You get accustomed to using the word no when your children are two and five. It’s the stage of parenting I’ve heard aptly referred to as “the legalist phase.” One finds himself barking the same negative commands repeatedly as they float into the child’s ear and out the other.
“Stop jumping on the couch.”
“Quit antagonizing your brother.”
“Don’t talk to Mommy that way.”
“Get down from there.”
“No running in the house.”
“Seriously, stop jumping on the couch.”
A father searches for opportunities to praise his children and finds them, but they are fleeting. Soon enough, the kids break another rule, requiring Dad to issue yet another reprimand. Though he’s tired of the persistent need to correct his children, what choice does he have? They were brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did their mother conceive them (Ps 51:5). As sweet as they appear, selfishness and rebellion are their default settings. They’re like arrows in the hand of their father, who has only a limited time to set them straight before he must let them go (Ps 127:4).
A father must bring up his children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4). He must also strike a delicate and challenging balance. The apostle Paul adds, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, lest they become discouraged (Col 3:21). Correction is imperative, yet a rod of discipline used too hard, too often will break a fragile arrow (Pr 22:15). Never mind flying straight. It may not fly at all if Dad’s not careful.
When my daughter stays up late one too many nights, she becomes volatile. In her exhaustion, she doesn’t need any provocation to begin sobbing uncontrollably. She can wail for an hour without stopping long enough to breathe. Meanwhile, she refuses to answer any questions or follow any instructions.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
Her crying continues unabated. She doesn’t reply.
“Okay, baby girl, let’s go potty and get into bed.”
Nothing. She remains frozen in place. The tears streaming down her face are all that move.
In these moments, I feel the conflict rising within me. On the one hand, my daughter’s disobedience is begging for discipline. On the other hand, I think, She’s only five, and she’s only acting this way because she’s overtired. I should find a gentle way to calm and console her. Then again, how do I console an emotional, irrational five-year-old in a state of sheer exhaustion? Wait. Am I making excuses for her? Perhaps I should lay down the law before this becomes a habit. I don’t know. Lord, give me wisdom.
Faithfully and consistently discipline and instruct, yet do not exasperate your children. That’s the challenge of every father.
I don’t have all the answers and will likely never have them, but I’m learning. First, I know I should never act out of anger. Second, I realize the rod isn’t always the appropriate response. Third, patience is mandatory. Fourth, I must be careful never to embarrass or demean my children. Finally, I need my children to feel confident that forgiveness is always available.
I’ll repeat myself. Lord, give me wisdom.