Yesterday, Part 1 introduced the temptation for many dads to cross the line from being firm to being harsh. As dads, this is an easy slope to slide down. But it’s not where we want to be. We want to love our kids well and reflect what God the Father looks like, and so we must intentionally be on guard. Here are two additional cautions building on the first.
2) Aim for Encouragement and Avoid Exasperation
The second half of Ephesians 6:4 tells parents, and fathers in particular, to bring children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Discipline is a bigger concept than just handing out consequences for bad behavior—though that’s part of it—but it includes concepts like teaching, correcting, guiding, and redirecting back towards the right path (see Deuteronomy 8 or Hebrews 12). This part of Ephesians 6:4 reiterates the need for fathers to be firm at times. But the first half of the verse begins with an exhortation that balances our parenting: “do not provoke your children to anger” (ESV). Other versions translate “provoke” as exasperate, embitter, or aggravate.
Paul knows dads will be tempted to criticize, point out problems, nit-pick, even nag their kids for what they see as problems, weaknesses, or shortcomings. Again, their intentions might be good—they want to see their child grow in some area—but the way they express it tears their son or daughter down. This pushes them away. It doesn’t build up; it breaks down. No child wants a drill-sergeant of a dad, and when we do that by always getting on their case, we embitter and exasperate them. We’re told this leads to anger (Ephesians 6:4) and discouragement (Colossians 3:21).
I can easily drift that direction. I notice small problems, and in my desire to give helpful feedback, I criticize. Do that too often and the people around you wonder if you’re for them or against them. Paul could have warned fathers of many things, but he tells them not to provoke or exasperate their kids.
There are moments parents need to offer constructive feedback, speak hard truths, and point out problematic behaviors, but this should not be our typical response. We should instead aim to encourage, affirm, build up, and celebrate with our children. Positive relational credits must be stored up for when we do have to make the occasional debit.
Daily tell your kids what they’re doing well, what you love about them, and what you see in them. Make it clear you’re for them and not against them. Tell them you love them. Convince them you’re proud of them. It’s not just a fatherly privilege; it’s a basic Christian calling (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
Encourage rather than exasperate. Delight in rather than discourage. Affirm rather than alienate. Celebrate rather than criticize.
3) Don’t Let Your Plan Get in the Way
In my opening story of setting up our new family tent, a big part of my frustration sparked because I had plans and my daughter interrupted them. Most of our anger, irritation, and annoyance happens when our plan (or our kingdom) becomes threatened or disturbed. The very people we’re trying to serve and love become the problem. They ruin my plan—even if that plan is to make memories with them—so I get angry. They lob a grenade into my kingdom’s agenda so I escalate things and drop a verbal bomb into their world.
When my daughter delayed getting our tent set up, she created little roadblocks on my journey to the dreams in my head about how awesome things would be. I was more concerned about having the tent up and creating a great time than I was about her. The idol of my plan and desires ended up keeping me from loving my daughter well. That’s what idols do. They ruin and rob the things we hope for and seek after. They never take you to the promised destination, and instead, they drop you off in a back-alley where trouble awaits.
I should have prioritized my relationship with her, but I elevated my plans. If I had the right perspective, I would have enjoyed her presence and extended patience. Plans are good to have, and it made sense in my case to want to get the tent setup, but the plan is not the most important thing. Being a good dad who teaches her how to set things up and helps her enjoy the time is much more important. Put the person before the plan, and that especially applies to your family.
Knowing our propensity to let our plans become ultimate, we can often check ourselves when we feel our blood pressure rise the moment our agenda is threatened. Pause. Breathe. Ask God for grace. Remember what matters most. And enter into what your kids are doing and experiencing rather than dragging them along as you speed towards the finish line of your to-do list.
Being a parent is hard. As much as we love our kids, they wear us out. Only by God’s grace and the Spirit’s help can we die to self to serve them well. Only by reflecting on how God the Father treats us with such kindness and grace can we reflect Him. And only by rehearsing the gospel of Jesus can we find both the power to pursue these things and the forgiveness when we fail that gets us back up again.