Right now my kids are at the age where they are blinded by false grandiose images of me as their father. My son asks why I read books because, “Dad, you already know everything.”
Any time my one-year-old daughter senses a concerning situation or does not know how to react, she turns her head into my shoulder and hides in the comfort of a father’s arms where she believes I can protect her from anything.
The difficulty for me as a parent comes in knowing there will be a day when my son looks at me and says, “Dad, you don’t know anything!”
My daughter one day will be faced with a situation of trouble and concern and her instinct will not be to turn to me as her father, but away.
I know this because I have seen it happen time and again to even the greatest parents. I also remember how it felt to think my parents knew nothing and rather than being for me, were simply acting as an authoritarian cocoon from which I must break free to find my true form.
I was wrong.
Parents want to preserve that close, innocent, childlike relationship as long as possible. But keeping the peace, for some parents, is of paramount value.
As long as my kids are happy with me, they trust me.
As long as my kids have all they want, they won’t leave me.
As long as we keep the peace, there is no war.
The problem is there is a war for the heart of your child. Competing voices are warring for your child’s time and attention. Complacency and laziness are warring for your child’s spirit as they reach an age with a certain degree of capability, responsibility, and accountability. Our enemy is warring for the soul of your child as they begin to ask questions about God, faith, church and truth.
Sometimes the most loving thing a parent can do is persist in doing things their kids insist they do not like. While this can obviously go into unhealthy ditches and is not a universal principle, I want to offer four ways in which this principle holds true.
These are lessons I have learned as someone who fought my parents and who has seen other parents use these tools to fight for (and with) the souls of their children.
Here are four things your kids don’t like that they will thank you for later:
Teaching them finances
Whenever my dad pulled out his yellow notepad, I knew I was in for it. The presence of this notepad meant my dad was going to try to teach me something. Usually this was about insurance, ledgers, checking accounts, and a bunch of other things I don’t remember. Why do I need to know this money stuff? That’s your job, dad. This snotty attitude worked fine for me until I needed to know about insurance, ledgers, checking accounts, and a bunch of other things I didn’t remember. Then I needed my dad.
Parents, your kids are not going to like it when you won’t pay for something – instead making them earn the money themselves. They won’t like it when you make them sit and take the time (for-ev-er) to look at a balance sheet. They won’t like limitations. But remember, the real world is coming for your child, and the real world operates with work, wages, balance sheets and even limitations. When they walk into those situations by themselves as young adults who are prepared, they will thank you and have a leg up on their financial journey.
Taking them with you
Saturdays for the Smiths were often workdays around our home. Why my parents never learned to enjoy the full Saturday morning 8-hour lineup of tweenager shows on NBC, I will never know. Even worse, whenever the lawn needed to be mowed, someone needed to be visited in the hospital, an elderly widow needed a friendly visit, or a pile of odds and ends needed to be taken to the dump, my dad decided I needed the experience as well (often making me miss a second episode of California Dreams).
I fought him on virtually every one of those trips. As an adult, I now look back on every truck ride to the dump, every smile of an elderly widow and every lesson on lawn mowing as some of the best times of my life. They weren’t always fun, but they were others-centered. That’s something that does not exist in the mind of an emerging adult. They also taught me to work. That is also something that doesn’t come natural to a kid or young teenager. They must be shown. Take them with you.
Being affectionate with your spouse
Every day when my grandfather came home from work, he would walk through the door, hang up his coat and kiss my grandma. Nothing came before that kiss. While watching your grandparents kiss is not on anyone’s list of the best things in life, the persistence and priority of this act greatly influenced me. I can remember screaming, “Ewwww!” as my grandpa leaned in for that kiss and I remember being grossed out every time my parents would dance in the kitchen or hold hands in public.
While I didn’t know it at the time, what this affection bred in me was a sense of security in my family. It made me believe my parents were in love and that out of that love for each other, they loved me too. Even when times were tense, I remember always knowing my parents loved me and loved each other. I knew there were times they may not have liked me very much, but I never doubted they loved me because they were people willing to verbally and physically express affection. To this day when I get home from work, my wife’s kiss is my first target.
Family worship times
My son enjoys us reading the Bible together, but often not for the reasons I would like.
“Dad, did David cut Goliath’s head off-off or just off?”
“What was Abraham’s cat’s name?”
When these questions become the focal point and our baby is trying to chew on the Old Testament prophets, it becomes very easy to want to phone it in or give up altogether. We sing our songs, pray our prayers and assume the worst about the investment of that time.
We shouldn’t. That is likely the most important time our family will spend all day. As my kids grow older and schedules become more strained, it will become even more important that this battlefield is fortified in my mind as a father and in our home. Your kids need to know the Bible is a priority. They need to know you believe it. A time will come when they doubt the Bible, don’t want to read it, or dismiss it altogether. Fight in advance of that time. Fight during that time. Be persistent and consistent in the way you treat the Scriptures. If they see your foundation shake when they walk away, they won’t come running to that foundation when they realize the world is a much shakier place.
The Scripture is clear: parents are not to exasperate their children (Col. 3:21). Clearly, there are certain hills worth dying on and certain battles best left alone. But having a standard and expectation for your children will also allow you, at times, to show grace and mercy (which should be done often).
Parents, don’t be afraid of a battle with your children if you know it’s the right battle. With loving consistency, persist in what is good and right for your kids. Sometimes your kids need you to dig in. They need you to draw lines. They need you to stand for something.
They will thank you some day when they are standing on their own too.