Today, as we celebrate our fathers, we will reflect on the message of Ephesians 6:4, which says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Our reflection will offer some encouragement, maybe a challenge or two, and guidance for all the fathers out there. It’s a short verse, but has much to say about parenting.
First, it’s a warning not to drive children to frustration and anger. It doesn’t imply that fathers should never upset their children, as that is an inescapable part of any loving relationship. Occasionally, we must say difficult things that might upset and anger them. What it warns against is creating a chronic state of frustration and resentment in children through our actions. Apostle Paul warns that our parenting could foster deep-seated anger within our children, not merely momentary annoyance.
To prevent this, St. Paul advises, “Bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Let’s unpack this profound piece of advice. St. Paul is guiding us toward a balance between discipline and counsel. The discipline word hints at firmness and boundary enforcement, while instruction involves reasoning and dialogue. This balance between truth and love is essential in preventing a resentful, frustrated, angry child.
Paul cautions us not to lean too heavily towards either side of this balance. An overly disciplined approach can result in unintended and harmful results because children are not animals to be simply trained and disciplined but human beings. In contrast, excessive reasoning and coaxing can also lead to frustration because it overlooks that they are not yet adults. A balance of affectionate counsel and consistent enforcement of sensible rules is key to raising a well-rounded and grounded child.
There’s a second balance that Paul hints at when he says, “Bring them up.” Here he is instructing us to balance nurturing dependence and fostering independence. The purpose of parenting is to prepare our children not to need us and to transition them from being dependent on us to be capable of making critical moral choices independently. Yet, this process must be gradual. We must not thrust our children into independence prematurely. Too quick a push can leave children feeling unsupported and abandoned, causing frustration.
The third vital element in Paul’s advice is the ‘of the Lord’ part. It means, as parents, we need to tell our children about God. We should share our faith journey and how God influences our lives. While it’s natural to want our children to form their own beliefs, studies have shown that providing moral instruction, even if flawed, is far better than providing none. Guiding your child towards God is not abdication, but a significant part of parental responsibility.
The three parenting strategies St. Paul invites us to reflect on and incorporate into our parenting are balancing discipline and counsel, fostering independence while providing support, and imparting our faith. In doing so, we will not exasperate our children, but rather inspire them, mold them, and lead them toward a fulfilling, godly life. Remember, being a father is not merely a role, but a divine calling that requires patience, wisdom, and an open heart ready to give and receive love.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.