The Puzzle of Parenting

January 22, 2012

My oldest niece has a philosophy, actually she has many philosophies but I’m only going to share one with you today.  Her philosophy on parenting is this:  The government should put birth control in the water and people would have to pass a parenting test in order to get bottled water.
Makes sense to me, we make people takes tests to drive a car, fly a plane and pilot a boat.  We even make people take a test to babysit but. . . any idiot can have a baby and many do.   400 years ago Samuel Butler wrote “Parents are the last people on earth who ought to have children.”
Two weeks ago I spoke about the Puzzle of Family and last week it was the Puzzle of Marriage, this week we are going to look at parenting.  Because really those of us who have children want to be good parents, and now as a grandparent I hope my children will be good parents. 
And it’s probably unfair but from my view as a grandparent I probably expect my kids to be a better parent then I was.  And the reality is that I am probably harder on myself in regards to the type of parent I was then Stephen and Deborah are. 
There isn’t a lot of advice on parenting in the scripture but there is some.  A lot of times what we have are stories, stories of good families and stories of bad families.  But the scripture that was read this morning has some helpful advice for those of us who have chosen parenthood or have had parenthood thrust upon us.
As parents we rather enjoy the first part of the scripture, the part about children obeying their parents and honouring their mothers and fathers.  We want that to be their life verse, and it is a good verse,  but it’s not what we are talking about this week, this week we are talking about the last part of that scripture, that part that says in Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.
Interesting choice of words here; do not provoke your children to anger.  In the New King James Version it says Ephesians 6:4 And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.  
And the New International Version reads this way Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
And if you can remember being a child you can remember being exasperated with your parents and there were probably times that you were angry with your parents.  It was Bette Davis who said “If you have never been hated by your child, you have never been a parent.”  And sometimes it’s not a bad thing for your kids to be angry with you; you did the parent thing and put your foot down.  You were right and you did it for the right reason and they were angry with you and they probably didn’t understand and if they did understand they would still be angry and that’s just the way it is.  I think the technical term for that is “tough” and sometimes the answer to “Why” is “Because I am your parent.”  End of discussion. And sometimes it has nothing to do with being fair and it has nothing to do with being their friend, because your first priority is not to be your child’s friend it is to be your child’s parent.  Because friends don’t always have your kid’s best interest at heart.  I bought my son a T-shirt years ago that sums it up and it says “Actually friends let friends do lots of stupid things.”
But then there is the other side of the coin where we drive our kids nuts.  The side where we exasperate our kids by our behaviour.  And we have a responsibility to do right by our kids.  And that is an incredible responsibility. 
So what is it we do that will exasperate our kids?
We Exasperate Them With Our Inconsistencies Our kids are an audience that is always there.  They hear what we say but more important they see what we do, and they may not mention the inconsistencies that they see, but you can be sure they are storing them away for future reference.  And so when we tell them to do something and then we don’t it,  that is exasperating and when we tell them not to do something and then we do it, you got it. 
There is nobody else in our lives that will see us at our best and our worst the way our kids do.  And I know that it’s tough because they see us when we are tired, they see us when we are frustrated and they see us when we aren’t wearing the masks that we wear in public.
But our kids are always watching and they are always learning, Paul reminds Titus in Titus 2:7And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind. Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching.
And for kids one of the biggest inconsistencies is when we tell them “Do as I say, not as I do.” 
I’ve told you the story before about the most difficult one of all, one day a little boy’s mom caught him tell a fib.  “Do you know” she warned “what happens to little boys who tell lies?” “No what, Mommy?” he asked.  “Well,” she said, “there is a man up in the moon, a little green man with just one eye, who sweeps down in the middle of the night and flies away to the moon with little boys who tell lies and makes them pick up sticks all the rest of their lives.  Now you won’t tell lies any more will you for it’s awfully, awfully naughty.”
American author James Baldwin nailed it when he said “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”  And then we punish them for doing what we modeled.  I wonder how many kids get punished for swearing by swearing parents?  And then the parents say “I don’t know where you learned those words.” And the kids thinking “sure you do.”  Or when kids are punished for drinking when their parents have booze in the house.    
Nowhere is it truer than at home that more is caught then taught.  Now you may be able to rationalise to your satisfaction why you can do something and they can’t by using the standard, “because I’m an adult” but that doesn’t always cut it with a child or a teen.  “Do as I say not as I do” is no longer a valid child raising technique. 
There is no place that the consistency of your Christian walk will be examined more closely or more minutely then at home by your children.  How you model being a Christian, I have discovered through the years that parents who support the church financially and talk about it when they kids start working in High School they will tithe what they make.  Kids who watch their parents read the bible and pray, same thing.  For better or for worse your kids will probably grow up just like you, and ain’t that a thrilling thought.  
We need to be a pattern that our children can follow.  Every year I see more and more of Captain Burton Guptill creeping into me.  And some of those things I like and others I don’t like and some I’m not sure of.  And if I’m not real careful my kids will be a lot like Rev. Denn Guptill, the good, the bad and the indifferent.  I may not be responsible for everything that Stephen and Deborah do and are, but I will always be responsible for the areas where they followed my example.
We Exasperate Them With Our Insincerities Inconsistencies deal with our behaviour, insincerities deal with our relationships. 
Again you are like a television that is always on.  So when you tell your children that they need to respect those in authority and then you talk about what jerk your boss is, what is the lesson you are teaching?  What are we teaching our children about our elected officials, or their teachers or the police?
What are we teaching our children about how to treat their future spouse?  Probably one of the most serious repercussions of the do as I say not as I do mentality will be in the stability of the family unit as we see more and more children following the pattern that their parents set for them.   Do you want your child to speak to their spouse the way you speak to yours?
It must be traumatic for a child when they are told by their parents “We don’t love each other anymore but we will always love you.”  That’s reassuring, not! Because they had probably heard their parents profess their love for each other at some point as well.  And they know how that ended. 
So then we have children whose main model of marriage is one which ended in divorce and then people get upset when their kid’s marriages follow the same path as theirs.
We Exasperate Them with Our Irrelevance
There is a great description of King David in the book of Acts it says: Acts 13:36 For after David had done the will of God in his own generation, he died and was buried with his ancestors, and his body decayed.   Very simply David did what he had to do when he had to do it and then he died.  He didn’t do the will of God in his father’s generation or in his grandfather’s generation but in his own generation.    This is 2012 it’s not 1972 or 1982 or even 2002 it’s 2012.  And our children are living their lives in their days not yours and not mine.  Like David they will have to serve God in their own generation.
Now I know that things are different now than when you were a kid.  And that things weren’t as easy then as they were now.  Am I right?  The only thing I don’t know is the story that you string to your kids about what it was like when you were growing up.  But I can guess.  I’m sure that you tell them how you loved school, and always got straight A’s and never talked back to your parents or teachers and how you delivered all of the newspapers in your town no matter what the weather and never complained about anything. 
Have you told them yet how you had to get up at four in the morning and break the ice out of the basin to wash and then before dawn you had to milk the 200 cows and split 10 cord of wood before walking 17 miles to school mostly in snow storms, and back then we really had snow.  And then when you got home you had to do your chores all over again and study by candlelight and be in bed by six.  Am I close?
Hey I understand I’m fifty one and every year the winters get colder, the snow gets deeper, the walk to school gets longer, my grades get better, the herd of cows gets larger, and that pile of fire wood gets higher and higher. Son when I was your age.
And the worst part is that I was never an A student, I caught a bus or drove 11 out of 12 of my years in school.  We had electric heat so we didn’t burn wood, and never owned a cow.  In fact I’m working on a new story to tell the kids.  “Son when I was your age we didn’t have Wii or X-box all we had was electronic pong, remember that?  We didn’t have computers we only had calculators and they only added, subtracted, multiplied and divided.  And when I did get a computer it had 2 k of memory and I bought the expansion pack that added another 14 K.  And when I was your age we only got two channels on our black and white TV and you had to get up to change those channels.”  Doesn’t sound as good does it?  Maybe I’ll go back to the cows.
Today is 2012, it’s been almost 40 years since I was a teenager and it’s a whole new world out there, and things are a lot different.  Our kids have been through a couple of recessions,; they will inherit a monstrous national debt that will be our legacy to them.  They have to cope with wonderful travesties of nature like aids and HIV.  Beer is no longer the biggest thrill in town and neither is grass.  Coke and crack are freely available and more is on its way.  These aren’t the simpler times that we grew up in, so let’s not try to convince our kids that they are.
Elinor Moraunt was an British writer who lived about a hundred years ago.  She tells how once she stopped her daughter from doing something by saying: “I was never allowed to do that when I was your age.” To which her daughter responded “But you must remember, mother, that you were then, and I’m now.”
And I know in your mind the kids aren’t the way they were back then either, as one writer stated, “Our youth love luxury, they have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect for their elders and would rather talk then exercise.  Children are now tyrants, not the servants of the households.  They no longer rise when their elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, talk in front of company, gobble their food and terrorize their teachers.”  Of course that was written twenty three hundred years ago by Socrates.
We Exasperate Them With Our Insulation Part of our job is to protect our children.  And that is a serious responsibility.  Especially when they are little.  But we can’t wrap them in bubble wrap forever.   
That’s a toughie isn’t’ it?  Most of us have spent the majority of our adult lives protecting our kids, maybe protecting them too much.  Some lesson will only be learned when we have to pay for them and if mommy and daddy are always there to pick up the pieces and pay the bill those lessons will never be learned. 
Deborah was forever putting her hand up on the stove when we lived in Truro.  And we warned her about it and confession time probably slapped her hand and told her no and explained about pain.  And it wasn’t until she was about two and a half and she reached up and laid her hand on a burner that had just been turned off that she learned her lesson.  And do you know she never put her hand on that stove again.  Because sometimes you have to touch a hot stove to discover how hot it really is. 
I mentioned before that when I was growing up Dad always told me “If you are going to dance you got to pay the fiddler.”  Maybe it’s time that we introduced our kids to the fiddler.
So if we aren’t supposed to provoke our children to anger or exasperate them what are we supposed to do?  Let’s go back to the scripture  Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.
So instead of provoking them we need to bring them up with the discipline of the Lord and instruct them but what does that mean?  For some folks it goes back to “Spare the rod and spoil the child” and that is using the discipline as a verb, but in this case it is a noun and the word that is used in the original language literally meant calling attention to something or a mild rebuke or warning. Which goes along with the definition from dictionary.com where  it is spelled out this way: dis·ci·pline [dis-uh-plin] 1. training to act in accordance with rules.
So this means that parents are to be the first line of instruction into God’s word for their children.  That’s why Solomon reminds us in Proverbs 22:6 Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.
And the only way you are going to be able to show them the right path is if you know it yourself.  So commit yourself to doing the right things for your kid’s spiritual education.  Bring them early and consistently to church, they are going to take their cues from you about how important church attendance is.  And if you tell them that it is a priority but it takes third or fourth place on the list for things you do on Sunday, church is really, really, really important except when there are sports that get in the way or the weather is too nice or the weather is too not nice, or there is company coming, or company is here or the company just left or we are going somewhere to be company what is that really saying to them?
We have a great kids program here and we have a great youth program, but they will only be of benefit to your kids if they are in them.
And that means exposing your children to Christian books and Christian music and sending them to Christian camps and youth rallies.  Because if you want your child to be a good hockey player then you make the effort, and if you want your child to be a good musician you make the effort and if you want your child to be a good student you make the effort.  So if you want your child to be a good Christ follower then you have to make the . . . effort.
Two things to finish up I’ve said it before and it bears repeating again and again.  1) If you have children who are grown up and you have never had any real problems with them and they are serving God then I would suggest that instead of patting yourself on the back that you would be far better to get down on your knees and thank God, because as my daddy used to say “I would expect it is more good luck then good management.”  He also said “There’s only 18 inches between a pat on the back and a kick in the pants.” But that’s a different story.   And 2) is just as important.  If your kids haven’t turned out the way you think they should have and if you feel a little disappointed and even a mite embarrassed sometimes then I have a deep and profound thought for you, write it down and carry it in your wallet, engrave it on your mind cause here it is, “Always remember that God has trouble with his kids too.”