If I had one message to teach Christian parents, it would be about how we must not exasperate our children (Ephesians 6:4). And while I won't launch into that message (again) in detail, I'll write about something related: the challenge we face as parents over what to withold as consequences to wrong actions.
Let me suggest some guidelines that serve the purpose of consequences without loss of purpose, or that cause exasperation:
(Almost) Never Punish by Taking Away Ministry
I had a discussion about this recently with colleague Andy Rittenhouse when I had withheld our 14- and 15-year old girls from a regular inner city ministry outing they love and where they've personally been very effective. I knew the outing had ample support and leadership, and I was simply trying to get the girls to focus and was giving them time to do so. I soft-selled it not as punishment. Nevertheless, it didn't feel right in my spirit and they were back the next week.
The overarching point is that we want our children to do ministry, and when we take it from them as a consequence, we are sending a mixed signal. We might also be keeping something from being accomplished that our Lord instructed.
(Almost) Never Punish by Taking away Something that is also Robbing Another Child not from your Family
I remember a few months ago when one of the girls' friends had five kids over for her birthday party. Something happened the day before for which I would normally have pulled the next fun event. But that would have robbed the other child of some of the joy of her party. So I adjusted to the next thing.
The same goes for team sports, where pulling the starting center fielder hurts everybody. Or where sitting your child simply sends a bad message about 'team.'
When at all Possible (and it almost always is) make a Consequence be related to What Happened
If they misuse the cell phone, restrict the cell phone, etc. I've heard of parents being so angry that they punished randomly. When there is no relation between consequence and action, the children usually just don't get the point.
What does all of this have to do with 'exasperating the child?' Everything. They are exasperated when you and I keep pounding and pounding the same message the same way -- even if we're right. They are exasperated when our signals are mixed. They are exasperated when the consequence is so unrelated that they can't even remember what they did wrong.
There are some parents who will disagree strongly with the above approach, and if they love Christ, I am not saying they can't be effective. But I have serious reservations. I think some of those are guarding their pride as much as their standards. There are a lot of my-way-or-the-highway parents who are getting neither, and their kids may leave home for college angry and frustrated because instead of a Christ-like, even-handed approach, they saw a jumble of emotion and mixed signals, and they still don't get the point.
Remember, you can be right all day long and lose. It really does matter how you make your point.
RICH, DIVERSE, NOTES 'N LINKS
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