A Message for Dads

Few people will shape our character and our personality more than our father.                                                                                                                        –Alistair Begg

For good or bad, this statement is true. As a father of four sons, I think about it every day, even though my sons are in their 30’s and 40’s with children of their own. We all understand being a father is a high and noble calling. But, in congratulating ourselves for the great job we are doing as dads, we may be missing something very important—how easy it is to exasperate our children. And, how quickly we tend to make this mistake.

In a recent two part series on fathers, Alistair Begg built his message around the Apostle Paul’s instruction. In an economy of words, Paul not only instructs, but gives a clear caution to fathers.

Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.

   –Colossians 3:21

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

–Ephesians 6:4

Those statements are pretty clear. In his cautions, Paul gets straight to the heart of our tendencies. In our desire to shape our children and move them toward responsible adulthood, we can easily exercise such a control over our sons and daughters that we exasperate them. This can occur even though our intent is to instruct them.

Paul encourages restraint—being under control, within limits, moderate. Immoderate harshness can cause children to be so disheartened, they may be incapable of receiving any honorable training.

What exasperates our children? Begg joked that we could make a very long list, but he identified the first nine. I added Number Ten.

Ten Ways to Exasperate Your Children

Injustice.  Because they are moral beings, children know about fairness and have a strong internal sense of justice. (You may have heard “That’s not fair!” more times than you care to remember.) We must exercise fairness and restraint in the discipline of our children.

Inconsistency.  Children readily recognize inconsistency. They will notice every gap between Dad’s words and Dad’s life.

Severity. All discipline should be measured and meted out without anger. The punishment should fit the crime. One of the trickiest areas of parenting to navigate is discerning between non-conformity and rebellion.

“Wise parents recognize that not all the non-conforming responses of childhood deserve to be styled rebellion…It is by experiment that children discover the limits of their liberty and the quality of their parent’s love.” – John Stott

Favoritism. Many adults continue to cope with the negative fallout from an improper balance of attention in their childhood home. Think about favoritism to being kin to comparison. You may deny being guilty of favoritism, but what about comparison?

Belittling achievements. Again, comparison can come into play here. Praise any and all efforts.

Not treating our children as individuals.  Recognize the uniqueness of the individual. Know your child. Know their personality. Know the things that make them feel loved and appreciated. The Five Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman is an excellent resource to help us better love each individual.

Nagging.  Reminding can be positive, but if not guarded, can quickly morph into nagging. When someone hears nagging, they automatically kick into resistance mode and set up barricades, engaging in the battle. One of the ways children cope with nagging is to become selectively deaf to it.

Continual fault finding.  How many adults do you know who confessed, I never could please my dad? To not have this be part of what your child remembers 10, 20, 30 years from now, he or she has to believe you are their greatest fan.

Failure to appreciate their attempts to please and their simple kindnesses.  Our children really want to please us. Shoot for a 10 to 1 ratio, praise to correction. Every day.

Communicating that your child is interrupting your life. Or your plans. Or your career. Continually communicate how important they are to you. Let them know your thoughts.

As Begg concludes, we are not to indulge and spoil our children nor are we to humiliate and suppress them. The challenge in fatherhood is to get this right.

The challenge in fatherhood is to get this right.

Men’s nature is to rule. God has designed us this way. There is a protective and controlling element to leadership, but ruling can sometimes become loud and forceful. We may think we have more power as drivers of our children, but we have more power as draw-ers of our children. This is why we are warned.

We may think we have more power as drivers of our children, but we have more power as draw-ers of our children.

Let us never tire of bringing instruction and encouragement and the resultant blessing to our families.

You can listen to Alistair Begg’s message here.