Who’s in Charge Anyway?
Well, It’s God.
As Christian parents, one of our goals is to teach our children that they are not autonomous beings. GOD is the one in control of all life, and has designed the universe to be completely dependent on Him. How God shapes this concept throughout your child’s youth is primarily through the parent -child relationship.
By giving your child this correct worldview, you will better prepare them to submit to the authority structures ahead of them in life, whether it’s husband-wife, boss-worker, government-citizen, student-teacher, and ultimately the most important relationship, God – man.
There are many dangers in not helping your child learn how to submit in their early youth, the most serious being that they will be self-deceived into thinking that they control their life, which of course is a prominent view of the world. There are also many other natural consequences for rebellion and lack of submission:
Lack of productivity
Poor work ethic
Blaming others for problems
Eventual violence and criminal activity
In this blog, we are going to address the authority structure that God provides for families and how you can apply it in your child’s younger years (approximately ages 1 to 5). Our goal is that this would give you the confidence and motivation to practice your God-given responsibility in your home!
The Complete Family
God gave the decision-making power to parents, not to children, which is plainly evident all throughout Scripture. According to 1 Corinthians 11:3 – “ I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.”
GOD -> CHRIST -> MAN -> WOMAN
In Ephesians, the husband is addressed first, then the wife, then the children.
HUSBAND -> WIFE -> CHILDREN
The children are not the head of the home, therefore, they should not be directing decisions for the family, especially in the toddler years!
Transferring Autonomy is the Goal
Before we go into the nitty-gritty, let’s talk about big picture. You are instructing and protecting your child until the day when you can transfer control to them.
This will happen slowly over time (think of an upside down funnel): they have very little decision-making power in the beginning and then ideally their power will increase largely into the teen years as they grow older, wiser, more obedient and more responsible.
A parent is not the child’s friend yet. That will come one day to faithful parents who shepherd NOW. Tim and I have the great privilege of being friends with our grown children. They are the people who we enjoy being with the most! This is opposite of what the world teaches. The world teaches you to give your infant/toddler everything he or she wants, from the food they eat to the activity play, otherwise you are a bad parent. The world says that it is your job to make them happy, and for heaven’s sake, don’t let them cry! Life becomes largely about what makes them happy, rather than what is best for them.Most parents have the desire to make their child happy and that is NOT a wrong desire; however, what is best for them and what makes them happy do not always coincide.
Making Day to Day Decisions
Making your child happy is not how a Christian parent makes day-to-day decisions. Your goal is care for their soul first and foremost. You will achieve this by doing what is best for your child, not what is easiest for you.I Corinthians 13 says that love does what best for others. This means that you will have to say, “no” many times to your children when they are younger. Obviously, sharp objects, electrical outlets, ovens, toilets, swimming pools, and garbage can all be hazards to a toddler, but so can attitudes such as:
Yelling out in anger
Throwing objects across the room
Direct refusal to parents (saying no, not looking into your eyes, not coming when called)
Hitting and biting siblings and other children
Bodily expressions of rebellion such as kicking, thrusting hands, arching back, and stomping
It is not enough to AVOID the situation, you need to help them choose not to sin. (We’ll address this in another article since there is a lot to unpack in that statement!) I see many Christian parents giving way too much decision-making power to their toddlers. I hear this all the time,
“Do you want to go home now?”
“Do you want to eat this?”
“Do you want to say “hi” to Mrs. Alvers?”.
“Do you want to play now or read now?”
“Do you want to eat these vegetables?”
God made you the parent so you can do what is best for your little one. They do not have the accumulated knowledge to understand what is best for them physically or spiritually. So many people leave the 18-month old to decide what he will play, how he will play and for how long. A 2-year old should not decide what she wants to eat at every meal or decide how much sleep she needs. Your child does not have enough wisdom or self-control to make these decisions, but you do!
How to Be a Good Director
What most parents don’t realize is they need a plan! You need to decide what you want your children to do ahead of time and then help them execute it. This involves:
Thinking about the plan which will marry God’s commands and your preferences
Communicating the execution of the plan clearly to your child
Following through in how that plan will be executed
Let Parental Decisions Be Considerate and Reasonable Decisions
If you are being a good director, you will be a student of your child and set reasonable goals based on their ability and personality. For example, you would like to teach your child how to greet adults; however, your child tends to be shy. You may have them begin by just waving hello when you direct them to greet an adult. Once they have accomplished this successfully, you can help them wave and just say “hello”. After being able to do this, you can then ask them to wave and say “Hello Mrs. Alvers, how are you today?” It is very important to set reasonable goals for your child so as not to exasperate them (and you when they fail). Here are a few examples of how to recognize your child’s vulnerabilities:
If you see that your child is starting to have a meltdown then say,” Sweetie, I can see that you are very tired and under great temptation to sin. Let’s go home and have a nap. That will be so much better”.
If you know your child has a hard time eating vegetables, then say, “I would like you to have one bite today, then you can have your fruit”.
If you see that your child’s demeanor is agitated or they have just been disciplined about something else, then do not ask or require him to say “hi” to Mrs. Alvers right now. That can be for another time.
Setting reasonable goals may begin small and then increase in small increments as your child’s ability grows.
Taking Back Your Role
If you have been delegating your God-given authority to your toddlers, then it is time to regain your role and begin to pray and plan what is best for your child and family. If you and your spouse are unsure of reasonable expectations for your child’s age, then seek out an older, godly couple and begin to ask those kinds of questions to give you clarity.The careful, continual study of God’s word and the Spirit’s leading will be your best teacher.