When Kids Divide and Conquer
One of our primary goals as parents is to teach our children what it means to honour, and not simply obey, those in authority over them – starting with us as parents. Is that a crazy idea or what? Honour? We would be happy with at least some grumbling, coerced obedience. Expecting our kids to actually honour us; that feels like we’re setting the bar way too high.
It is easy to give up on teaching honour as we strive to simply get them to obey what we tell them. The problem is, if obeying is the ultimate goal, it will always be a constant struggle. However, if we make honour the goal, then obedience and a stronger relationship will naturally follow. First, let’s define what we’re talking about.
DEFINING THE TERMS
Obedience is getting your children to do what you tell them to do. That might be achieved with nagging, ordering, threats, consequences etc. The problem with aiming for obedience is it only addresses one’s behaviour and not the heart. We can all relate to when a defiant child is ordered to sit down, they essentially say, “I may be sitting on the outside, but I’m still standing on the inside!” We call it outward compliance, but inward defiance.
There is no joy in defiant obedience, or any compliance when they are prompted only by a fear of consequence. There is no joy because there is no relational intimacy or respect. As parents, we long for our children to obey us, not because they fear us, but because they love and trust us.
Honour is rooted in respect. It communicates “I value and love you and appreciate our relationship”. When we love and respect someone it changes how we choose to relate to them and what we do for them. When children honour their parents, they may not understand their reasoning on an issue, but they still lovingly submit to their guidance because of the relationship. That type of response cultivates even deeper trust and joy in the relationship.
I can almost hear some of you giving up already. You would love to have your kids honour and respect you, but you struggle even to get them to obey the simplest things. However, when honour is not your primary focus in parenting, children simply learn to do what they want to do, with no regard for the relationship.
It is possible to teach honour. Here are a few tips (obviously, the earlier you start the easier it is):
- Model honour yourselves. Be very careful how you talk about those in authority over you. If you disrespect those in positions over you, your children will learn to do the same – especially toward you. Be careful how you talk about your boss, government officials/politicians, police, your kid’s soccer coach, etc. You will never teach your children to respect those in authority if they do not see it modelled in your life first.
This includes how you relate to your children – do you model honour with them? Do you treat your children with respect – would they agree? If children see that you control your responses to them out of a respect for them, they will learn to control their emotional reactions out of respect for you. If I emotionally react to my children with anger and frustration, then I am showing them I don’t always need to honour them. I can then expect them to react to me with frustration and anger. Our children usually mimic what they see in us.
- Emphasize Honesty. We always told our kids that lying is one of the worst things they could do in our family. Lying breaks down trust. When one lies it creates a fear that we will never truly know when they are speaking the truth or deceiving us to get what they want.
This includes when they lie to someone else. As a youth worker I always stressed to my youth that when they lied to someone else, it broke trust with me. They couldn’t wrap their head around this reasoning. So I told them that when they lie to someone else, they are revealing that they live out a life principle that it is okay to deceive someone in order to get what they want or to protect themselves from some consequence. Sure, they may not be lying to me right now – but how do I know? I simply know that they will lie when they feel it is to their advantage. I will never know when that might apply to me. Trust in the relationship becomes weakened.
As a father, I told my children that I would work hard to never lie to them – or to others. I was committed to respecting and honouring them on this issue and I hoped they would do the same with me. You cannot honour someone by lying to them.
- Address symbols of dishonour
Eye Roles: Eyes roles may seem like a minor thing, but they communicate one message, “I don’t respect you or what you are saying!” As our kids were starting to enter their teens years the eye rolls began. We sat down with them and discussed what that act conveyed and how it affected the relationship. We did this by asking them to think through what message someone was sending if they did it to them. How would it make them feel? How would it affect their sense of being valued, honoured and respected? At first they didn’t see the implications, but as we talked, they began to see the underlying message that was being sent. I’ve also had to have this chat with adults who were not respecting one another in meetings… and, people have had to call me out on it as well. Thankfully they did! It may seem like a harmless action, but it sends a message and embeds an attitude that works against relationships.
Storming away from a discussion: This is one is hard to deal with because of the intense emotions usually involved at the time. Fleeing a discussion communicates I no longer respect and value what you are saying. I give up on the conversation and I give up on you. Stomping and slamming doors are symbolic gestures to enhance the message. We had to have repeated conversations with our kids about the message they were sending, and how would they feel if we responded to tensions with them in such a way.
Sometimes we did this by calling them back to the discussion. Other times we gave them some space and then went and talked to them later about how storming away from a conversation is a lose-lose scenario where nothing gets resolved, but allows tensions to linger and resentment to build. We always called our children back to discuss the issues, encouraging them to control their emotions so that we could have a mature conversation.
I’ve had to apply that to myself when I was the one that felt like storming out of the conversation…
The overall message is: Respect others in the same way you would like to be respected. Communicate to others the way you would like them to communicate to you. It’s pretty simple – but we all struggle with it. Fortunately, honour is something that can be taught. Children can learn to control their emotions and respond with respect. They can learn to communicate effectively and not need to storm away from a discussion, even if it is not going in their preferred direction. Honour declares, “Even though I don’t agree with you, I still love and respect you.” It builds relationship even in the midst of disagreement – especially in times of disagreement.
The concept of honour comes directly from the Bible. It’s one of the ten commandments.
Exodus 20:12 (NLT2)
“Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
The ten commandments are broken into two sections: 1) How you show love to God, 2) How you show love to others.
The command to honour your parents is the first of the commands about loving others and is the only command with a promise attached to it. It is really a bridge command between the two sets. If one is going to honour God, then they need to honour the ones God has put over them as their protectors and providers.
When one honours God, they will honour their parents. When one honours their parents, they gain a better understanding of how to honour God. When we are in sync with God in this way, he tells us that we are on a path to a long, relationally, healthy life. This doesn’t mean children will, or should, always agree with their parents – but they still honour them in those times of disagreement. On the surface it seems easier to settle for striving simply for obedience, but you will not be happy with the long term results. Do the harder work. Model and teach honour and you will enjoy a much deeper relationship with your children.