It’s my conviction that the way the parents go in the family is the way the family goes. I came across a few lines that say that for me and I want to read them to you.
It was a sheep and not a lamb that went astray
In the parable that Jesus told,
It was a grown up sheep that wandered away
From the ninety and nine in the fold.
Out on the hilltops, and out in the cold,
It was a sheep that the Good Shepherd sought.
Back to the flock, and back to the fold,
It was a sheep that the good shepherd brought.
Now why should the sheep be so carefully sought
And cared for still today?
Because there is danger and if they go wrong
They will lead the lambs astray.
For the lambs will follow the sheep, you know,
Wherever they wander and wherever they go.
And if the sheep go wrong it won’t be long
Until the lambs are as wrong as they.
So still with the sheep we must earnestly plead
For the sake of the lambs, even today.
If the lambs are lost what a terrible cost
Some sheep will have to pay.
That good? I think it’s good for all of us recognize the opportunity and the possibility and the responsibility that we have. And to me one of the most pleasant tasks I ever had was the task of being a father. I still enjoy that, and we’ve had a lot of fun raising our family.
I want to remind you that raising children is a twenty year process. Twenty years. So those of you with preschool children you have a ways to go, haven’t you? So relax, take it easy, there isn’t any one day that makes a whole lot of difference, not in the perspective of twenty years.
There are some people who think that. I’ve heard folks say, “I’m this way because I got buttoned up wrong when I was three.”
I think that’s one of the dumbest ideas I ever heard. In my own counseling experience with people I’m not particularly interested in your past. When I realize that you and I have access to the power of God, we have access to His spirit and He will answer anybody’s prayer who turns to Him for help.
I don’t know any place in the Bible where it says that your opportunity to reach an empty hand out to God is hindered because you had a mother. I don’t see anywhere that it says that your opportunity is hindered because of your background or your circumstances. I understand the Bible to say that whoever wants to can call on God for help. That’s good news isn’t it?
There are some things that we need to do as parents and one of them is setting limits. Now picture this real nice lady and this real nice man sitting down together and they’re friends. Now mind you, that’s a condition that I’m presupposing. I’m assuming good will and friendship and admiration and affection one toward another. Now that’s not optional, you can’t take that out of the picture. If that doesn’t exist, then any man that I’m talking to, any woman that I’m talking to, and you’re married, and there is this spirit of carnality that is envying and strife and divisions between you and your partner, that renders you pretty useless as a parent.
One of the most difficult positions that you can put a child into is in the middle between a man and a woman who disagree over what to do with those children. Setting limits involves this nice lady and this nice man and they’re friends, sitting down. Now mind you, these people, I’m presupposing, that you’ve paid enough attention to your children so that you understand them, and the two of you sitting down to decide what’s best for your children. Doesn’t that sound great? That two people in the world who care the most about those children deciding what’s best for them? Anybody that loves the Lord. I want to make that qualification. I didn’t say anybody that was educated or wealthy. Anybody that loves the Lord and has access to the Spirit of the Lord and there is the desire to come to a meeting of minds. I can’t think of anything that’s any more fun than two people like that deciding what’s best for your children.
Now part of what you do is to set limits: These are the boundaries, this is what you do, this is what you don’t do. There’s a lot of freedom within the boundaries, just like a football stadium. A football field is a hundred yards long and I don’t know how wide, it’s pretty wide, but there are very definite, specific boundaries on a football field or a basketball court or a tennis court. But within those boundaries there’s an infinite variety of opportunity to express your individuality. There are boundaries, and that’s the way it needs to be in a home. There are boundaries, and when you set them you can expect your children to test them.
Let me tell you a story about a boy I was talking to and what happens when a man and his wife disagree. Now this boy, they brought him around because he was smoking and the parents were concerned about that and so they had made a deal with him a while back. They said, “If you promise to quit smoking we’ll buy you a bicycle.”
He said, “It’s a deal.”
So they bought him a bicycle and it wasn’t long and they realized that he was smoking again.
They said, “If you will quit smoking, we’ll send you to your favorite summer camp.”
He said, “It’s a deal.”
When he came home from his summer camp they discovered that he was smoking again and they brought him to me because they were concerned that they had a son who wouldn’t keep his word. You couldn’t trust him.
Well I got to talking to him and this is what I found out. His father had an idea that you shouldn’t have ice cream during the day and you know what his mother would do? Every once in a while she would pick the kids up from school and they would stop in to get an ice cream sundae and the deal was, “Don’t tell Dad.” Wasn’t she a nice lady?
Now there was another thing that he told me. These people went to a church and one of the standards that you accept if you join that church is that you don’t drink alcoholic beverages. But Dad was the kind of a fellow that liked a good, cold beer when he came home from work. So that’s what he did. He had a good, cold beer, and the requirement was that mums the word. Nobody talks about Dad’s beer.
Now where did this young fellow get the idea that he could make an agreement and then break it? Where did he learn that? Isn’t it obvious? He learned it from his mother. He learned it from his father. These were people who pretended that they were accepting some limits and then they went ahead and broke them. Mother made a little deal with the kids, now why shouldn’t the boy make a little deal with Dad and not intend to keep it. Where did he get that idea? The example of his mother. When you set a limit, that limit ought to be binding on everybody in the family including Dad and Mom and the children, if it’s fair and reasonable.
You can expect your children to resist those limits and to test them. One time I was speaking at a conference ground and my daughter came up to me just before the meeting and said, “Hey Dad, could I have the keys to the car after the meeting? I want to take a car load of kids up to Santa Cruz.”
I didn’t pay much attention so I said, “Okay.” And I went to a platform and made my speech about how important it is for a man and his wife to be agreed on the limits and both committed to them.
After I got through with my speech and this place where I was at they had a big foyer in the back and there were a lot of people milling around the back and I walked back there and my daughter came up with her car load of kids behind her and said, “Dad I want the keys now.”
My wife was standing there and she said, “I told you you couldn’t go.”
There were some people that heard that. We started assembling another little congregation there to see how is he going to handle that. After all it is true, isn’t it, that you can’t think of everything, especially when you’re traveling. We had a little rule at our house that said the first parent you ask, that’s it. All I needed to do was to find out who she had asked first and it turned out that she had asked her mother first. That’s what you call testing the limits. You can expect your children to pick times like that to do this. In a moment like that I had to make a decision quick, will we raise children or save face? We are committed to raising children and so I said to my daughter, “Well you know the answer if you asked your mother first.”
Then her response was, “But Dad, you are embarrassing me in front of all these people.”
Now I’ll tell you, that’s a child putting pressure on you isn’t it? She new perfectly well what she was doing, and she knew what the limit was. And for us to make sure that that limit holds, that’s security, that’s dependability.
And it’s very crucial and very important that your children realize that my mother and father have set limits, they’ve made them plain, and I can depend upon my father and my mother to carry them out. Very important point because all through life there are limits and there are people making requirements of us.
In the restaurant business they tell us how high off the ground our sign has to be. They even tell us what kind of a sign we can have. I remember an inspector walked into one of our restaurants, and there was an inspector there with a barrel beside him and a pile of our plates and he was going through those plates and every once in a while he would break one over his knee and throw it in that big can.
I said, “What are you doing? These are our plates.”
He said, “I don’t like the shine on these plates,” and he just kept on breaking our plates.
And you know what I did? I said to him, “That’s okay.” He had a right to do that.
We had a call one time. He claimed he was from an organization called the I.R.S and he wanted to come and look at our books. Now who is he to come and look at our books? You know what I said to our bookkeeper? “Get the books ready.”
I have more people telling me what to do at this stage of my life that I have ever had telling me in my life. So we might as well get our children ready to obey some limits. I think one of the frightening things in our country is this tremendous wave of undependability and dishonesty that you see on every hand. Setting limits is one of the requirements and one of the opportunities of being a parent.
When you set limits, many times your children are going to need some help. For instance, there was a television room and there were four children in this television room. And the understanding was no horseplay in the television room. And one of the smaller children was in an ugly mood that morning and she was going around pestering the other three children. Now the limit was no fooling around in the television room. Now how is a mother going to handle that? Here’s a little girl, she woke up in an ugly mood and she was trying to figure out how to make herself obnoxious. What’s the simplest little way to handle that girl? She needed some help. Now her mother was a pretty creative person. I suppose some of you would say you go on in there and swat her. No, then you create a louder mess than you had before, that’s no solution. She’s already in an ugly mood and to create a yelling, screaming, hollering child. That lady went into the television room. First of all she prepared just as an attractive of breakfast as she knew that little child wanted and she just simply bodily removed her, plunked her in front of the table, and fed her something. All that little girl needed was help in behaving herself. You follow me there? Simple solution.
You say, “What are you going to do? Do that all of her life?” Look, you’ve got twenty years to raise these children; you don’t need to make a crisis on any one day. Be as easy on yourself as you can. You have enforced the limit, she’s not going to be allowed to bother those kids in the television room, she just simply was removed until she could take care of that nasty mood of hers. Help, physical help.
I was in a home one time, we were in the living room and there was a little boy in the kitchen saying, “Oh you nasty, filthy, dirty old thing. I hate you. I can’t do anything with you.”
We went in the kitchen to peek, and what the little boy was trying to do was to move a chair and the chair got squeezed in an opening. All the little boy needed was a little help and all the mother needed to do was to turn the chair a little bit and move it. I’ve been in homes where a mother, because they had company would say, “Would you stop hollering? Don’t you realize we’ve got company out there in the living room?” The mother would create a great big mess. All this lady needed to do was to go quietly in the kitchen and say, “You need some help, don’t you? Just turn it a little bit and you can move it.” Isn’t that simple?
What a mess we create many many times because we just don’t understand that all the child needed was just a little help. Maybe your child simply needs a demonstration or some kind of an explanation.
A man was telling me about their little girl and the mother was complaining that that little girl simply wouldn’t brush her teeth. One day Dad was home and he was standing there in the bathroom and he realized that nobody had ever shown that little child how to brush her teeth. You can just unthinkingly say, “Here’s a toothbrush, use it.” Now if you set that kind of a limit every morning you brush your teeth, and if you’re thoughtful and do a little observing, that fellow resolved that issue very simply. He realized that kid needed a little instruction.
I think of this girl who went roller skating. She wanted to go roller skating so much, and this was one of the pressures that the mother was putting on a child to socialize with her group, and she realized when she got there that her little girl didn’t know how to roller skate. Some folks would say, ”Get out there and try.” All that lady did was get out there and give her a few little tips, a helper and so we need to think of ourselves as adults, as helping people. We need to set limits and then we need to help the children carry out the limits.
Now another thing we need is supervision. I think of this lady who put a piece of paper on the wall. This was a wallpaper wall and said to the child, “Here are some crayons and you can color on this paper.” She got busy and when she came back that child had colored the whole wall. That woman was so mad.
“Didn’t I tell you to limit your coloring to that little paper?” That’s asking too much of a small child. When you put a piece of paper on the wall and say to the small child, “You stay within those limits,” you had better stay there and supervise that child. Personal supervision.
You might say to your children, “It’s okay to go out tonight, but I want you back at ten o’clock.” What your children need is some supervision. One of the most important things I believe we ever did when we were raising our children was to see to it that one of us parents was always there when our children came home. They didn’t like it, but when your children realize that somebody is going to be there when you get there, that’s quite a deterrent and an encouragement.
And they would often say, “Why are you always waiting for me?”
Well the answer is very simple, “We love you, we’re interested in you, we want to know what you’ve been doing and we want to make sure that you get home when you said you were going to.”
So it takes some supervision in order to keep track of your children. The older your children get they need your personal supervision. I’ve seen children get into all kinds of trouble because their parents allowed their teenagers to have a party at their house and the parents took off and left them there unsupervised. Your personal supervision is necessary if you want to really help your children to grow up.
Now another thing that you can do for your children is to use pressure.
“It’s time to go to church.”
“I won’t go.”
That’s time to use a little pressure.
Some folks would say, “If you won’t go I’ll hit you.” That’s not good.
What kind of pressure gets them to church? You lock your arm in his or hers and march them to church, that’s pressure.
Some of you say, “Well when I do that the kids sneak out the other door.”
If they sneak out then you sit them beside you and when they say, “What’s the matter? Don’t you trust me?”
The answer is “No. You’ve got to prove to me that you are worthy of being left out of my sight.”
You need to help your children, and you need to supervise your children, and you need to use pressure. Now mind you I’m talking about limits. I’m talking about expectations that in your judgment and in your wife’s judgment is a good thing for your children.
I was in a restaurant one time and there was a little boy standing in the door, and there was a cold breeze coming in the restaurant. The mother said, “Don’t you think you ought to close that door?”
The little boy said, “No.”
“Aw, come on, close the door.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Look at those people, they’re cold.”
“I don’t care.”
A man got up out of his chair and he walked over to that kid and he took him by the hand and he marched him over to his mother and sat him down and said, “Stay there.” That little boy looked up at that man and that man looked down at that boy and the little boy looked at his mother and his mother looked at that man as though he was a miracle man and he said to the lady, “All you need to do lady is sit him down.”
The little boy needed some help. He simply needed some adult help. The man didn’t even say anything. Even a kid is smart enough to realize that that’s a sensible decision that the man made. Parenthood isn’t very difficult. All it involves is some deep convictions, and your own example and a loving spirit, that’s all. It takes a nice man and a nice lady who like each other and who agree on what the limits are. And then you set those limits, you help them, you supervise them, and use whatever pressure you need in order for them to do what in your considered judgment is in their best interests. That’s what’s involved in raising children.