I suspect that if you’ve been around Christianity for any length of time at all, you’ve heard of the Ten Commandments. They were spoken by God to Moses and written on stone tablets, later kept in The Ark of the Covenant. For those unfamiliar, here they are, as recited in The Message in Exodus 20:
- No other gods, only me.
- No carved gods of any size, shape, or form of anything whatever, whether of things that fly or walk or swim. Don’t bow down to them and don’t serve them because I am GOD, your God, and I’m a most jealous God, punishing the children for any sins their parents pass on to them to the third, and yes, even to the fourth generation of those who hate me. But I’m unswervingly loyal to the thousands who love me and keep my commandments.
- No using the name of GOD, your God, in curses or silly banter; GOD won’t put up with the irreverent use of his name.
- Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to GOD, your God. Don’t do any work—not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest visiting in your town. For in six days GOD made Heaven, Earth, and sea, and everything in them; he rested on the seventh day. Therefore GOD blessed the Sabbath day; he set it apart as a holy day.
- Honor your father and mother so that you’ll live a long time in the land that GOD, your God, is giving you.
- No murder.
- No adultery.
- No stealing.
- No lies about your neighbor.
- No lusting after your neighbor’s house—or wife or servant or maid or ox or donkey. Don’t set your heart on anything that is your neighbor’s.
Some of these are quite simple to follow. Don’t kill anyone; ok. Don’t steal; ok. Don’t mess around on your spouse; got it. It’s #5 we’re concerned with here today: honor your mother and father. This is easy enough where we ourselves are concerned. Just do what mom and dad tell us to do, and we’ll be fine. The challenge we’re tackling today is how to influence our own children to honor us as their mothers and fathers. This is downright perplexing to many folks, and understandably so. I’m going to share three ideas with you that will help you better influence your child or children to obey this commandment, obey you, and, ultimately, build a better relationship between you.
Please take note of my very specific use of the word “influence” here. We don’t want to force them into submission to do what we ask. In fact, I don’t think those submitted to take a particular action have honored anyone. Influence is defined as getting people to willingly perform a task or follow instruction. That’s the goal here: to get our children to willingly honor us as their mothers and fathers, and to willingly obey the instructions of God.
First, we have to change our thinking about our children. For as far back as I can remember (that would be 46 years as this time), we have placed negative labels on our children since birth. As soon as they can get up and walk and start talking, they’re favorite word seems to be “no”. More on that in a moment. They hit two years old, and what do we call that phase in their lives? We call it “The Terrible Twos”. Once they hit three, they’re often called “Threenagers”. They hit four, and I actually read that some people refer to it as the “Eff-You Fours”. Then five comes along, and it’s the “Ferocious Fives”. Then, it’s the “Sassy Sixes”. Then “Seven, going on 30.” And we all know what people think about teenagers: mischievous, devious, defiant future juvenile offenders that need to get their posteriors off our lawns. No wonder we have such trouble getting them to honor us if we look at them like they’re little tyrants that are an inconvenience. They’re not. They are a gift from God, and they are made in His image, just like we are. We’ve got to change our own thinking about them before they will change their thinking about us. Change always starts with us, not others.
I think, on this same point, it’s also important to understand that children pay less attention to what you say to them than what you say about them to others. I recently learned that my Amazon Alexa devices record everything I say to them on Amazon’s servers – forever (unless you manually delete it line by line). Children are exactly the same. They are always listening, and they place more worth on what you say about them than what you say to them. We owe it to them to build their esteems by praising them to others. Instead of all that negativity from earlier, how about these instead. “My child is in the Terrific Twos! The Thrilling Threes! The Fabulous Fours! The Festive Fives! The Sensational Sixes! The Super Sevens! And those teenage years? That’s my young adult!” These important terms will change how you look at your own children, and, most importantly, how they perceive that you look at them. It will strengthen your relationship with them, and theirs with you. Influence is built on relationships, so this foundational step is critical to success.
Second, we have to give clear instructions with clear expectations of what honoring their mothers and fathers looks like. I take note of signs posted in businesses for customers. You know, those ones that are either handwritten or printed on a computer on an 8 ½” x 11” piece of white paper with black text. They are usually negative in nature. They say things like, “Private area – no customers allowed”, “No bills over $20”, “No returns allowed after seven days. Signed, Mgmt.” They each give instructions about what NOT to do. What they don’t do is give instructions about what TO do. How about these instead: “Private Employee Workroom where we’re working hard to get your car up-and-running. Please enjoy our guest lobby, located right around the corner”, “We accept all cash up to $20 bills and all major credit/debit cards”, and “We gladly accept returns from the day of purchase up to seven days after purchase in order to make sure you are completely satisfied with your purchase”. It’s important to be clear about what our expectations are and how to meet them.
Children need this more than anyone. My son is a perfect example. He used to bring drinks into his bedroom, then leave the empty bottles or cans on his nightstand or other areas not called a trash can. I repeatedly told him not to bring drinks into his bedroom, and, repeatedly, he’d do so. I finally took the positive approach with clear instruction. I posted a sign on his door that read: “Please enjoy your drinks in the living room, dining room, or office. Thank you!” Immediately, he stopped bringing drinks into his bedroom. It wasn’t the sign that changed his behavior, it was the way the message was delivered. Instead of telling him what NOT to do, I told him in a positive manner what TO do. He complied immediately. Remember, our children don’t have the life experience, education, or wisdom that we do. It is our responsibility to influence them to honor their mother and father. By changing the input from negative to positive, we change the output from negative to positive. It’s just like a computer: garbage in, garbage out. Once we change our language, expectations, and guidance to the good stuff in, we get the good stuff out.
Finally, we have to be willing to answer the shortest yet most complicated and frustrating question in the world: why? Those three little letters, when smashed together, have created more parent-child, employer-employee, and spouse-spouse relationship challenges than any other. Here’s why: we don’t like being told what to do. We all have that “I want to be free! I want to be me!” line of thinking that only a nation such as America can provide. We’re a nation born of rebellion. Benjamin Franklin once quipped that “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.” With such a rebellious culture in which we live, how can we not expect people to ask us “Why?”, especially those with which we have the most contact: our own children. What we have to embrace is that “Why?” is often not a challenge to authority. Often, it is simply a matter of seeking understanding for things about which they simply don’t know. Do we really expect a four-year-old child to understand the value of cleaning their bedroom? Do we really expect a seven-year-old child to understand the value of doing their homework? Do we really expect a 13-year-old teenager to fully understand why abstinence is best at their age? They don’t, and neither did we. Someone had to teach us.
When it comes to giving instructions to your children, your real goal is to influence them. You want them to do what you ask willingly. This is the highest level of honor to mother and father – to obey willingly and not begrudgingly. By being willing to answer why something must be done, you’ll usually get the influence you seek. Don’t answer with “Because I told you so!” That’s never a reason why anyway; that’s just servitude. A genuine explanation of why your child should do something boils down to why it benefits him or her. It works this way with everyone else in the world, by the way. It’s about being able to put yourself in their shoes and communicate to them the reasons for your instructions. Tell your four-year-old that you’ve instructed them to clean their room because it’s a part of being a good member of the family and they will enjoy having all that extra space on the floor to play with their toys. Tell your seven-year-old that they should do their homework so that they can participate in the after-school activities they enjoy, such as sports, outings with friends, and video games. Tell your 13-year-old child that abstinence is the best policy at their age because pregnancy and STDs can be gained and freedom and their reputation with their friends will be lost. Take it one step further: when you give your child positive, clear instruction, go ahead and tell them why as part of the instruction. You’ll be amazed at how much more influential you’ll become with them right away. There’s no reason for them to ask “Why?” if you’ve already provided the answer in advance.
I encourage you to apply these principles right away with your children. It will take you some time to master them, so be patient with yourself. Also, if your child is used to being argumentative with you, or you with them, it’ll take time for them to come around. You’ll start to see immediate results, one act at a time, once you start doing them. Greatness isn’t formed in a day, it is formed everyday by the habits we keep. Make influencing your child or children to willingly honor you as their parent, and you and they both will be on a path to better relationships with one another – and with God.
May God bless you, now and always.