How Much Control?

by Dr. Randy Schroeder

My husband believes that a Christian parent should have absolute control over his or her children. He has rules for everything, and he expects our children always to be perfect. I’m afraid he is damaging them. The tension at home is high, and our children are starting to rebel. What help can you offer?

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Sometimes a parent feels the best way to express his or her love is by imposing rules. However, heavy-handed rules often reflect a need for absolute control. Your husband may be unwittingly placing on your children the burden of perfection that Christ has forever lifted. It is no wonder, then, that there is tension in your home.

Behavioral extremes—whether unreasonable strictness or unreasonable leniency—result in unhealthy relationships. Having unrealistic expectations can break a child’s spirit and may lead to his or her giving up early in life. You’ve also observed that anger and rebellion often result when children feel their lives are dictated by rules and regulations. The Bible clearly warns about the danger of this dynamic: “Fathers, do not provoke your children” (Col. 3:21 ESV).

Parents can expect to be “successful” controlling their child’s life only until he or she is about 11 years old. In a controlling environment, however, children often aren’t allowed the decision-making opportunities that help them develop problem-solving skills. As they enter adolescence, and parents have less and less supervision, the child begins to control his or her own decisions about such things as smoking cigarettes, marijuana and alcohol use, and sexuality. Lacking the experience in choice-making early in life, they frequently make poor decisions as teens, and into adulthood.

I firmly believe the axiom “Example is not the best teacher, it is the only teacher.” As Christian parents, our goal is to model our faith and to provide our children with opportunities to learn good decision-making skills that will result in their making godly choices as teens and adults. Toward that end, I suggest you use the three “R’s”:

  • a nurturing, encouraging relationship
  • followed by flexible rules
  • creates a responsible, decision-making child

A loving relationship with God results in observing the rules of the Ten Commandments, not as a set of burdensome demands, but as an internalized template, and thus we become responsible members of the church and of society. Similarly, a loving relationship of parent to child prepares the ground for the child to have a respectful attitude, and it increases the likelihood that they will observe a parent’s reasonable guidelines. Both you and your husband can find additional insight in the book Parenting with Love and Logic, where your concern is specifically addressed.

About the Author: Dr. Randy Schroeder is a member of the Pastoral Ministry and Missions Department at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind., where he is a professor of pastoral counseling.

Questions for “Family Counselor” come from readers and, after steps are taken to assure confidentiality, from contacts made with Lutheran Hour Ministries. Send your questions to “Family Counselor,” The Lutheran Witness, 1333 S. Kirkwood Road, St. Louis, MO 63122-7295. Please include your name and address.

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