5 “Do Nots” of Fatherhood

January 16, 2018

by Kent Hughes

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
—Ephesians 6:4

1. Criticism

Every year when our family decorates our Christmas tree and I place a tiny red-and-green glass-beaded wreath on the tree, I think of the little boy who gave it to me when I coached soccer. His sarcastic, demeaning father would run up and down the field belittling his boy with words like “chicken” and “woman.” He was the only parent I ever told to be quiet or leave the field. I wonder sometimes how that boy, now a man, has fared.

Winston Churchill had such a father in Lord Randolph Churchill. He did not like the looks of Winston, he did not like his voice, he did not like to be in the same room with his son. He never complimented him—only criticized him. His biographers excerpt young Winston’s letters begging both parents for his father’s attention: “I would rather have been apprenticed as a bricklayer’s mate . . . it would have been natural . . . and I should have got to know my father. . . .”

Fathers who criticize their children often bring them to discouragement. The parallel version of this “do not” in Colossians 3:21 indicates that children embittered by nagging and deriding“lose heart” (NASB)—like a horse that has had its spirit broken. You can see it in the way a horse moves, and you can see it in the eyes and posture of a disheartened child.

Criticism comes in many ways besides overt words. Some parents never praise their children on principle—“my praise will mean something when I give it”—only they never give it. Then there is faint praise, backhanded praise like that given to the boy who had just scored a soccer goal: “That was okay, son; now next week do better.” Often it is not the words—it is the tone of voice or the distracted eyes which say it all. Why are fathers critical? Perhaps that is the way their fathers treated them. Perhaps they are simply critical people who mask it well in public, but cannot restrain themselves in the heat of domestic relationships. To such fathers, God’s Word comes like an arrow headed for the bull’s-eye: do not exasperate your children with criticism.

2. Overstrictness

Some fathers exasperate their children by being overly strict and controlling. They need to remember that rearing children is like holding a wet bar of soap—too firm a grasp and it shoots from your hand, too loose a grip and it slides away. A gentle but firm hold keeps you in control. . . .

. . . .continue reading at Crossway.

Kent Hughes

Dr. Hughes (DMin, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is professor of practical theology at WTS.

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