It came as a shock. In the course of telling a story to my friend Jon, I mentioned that I had gone into my son’s room to wake him up. Jon interrupted me.
“How old is Aaron?”
We both knew very well how old he was, but I told him. “Sixteen,” I said.
“Why are you still getting him up in the morning?”
I had no answer. I felt like a bald man who’s just been asked why he carries a comb in his pocket. Somehow, in the busyness of parenting two teenagers, I had held on to a habit that made sense when my children were preschoolers but now was far from appropriate.
That’s when I decided to give more careful attention to the different phases of parenthood and to acknowledge areas where I’d lagged behind in parenting my daughter, Aubrey, and my son, Aaron. In doing so, I not only introduced a little more sanity to my life, but also prepared them — and me — for their fast-approaching independence.
Phase One: Commander
In the first years of a child’s life, a parent does everything for him. The parent functions as a benevolent dictator, telling the child who to listen to, what to eat, when to go to bed, how to perform a task.
In this phase of parenthood, the task of the loving parent is to encourage a child’s growth from discipline to self-discipline. As paraphrased in The Message, “A refusal to correct is a refusal to love; love your children by disciplining them” (Proverbs 13:24).
During my children’s early years, I repeatedly used the parenting phrases “Yes, because… ” or “No, because… ” I not only dictated my children’s actions, but also took pains to explain the reasons a certain thing was prescribed or prohibited.
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Bob Hostetler is right. Any parent of young children is a benevolent dictator. I can remember when my own children were young. I told them that we were going here or there as a family, and they did it without question.
It is pretty hard to argue with someone if you can’t talk. Now I have to look up at my children (almost all are taller than me) and ask them nicely.
Thankfully they mostly say ‘yes’. One of the tricks of the trade is not asking them to do things that I know they are unlikely to do.
Getting back to young children: It is critical for us as parents to have integrity and a firm set of moral values that prevent us from exploiting our children. You say to me, “I would never do that”?
Sometimes we can do it unwittingly. How many parents do you know that live out their own life goals through their children? E.g. Their goal to be a great sportsperson or the most popular girl in class.
At the other end of the scale, parents force their children into a career that they either wished they had done themselves or think they know best for their child, rather than considering the child’s personality and gifting.
Of course, in the most extreme cases of exploitation, poor parents in Thailand sell their daughters into sexual slavery from 10 years of age.
Sadly, anti-family forces use the bad example of a few parents to condemn all parents and family life in general.
It is not the family unit that is at fault, but rather, it is a moral issue, reflected in modern society’s moral failures. Maintaining a good moral foundation will protect your children when they are vulnerable to your bad decisions.
Keep your moral compass because your children need you to, for a thousand different reasons.
Bob Hostetler poses a good question:
“Your role changes as your child grows.
What’s your role as a Dad right now?”
Yours for our children,