Comfort & Counsel

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by Jacob Ninan

“A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever” (Eccl.1:4). While the earth continues even as generations are passing on, many changes are taking place which new generations get used to quickly but older generations find difficult to adjust to. Knowledge increases in tremendous leaps and bounds, new technology makes older technology obsolete in a very short time, global travel and instantaneous media coverage transform culture, and the fight for the survival of the fittest gives very little time for people to sit down, examine their lives in their context and make conscious and conscientious decisions. Every new generation finds the older styles of music, dress and hairdo unappealing, and every older generation feels that things are going out of control.

‘Generation gap’ is now a very common term describing the distance that exists in the relationship between young people and their elders, especially their parents. It is very rare to find families where this gap does not exist at all, but the unfortunate fact is that in a large number of families it exists to an almost irreparable extent. Many parents who bring their teenage children for counsel, stating that these children have got into bad company, become irresponsible or rebellious, etc., do not seem to realise that they have contributed a great deal to this state of affairs! It is not just the teenagers who need counselling, but the parents too.

David Wilkerson who worked among the teenage gangs in New York and brought many of them to the Lord (The cross and the switchblade) was wondering at a certain point in time why such a large number of children were getting into those gangs with violent attacks on one another and rather casual sex. He visited their families and discovered that practically all of them came from dysfunctional families where many parents were alcoholics or drug addicts, some divorced, others constantly fighting with each other, abusing each other and the children, not providing for the children, etc. When the children joined gangs they were only looking for things they missed at home—affection, acceptance and attention. Wilkerson then wrote a book called I’ve given up on parents.

When the children are born into the world with all their innocence, the responsibility for taking care of them, providing for them and training them falls squarely upon the parents (Prov.22:6). Many places in the Bible point out the responsibility of the parents in teaching the children to know God and helping them to walk in His ways (Deut.6:7). Unfortunately while many ‘good’ parents who do not neglect or abuse their children take great pains to provide for and to take care of their children, they seem to neglect the training part. Some Christian parents seem to think that training is the responsibility of the Sunday School, the church or the regular school. Others who fall for the humanistic school of psychology think that the best thing they can do to encourage the young minds to develop to their unique potential is to let them have their own way! But the Bible says, “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother” (Prov.29:15).

Parental responsibility becomes much more important when all forms of media are promoting fashion with less and less restraints on provocative dressing, loose morals, fast and transient relationships, free sex, throwing off submission to anyone, setting fun, thrill and enjoyment as the goal of life, etc. There is also a highly orchestrated strategy being unravelled to the discerning eyes where the prince of this world is influencing every sphere of life, transforming values, attitudes and boundaries, and redefining age-old concepts and practices in the name of keeping an open mind and resisting fundamentalism.

Transition Of Control
While there is need for parents to take responsibility for the training of their children, there is also a need for parents to hand over control to their children as they grow up. Wisdom tells us that the task of parents is to bring up their children to the point where the children are able to stand on their own feet (figuratively speaking) and walk on their feet from then onwards. Many parents do not realise this part of their task even when they are trying to do good to their children. I have heard one mother tell her son, “Even if you become a grandfather, you will still be my baby!” This is a sentimentally mushy statement which is altogether foolish and unrealistic if she is thinking that she will treat her son always like a baby.

Parents, especially the mother, have almost complete control when their child is an infant. But when the baby begins to crawl around this control begins to get disturbed, and as the children walk and run by themselves and then go to school the parents find that their children are becoming more and more independent. At this stage itself some mothers find it difficult to ‘let go’ of their children, even though they still have a lot of control over them.

Till the child becomes 8 to 10 years old, they are still unable to a large extent to think for themselves, and it is easier for the parents to exercise their authority on the children. But trouble starts when the children get into their teens. Now their minds are active, and they begin to ask why they should do things in a certain way and why they are not being allowed to do many things that other children are doing. This is a great point of transition. Many parents foolishly insist that the children need to just obey the parents, and consider any dissent, question or argument as signs of rebellion for which the teenagers get penalised. This is unfortunate, and this kind of approach is many times responsible for creating and enlarging the ‘generation gap’.

Many Christian parents think that as long as their children are physically their children, their duty is to obey the parents (Eph.6:1). But this commandment in the Bible is for those who are children in age, and not grownups. For the older ‘children’ who stand on their own legs and who are even supporting their old parents, the commandment is to honour their parents (v.2). This involves treating them with respect, taking care of them in their need, providing for them if necessary, etc. When parents expect their grown up children to always obey them, they are creating problems for everyone involved. Many parents do not even allow their married children to ‘leave father and mother and cleave to their spouses’, thereby becoming a constant source of trouble for the married couples. But while these married couples will do well to receive the wisdom of their parents that comes from long years of experience, they are under no obligation to obey them.

Handing The Baton Over
So there is a need for parents to hand over the control of their children entirely to the children at some point in time. We can think that by the time the children are married, the parents should have fully stopped controlling them. In some cases it is even possible to do this before the children get married, if the parents can notice that the children have sufficient maturity to handle themselves well. Then the parents can make themselves available to their children, if the children want, in an advisory capacity. If the parents can see their children thinking for themselves and making their own godly decisions, it is a matter for great rejoicing, knowing that they (the parents) have succeeded in fulfilling their task (3Jn.1:4).

So how and when should this baton be handed over to the children? Certainly at least by the time they get married, because otherwise the parents will be hindering their children from cleaving to their spouses and becoming one, as God wants them to. In a practical sense we can see that this handing over of control cannot be abrupt at the time of marriage, but has to start from the time they are born. The level of control is to be reduced little by little when they are really children in age (as they start crawling, walking, going to school, etc.). When the teenage time comes, the rate of handing over control has to become faster, and as they grow up further still faster. If we were to represent control as a graph with time, we could think of 100% control when the baby is born going down to 0% control when the son or daughter is married, and following something like an inverted exponential curve in between with the curve beginning to go down faster at the time of the teenage.

Transition At Teenage
This needs special attention because ‘children’ are beginning to become ‘adults’. They are no longer children, strictly speaking, but they are also not full adults yet. Parents many times do not recognise this transition point that their teenagers are beginning to think and act like adults and are looking for more independence. They continue to treat them like children, expecting unquestioning obedience at every point. Every question or resistance is treated as rebellion and punishment is handed out, quoting the Bible to say that children should obey their parents! The teenagers, on the other hand, feel that their parents are not listening to them, they are not being understood and that they are being treated like kids!

If only the parents could shed their ‘authority’ a bit and make a transition to becoming friends to their teenagers! ‘Commandments’ can be replaced by suggestions, making room for discussions with the children about their ideas and guiding them to make the right choices and decisions. The children will appreciate discussion because they themselves are not really sure about their own opinions, and they are only throwing out opinions to get a feedback! Parents who manage to make this transition well will gain ‘friends’ for themselves from their children.

At the final part of the transition the parents find themselves in a place where they have become dependent on their children. If they have not started the process of transition long ago, they would find it practically unbearable at this stage.

Life involves one generation coming in and one generation going out. Let us have an overall concept about how life runs from birth to death, and be able to make the transitions in between as smooth as possible.

-- Published in the Light of Life magazine, September 2013

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