In Don’t Make Me Count to Three, Ginger Plowman offers insights into negotiation-oriented modes of communication between children and parents. “Reasoning with a small child in order to get them to obey causes confusion because it places them in a position that they are not mature or responsible enough to handle. It erases the line of authority between the adult and the child and places the child on a peer level with the parent. Instead, clearly instruct your child and expect obedience.”
A comment in response to my last post, “Parenting by Negotiation,” raised the idea of power struggle- if a mother insists on blind obedience and is unwilling to offer explanations, it can prompt undue resentment and lack of respect for her authority in her child. I agree with this to a certain extent. We moms need to approach instruction of our children with humility and grace- not a proud, ‘lord it over you’ spirit. Our words and tone should never convey a proud, harsh “I’m the boss of you” message. Rather, our goal is to communicate love to our children in all circumstances while simultaneously training them that God calls them to submit to and obey our instruction as the loving authority God has provided (following up and explaining circumstances as necessary). There’s a huge difference. But it can be easy, in the moment, to blur the two. We sin against our children when we cross over into “lord it over,” dictatorial territory – and we need to repent of it when we do.
But let’s say we are Christ-like in our mode and manner of instruction and expecting obedience from our child. We still will face efforts from our children to negotiate and to persuade us to alter our instruction. We can easily fall into the trap of allowing our authority to quietly erode if we engage overmuch in this type of dialog – and if we aren’t watchful and discerning. I find Plowman’s discussion of this scenario thought-provoking:
“An often overlooked sin that warrants reproof is manipulation. Lou Priolo defines manipulation as ‘an act of attempt to gain control of another individual or situation by inciting an emotional reaction rather than a biblical response from that individual… For a Christian, manipulation is using unbiblical means for controlling or influencing another person.’
God has given parents instructions for how to respond to manipulation: ‘Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him. Answer a fool as his folly deserves, lest he be wise in his own eyes.’ (Prov 26:4-5) This is not to say that children are fools but that they are capable of acting foolishly and in accordance with their sinful nature… If a child is stubbornly clinging to a particular foolish justification for his actions, parents should avoid being drawn into endless argument and, if necessary, move directly to discipline. But if your child shows signs of teachability, you can graciously rescue him from the folly of being ‘wise in his own eyes.’ …(Citing Matt 21:25-27) Our responsibility is to respond to foolishness the same way as Jesus did.”
She later says that there “are two kinds of ‘why’ questions. There is the ‘why?’ that is used to manipulate, and there is the sincere “why?” that really seeks an answer. It’s usually not hard to discern between the two.” I find distinction she makes between folly and wisdom, and responding to them differently, is a helpful one to keep in mind.