Heard a funny story the other day. There was a child in one family that was always late for school. One day his mom, instead of the usual scolding, blowing up or bribing him, said: “My car is leaving at 7:30. If you get in – fine, if you don’t – fine”. That’s all she said. At 7:29 she was at the wheel waiting and her son was just out of bed, in his pajamas.
When he saw her start the car he rushed outside grabbing his books, and he made it on time – still in his pajamas. Mom didn’t turn the car back – they went straight to school. She dropped him off and went to work. The next morning she found him sleeping in his uniform ready to go. No more problems with being late for school.
For many people it would seem cruel. However teaching the child that I always mean what I say is the key to winning his trust. It’s cruel NOT to teach him that you can be trusted. It’s cruel NOT to let him feel from early on the natural consequences of his actions. It’s cruel NOT to make him responsible for what he does thus creating a false impression that he or she does things for mom and dad and not for himself.
From early on the child is looking for someone he can trust. But who is worthy of my trust? He’s looking for a person who cannot be manipulated. When all the methods of manipulation have been tried and to no effect the child gets the message – this person can be trusted. The child can do nothing to bring about the desired result but in the end he still gets what he needs – on the parents’ terms. So he learns that he can’t influence his parents in any way but they still love him, whether or not he slams the door or hits his head against the wall.
It is cruel to allow the child to come out a winner in the daily battles for power. He will never learn to trust. “If your word doesn’t mean anything you are not worthy to be trusted. So you don’t love me”, the child reasons. With this message stuck in his head, the child is incapable of any positive relationships. All interactions with him will be attempts to manage the ensuing chaos. No friendship is possible in such an atmosphere. And the goal of parenting – friendship with the one God entrusted to you – is forfeited.
Where there’s manipulation friendship cannot exist. When a child feels his mom and dad are expecting something out of him he will never truly desire to be their friend. Any amount of coercion coming from the parent will be interpreted as a confirmation that mom and dad don’t really want his friendship. “They need me to be a certain kind of person”. Friendship is when you are totally free from the other person but you desire to be with him because you find him appealing. It’s strange but true: the goal of child-raising is being friends with the child but the child must freely choose you for a friend, no strings attached. And this will never happen as long as he feels any manipulation from our side. After all, why would you want to be a friend of someone who’s constantly looking to get something out of you.
The dilemma many parents face is this: unless you have taught your child to trust your word from early on you will have to constantly manage the ensuing chaos by some form of manipulation. You will HAVE TO scold, blow up or bribe to manage the otherwise unmanageable behaviors. The trouble is – the amount of scolding, blowing up and bribing will constantly increase.
As long as a child cannot trust a parent’s word he will never freely choose him for a friend. Why would I want to be friends with mom and dad who always want me to be something else? Friendship is the opposite of any form of dependence – it belongs to the realm of the absolute freedom. The only thing that connects true friends is being genuinely interested in each other. Friendship is a bond that sets you free. If your friend wants something from you, but not you, he’s not your friend. He’s using you. A true friend will say: you are free to be totally other than I am and I like it. I want to celebrate your being different from me because I am interested in you, not in what you can do for me.
God cannot be manipulated, that’s why he can be trusted. He wants our friendship, that’s why he sets us free from any obligation to be with him. We may live without him. But it’s no fun. The Father is looking for friends, not slaves. His person is infinitely appealing and the only connection he wants with us is the bond of being truly interested in each other.
The chief paradox of parenting has it pinnacle in God: since he cannot be manipulated we can be his friends, willingly. He has no reason to scold us, blow up or bribe us – we trust that his word cannot be broken. We know he wants us but not something from us and this makes him an endearing presence in our lives. He draws us by the gravity of his winning ways. If you want your children to be your friends set them free from any necessity to be with you. You will become an endearing presence in their lives which is the glorious freedom of the sons of God.