Dinner is late again, and the living room looks like a failed disaster relief effort. You ask your son to put away his part of the mess, but he ignores you. You turn the TV off; he gives you a surly look. You say, “Don’t ignore me, and get that look off your face!” He mimics you under his breath and doesn’t move. Your face flushes, and you say, “I’m not going to stand for disrespect in my own home, and you’d better move fast if you want dinner.”

He gets up slowly and mutters, “Whatever.” Without thinking, you reach out and slap him. He stands speechless with surprise, anger, and embarrassment running across his face. Suddenly he’s respectful and listening to you! You’re surprised, but secretly delighted. It worked! Easy, quick, and effective! Who could ask for anything more?

Your conscience could, and it is. A small nagging voice in the back of your mind isn’t letting you walk to the kitchen feeling guilt-free and good about yourself. Your slap seemed to “work,” but you sense that it wasn’t right. That’s good. Your unsettled feeling means your conscience is still alive.

Why We Lose Control

This story might not fit you exactly—maybe you never slapped your child—but haven’t there been times when your child pushed all your buttons, and you said and did things that later bothered your conscience? Why is your conscience uneasy? Weren’t you just correcting your child’s bad behavior?

You are troubled because you lost control with your child. But why did you lose control? What was going on in your heart that made your child’s actions so infuriating? The reason you lost control was that, whether you’ve thought about it consciously or not, your child was not fulfilling your desires. Let’s take a moment to look more closely at what your desires were at the moment you lost control with your child. To help you, consider these questions:

• When you lose control because your child is disrespectful (or disobedient, or ungrateful, or anything else that annoys you), whose agenda for your child has become most important? Yours? Or God’s?

• When you lose control, are you most concerned with your child obeying God’s will, or your will?

• Whose desires (for peace and quiet, comfort, respect, obedience, etc.) are most important at the moment you are losing control?

• When your child disobeys you in front of others, are you most concerned for God’s reputation or your own?

When your agenda, your will, your desires, and your reputation become more important than God’s, that’s a sign you are trying to be your child’s god. That’s right. Whether you thought about it or not, you want your child to treat you like God.

It’s easy, as a parent, to confuse your agenda with God’s agenda. God does think that respect, obedience, and gratitude are important. And God does call parents to hold their children accountable and to discipline them. But there is a bigger picture. Since God tells your child to respect you, isn’t your child really disrespecting God (since he’s ignoring God’s commands) more than he is you? When you struck your son (or yelled at him, insulted him, pushed him, or knocked him down), were you thinking about your son’s disrespect toward Jesus? If not, then the way you treated him was more about how he ignored your demands, than it was about his violation of God’s commands.

Besides respect, there are plenty of other things we want from our children. Some of us want easy, comfortable lives; and our children take more effort, time, and attention than we want to give. Others of us want grateful children, who appreciate all we do for them. Maybe you want your children to excel and be the best they can be at everything they do. Or perhaps you only want your children to stay safe, and not do foolish things that will ruin their lives. You have your own list of things you want from your child. The list of things we want for and from our children is as individual as we are.