In this chapter, we look at the basis for parental authority. Tripp begins by explain that our culture is adverse to authority – not just being under authority, but also being an authority. In our culture, we view all authority as derived from overwhelming force or by consent. As Tripp explains, that leaves only 2 potential responses – either rebellion or servility. In Tripp’s words, “Our culture has no notion of intelligent, thinking persons willingly placing themselves under authority.”
When it comes to parenting, the author explains that parents often don’t understand our biblical mandate to shepherd our children. Accordingly, the goals of parenting often become nothing more than immediate comfort and convenience. In order to function, parents and children must understand that God calls parents to be in charge over their children and that children are called by God to obey their parents.
Parent act as agents of God. As agents of God in providing training and guidance to our kids, we are in a position of authority over them, but we are also a person under the authority of God. In that respect, we have something in common with our kids. As Tripp explains we “have differing roles, but the same Master.” Tripp takes a brief aside to warn against “unholy anger” which he defines as anger over the fact that we are not getting what we want from our children. This type of anger makes the issue at hand one between the parent and the child and not between the child and God. The role as parents is not to insist that our children do what we say just because we are their parents, but we should insist that our children obey God because that is the right thing to do and in their best interest. Unholy anger may teach our kids to fear us, but in the end, it moves them away from God and in the direction of “the idolatry of fearing man.”
As parents, we never have to wonder whether or not exercising authority over our children is OK. Not only is it OK, we are mandated to do it by the Creator of the Universe! Based on his experience as a school administrator, Mr. Tripp opines that most parents just don’t get the importance of being in charge in their kids’ lives. Most parents take the role of adviser to their kids which leads to the kids learning that they are the ultimate decision makers while the parents are relegated to the role of making suggestions. When parents make every decision a “smorgasboard of choices for the child to decide” from a very early age, the child ends up being his own boss and parents are left to “cajole, plead, urge…scream and threaten” to try to get their kids to obey. This of course runs contrary to the popular notion that you have to give kids choices so they can learn to make good choices. Tripp argues that, much to the contrary, kids become good choice makers when they see their parents “modeling and instructing wise direction and decision making on their behalf.” Before kids can learn to make good decisions about anything else, they must learn the paramount importance of being under authority.
Tripp then goes on to define the task of parenting. He observes that culture has reduced the definition of parenting to simply baby sitting. God has called us as parents to something much higher than mere day care – we are called to shepherd our kids on behalf of God. It is a constant task that happens whenever and wherever we are with our children. In order to shepherd our kids we must know them deeply. We have to know what makes them tick, we must know how they think, we must be able to anticipate their actions and inclinations.
Given the high calling of parenting, it is useful to have some clear objectives when it comes to training and shepherding our kids. Me must know our kids strengths and weaknesses and have a plan to strengthen the weaknesses and encourage the strengths. We should sit down with our spouses and set short-term and long-term goals for all of our kids. We must develop strategies for teaching and training them. We must spend time thinking about how to focus our efforts on attitudes of the heart rather than simple behavior modification. Finally, we must remain humble as parents. Understanding that, in parenting, we are acting as an agent of God should help us to stay both focused and humble.
Seeing ourselves as God’s agents will also change the way we view discipline. For example, discipline should be corrective, not punitive. If discipline revolves around the parents and what they want, the function of the discipline is punitive – to punish the child for not giving the parent what they want. On the other hand, when the discipline is focused on God, on moving a child who has disobeyed back towards God, the function is corrective. Discipline, therefore, is an act of love. This is discussed more in Chapter 7 of the book.
Proverbs 19:18 says:
Discipline your son, for there is hope;
do not set your heart on putting him to death.
We must love our kids enough to discipline them to keep them from death. Tripp is quick to remind us that
“Discipline as positive instruction rather than negative punishment does not rule out consequences or outcomes of behavior. Consequences and outcomes of behavior are certainly part of the process God uses to chasten people.”
However, the correction must be tied to the principles and precepts of God’s Word. In Tripp’s words, “It is God’s non-negotiable standard that fuels correction and discipline.”
One of the things Tripp calls for in this chapter is an honest evaluation of training objectives, your children’s strengths and weaknesses, short and long term goals, and strategies for parenting. As I started to think about this, I realized that I have never undertaken such an exercise. I think that perhaps my wife and I will sit down separately and do this for each child then come together to develop a plan for each child. I believe that this exercise will help us, not only in parenting, but also to strengthen our marriage. I hope you will do the same.
Chapter 5 – Examining Your Goals: NEXT TIME>>