About Exasperating Your Children

Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.
(Colossians 3:21)
And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)

Two little passages that are similar in their emphasis.  Two little passages that are good reminders to parents about their role in raising their little ones.  Two little passages that can also be used to be inconsistent and unfaithful in parenting.  Allow me to explain.

Perhaps the easiest way to approach this is by first discussing what it does NOT mean to exasperate or provoke your children to anger.

  1. It does not mean you can’t cross your will with theirs. That is the essence of what a faithful father will do, especially early on in their lives.  This gets to the core of the nature of every person, they are sinners in rebellion to their Creator.  And that rebellions shall be made obvious in a multitude of ways in a very short time in their life.
  2. It doesn’t mean that if your child is exasperated/angry that you are doing something wrong as a parent.  Trust me, if you are being a proper parent your children will be angry with you plenty.
  3. It doesn’t mean you should withhold proper discipline/instruction when the child needs to be corrected.

Listen to me for a second.  Your child is in that mode of thinking that they will win this “fight.”  If they are young (hopefully you meet these battles then and not later) then it might be in picking up the toys or eating everything on the plate.  The line is drawn and the heart is defiant.  You correct the child and order them to do what you asked.  Maybe you are a gentle type and decide to appeal to them first.  It matters little because the child is not going to obey.  What then?  I would say you discipline them, yes, that means spank them.  They still rebel and fight?  How many more iterations of this do you decide to go through?  They are obviously angry, so have you sinned?  Nope.  And let’s just say you have by blowing your top, so what?  Does that free you from training your children?  Nope.  You confess your sin, you ask them to obey and if they refuse you continue.  And you do so until the child understands that to disobey is less pleasurable than obedience.  You don’t let whispers in your mind tell you that you are mean, evil or failing.  You trust the promises of God and you pray even as that little child fights you for the 50th time.

So what does it mean to provoke your child to anger?

  1. When you wrongly exasperate your child (accept that to “provoke” is essentially the same thing) you make decisions in behavior and standards that are selfish in nature.  The rules are for your convenience and not the glory of God and the training of your children in the way of Christ.  Example: Will you just shut up?  I am tired of listening to you.
  2. When you make standards in your home and then enforce them inconsistently you will exasperate the child.  You are tired?  Then the kid can stand on the couch.  Feeling pretty good at this moment?  Then the kid is spanked for not keeping house rules.  When mom has a headache or dad is watching the game can your children get by with what they want?  And then do those rules change when you have time?
  3. When you have standards that you don’t model you will exasperate the child.  Talk to each other disrespectfully and then discipline your child for being disrespectful to you?  There you go!  Hypocrisy always breeds anger.
  4. When you deny them the grace of God that you claim for yourself.  Very common, especially with your teens.  Here is how it commonly comes out: You sin all the time as a husband and father, or wife and mother.  You fail to seek forgiveness all the time.  You speak angrily and unkindly to your children.  But somehow you are under the grace of God and are saved from His wrath.  Your daughter vent though?  Your son act in a selfish manner?  Out comes the phrase, “I just don’t see a changed heart in you.  I really doubt your salvation.”  No idea why this would produce a bit of exasperation in them, do you?
  5. When you are more concerned with the externals rather than the heart of the child.  They can smell this one a mile off by the way.  You have rules for everything and anything.  You are trying to create that perfect child that you never were.  But somewhere along the line you forget you have a soul in your care.  You forget they sin and that they are filled with the same struggles and doubts that haunt you.  You don’t listen to them when they toss out little hints that things might not be all well in their lives.  Instead you squash those tidbits and keep on grooming their externals.
  6. When you don’t hear them.  I made it a point to take one child with me on many of my errands.  It was not convenient usually, but it was valuable.  Often I would ask little questions and listen for hints that there are thoughts going on in their minds.  I would make every effort to not be shocked or rush to answer everything.  Instead I would try to acknowledge that life sucks sometimes and that things are unfair–it is a broken world after all.  Then we would talk, really talk about how all of this fallen stuff fits into life under God.  Sometimes I did this really good, other times I failed miserably.  But the effect in the end is that I still have the ears of my children.  The exasperated child just wants to leave home so the voice of the parent can be shut off.
  7. When you fail to confess your sins to them you will exasperate them.  When was the last time you did that?  Ask your children, you may be shocked.  Do you model for them what it looks like to sin, to repent and confess and make right with those wronged?  Really?  I have met with a fair share of children of various ages who are angry and bitter.  In every one of those meetings the parents were famous for sinning against each other and their children but never going in humility and repenting before them.

Listen, parenting is hard, but training your children doesn’t have to be that hard.  Training early and faithfully makes the hard job of parenting easier because you have a child under control and who will listen to you.  Practice those things above that exasperate your child and parenting will quickly become impossible.

Let me end with a little reminder in all of this.  Remember that they are children.  That means they are not fully formed, they have a lot to learn, they have skills is bad decision-making, and that need a lot of love and patience.  Learn to laugh with them, tickle them and teach them in the happy times too.  Remember your own walk as a child of God, and how much you have to learn.  Let that reality encourage you to show your children grace, even as you correct them.

About Matt Henry

Middle-aged pastor trying to figure out how to be missional in his world. Loves his wife, his children, and his dog Bear. I have a love of woodworking even though woodworking doesn't always love me. The name is xagete but is pronounced exegete.

Posted on November 9, 2012, in Parenting and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Kendal Barriere

    Thank you for expounding on those verses. Great words to read often as a reminder to myself.

  2. Thanks for this, Matt. Very well said.

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