Note: This is Part 1 of a 2-part series. If you are interested in listening to the audio sermon of this entire series that was preached as 1 message, click HERE.
An African proverb says, “The ruin of a nation begins in the homes of its people.” Unfortunately, we see the truth of this proverb being played out right before our eyes as homes fall apart throughout the world. And one of the causes for this breakdown is fathers, who can be described as “Delinquent Dads.”
In the legal system’s eyes, a Delinquent Dad fails to perform his duty, i.e., in this case, pay child support and leave the entire responsibility to the mother. Therefore, the courts are constantly addressing this issue by going after these delinquent dads more severely.
The apostle Paul comes to the aid of those who desire to be such fathers in Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” 2 commands here for Fathers; What not to do (the negative), the What to do (the positive). We will see the first one in this post and the second one in the next post.
Fathers—What Not To Do [The Negative]
“Fathers, do not exasperate your children.” The term translated “Fathers” in this verse primarily refers to fathers. However, it is used occasionally to denote both fathers and mothers, as in Hebrews 11:23, translated as “parents” (a reference to Moses’s father and mother). Here, however, I do think the primary focus is on fathers. But, of course, the truths equally apply to mothers as well!
Paul issues an explicit command to the fathers: “Do not exasperate your children.” The word “exasperate” means “to cause them to be angry, to be aggravated, provoked and irritated.” In a parallel passage in Colossians 3:21, Paul wrote to the fathers these words, “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” In other words, Paul commands fathers not to act in a pattern that will make the children angry, bitter and discouraged.
So, the logical question to ask is this: How can fathers cause children to be exasperated, irritated, angry, and even discouraged? A minimum of 7 is listed below.
Many are so fearful of what might happen to their children that they are always behind them. They constantly keep telling their children, “Don’t do this, don’t do that.” They even shield their children from contact with other kids.
You may think, “Wait a minute, with all the negative influences, should I not protect my children?” Yes, children should be warned and watched over. But there is an extent. If one gets to overprotection, it only frustrates the child. And as a result, they can develop a resentful attitude.
Favoritism refers to showing favor to one child over the others. For example, Isaac favored Esau over Jacob [Gen 25:28]; Rebekah preferred Jacob over Esau [Gen 25:28]; Jacob chose Joseph over his other children [Gen 37:3]. Unfortunately, each of those actions resulted in disaster.
Favoritism can be due to many reasons. Perhaps one kid is meeting your expectations than the rest and thus becomes your favorite. Maybe that kid has the same hobbies as you. Perhaps that one is even smarter than the others. And so, you show more of your love to that one.
As a result, the favorite one can get away with anything while the other kids get punished for trivial reasons. However, favoritism leads the neglected child or children to become bitter, angry, and discouraged in the long run.
3. Unjust Demands
Many parents want their kids to accomplish what they would like them to accomplish or what they themselves failed to accomplish. Stated differently, they want to live their lives through their children. “Be a doctor, be an engineer, excel in sports, etc.” Pushing them to be over-achievers. And that kind of behavior can lead the children to get angry.
Now, is it wrong to expect kids to excel? Not if our motives are God-glorifying and if that is what the Lord wills for their lives. However, unjust demands only push kids to be discouraged and bitter. Kids can develop the feeling that they can never fail and that parents will love them only if they perform to their expectations.
4. Lack of Love
Some fathers see children as a hindrance to their life. “I like my freedom. But with children, I have lost that freedom. I’m unable to do what I want with my time,” is the feeling. So, love is withheld. Plus, if children stop the mother from working and building her career, children are seen as a hindrance to financial success and stability.
Another way many dads fail to love their children is by failing to spend time with them. Why? Because they are so preoccupied with their material pursuits or other pleasures, they have no time to spend with kids. The famous song by Harry Chapin, “Cat’s in the Cradle,” captures this thought quite well.
Over the years, the child will see that they never mattered to Dad, for whom his pursuits were more important.
5. Harsh Punishment
While some Dads never discipline their children, some go to the other extreme and punish them harshly. They inflict injury, not pain. In anger and frustration, fathers at times thrash children. No proper reasons as to why the discipline is administered.
Kid gets to think, “At times, I do not even know why Dad punishes me. Perhaps he is angry. I will keep quiet.” Sometimes, they go and complain to the mom. Poor Mom, what can she say?
Over time, the child can develop a deep resentment toward the father for his harsh punishment. In discussion with Josh McDowell, President George W [the son] said, “Growing up, I had the freedom to fail.” Children should feel they have the freedom to fail without fearing harsh punishment!
6. Hurtful Speech
Words like, “You are such an idiot. Worthless. Incapable of doing anything right” can hurt very much. Now, this does not mean we never correct children. The second half of Ephesians 6:4 does indeed call us to correct children when they go astray. However, the issue here is using hurtful words. When a father uses derogatory comments, anger and resentment build up in the children on the inside, and sooner or later, the relationship goes beyond repair.
The opposite is not good either. As if your kid is the best in the world, constant flattery is an unhealthy way of pumping up their ego. Of course, we must acknowledge them when they do good and correct them when they are wrong. But we need to be cautious in our words when doing such evaluations.
7. Comparing with others
Comparing with other kids is one of the most common ways to hurt children. “Look at so and so. Why can’t you be like that?” Some kid does something; immediately, we want our children to do the same—whether God calls them for it or not! Constant nudging to achieve like others have achieved.
A father told his son, who was in his 20s, “Look at how many people are so successful in their 20s.” And he went on to name some popular guy in his 20s as a comparison. The son, who was so tired of the dad’s frequent comparisons, retorted, “Well, you’re in your early 50s, and at your age, Abraham Lincoln became the President. Why are you not one?”
It is not wrong if one encourages their children through the example of other kids who are doing things right when they persist in the wrong path. The issue is a comparison that comes out of a sense of envy.
Often, such comparisons stem from the fact the parents themselves are very competitive. As a result, they push that on to the children too! And such actions cause the children, in the long run, to be discouraged, even resentful, and feel, “Why can’t my parents love for me for who I am?”
So, 7 ways fathers [and mothers] can cause children to get bitter, angry, and discouraged: Overprotection, Favoritism, Unjust demands, Lack of love, Harsh punishment, Hurtful speech, and Comparing with others.
I am sure one can add more. But the question we parents have to ask ourselves sincerely is this: Are we guilty of any, most, or even all of these sins? If so, we have to honestly go to the Lord and ask him to show it to us, then repent of these sins, seek forgiveness and his help to overcome these sins.
Having seen what not to do, we will see what fathers should do in the next post.
[Click HERE for part 2 of this post].