Freedom & Choices

One of the toughest jobs we face as parents can be balancing giving our children freedom and then setting parameters/boundaries. It can be especially challenging as they grow older into adolescence. Whether naturally or by force, responsibility is an inevitable fact of growing up. As the old saying goes, “With freedom comes responsibility.” So, how do I walk this line of knowing when and where and how much at the right level?

Let’s begin with a simple fact…God created mankind to be free (Gen. 1-2). Think back to Adam and Eve in the Garden: what made that environment free? To begin with, there had to be a choice. Thus, God set a limit on what they were allowed to have by introducing the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil into the Garden. Without the option of making a poor choice there could not have been absolute freedom. Furthermore, the purpose in God doing this was to express His unconditional love for them. God did not want robots—“do as you’re told”—He wanted authentic relationship that reflected the relationship found in the Triune God, one that was not based in fear or control. This is crucial in understanding our relationship with our loved ones, namely, our children. When considering this type of relationship some might question why God did such a thing to Adam and Eve. Did He set them up for failure? Why not place the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil right next to the Tree of Life to make the better choice more obvious…or place it far away, out of sight, so that it’s much more difficult to find? If I really cared about my beloved creation and wanted to prevent anything bad happening to them, that’s what I would have done, wouldn’t you?

This logical way of thinking determines much of how we parent as well. As parents we have a tendency to train our children in “serious” limitations so they will not sin. Sound familiar? I can think of the many ways in which I’ve parented out of fear of my boys making mistakes. Quite honestly, I think it’s a little tougher raising boys because they seem to push those limits earlier and more aggressively.

Freedom and Choices

With 3 boys in our home, God presents me with plenty of opportunities to practice this idea of giving choices and helping them with responsibility. My wife and I are constantly navigating the murky waters of protecting them, respecting their privacy, allowing consequences to their choices, and granting freedom for the sake of maturity. Having a 15 year old makes it even more challenging.

As I reflect on how God dealt with the possibility of Adam and Eve failing—and they failed…BIG TIME!—I realize a lesson for me in parenting my sons. If I’m afraid of sin, failure, mistakes, or poor choices in my sons, then I am prone to parent out of fear rather than love. I will tend to develop an expectation that they live a mistake-free life. In reality, the goal of this way of parenting is compliance and obedience without love and heart connection. It’s interesting to think how hard I work to eliminate poor choices in my sons’ lives, yet God actually introduced one in the Garden. What does this say about how I should view freedom, choice, and consequences in my daily life as a parent?

God had a plan for the failure of Adam and Eve—Jesus (Gen. 3:15). He brings peace and purpose to all situations, good or bad, clean or messy, success or failure. God uses our freedom to invoke trust, to take the ups and downs of life and cultivate a life of dependence on Him. His attitude towards our sin and failure is, “Yeah, you messed up…not good…and there’s a consequence. But, I love you, I’m here for you, and I need you to trust Me.” In his book Loving Our Kids On Purpose, Danny Silk says, “…at the heart of godly parenting is the conviction that the mistakes and failures of our children are not the enemy. The real enemy is bondage, and if we don’t teach our children how to walk in and handle freedom, they won’t know what to do with it.”

So, how are you handling the challenges of freedom, responsibility, choices, and consequences? Are you afraid of where your child might sin, fail, or make a poor decision? Where might you be too restrictive or controlling? Is it tough for you to allow your child to fail…in a safe and loving environment? Ask God to give you wisdom in the way you trust Him, so that you might guide your children in trusting you.


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  1. Dustin Kaehr says:

    Good thoughts, Chad.

    I think if we don’t allow are boys to experience those failures, we are doing them more harm in the long term. If, when they are teenagers, we have so many constraints because we want to “protect them” or “keep them from sinning”, how will we ever be able to teach them about why we need Jesus? Or why Psalm 51 is a beautiful picture of a broken soul and heart and a model for how we should approach God when we have “grieved the Holy Spirit”?

    I want to train my 4 boys up to be Authentic men. Once they are on the way, my job is to serve as Guide and Consultant to help them figure it out. I cannot (out of what I would call “love”) make those decisions for them. To your point, God made us to be free. Who am I to put limitations on my son their Heavenly Father has not?


    • Chad Smith says:

      Not sure why my reply to your comment did not send the other day but I’ll repeat it again…I appreciate you sharing. You are so right when talking about the role we will left to play once they get older (and we’re older as well). I want my boys to continue to engage me even though they won’t “need” to. Helping them with what Freedom looks like NOW will ensure they know how to handle it THEN. Godspeed to you as you raise your boys in His Grace!

  2. Valerie says:

    I don’t have boys (I came to your site from the Nester’s link out of curiosity) and obviously I’m a mother not a father, but I have to say that this is the most moving, and impactful thing I have read on parenting in a long time. Thank you so much for your Godly wisdom. I really want to take these thoughts to heart as I raise my girls (who, BTW can push the boundaries every bit as hard and early as my many brothers seemed to).

    • Chad Smith says:

      Thanks for your encouragement. I suppose if God had given me girls my “pushing the boundaries” statement would have included them as well. I learn each day how challenging it is to apply my own words. Godspeed to you as you raise your girls in His Grace!

  3. Michelle Jacobson says:

    Terrific food for thought Chad! As the mother of three teenage sons, I am continually wanting to save them from themselves. I have learned to reign myself in though. I realize that mistakes also empower us and I would like my boys to make some of those mistakes while they are young and still have the safety of our support. I feel for the kids who never have the opportunity to make mistakes or experience failure because they are too coddled. Once they get out in the “real” world they can be blindsided and sometimes destroyed by the cruelties of life or the waywardness of their decisions.

    • Chad Smith says:

      I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. It seems the challenge in this area never lets up. Godspeed to you as you raise your boys in His Grace!

  4. Anita says:

    Thank you so much for your well-developed thoughts! I have seven sons, and I am constantly struggling with how to nurture their agency while still making them do what I want. Or maybe not. I find, though, that when I let them own their own choices, I am better able to help guide my boys because then they don’t make me crazy. Taking over their ability to chose means that I am responsible for their actions. Frankly, I have enough on my plate, thankyouverymuch. If my boys really have their agency, then not only do they have themselves to blame for a bad choice, but they get to glean all the wisdom from it – and they get to have all the celebration from they good choices. That’s the goal. Thanks for having this great resource for fathers (and moms too).

    • Chad Smith says:

      Very good thoughts. I appreciate the encouragement. Theory and pragmatic application always prove to be different. It’s definitely a challenge to walk the talk and allow them to own their mess. Godspeed to you as you raise your kids in His Grace!


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