Watching Australian Test cricketer, David Warner, bat at the WACA, Perth.
It had been a busy day for all of us in our separate endeavours when anger struck. Not a parent, but a child. Time was slipping away and there was cleaning up to do and a bath to be had, and all this before pre-bedtime reading. Dad was a bit stressed, trying to give Mum some relief after her exhausting day. A Dad picked this moment to stand firm on his ground! The result? The child goes ballistic.
What is wrong with this picture? The father has no control over his child. The child is being horribly disobedient. Nothing is being accomplished. Well, perhaps it’s only the latter that was true.
At one crucial point, the three-year-old child, insisting he needs his own time out (something he’s been taught to do to regulate his emotions), which Dad felt he had had enough of, goes against his own judgment and comes calmly to press his body against Dad’s. An angry, exasperated child gives a hug! At that very moment, Mum watching on, says to her son, “Have you missed us today?” Son, looking at neither parent, gives a little nod. “I think he’s not had enough time with us today, Dad,” Mum says.
“Fathers, don’t exasperate your children by coming down hard on them. Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master.”
— Ephesians 6:4 (The Message)
This paraphrase of a verse out of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians sums it all up. Because of the time pressure, and my need to get on with the many tasks that still needed doing, I was taking control. And exasperating my child was a by-product. I had forgotten his age, his routine, his need for process to control his emotions, and I was standing firm. All I did was make the situation worse. Far from anything at all resembling permissive parenting, in running things by my own agenda I was not leading him in the way of the Master, Jesus.
And what was the catalyst that shifted the mood of an exasperated child? The child’s calm and deliberate move toward his father and to press his body against mine. Seconds earlier we were fighting and he was scratching and pinching my face. But now calmness. It was something Mum said. Something she said resonated with, and importantly, softened, his passionate, precious little heart.
“A gentle answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
— Proverbs 15:1 (NIV)
The following interaction on the floor between the three of us was beautiful. All the anger had ebbed away, and there was only room now for empathy. Our son had had very little time with his parents. We had missed him, and he, us. So, we spent that time; just a few minutes. Then it was onto the evening’s activities, like bath time.
Not only can we expect too much of our children when we expect them to sync with our timeframes, we often don’t make a way for their developing emotions. How are our children to behave exemplarily when we fall so far from that hallowed mark? In this situation, our son was doing what he had been taught to do; spend time reflecting to improve his behaviour. I was punishing him for doing the right thing! That’s a rough justice in anyone’s terms, but sometimes, as parents, we justify our methods and actions to the detriment of our children (at least I have).
As adults, too, we must remember how easily we, like our children, feel out of control and at the whim of others, especially those with power, like us as parents.
In this episode of family life, I learned a dear lesson. God used my son to teach me what I could not otherwise learn: we must slow down and respect everyone if we expect to make good progress.
What a child is not allowed to teach, a parent cannot possibly learn.