How To Provoke Your Kids

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Kids have a way of making their parents feel discouraged and even angry. Sadly, sometimes parents return the favor.

There are a couple of occasions in the Bible where fathers are specifically charged to not provoke their children. In Colossians 3:21, Paul says that a father’s provoking can leave his child feeling discouraged. In Ephesians 6:4, Paul again tells fathers not to provoke their children, this time saying that such actions lead to anger.

So what are those actions? What are some things that fathers do that could lead to their children becoming angry and discouraged? For a quick answer, just go to Wal-Mart. Kids are always provoking and being provoked at that place. But if you haven’t got the time or the nerve for that, just read these warnings.

1. Fathers provoke their children to anger and discouragement by being absent.

This doesn’t just mean divorce. Father are often cast as the bad guys in divorce. That’s not always the case. For a lot of fathers, the divorce wasn’t their choice but they still make every effort to be a dad to their children. As hard and as painful as it may be, there are ways for a father to be present when he’s not in the home.

On the other side of that, it’s possible for a father to be present in the home but absent in the life of his children. He convinces himself and at least tries to convince his wife and kids that 80 hour work weeks to “put food on the table” are more important than being around to train and instruct.

Fathers, your kids may not even know this yet but they don’t want your stuff and your “food on the table” if it means that you’re not sitting around that table to eat with them on a regular basis. Your frequently empty chair, or empty gaze as they try to talk to you, can leave them feeling discouraged, as if there is something wrong with them that is keeping them from winning your approval. Eventually, that discouragement mingles with anger as your kids realize that you are part of the problem. But hey, look on the bright side. Maybe one day they’ll make a lot of money by writing a Grammy award winning song about how much they hate you and then you won’t have to work those 80 hour weeks.

Fathers, your fully-engaged presence matters.

2. Fathers provoke their children to anger and discouragement by confusing gender lines.

There are two general ways that this happens. The most unusual instance, at least for now, is the father who assumes that his five-year-old boy needs a sex change operation because he likes to wear his mother’s shoes. Man, I wish I was making that up.

But more common is the father who constantly calls his son a sissy for not knowing how to change a fuel pump before his tenth birthday or for watching a movie about a princess. Sure, he means no harm by the name calling. It’s just his way of overcompensating for what he sees as a weakness in his son. But, as we all know, good intentions can still lead to bad results.

In this case, the bad result is a child who grows up confused about manhood and womanhood. Perhaps your child’s confusion will manifest itself in a promiscuous lifestyle. Perhaps it will show up in a belief that being a man or a woman is more about what you do to yourself or how you feel about yourself than it is about how God made you. Either way, you can count on that confusion leading to anger and discouragement.

Fathers, if you want your kids to grow up to be real men and women, it’s up to you and your wife to show them.

3. Fathers provoke their children to anger and discouragement by taking the fun out of fun.

For the healthy child, things like guitars and soccer balls are objects used for a good time and a few life lessons. But not for the provoked child. The provoked child has been told, in so many words, that the soccer ball is his ticket to a college scholarship. And those guitar lessons are to help him on his way to becoming a math genius and or rock star. For fathers who provoke their children in this way, there is no time for a summer afternoon spent doing nothing out in the backyard. There are places to go and it’s your 11-year-old’s responsibility to drive the whole family there. No pressure. Sure. Just plenty of discouragement and anger when your kid doesn’t land exactly where you wanted him to.

Fathers, remember to have fun with your kids, not at their expense.

4. Fathers provoke their children to anger and discouragement by weighing them down with spiritual expectations that even God does not require of them.

Your kid may know how to recite 12 different catechisms in Latin but it means nothing if she’s not first loving God with her total being and her neighbor as herself. If your kid has a talent for parsing Greek verbs while all of her other friends in the church nursery are tearing through diapers, that’s great. I hope she continues to do well. But if that’s not her thing, don’t panic. Even more importantly, don’t try to make it her thing. If you’re not careful, she will begin to equate rigorous academic study with devotion to Jesus as if the two cannot be separated. Eventually, when the weight gets too heavy for her to carry, she will be left with anger and discouragement. And you might not be the only one that her anger is directed toward. It could be that you are raising someone who will grow to hate God because of your ridiculous expectations. Jesus has a word for parents, or any leaders, who cause others to fall away.

And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.” Matthew 17:1-2 (ESV)

Fathers, show your kids that Jesus isn’t just another burden but that he is the One who came to set us free from all other burdens.

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