Recently I was talking with a friend of mine whose children were grown and now out of the home. She reflected on her parenting with a little bit of regret, saying, “We became friends with our with our kids too early.” I knew exactly what she was saying. There is a strong temptation to step into that friendship role with our kids when they still need a parent who will lovingly uphold clear standards for them for them to follow.
I struggle in this area with my teens. I tend to be reactive and lenient when they need me to be more proactive and firm. I believe it is because I am looking to them to be liked and accepted. The Bible gives an example of a father who had this problem. Eli was the high priest of the nation of Israel. His two sons abused their roles as priests by indulging in gluttony and sexual sin. Eli, apparently was more concerned about being “liked” by his boys than about loving God and upholding the values of the priesthood. He just looked the other way. The result was disaster for both his sons and himself.
The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy and other followers of Christ, “Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me.” (I Corinthians 4:15-16) Paul is speaking of his spiritual fatherhood role, but this message can be applied by all fathers today. Our children may have plenty of friends they may want to emulate or please. They also have plenty of media figures or sports celebrities they can look up to. But they don’t have many fathers. In fact they only have one, at most. And they desperately need a father who will live his own life with self-control and help his children walk the same path.
But to be this kind of father takes a definite mindset. Rather than just react to what our children desire (more freedom!) and fulfill what we think we need from them (their acceptance), we need to focus upon what Christ desires (obedience from the heart for both us and our children). What we and our children both need is to grow in our Christ-like character. As you might see, these are two very different ways of fathering. One way takes us AND our children down a broad, destructive road, the other way leads us all up the narrow path to True Life.
I encourage you to use this Christmas season as an opportunity to practice this new attitude in your family. It may mean initiating a family meeting over dinner to talk about how as a family you want to celebrate Christmas this year with a greater focus on Christ. It may mean sitting down with your wife and getting on the same page about expectations you both have about the season and how to deal with the tendency towards over spending for Christmas gifts. It may well mean cutting back on your schedules and making sure you each are not going off in a thousand different directions during the holidays. And be advised, you will no doubt encounter opposition; but you will have fewer regrets after they are gone from your home.
But hey, your kids don’t need another friend. They need a FATHER!