Children: A Dad Who Really Makes a Difference
NOTE: This weekly post—the fifth of ten—is adapted from The Christian Man and syncs to the currently available episode of “The Christian Man” Online Bible Study series. Join us online for an inspirational journey to help you become, or affirm you as, the man God created you to be. We encourage you to also participate in The Christian Man Mentoring Experience.
One of our Bible study leaders told me, “No matter what I did, I just could never make my dad happy.” Did your father make you feel unconditionally loved and accepted? You know how pleasant or painful that feels—even now.
Every father wants to know, “What does it mean to be too strict? If I am too strict, what will happen? What does it mean to be not strict enough? If I am too permissive, what will happen?”
When it comes to providing structure, there are two possible errors. The first error is too much structure. For example, a woman raged against God to her dying breath because she grew up in a “Christian” home where she wasn’t allowed to wear makeup, listen to music, or go to parties. Too much structure can quickly devolve into legalism and drive someone away from Christ.
The second and opposite error is not enough structure. My wife said to me one day, “I think your parents gave you too much say.” By not having clearly marked boundaries, many parents unwittingly create fear in their children by not giving them the safety of enough structure.
What’s the right balance? As David Delk and I wrote in The Dad in the Mirror, there are basically two fathering styles: fathering for performance and fathering the heart.
Many dads father for performance. They focus on external behavior and try to get their children to “do the right things.” In focusing on performance, they exasperate their children. Scripture warns, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
Fathering the heart is the approach the Bible recommends. Fathering the heart means to look not only at the behavior but also at the reasons beneath the behavior: “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of,” Jesus said (Matthew 12:34).
That’s why we told our kids they could experiment with anything as long as it wasn’t harmful or permanent. We were more interested in what was going on in their hearts than their behavior. Our son decided he wanted to grow his hair long. He got the nickname “the mop” around school. Then he decided he wanted to bleach his hair. We said okay. It turned orange, so he was “the orange mop” for about a year.
You can raise your children under grace or law, but grace is better. If you raise your children with too much structure, they’re very likely to reject what you’ve tried to teach them once they’re old enough to be on their own.
Here’s a simple rule to help you balance structure: Do not allow what God prohibits, and do not prohibit what God allows.
I know that every Christian dad wants to father the heart. But what can you do practically to make sure your children really and truly believe you love them unconditionally? Join us for the online Bible study or read the book for the best ideas I’ve ever heard.
Yours for changed lives,