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Yesterday was Father's Day, but I wasn't feeling especially like a good father. I have been rather the opposite: irritable and short-tempered. Last night before bed, Lauren and I prayed for our kids and our patience as parents. I woke up in the middle of the night to a still, small voice teaching me that I need to have realistic expectations for my children, depending on their age and ability. I woke up thankful for the Lord's answer to our prayer!
The things that make me the most irritable with my kids' are their whining and complaining about many things. Now, sometimes whining and complaining is worthy of discipline since a bad attitude can be an outward sign of inward defiance, but other times it may be that the child is tired, thirsty, hungry, or in need of some other physical or emotional demand and they just can't express their need with words yet, as my wife has helped me understand (husbands: listen to the wisdom of your wives! God has given them insight when it comes to raising kids!).

Discerning between what is an emotional outburst due to frustration, or a bit of whining due to a physical or emotional need they cannot express yet is important. For example: I don't find putting on a pajamas very difficult. But a three-year old who is tired and worn out at the end of a long, hot day might. My expectation is that he should be able to take his own clothes off, put on his own pajamas, and do so without an emotional meltdown. In most circumstances, this is simply not going to be the case. A three-year old is not developmentally able to control their emotions and handle that sort of situation with poise. Getting upset with them is not helpful. Telling them to try harder is not instructive. Gruffly putting their pajamas on for them will only drive them to bitterness toward their insensitive dad.

I think Paul must have observed some fathers who were less than patient with their children, which the Holy Spirit used to prompt him to write Ephesians 6:4: "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." Directly after Paul's command for children to obey and honor their parents, he tells fathers not to provoke their children. Why? Because the Lord knew males, who are very task-oriented by design, could quickly fall into the temptation of cold, unfeeling order-barking and fail to show love and care for the ones they have fathered.

Sometimes, fathers can be so demanding of obedience and disciplined-behavior that they actually end up provoking their kids to bitterness and driving them away with exasperation. This is what I fear may happen if I keep demanding unreasonable expectations from my young children. My hope is that they will be able to meet my expectations sooner rather than later (e.g., putting on pajamas without crying); regardless, the way I approach my kids or the way I communicate my expectations should be with an attitude of love and care for their development, not in bitterness.

Lastly, notice the contrast Paul uses in this verse for fathers: "do not provoke... but bring them up...." Fathers are not to provoke - prod, drive, entice - their children in a way that will make them angry or resentful. This is what I do sometimes when my child obviously needs help, but I want to see them solve their own problems. Instead, fathers are to bring their children up - teach, train, encourage - in a way that values them as people. Practically, this means encouraging them with patience to solve their own problems, teaching them so that they can do it for themselves someday.

Paul's last words in verse 4 qualify in what way fathers are to train their children: "in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." In other words, in righteousness or in the right way. This is my prayer: that I would be a father who is always teaching his children in the right way. I don't want to drive my children with a cold, unfeeling, selfish motive or view them as an inconvenience. Because of God's transforming power in my life, I desire to teach my children, not put-up with them. I desire to encourage my children in their development, discerning the appropriate time for discipline and the appropriate time to offer a helping hand.

Lord Jesus, thank you for your Word, which instructs your people in godly living. Thank you for modeling perfect fatherhood for me: you give clear expectations for how we are to live, but you help us through discipline and encouragement and empowerment to live godly lives. Lord, help me in my short time as my kids' father to discipline and encourage them in the way they should go. Lord, please give me grace and help my children to know that I love them. In Jesus' Name, amen.