In the article from a few weeks ago, we saw that Scripture commands our children to honor us (Ephesians 6:1-3). But God also has instructions for us as parents. Positively, we are to bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). I unpack how to do this in the Parenting with Confidence material.
But before God gives us the positive exhortation, he gives us a negative command. Don’t exasperate your children. Some versions translate this verse as, Don’t provoke your children to anger.
Colossians 3:21 is a parallel verse. In it, fathers (and all parents) are commanded not to embitter or provoke our children, lest they become discouraged or embittered.
What Does it Mean to Exasperate Your Children?
To exasperate is to frustrate someone intensely, to make something feel futile, to provoke them, to push their buttons. The word literally is to make angry from close beside.
The point of both these verses is clear. While we are the authority in our children’s lives, that authority is not absolute. We are bigger and more powerful, can sin against them, have louder voices. We have an adult mind, experiences, and vocabulary.
As a result, God commands us to examine ourselves. We are not to use our authority haphazardly or in a way that injures them.
What Exasperating Your Children is Not
Before I list ways adults can provoke children, I want to provide some context. I am shocked by the number of young people today who say they need to go to a therapist to deal with issues from their parents. Some have gone so far as to cut off contact with good parents. In effect, these young adults are saying they have wounds from their childhood that they must recover from.
We are about to list ways that parents can sin greatly and wound their children. But normal everyday life and sin is NOT a pattern of exasperation! Our parents are a shaping influence in our lives. That includes the good and the bad. So that means that we all have benefits given to us by our parents. And we will all have ways our parents were lacking. That lack may be through sin, mistakes, or lack of wisdom. But imperfection is not wounding exasperation! None of us are perfect parents, nor are we so fragile that we must have perfect parents.
How Can Parents Exasperate Their Children?
Given what exasperation is not, what exactly is it? I would suggest that exasperation is prolonged sin against our children in unfair ways that takes advantage of our larger size and position. It is to act in a way that produces an emotional wound.
The following is a list of ways that parents can exasperate their children that I included in Parenting with Confidence:
1. Having a favorite and letting it be known. Favoritism by a parent or grandparent is painful.
2. Scolding. Rather than taking action, scolding is using loud, demeaning words. Scolding over a long period of time injures a child.
3. Being extremely inconsistent in discipline. All of us are inconsistent. But to fly off the handle without a plan is unfair. Or when we make up the rules on the spot and enforce them when we feel like it, it also is unjust.
4. Anger out of control. Anger is really at the root of many of these sins. We must get it under control. See the Parenting with Patience study.
5. Not being willing to ask forgiveness. We can give the impression to our children that we are never wrong.
6. Sinful words that attack their identity. “You are a failure.” “You will never amount to anything.” Words that attack their identity are satanic and wicked.
7. Being emotionally distant. Individuals can withholding affection or sulk to get their own way. Rather than talking about a conflict outright, a person can withdraw.
8. Pushing for achievement beyond reason. As parents we are called to encourage and challenge our children. But we need to realize their capacity. We can be too demanding and never satisfied. God is patient with our shortcomings (Psalm 103:13). Are we patient with those in our children?
9. Being overbearing, overprotecting, and domineering. Children need to grow into their own person. When our words, will, and personality constantly overrides theirs, they will be rightly frustrated.
10. Nitpicking. Constant critique or criticism of small things. We are not giving our child a feeling of acceptance but are pointing out everything that is wrong or could be improved.
11. Comparison. Children have different gifts and talents. If we do not recognize those differences but instead insist they be like a sibling or ourselves, we are setting them up for long-term anger.
12. And of course, any sexual, physical, or emotional abuse.
I am sure there are many more ways I have not listed. What would you add?
How can parents exasperate their children? The previous list has focused on large and prolonged attitudes that lead to long-term bitterness. Father wounds and mother wounds, though psychological terms, are describing prolonged embittering by a parent. By repeated patterns, a thoughtless parent can injure their child.
The truth is that family life is messy. As sinners bump up against each other, there will be times we commit the sin of exasperation. Small acts of sinning against our children can and should be confessed. But we cannot let that stop us from exercising proper authority, or living in fear of scarring our children.
And the good news is love truly does cover a multitude of sins. As we seek to have a home of affection and authority, the intentional Christian parent will trust that God knew what he was doing when he gave this child to imperfect creatures like us. We parent by faith in God’s goodness, not fear of messing our children up.