BUILDING A HEALTHY FAMILY
Handle With Care
March 5, 2006
How do you keep marriage first, teach obedience to your children, and keep parenting simple? Join Ben Young and his wife, Elliott, in the third message of this series as they discuss practical Biblical principles of what you can do in your life to handle your family with care.
Ten years ago, I found myself in a strange place. I was more nervous than a cat on a hot tin roof. I was in the hospital. My family was there, and my wife was about to go under the knife. What was going on? I was on the verge of becoming a parent! My wife was going to have a C-section. I was the first to be able to hold our precious child, Nicole, who was a little bit late; so she weighed about 25 lbs. and had a driver’s license.
After I took the license away, I held her, and I had these two thoughts almost simultaneously. It was like some type of experience of enlightenment, under the Boda tree. As I looked down at my precious daughter, I cannot describe the love that I had for her. And simultaneously, as these great waves of love were flowing over me, I had another thought, and that was, “Oh, now I get it!” All of a sudden, I had an incredible enlightenment appreciation of my own parents, and why they were the way they were! Enlightenment!
Now, sometimes, people come up to me and they ask me, “Hey—what did you guys do, or what did you do to raise your daughters?” We have two daughters, 10 and 7; so I am an expert on parenting from age zero to ten. When my daughters turn 12 and 13, they may run off with Nirvana, or Nine Inch Nails—don’t know what is going to happen then; but for now I am expert in this realm. But sometimes, people ask me, “What did you do to raise your kids?” And I say, “It is very simple! I married Elliott” Yeah! So, my wife has at least 80% of the responsibility of raising, and rearing our children. So, I wanted to invite her up this morning, as we continue to talk about parenting, and obedience. Sweetheart, could you come up? Well, where do you want to start? No—I’m teasing.
Last week, we talked about the concept of parallel parenting. We talked about how many times, what God desires we teach our kids, is the same thing that God is trying to teach all of us, whether we are parents, or students, or singles, or married without kids. So, we are going to continue as we go through this talk today. There is not always an exact parallel, but you will see many parallels in our relationship with God, as it reflects in our relationship with our children as well.
Ephesians 6 is our passage. If you have a Bible, open to Ephesians 6. We are going to look at a very long, long passage, so I hope you are patient today. Ephesians 6, verse 1 only. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”
Now, it is amazing today in the world we live in that we as parents actually need to learn how to teach obedience.
(Elliott): We have changed that. We have changed it to “Parents, obey your children.” It is a cultural phenomenon. We have reversed it. And it kind of goes along with our relationship with the Lord. You see a parallel again with—there is so much “name-it, claim-it” going on; “blab-it, grab-it”; “believe-it, you can receive it”, that we have gotten out of recognizing that God is our ultimate authority. So, we kind of feel like we are the boss of God, and in the same way, children are bossing their parents.
(Ben): Exactly–so what you have, is what my brother Ed, in Dallas calls, Kids C.E.O. Sometimes, what happens in a family when a child is born is that they immediately kick the mom and dad out of the corner office; they move in, and start calling the shots. It is interesting in our society today that this has actually become the norm.
I have a book here; I love it. It says, “Your child’s self-esteem.” In this book it says, “Helping your children to build high self-esteem is the key to successful parenting.” And so, what’s happened to us since the 60’s—-and I love the 60’s—great music—lousy advice on relationships and parenting. What has happened is we have gone to this kind of kid-centric, self-esteem model. Again, are we saying we want to beat our child down so they would not have a good self-concept? Of course not! But, it is how you get that self-esteem, sweetheart, that is the key—that’s the trick.
(Elliott): Right—and one of the ways that you give your kids good self-esteem is by having a family government that gives them security. Security is what breeds good self-esteem, if we want to call it a semantics game. It is about self-esteem, but it is a different approach. The first thing that Ben and I believe is important, is keeping your marriage first in establishing the authority in the home.
(Ben): Right—and again, that is kind of contrary to what many people are teaching today. Again, the natural tendency is Kid C.E.O. Once you have a child, that precious little 22 lb. Nicole, once you have a child, then they have got to be number one. But, for your family to work, you have got to fight to keep your marriage number one. In Ephesians 6:1, we are instructed that kids should obey their parents, or parents should teach obedience.
Before Ephesians 6, we have Ephesians 5 that we looked at several weeks ago, which says, “Husbands, love your wives—wives submit to your husbands.” So again, in God’s organizational chart, you have God as our ultimate authority over everyone. God has delegated authority in the home to parents; and then under that, you have the children. So again, your marriage is what created your family. Your marriage is what created your family—your marriage sustains your family, and your marriage will survive your family as well.
(Elliott): So many times, what we see in the home is that when the kids enter the picture, the husband has by that time, fallen in love with his job. The mother decides to put all her time, all her attention, and all her energy into loving that cute little bundle of joy; and so she gives all of her affection to the child, and you lose that marital relationship. So, you have got to keep getting back to putting the marriage first.
(Ben): And what happens is, 18 years later, you wake up, and there is no marriage there. Again, I know right now, some of you probably have a 6 month old, or a 10 month old—you are in survival mode. There is that phase, where of course, the baby is the center of everything; but you’ve got to quickly transition out of that so that your family will have a position of strength. That is, you have to strengthen your marriage. Again, if you are to have an atmosphere of love in your home—we want to give that unconditional love to our kids—we can’t give that if we don’t have it. So, if we are not modeling unconditional love to each other, (marriage is a life-long commitment to unconditionally love an imperfect person), then it is hard to pass that on in that environment.
Babe, talk specifically here, because it is great to talk generalities—“Yeah, keep God number one! Keep your marriage first!” What do you actually do, practically speaking, to make that happen? What are some suggestions?”
(Elliott): One of the practical things is just to have date night. You can get creative. I happened to marry Mr. Frugality! I got busted the other day for calling information! So, you know where I dwell—but, actually, he is pretty lenient on my Starbucks and my grocery bill. So, I can’t say too much. But, one of the things that Ben and I do for a date weekly is, we go run. He started running about a year ago with me, and we try to do that. He has a hurt ankle right now, but we run together. You can do lunch together, if you don’t want to pay for a baby sitter. There are all kinds of ways to get creative, but ….
(Ben): I’m getting hammered today for no reason—-this is uh……
(Elliott): He knows I’m messing with him! No—just try to implement a weekly date night. I know some of you have husbands that travel. Make it every other week, or at least, when they get home—trying to have a time away from the kids when it is just the two of you, because they want to be front and center. We have one that rises with you, and she sits with you! It doesn’t matter what time you get up! We have had friends watch our kids, and she will get up at 5:00—if you think you are going to beat her to the punch—-no! They want to be front and center, and so you have got to establish a date night—time alone.
(Ben): Yeah—-Date night. And second thing would be what we call “couch time.” That is interesting….
(Elliott): It’s not what you think it is!
(Ben): Yeah, exactly—-It can be! Uh, and this is where parallel parenting breaks down! But, couch time is—-sometimes, when you come home from work, if both of you are working, or if you have a stay-at-home mom, it is kind of like, the mom is so exhausted, the husband comes through the door at 6:00-6:30, and “Here is the baton—good luck! I’ve had a bad day!” And what you really need there is some time alone—some adult time—some marriage time to keep your marriage first. So, put the child in a room for a while. If they are crib-age, put the child in a crib for a while, and have about 10 minutes alone time to kind of reconnect with your marriage, before you dive into the proverbial hand-off. So, it is important that you have couch time.
The third thing I would say is, “road trip.” Yeah! Some of the singles have the road trip—it is still there—college students. You’ve still got to road trip—not like you used to—you’ve still got to road trip when you are married and have a family. You have to have a time, either a night, or maybe even a day trip, to Galveston, to just chill out with you and your spouse.
(Elliott): You can even get a hotel room in town, and just be alone with your spouse.
(Ben): Yeah, exactly. If you can get 3 or 4 days vacation—have the grandparents watch the kids, or trade off with friends—-I highly, highly recommend it. Again, I know these things seem like, “There is no way we can do that!” I think you have to do it! We have so many things that are trying to rip the family apart if you don’t really focus on keeping your marriage first; other things will be pulling at you constantly.
(Elliott): Right—marriage is the foundation of unconditional love in your home.
(Ben): Let’s get into teaching obedience to kids. The first thing you do is keep your marriage first. The second principle—-and this is kind of really the big take-away, (we need a drum-roll; I wish our band was still up here), and that is this principle, when it comes to teaching obedience to your kids, and it comes to parenting: Keep your parenting simple. Keep your parenting simple.
(Elliott): Paul said, “When I was a child, I would speak as a child, think as a child, and reason as a child.” So, in other words, there is a childish way, when we are younger, that we speak, think and act. That is why they have an authority that needs to come in and be the parent. Keeping it simple, we have made it so complex. We feel like we need to psychoanalyze, and rationalize, and compromise, philosophize with our kids. That is not true! It is really simple, and we are going to give you some tips on how to parent (and we are still in process, we make lots of mistakes), but we have made it like rocket science—just like weight loss. I am writing a book on weight loss right now. Weight loss seems to be so difficult. Well, it is no profundity that if you intake more than you expend, you will gain weight! In the same way, if we let our children take authority, there will be chaos. So, it is really simple! We have to get back to common-sense principles and to intuitiveness in our parenting.
(Ben): It is interesting; C.S. Lewis uses the term, “chronological snobbery.” I love that term—it applies to so many areas, but especially in parenting. I’ll just pick on fellow baby-boomers (I kind of fall in the later part of that category). We act like we invented the right way to parent in the last 40 years. Have you noticed that? It’s like the generations before us, and centuries before us, “These weird, cave-men like people—they didn’t know a lot of things we know about modern psychology, and emotions, and feelings, and self-esteem, and how to raise kids right.” It is amazing, to me. God’s way works—God’s way, as we saw in Ephesians 6:1 is very simple. Honor your father and mother. That is a commandment. There are not many details about that, but again, if we are right as baby boomers on how to raise kids, why do we have the highest divorce rates in the history of the country? Why do we have out of wedlock births going crazy, and co-habitation rates rising 1,200%? Why do we have more violence, and disruption, and whiny, self-centered kids in the history of the Western Civilization, if we got it right in the last 40 years? The bottom line is, it is not rocket science, as Elliott said. It is not. You’ve got to keep it simple. I’m not saying parenting is easy!
Don’t leave here saying, “Well, they have such great kids, and when they go home, they just preach sermons to each other and sing the Hallelujah Chorus!” You know that is not true! But, it is not easy, but it is easy simple. There are simple steps that God has laid out that we must follow as parents, and simple steps as Christ’s followers, parallel parenting, that we must follow to get in on what God is doing in our lives.
The first step is to expect obedience. How do you teach obedience? You have to expect obedience! Many times, instead of expecting obedience from our kids, we are hoping, or wishing, or bribing, right? Hypothetically speaking…. to obey. So, you’ve got to expect it.
(Elliott): You’ve got to expect it, and you’ve got to get back to “No” means “No”—and the famous four words that from generations before us, they used to use—you don’t hear much anymore, are, “Because I said so.” So, we have got to get back to some of those words. “No” means “No” and “Because I said so.”
We have two, very, very different children. In fact, some would call them polar opposites. The oldest one is by the book. She is a rule follower, and she wants you to follow the rules too. She is very much like Ben—-she doesn’t push the envelope too much. The little one, on the other hand, is adventurous. She is whimsical, and she will push your buttons. And so, we had to change and adapt our parenting style a little bit. Something that was interesting to me–they go to the same school, and they tend to get a repeat teacher in different grades. So, Claire had the first repeat teacher of Nicole last year. I went in for a parent-teacher conference, and I was mortified, actually, of what I was going to hear. I was expecting to hear, “They are so different”…. ”Yeah, I know.” But instead, I sat down, and the first words out of that teacher’s mouth were, “Well, I can tell they have the same parents.” I said, “What do you mean?” And she said, “They both have the same view of authority, respect for authority, obedience, etc., etc…” I was so relieved, because the little one, as I said, she is different. We have dealt in a different way with discipline toward her; but she responds to authority in the same way.
Some of you may be thinking, “Well, I’ve got one that is trouble with a capital T.” But the same principals will work on that child as the other one, maybe in a different method.
(Ben): Right—I think a lot of times, we get into negotiating with our children. All of us do this. Once your child hits 18 months, and you are on the precipice of what is known as the terrible twos, which I hear lasts until they are 18, once you get there, that is when you have got to really lay down the authority. All of a sudden, that little infant, that child realizes they are not the center of the Universe. And that God has ordained their parents to be in charge. So, when you expect obedience, especially from two to six years of age, you are not giving a lot of reasons for what you are doing. And even if you gave them the reasons, they would not understand it, and they wouldn’t agree with it. So, “because I said so” may sound like “old school,” but it is right, and it works. Again, all of this is within the context of unconditional love, and affection.
(Elliott): Love is the foundation of the home. And it is out of a love relationship with the Lord that we should fear God. As well, in the same way, we have to establish authority in the household. Out of love—-it is easy to be permissive. Permissive parenting can be lazy parenting–it is not necessarily loving parenting. Love and discipline are not contrary. They go hand in hand, like the horse and carriage, or like P.B & J. Love and discipline go together, and that is Biblical.
(Ben): Yeah, it is. And someone said this. I wish I had said it, but it goes like this: “Discipline without love equals rebellion, and love without discipline equals rebellion as well.” So again, just as in our relationship with God, God loves us. He expects us to obey. Many times in our relationship with Him, He will call us to follow Him, and to obey Him in the dark. And sometimes, God keeps us in the dark. He doesn’t always explain to us, as our perfect Heavenly Father, why we are going through what we are going through. Because even if He did, even though we are adults, some of us, we wouldn’t get it either, and we probably wouldn’t agree with it.
So, the first step, I think, in teaching obedience to our kids, and learning obedience as adults and as children of God, is that we must expect obedience. We have got to obey, and our kids must obey, even though they are not old enough to comprehend, and understand what that means. Explanations, when they can grasp them, will come later in parenting.
The second simple step, not easy, but simple, is found in Hebrews 12:10—This is a great verse. It says, “Our fathers disciplined us for a while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His Holiness.”
Now God, as our Father, when we are trying to follow Him and we go outside of those boundaries, in love (it says in Hebrews 12) God disciplines us. What does that mean? It means that God allows us to experience negative consequences—to fall down, to scrape our knee, to get ourselves in a quagmire when we go outside of His boundaries. Sometimes these consequences are natural; sometimes, God arranges those things to happen in our lives. The same is true in parenting.
We expect obedience, but when our children get out of line, we must, just as God does it in our lives, as parents; we must follow through with consequences. That is huge.
(Elliott): And I think, along those lines, we need to learn to speak their discipline language. We talk so much about leveling, and each child may have a different discipline language, but you’ve got to figure out what it is, and get them where it counts. Three different obvious ways of disciplining would be spanking, time out, and privilege removal. Back in the day, we used to call it grounding. There are all different ways of disciplining, and each child may not respond to the same thing, but you’ve got to figure it out.
(Ben): Spanking is kind of one of those, “Better not talk about it these days;” but again, we have talked about this a lot. It is not an issue of to spank, or not to spank. The issue is consistency, and what works with your child. Follow through—being consistent with the consequences you have set in motion, or you have communicated to your children.
(Elliott): There has to be a consequence. And along those lines, there may be a progression. When they are two to four, you might take a toy away. Or, when they are five to nine, it might be privilege removal, and when they are fifteen or sixteen, it is taking the car keys away. So, there is a progression there, but there has to be some kind of consequence.
As I said, our youngest one likes to push our buttons some. She is as sweet as pie—don’t get me wrong. She is everybody’s best friend—never met a stranger. But one of the things she used to do when she was little was this thing Ben terms “slow motion obedience.” I would say, “Claire, go pick up your toys, please, and take them upstairs.” And so, she would get up from where she was. She would slowly meander over to where the toys were, keeping her eyes on us the whole time, as if to say, “I’ve got one up on you—-you realize I am in charge here, because it is at my pace, and on my terms.” And she would get the toys and eventually take them upstairs at her leisure. Ben and I were totally befuddled by this. “What do we do with this child? She has got one up on us! She is trying to be the boss here!” This went on for several months. We finally sat down and looked at each other one day, and we said, “You know what? Slow motion obedience is a form of disobedience.” So, we decided to go ahead and implement a time-out. We set that little time-out clock, you know—the one that has the frown when they are sitting on the couch, and then it smiles when they are allowed to get up—in line with self-esteem? We would set that for five minutes, and you know what? After about three times, no more slow motion! She did it, when we asked her to do it! She got it, because we implemented a consequence.
(Ben): Yeah…I think again, going back to it…love and discipline go together. And the key thing is to follow, follow, follow through.
First step is: To expect obedience. Don’t hope, wish, bribe or negotiate—“Because I said so.”
Second step is: Follow through with consequences.
The third step is: Stay on it. Stay on it. My wife and I are always talking about it, “Sweetie, we have got to stay on top of it.” Imagine if, hypothetically speaking, once again, you had a strong-willed child. We will just call this child “Will”—strong Will. And let’s just say Will is a great, cute little boy; but Will is the C.E.O. He enjoys calling the shots in the family. He throws temper tantrums. He is a tyrant, and he knows how to get his way around. That is Will.
Let’s say you go, and you have just read this book by Dobson; or maybe you got something from the talk today, and you say, “Hey, I’m going to go and try to establish some boundaries for Will. I am going to expect obedience. I am going to deliver consequences of disobedience. I am going to do that. So, you start doing that to little Will, and all of a sudden, it starts working. You are like, “Man! Will is getting it! This is great! Ephesians 6:1 and Hebrews 12 really does work!”
But as days pass, Will is not finished with you, trust me! He will become a little insurgent, and he is going to plan his coup d’état of your family. He does not like being removed as the little dictator and C.E.O. What happens with many strong-willed children is, parents get tired, and simply give up! They quit, and they just get tired. They let strong Will move back into the corner office—-move back into his role as the leader of the home; because it is much easier to do that than it is to stay the course and stay on top of it.
(Elliott): It is kind of like we talked about a few weeks ago with marital drift. We can experience with our kids obedience drift. You think you have said it enough times, and they start to get it; so you slack off. You have just got to consistently stay on it. Continue to implement.
(Ben): Who was the boss was kind of a big issue with our youngest.
(Elliott): Our little Claire—when she was 4 or 5 years old, she was laying on the living room floor, and she was doing the scissors with her legs.
She said, “Look mom and dad, I am the boss of my legs.” That was always a big topic with her, because she has a sister that likes to rule with an iron fist and calls the shots in her life, and tells her when to get up in the morning. So, she always wanted to know who was the boss of who. So, with Mommy, she would say, “Mommy—-who is your boss?” And I might say, “Well, I’m under Daddy’s authority—we are both under the authority of God.” And she goes to a school where the Bible is taught; so eventually, she kind of figured this thing out, and she would say, “Well, I know who the boss of me is—the boss of me is God! God is the boss of me!” And so, we had to get back to saying, “Well, you know what Claire, God has put Mommy and Daddy in authority over you for such a time as this, and so we are the boss of you!”
Well, we finally figured out, “That poor child needs to be the boss of something, or someone.” We have a yellow Labrador retriever, and Claire is the boss of the retriever. Anybody who has been to our house can confirm that Claire bosses that retriever. Nicole won’t do it. When somebody comes to the door, Nicole acts shy or something. Claire will go grab Minnie by the collar, put her in a closet, or the laundry room, or send her outside. She is the boss of the dog!
(Ben): Yeah, and I think the key thing of this last step is to be consistent, and to persevere. Basically, you are always, especially in the young phase, you are always having to teach your children who the authorities are. Who are the parents, and who are the children.
Same thing with our relationship with God. Many times, I will be talking with people who have questions about Christianity; or perhaps, they have intellectual hang-ups. Once we go through those different questions, at the end of the conversation, I will usually say something like this: “You know the real deal is, Mike—You don’t want there to be a God. The idea that there is a God is a threat to your own autonomy. And you know what? I believe in this God, and you know what? It threatens me! I mean, we all want to run our own lives!” So just like we are constantly reminding our kids by our actions, and our love, and discipline that we are the parents of the child; God, have you noticed, is always saying, “I am God, and you are not.” God does this not to mash us down, but to give us security, and to know that He is sovereign, and He is working all things in our lives, according to His purpose, on His time schedule, and for our good.
(Elliott): And He does it because He loves us. Hebrews 12, in The New American Standard says, “For the Lord disciplines those whom He loves, as a son, or as a child.” So, it is a blessing the Lord loves us enough to discipline us, and to establish His boundaries. So, we want to make clear that this is all based on that love.
We love to play with our children. We have a great time at home. We have a trampoline, and we enjoy each other. Our children love to be at home. Our oldest doesn’t even like to spend the night out, often times, because she wants to be with family. So, it is all in an atmosphere and foundation of love, but discipline is a big component of that, especially in the early years.
(Ben): We enjoyed watching the Winter Olympics a couple of weeks ago. One of our favorite Olympians out of this, beside Apollo Anton Ono—what a great name, and what a great soul patch—was Sasha Cohen. I know from many American perspectives, she let us down—she is not perfect—she didn’t win the gold. I think that is ridiculous, first of all. Second of all, her short program, if you saw it, was phenomenal to me. The only down side was that ridiculous commentator who would say things like, “Sasha Cohen—some people skate to Romeo and Juliet—Sasha is Juliet.” Take that out of the equation—-her performance, that night was phenomenal. As I watched and thought about it with our kids, you saw the fusion of discipline and freedom. Did you see that? You know since the age of 3, she has been lacing up those ice skates, and has practiced on the fundamentals, the discipline of the strokes of skating; and she had it down to a “T.” At the same time, because the discipline was there, she had the freedom to express herself, and her personality, and her dance, and her flair within that program. I think that is what every parent desires for our children. We want them to have that discipline—that self-control; but we want them to have that freedom to show their personality, and who they are. And again, the Bible gives us a promise. In Hebrews 12:11, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace.” Ephesians 6:2-3 says, “Honor your father and mother. This is the first commandment with a promise, that it may go well with you, and you may enjoy a long life.”
Again, God is not a cosmic killjoy. When we are obeying God, and we are teaching our kids to obey us, we are simply allowing them to line their lives up with what is really real; and in due time, there will be a harvest of righteousness and peace, of discipline and freedom that will blossom in their lives.
The last thing: hang on, and pray, pray, pray.
(Elliott): Get on your knees!
(Ben): Get on your knees! Parenting is a set-up for failure. We are all going to mess up—we will mess up many times. We haven’t got it figured out—no one does. But the key thing is to persevere. As we are praying, seek God—seek His power, and His Wisdom, and strength to teach our children, simply how to obey us, and how to follow Him. As believers, we must learn to get our lives in line, and follow Him, even when life doesn’t make sense.