control over them. We determine when they eat, what they eat, what they don’t eat, what they wear, where they go, when they go to bed—kinda—and when they wake up—kinda.

“Johnny turn off the TV, we have to go to the doctor. I don’t care if Barney is on, we have to go. Dude creeps me out anyway.”

We do it because we love them. To do otherwise would be neglect. So that seems to contradict the power/love inverse relationship that I was talking about.

So here’s the thing: it’s all about what you are trying to accomplish. It’s all about the ends. So let me give you a definition of parenting that will help you understand this:

Parenting is the process of gradually empowering your children to become fully functioning adults in an interdependent world.

Let’s break that down.

  • Gradually

When they are young they have almost no power. A screaming baby certainly has some power, but not much. They can’t do much for themselves, and you pretty much have to do it all. The older they get, the more they can do and the more they should do.

It’s one thing if you’re tying your 3-yr.-old’s shoes, but if they are ten and you’re still doing it, that’s a problem. Or you’re still buying them Velcro shoes.

As they get older, it become harder to navigate this line, because what they are able to do, that is what they are physically able to do, they aren’t ready to do emotionally, like sex. Or it’s too dangerous, like driving.

So, yes, when they are very young there is a sense in which love expresses itself in power, but that inverse relationship starts to exert itself rather quickly in the form of power struggles. We’ll talk about that in a minute.

  • Empowering

The key word in that definition is empowering. In a relationship based on power, the goal is to get and to keep as much power and control as you can. In a relationship based on love, the goal is to give away power and control.

That doesn’t mean you give them more and more power over you, it means you give more and more power over their own lives over to them. You are empowering them to make their own decisions, and to make good decisions.

  • Functioning in an Interdependent World

Because here’s the thing: they have to function in an interdependent world. We aren’t teaching them to be independent but to be interdependent. One of the worst things you can convey to your child is that they are expected to be successful adults all on their own.

Sometimes it seems like in our society that asking for help is a sign of weakness, but it’s weak, not to mention stupid, to not ask for help when you need it, to try to go at it alone when you don’t know what you are doing.

The self-made success is a myth. All successful people are a product of parents and teachers and mentors and, well, society.

A successful business person uses public roads and public utilities that we all provide through our taxes, without which they couldn’t be successful.

Donald Trump talks about how brilliant he is and how successful he’s been all on his own. The only help he ever got was his dad giving him a million dollars. So, yeah, other than that…

When you empower your kids, you don’t lose them, you help them navigate a complex world but without the handicap of thinking they have to do it all themselves. My kids are 27 and 31 and they still ask me for help, and it’s help I’m glad to give them. That’s how this world works.

The struggle for us as parents is in knowing how much power they are ready for at whatever stage they are in. They always think they are ready for more than we think they are, and they are often more ready than we think they are, and thus we have power struggles with our kids.

Ironically, the better the job we are doing with empowering them, the more they are more ready than we think they are.

So let’s talk about power struggles. Much of what we talked about last week in marriage applies to parenting when identifying whether or not we are in a real power struggle. So let’s review that list, and then I’m going to add one more.


How To Know If You Are In A Power Struggle

· Being right and winning are the objectives

· You are attacking or becoming defensive

· Not listening to each other

· Believing the problem lies in the other person

Here’s one that I didn’t include in the list last week but could have and maybe should have:

· There is fear

There are some parents who are actually afraid of their kids. I don’t mean that they fear for their lives, like little Johnny is going to sneak in and kill them in the middle of the night. I’m talking about parents who are afraid of their child’s tantrums.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that kids never have tantrums when it’s convenient for you. They always pick the worst time to have a tantrum, like when you’ve got guests over for dinner, or you are eating out in public.

And Mom and Dad do everything in their power to make sure Junior is happy. That’s a sure sign that you’re in a power struggle, and the toddler is winning.

But there’s a much more serious way that fear enters into parenting. There are some parents who want their kids to love them, but they also want their kids to fear them. Fear leads to more compliant children. Fear gets them to do what they need to do more quickly and efficiently.

That may be so, but these parents ultimately are undermining their children’s love for them.

I think this gets to what Paul is talking about when he tells father not to provoke their children to anger. If you use power and control to such an extent that your children fear you, you are creating not just fear but also resentment. If you are continually denying them a say in their own lives, you are disempowering them; you are creating powerlessness, and powerlessness always creates resentment. That fear that you are instilling in them will turn to resentment, which may one day turn to hate.


If there is fear in your parenting, you are in a very dangerous power play with your children.


How to Avoid Power Trips

· The First Step is to Side-Step

In other words, don’t enter in. When your child tries to get you into a tug-of-war, refuse to pick up the other end of the rope.

A mother asked her two-year-old if she was ready for a nap. “NO” replied the child. Feeling challenged, the mother replied, “Do you want to walk to your bed or do you want me to carry you?” “I want you to carry me upside down and tickle me as we go.”

It’s not always that simple, but the more you refuse to enter into power struggles, the less you’ll get sheer defiance and the more you’ll get negotiation.

You can’t always avoid the power struggle, but the goal is to remove the defiance from the power struggle. That’s what you’re looking for. So, see what this mom did? Instead of just ordering her child to take a nap, she gave her some choices.

· Strive to Give Choices, Not Orders

Make sure the choices are acceptable, and that one of them isn’t a form of punishment. “You can go take a nap, or you can sit in the corner for three hours.”

That’s not a real choice, and your child will know it and fight you, and you’re back in the power play.

· Teach that Increased Freedom Brings Increased Responsibility and Accountability

As they get older they are going to get more freedom, but they have to show that they can handle the responsibility and be accountable for their actions. Let’s say your child wants a later bedtime, maybe from 8 to 9 p.m. So talk it over, and you agree to give it a try. But before agreeing, you and your child agree on the answers to the following four questions:

Four Questions:

1. How will we know it’s working?
We’ll know staying up later is working if you still get up on time in the morning.

2. How do we know it’s not working?
If you have a hard time getting up on time and don’t have energy during the day.

3. What will we do if it’s not working?
We’ll go back to the old time, 8:00 p.m.

4. What will we do if it is working?
We’ll continue with this new bedtime.

So these are some tips to help you with the power struggles you find yourself in with your kids.

Before we go, there is one last thing I want to say to parents, and it’s this:


Give Yourself A Break

Cut yourself some slack. There is no manual for this. Every kid is different and would have to come with their own manual. Not only is every kid different, but there is no such thing as the perfect parent. Doesn’t exist.

You can do everything right, and kids may still grow up with significant issues, because you aren’t the only influences on their lives. They get to make their own decisions, and sometimes those are bad decisions.

But also know this: kids are amazingly resilient, and they can survive a lot of our screw ups. And if you will love them to the best of your ability, they will forgive you your mistakes.

In parenting, there are no guarantees.

Some years ago I heard John Maxwell say this, and it’s really good. He looked at one of the genealogies in 1 Chronicles, and noted that there were four successive generations with four different outcomes.


Four Successive Generations With Four Different Outcomes:

Here’s the verse, 1 Chronicles 3:10-11—The descendants of Solomon: Rehoboam, Abijah his son, Asa his son, Jehoshaphat his son, Joram his son.

A simple genealogy, but you can read in Kings about each of these kings, and Kings gives a determination about whether the king was good or evil. Here’s what we learn:

Rehoboam had Abijah—this is an example of a bad father who raised a bad son

Abijah had Asa—a bad man raised a good son.

Asa had Jehoshaphat—a good man raised a good son.

Jehoshaphat had Joram—a good man raised a bad son.

See? In only half of the instances did a son follow in his father’s footsteps. Which is another example that in parenting there are really no guarantees.

But if you will love them to the best of your ability, avoid centering your parenting around power but rather work to empower your children, more often than not they’ll be just fine.

Photo by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / Andres

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