As For Me and My House . . . Parental Leadership in the Home
By Reed Benson
To be in step with the perverse atmosphere of our times, a family must be centered on the desires of the children and sensitive to their slightest whims. Parents are not supposed to be controlling, but are to be "facilitators," "encouragers," or "supporters." Parents are not supposed to order their children to do thus and so, but are to help them "explore" options and then stand back while children make their own choices. Dictates of "right" and "wrong" behavior are considered backward, antiquated. The liberal child-rearing experts, swimming in their post-Christian swill, frown on such a controlling style of parenting and advise parents to adopt a more permissive attitude. The ideas of Margaret Sanger in the 1930s and ‘40s and Dr. Spock in the ‘60s and ‘70s, once considered radical, have now come to embody mainstream thinking about parenting.
Sadly, too many Christians are drawn into this parenting approach, not realizing that not only is it unbiblical, but also unsuccessful. Children raised under the mantle of permissive parenting generally do not become mature, responsible, and caring young adults. Rather, they develop into selfish, petty, insecure, unfulfilled rascals who nurse foolish grudges against the very people who treated them so gently: their parents.
The true and biblical principles of parental leadership in the home are not mysterious. The Bible teaches them plainly by command and through case study. Our forefathers knew these principles and applied them much better than modern society does today. Since the roles of a biblical father and mother are slightly different, a consideration of their respective responsibilities as parents is fruitful.
Principles of Godly Male Parenting
First, a controlling father is not an extreme stereotype to be avoided. In fact, it is the biblical model that is to be emulated. Joshua was a controlling father and was blessed for it: "And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve . . . but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD" (Joshua 24:15). Joshua did not offer his children other options. He decided for everyone in his household exactly whom they would worship. In the New Testament it was no different. In Acts 16, the jailer similarly decided when he was confronted with a spiritual choice. He desperately desired salvation. Upon learning that baptism was necessary, he bandaged up the wounds of Paul and Silas and immediately had these two evangelists baptize his whole household: "And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway" (Acts 16:33). Again, there is no indication that his family members were offered alternatives. The jailer decided for them.
The portrait of a controlling father figure as being desirable is painted throughout the Bible. One of the requirements of a bishop in 1Timothy 3:4 is that he "ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity." Proverbs 19:18 states: "Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying." This image of tough love—a controlling father—is indeed the biblical model for good fatherhood.
Contrast this with the biblical examples of failed fatherhood. It is an unhappy image of failure to restrain and control. If a father does not control his children, they are out of control. Is this what anyone really wants? God curses Eli for this grievous weakness: "For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not" (1 Samuel 3:13). David, as good a man as he was, tended toward weakness in the role of a father. One of his sons, Adonijah, had himself proclaimed king while David was yet living. In 1 Kings 1:5-6 we read, "Then Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, I will be king: and he prepared him chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him. And his father [David] had not displeased him at any time in saying, Why hast thou done so?" Do you see? Because David was reluctant to confront his son Adonijah while the boy was young and correctable, but instead gave the young fellow freedom to indulge his own selfish interests, this same son eventually turned on his father and launched a full-scale rebellion.
Fatherly control begins at birth and extends to everyone living under his roof and receiving financial benefit. Fathers, you are indeed kings of your castles! You are not an elected president or chairman of a committee. God gave full executive power directly to you—exercise it! When your child comes of age and marries, then he is to "leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife" (Genesis 2:24). At this point, your grown child receives his own stamp of authority from God and is no longer under your control. Hopefully, however, before a child is considering marriage, the level of control that a father must exercise is greatly reduced. Parental control tapers off as a child demonstrates maturity and self-control. Perhaps the key mark of maturity is the ability to delay gratification. Small children are notoriously poor in this area. Teenaged youth are hopefully developing this quality. But one is not a mature adult and cannot be safely freed from fatherly control until he masters and exhibits the ability to delay gratification.
Modern parenting ideas oppose the principle of control. All kinds of cooperative ideas are suggested, such as negotiating or making trade-offs; but in the main they are opposed to male control! Bringing democracy into your household will result in chaos and heartache. Let us not pussyfoot around: the Bible is all about fatherly control of the household! Do you believe the Bible?
I would caution fathers not to get out of balance. The control of the father over his household is not arbitrary, but is limited by Bible Law. He cannot randomly execute a child, as could ancient Roman fathers. He cannot treat his daughters cruelly and contemptuously, as can Muslims under Sharia Law. A biblical father is commanded to love and protect his children, watching out for their best long-term interests. To this end, he is empowered to expect their obedience.
It is true that a harsh, cruel father can wound the spirit of a child, driving that child from his heart and home. But such a case is not what is being advocated. Unmerciful words and deeds are not necessary to control one’s children. A child needs to see that just as he is expected to obey his father, the father is expected to obey God and function within the parameters of the Bible, yielding to its authority.
Principles of Godly Female Parenting
First, mothers must understand that the Bible does not view them as chattel. Under Moslem Sharia Law, women are property, but such an idea is not promoted in Scripture. Indeed, Numbers 27:1-8 provides a case study that shows that women can own property. So, although the Bible teaches that wives are to "submit yourselves unto your own husbands" (Ephesians 5:22), they are not called to obey other men, for no one can serve two masters.
Regarding the family, a wife and mother stands as the viceroy of the home. She is second in command and deserves to be honored and obeyed by her sons and daughters. The Bible commands this: "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right" (Ephesians 6:1). Of course this injunction includes obeying mothers. The fifth commandment states: "Honor thy father and thy mother." Mothers, do not undermine your own position of authority. You are called to tell your children what they can and cannot do—and then make it stick!
Husbands have authority over their wives, but if the father/husband is absent, mothers, you are in charge of the household, not some other male who takes an interest in your children; you are in charge until the return of your husband. Do not hesitate to make decisions for every member of the family in such a situation. Consider Lydia, whose husband was not present, yet she decided to have her whole household baptized: "And when she was baptized, and her household . . ." (Acts 16:15).
If your husband is open to spiritual input, then by all means, speak to him. God has given you a good mind to use in accordance with biblical precepts. The woman from the village of Shunem did this and was blessed by God. Elisha traveled there on occasion, so "she said unto her husband, Behold now, I perceive that this is an holy man of God, which passeth by us continually. Let us make a little chamber, I pray thee . . ." (2 Kings 4:9-10). Elisha went on to become a regular visitor, a close friend of the family, and she was blessed with the miraculous birth of a son and eventually the dramatic raising of this son from the dead!
God can and does speak through women from time to time. Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14), and Anna (Luke 2:36) were all granted insight into God’s ways for special purposes and for God’s glory. Mothers and wives must feel confident that as long as they are operating under the cover of their husband, they can exercise considerable authority over their children’s lives. Mothers should expect and demand that their sons and daughters respect and obey them.
The Real Danger
Many parents fear a negative reaction from their children if they are too controlling. They believe there is a great risk in dominating their youngsters too much, lest the youth become bitter and then is lost altogether. Such fears may have limited justification if the child has been raised in a very permissive environment and then at a relatively late age, say seventeen, a suddenly draconian hand falls upon them. Having never learned to yield their will to their parent as a young child, but now being expected to at an age approaching adulthood, they very well may leave home or go into deep rebellion. That is why Proverbs 19:18 states: "Chasten they son while there is hope . . .." If you wait until your child is nearly grown before you chasten him, the hope of its effectiveness grows dim.
However, the problem is not the reasonable expectation that a seventeen year-old youth should honor and obey his parents. The problem is the many years of lax, permissive parenting. The dangers of being too controlling pale into insignificance compared with the far greater risk of permissive parenting. Failure to restrain a child through his immature years (which is at least until sixteen or seventeen for most youngsters) will almost always bring tragic results. Having worked with teens and youth for twenty years, both as a parent and as a teacher, I have seen very few older teens move into rebellion if their parents have always played a dominant, controlling role in their lives. Rather, these youngsters adopt the values and lifestyle of their parents. However, on the other side, I have witness countless, truly countless, teens slip into deep rebellion when their parents raise their children with timidity and softness. The danger of being too soft is far greater than being too controlling.
Parents, you should not be afraid of your teenaged child becoming angry with you because of your restrictive, controlling parenting style. Instead, your teenage youth should be afraid of what you will do if they misbehave! A little old-fashioned fear in the heart of a youth is good, not bad! Strengthen that backbone of yours, parents, and be prepared to not be popular for a little while.
Be strong, be tough, be consistent. Restrain your child as Eli failed to do. If your tough approach displeases your son or daughter, so what? They do not need another friend—they need a parent. Do not worry: they will warm up to you after a few days, and if you are consistent and operating within the bounds of Bible Law, they will respect you for your strength. Until your child has proven himself to be a mature young adult, regularly functioning with large doses of self-control and able to delay gratification, you must control him. Remember what Proverbs 29:15 states: " . . . a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame." If you want to avoid shame when your child is an adult, restrain him when he is young!