Many discouraged parents have asked us this question: How should we respond to our child who doubts the reality of God?
When children suggest “there is no God” it’s natural for parents to immediately try to convince them otherwise. It’s a good intention, but one that often deepens the chasm between kids’ doubts and their movement toward God. If this is your reality, understand that there is probably little you can say, (because they’ve probably heard all the arguments before) but much that you can DO to make it safe for your kids to struggle back toward Jesus when they have doubts.
“I hate you!” There are certainly plenty of parents who have heard those disrespectful words.
Some parents are deeply hurt (“I can’t believe you would say that, after all I do…”) while others get intensely angry (“It’s not okay to talk to me like that!”). Parents often feel attacked and unsure about how to respond.
A popular parenting approach suggests when a child says “I hate you” or a similar comment, that parents respond with “Aren’t you glad I don’t believe that?” At first glance this may seem like a clever, calm way to respond, but it also is pretty condescending, communicating a message that, “When you’re upset, you are a liar” or “Your thoughts and feelings are unimportant, even invalid to me.”
So how can we really get to the root of the issue when our kids yell that they hate us?
Recently we received this question from Michelle:
I am struggling with a tween who often says no to my requests. She is a good girl most of the time, but she will be disrespectful to me and I have no idea what appropriate/related consequences to give her when she tells me “no” and then in essence dismisses me by looking back down at her book, ipod, etc. I try to remain calm but when I tell her this is a warning and that she will have a consequence for not obeying, she will look at me and ask what it is. And normally say, “oh well, no big deal” and still not obey me. I also realize that hormones are playing a part in her behavior but she cannot say no to me when I ask her to do something. HELP!!! Normally she will apologize later that night when we are praying together but she still didn’t do whatever I asked.
Recently we received this question from a parent:
Q: How should we respond to our children (middle school, high school and college) who insist there is no God?
My first impulse in responding to people who “insist there is no God” is to show them how wrong they are to hold that belief. I mean, look around, right? It takes a lot of faith to believe everything came from nothing. But “people” denying God’s existence is much different than MY KIDS denying that God exists and turning from their (our) faith. That creates sleepless nights, desperate pleas and crying out to God. It also tends to lead parents into anxious lobbying for their point of view when in fact, there is probably very little new that parents can say.
Aside from the conventional wisdom about this (which we fully embrace) to pray, to speak truth, and to love them, here are some less common ideas that have been shown to have powerful influence with children over time.
“Knock it off! Stop it! Get over here, NOW!” These are familiar phrases for most parents. When kids act up we get frustrated. We get demanding and even disrespectful. Kids may comply with our demands in the short run but over the long run they learn from our example to be frustrated, demanding, and disrespectful when they’re not getting their way.
Dustin was becoming this kind of parent. He saw where it was leading and knew he wanted to walk a different road. He looked at numerous resources and when he discovered Connected Families he knew he had found what he was looking for. For the past 14 months he has immersed himself in Connected Families resources and support. Where once his primary goal was quick fixes and parental control, his primary goal is now to come alongside his kids as a model of God’s grace and guidance. It’s been hard work and it’s far from finished. But this recent report from Dustin shows the results:
Parents usually have good desires for their kids. They want kids to be respectful, responsible, faithful, obedient, and so on. But when parents make these behaviors their primary goals for parenting, their kids tend to resist. Why? Kids tend to resist because no one likes to be controlled – and parents’ good goals are usually mingled with a little selfish motivation of “wanting life to go smoothly for my benefit” that kids pick up on. So when parents’ varied efforts to meet these goals are met with children’s resistance, parents and kids alike feel frustrated.
We’ve often heard parents say, “I hate to yell, but the kids just won’t listen until I do!”
If the kids aren’t listening to requests, it may be about more than inattentiveness. It could be that the family culture does not exemplify respectful listening. We have seen in many families that often kids who don’t listen well are kids who don’t feel very listened to. Learning to view listening issues as a whole family problem — and not just one disobedient child’s problem — has helped many parents better address the listening issue with their child.
Parents frequently say, “It’s my job to ‘be the parent’, not my kid’s friend!” Or, “My kids need to learn that I don’t have to explain everything. Sometimes they just need to know that it’s time to obey without explanation, because I’m the parent!”
These statements beg the question, What does it mean to “be the parent?”
“Oh, honey, come here. Let’s fix that.” Or, “Hey kiddo, let’s clean up that mess.”
Nearly every parent has repeated phrases like these, perhaps many times. With small kids, there’s probably no harm in using this phrase or approach to things from time to time. You see a smear of mustard on your child’s face and say, “Come here sweetie, let’s clean up your face.” The mustard is gone, your child goes her merry way, and you don’t have to worry about mustard stains on the couch. Or their room is a mess, and you say, “C’mon honey, let’s clean your room.” Then you do most of the cleaning because it’s more efficient.
What happens over time though, if this is a regular dynamic, is that kids hear the phrase, “Let’s do this,” and they learn to interpret it to mean, “Someone will do this for me.” As kids grow up accustomed to mom and dad doing things for them, they come to expect it. And not just from mom and dad, but from everyone.
Once upon a time, near a woods far away, there was a family named the Scrumpkins. Bingle (the dad) and Kalinda (the mom) were fearful of what might happen to their children if they explored the dark, foreboding woods behind their house, so they proclaimed, “You’re not going in the woods and that’s final. No questions asked!”