By Bev and Phil Haas
Everything is a battle with my son. If I say, “Do your homework,” he wants to do it later. “You need to get off your electronics.” He says he just got on. “You need some rest.” He’s not tired. I’m so tired of fighting with him. Do I need to do what my husband says and just relax?
There is some wisdom in your husband’s counsel. We understand that as a loving mom you are only trying to look out for your son’s best interests. After all, you’re the parent and you do know what’s best, right? Control is a part of parenting and so are control battles.
Parental authority needs to be distinguished from control that may be fueled by fear, anxiety, or personal insecurities. It’s easy to overdo it. Domineering forms of control frequently lead to resentment and rebellion from our children. You don’t mention what age your son is, but it sounds to us like your son may be old enough to be making more of these decisions and bearing the consequences.
Allow Him Some Control
Like all of us, your son is looking for some autonomy and control over his life. You can either give him some control or he will keep fighting to take control. Most people like having choices. And when you think about it, you wouldn’t want your son to allow someone else to make choices for him, so now is the time for him to start practicing making more of his own decisions. After all, God made us with a free will and allows us to make our own choices.
Consider these two situations:
• Recently our daughter, Amanda, thought her 6-year-old son was spending too much time playing on his electronics, and it was becoming an issue. She’d monitor, and he’d complain. She changed her tactic: she explained that he had an hour a day; he could choose when and how he wanted to spend it. Problem solved.
• Several years ago we had acquaintances call the police because their teenage son refused to go to bed, and the argument escalated. Recently he received his PhD from a prestigious university. Evidently he doesn’t need much sleep, and he’s now managing his life quite well.
Just Let Go
Unless you want your son to constantly depend on you, he needs the opportunity to make mistakes while they are less costly and learn from his choices. This is a time in your son’s life when he can make $10 mistakes instead of $10,000 ones that might impact his future. (Trust me, his elementary and junior high grade point average will not impact his future career earnings, but he does need to learn to read.) When you allow your son to make his own choices (and deal with the consequences), you are sending the message: “I have confidence in your ability to make this choice.”
Consider these examples of letting go:
• Our children readily learned the value of money when they had a vacation budget for their food and other expenses. (We covered gas and lodging.) They became so frugal in ordering food and not buying souvenirs that they routinely brought money home, and we didn’t have to say no to dessert, pop, and junk that would’ve ended up in the trash.
• One of the many stories in the Bible that affirms the principle of letting go is the account of the rich young ruler recorded in Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31; and Luke 18:18-30.
The most surprising and revealing thing in this story is not what Jesus did or said, but what he did not do or say.
Read the story again. What did Jesus say or do when the young man decided against following Jesus and turned and walked away? Jesus said nothing. Jesus did not coax, bargain, preach, or shout threats at him. He simply watched him walk away. Then he went about his business with his disciples.
There is a lesson here for parents as well. Jesus knew God had set before this young man a course of conduct. He not only could choose—he had to choose. Then he had to live with the consequences of his choice. By gradually handing over choices you can live with, we think you’ll be less frustrated in parenting and your son will become more responsible. Sounds like a win-win to us!
Send your questions about family life to Phil and Bev Haas in care of The Lookout, 8805 Governor’s Hill Drive, Suite 400, Cincinnati, OH 45249, firstname.lastname@example.org. We regret that personal replies are not always possible. Phil and Bev Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They are the parents of two children and they have two grandsons.