Stages of Growth: “Failure to Thrive” – 2 Samuel 13

Children need more than a home and a comfortable bed! They need the guidance and shaping of parents and a stable and consistent moral system. Left to themselves and their peers, trouble will emerge that is destructive!

My brother Rodger is a Christian psychologist. During his counseling of addicted youth, he has been writing on change and how to affect behavioral change in children, along with a host of other things. We discuss his work each week when we get together, and I have found it incredibly helpful. Probably the key to a method of parenting that he is suggesting is what he terms “shaping”. It is the conscious process of shaping the mind and heart of a child. I have been fascinated by his insights, but especially how the insights are SHAPED by the Bible, as he is a student of that as well. Perhaps it is this notion that got me so excited when I studied this passage this week. Today’s passage focuses on the inside of David’s home, and how the children were shaped, or not shaped by their dad that loved God. This one is for those who are parenting…

Key Principle: Children need involved “shaping oriented” parents to have any real chance to be successful.

Symptoms of the Permissive Parent Home:

  • It was a complicated home: Let’s get some obvious things out in the open. David’s children were the result of several wives, so there are complicating factors. The closest thing we have to that around here may be a blended family. But just the same, you’ll recognize that what led to the breakdown in David’s family is also a factor in many of our homes today.
  • Dad got very busy with his own accomplishments (13:1a).
  • Failure to proactively set appropriate boundaries (13:1b; 13b).

In a permissive home, children will pretend to be sick so they don’t have to go to school. They will put on a big show and throw a temper tantrum so they don’t have to clean up their toys. They’ll say, “I’m thirsty so they don’t have to go to bed. Why? They know it works.

Edward VIII, Duke of Windsor, once observed this about American families: “The thing that impresses me most about America is the way parents obey their children”.

  • Opportunities to manipulate parents (note illness, 13:2a, 13:6a).
  • Unmonitored influence of poor friends (13:3,5).
  • Poor teaching on definitions and restraint (13:4, 15).
  • Naïve complicity of parents (13:7, 18).
  • Offering too much unmonitored authority for their behavior (13:9, 17).
  • Failure to recognize normal limits (13:12,14).

Results of Permissive Parenting:

  • Poor use of power (13:14)

Permissive parents want to create a loving place, yet the opposite often happens. Why? Because the reality is that it is natural for people to want power, whether young or old. Bad use of power creates fear. Children who don’t respect their parents often fear one another, because they know their siblings will use their power. The stronger one usually wins. In some cases the violence and abuse is extreme.

  • Shame, guilt and depression on innocent parties (13:19).
  • Alienation of siblings from each other (13:20). Alienation. Without boundaries in any relationship, you will have hurt, chaos, and finally separation. We all need safety and security in our relationships or we run from them. Strange, that the thing that permissive parents fear most often comes to past — their children appreciate neither their parents nor their home.
  • Hatred breeding in the family 13:20). Absalom, the full brother of Tamar told her to calm down — he would look after. He did. He arranged for Amnon to be killed. With that he took off out of his father’s reach for three years.
  • Silence. You don’t talk about things that are really important. Even though you suspect or even know that your child has crossed the line, you don’t have the courage to confront them.

Remember, Discipline is love as well! The Scripture has much to say:

Proverbs 13:24 says, “If you love your children, you will correct them; if you don’t love them, you won’t correct them.” Heb 12:6 “The Lord disciplines everyone he loves.” He expects loving parents to do the same, to give adequate attention to your children. Prov 29:17 Discipline your children, and they will give you happiness and peace of mind.”

Permissive parents fail to lead. Their kids are the boss. So how do you change that? Here are a few guidelines:

  • The Love Factor: “My home is a place where love is readily expressed.” Younger folks, you can also help your parents by your attitudes and commitments. Don’t expect your parents to do it all or they will become worn out. They need your help.
  • My home is a place of emotional and physical safety.” Yelling is not leading. It creates an unsafe environment. In our society there’s no clear law against screaming oscenities at your kids, but you they might be taken away for a light tap on the butt. Go figure. Screaming should be reserved for situations where your child is unsafe, like running out onto the road. Yelling to correct behavior is a sign you’re frustrated with your inability to get your way.
  • A third commitment for parents who lead is this, “My home is a place where discipline is constructive.” Never be afraid to discipline, but always be afraid to discipline badly.

How do I measure what is bad discipline?

It’s self-centered. Eph 6:4 says, “Fathers, don’t make your children bitter about life. Instead, bring them up in Christian discipline and instruction.”

So what is Christian discipline like? It’s centered on the needs of the other like it says in Heb 12:10 “God disciplines us for our good.” It’s not because He needs it but because we need it. Permissive parents are self-centered. They won’t push themselves to address real needs. If you love, you discipline. It’s not about you! But bossy parents are also self-centered. We tend just to want things our way which is not necessarily the best way. Both extremes are subject to bad discipline. You want parents who lead their families lovingly.

Self-centered discipline looks like….

  • The biggest sign of a permissive parent is their inconsistent discipline. When it gets bad enough, they might do something, but the next day they let it go and ignore it. Children learn that with enough whining and complaining and tantrums they can get their way. The energy to do anything comes from feelings and because feelings are inconsisitent, so is the discipline.
  • Often, it’s impulsive. “You’re late, you’re grounded for a week.” It’s often done out of irritation. You’re just ticked off at your kid for disobeying so you act. As you move to bossy parents, there’s often a desire to injure. You think in terms of punishing. You might want to hurt them for crossing your line. Your punishment feels more like getting even.
  • You use intimidation to hold the line, “If you don’t listen, you just wait and see.” You’ll hear, “because I said so” as a reason, usually with a raised voice. Typically controlling parents will impose consequences. There’s zero negotiation, just telling, not talking. Often a spanking or a whack is the answer for everything. Immature motivations often drive it. The parent is worried about how it looks for the family. Sometimes comparisons are used, “your sister would never do this!”
  • Infinite rules are laid down — a rule for every situation because there’s very little relationship and respect.
  • Finally, bad discipline for both styles results in isolation as family members disconnect from each other or form mini-alliances.

Christian discipline is:

  • Constructive: Child’s needs are central. It’s more consistent because the energy comes from principles, not feelings.
  • Calm thinking goes into the process as you are thinking problem solving, not punishment. Your basic posture is one of concern, because you’re asking, “What does this child need? What, really is best for her?”
  • It’s also corrective. You’re emphasis is on “How can we fix this attitude or behavior.” You may need to apply some pain, but only reluctantly. That’s where you get this statement, “It’s going to hurt me more than it will you.”
  • Rather than intimidation, you hope to bring about meaningful consequences. They don’t need a spanking for not cleaning up their toys — take some toys away for a time. Parents who “save” their children from the natural consequences of their behaviour are crippling them.
  • A caring relationship is the foundation for your life together. Rules are the fenceline, not the foundation. Finally, good discipline results in better connection. You can hug and hold your child as you work through the issue.

Finally a word to those who have been hurting over the choices of your children. Not everything is YOUR FAULT. The choices of David’s children may have been, in part, because of his poor parenting. Yet, even in the best homes children grow with a mind and will of their own. Only a fool would put it all back on their home. Christians are not immune to pain and suffering:

Eugene Peterson: “I don’t take any particular pleasure in writing this. I would feel better if I could promise that being a Christian gave us a distinct advantage over the competition. Some of the most prominent and well-paid religious leaders in North America are following that line these days – giving people tips on how to be successful in marriage and business, assuring congregations that if they’ll sign up and give a little more money they’ll experience prosperity. They design books and lectures and sermons to sell lottery tickets on a jackpot of the supernatural.” [Leaping Over a Wall, pp. 194-195]

God promises to love you, stand by you, and comfort you. He does not force people to follow Him, and you cannot either. You shape, you love and your encourage, and you learn to trust in Him through it all. Neverthless, children need involved “shaping oriented” parents to have any real chance to be successful.