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.
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.