Adults have limits
The following excerpts from a father’s letter to his son at graduation time, though written as humor, convey a vital message:
I’m sure you are thrilled by the idea of taking your place at last in adult affairs–a station of life you probably look upon as a time when “big people” will stop telling you to do things … or not to do things …. Your dad has found out that the chains of adult life are wrought of stiffer stuff than the feeble fetters of childhood. Believe me, no one ever suffered a furrowed brow from such simple commands as “Eat your cereal” …. “Do your homework” …. “Report for band practice.” What once may have seemed a terribly harsh order, “Put away your comic book,” will pale into insignificance when compared with “Cut out all pastries and sweets.”
The bigger you get, the bigger other people seem to get–if not bigger in stature, then bigger in authority.
For example, did you see the look on dad’s face when the Internal Revenue man ordered him to report to the collector’s office with his last year’s tax receipts? … When a traffic officer says, “Pull over to the curb,” dad pulls. When grandmother says, “Roll up the window,” dad rolls up …. I just want to prepare you for a lifetime of saying, “Yes, sir,” to master sergeants, shop foremen, loan company executives, bank tellers, tradesmen, public officials, car dealers, game wardens, and a host of other people you never dreamed were your superiors. Even the most politely phrased commands, like “Please remit” or “Kindly step back in the bus” are still commands. Ushers will order you down an aisle; headwaiters will tell you where to sit; courts will summon you for jury duty; the city hall will notify you to shovel the snow off your sidewalk.
You will be dragged off to parties at other people’s houses, and dragged out of bed by people who come to your house. You will be kept off the grass by policemen and kept up by week end guests. You will be put on committees and put off busses. This is the true life beyond commencement. Congratulations and good luck.
P. S. Get a haircut for graduation.
This letter illustrates some of the reasons why small children need to begin learning about limits and living by them.
The following quotation gives some additional reasons which point out basic needs that limits can help meet:
[God’s] love (Hebrews 12:6) meets a real need; His love is strong enough and wise enough to set limits. These God-given limits mean wonderful, comforting freedom from worry and uncertainty ….
The most important aspect of being an adequate father is the acceptance and handling of authority … accepting someone’s authority over and responsibility for you, accepting the place of authority over and responsibility over others.
Without the setting of limits, by virtue of authority, there is no security. Knowing exactly where “the old man” draws the line, just what are the limits, and that they are well enforced means a happy, efficient organization. A taut ship is a happy ship.
The setting of limits is inherent in the need for authority and security. Just as our God sets limits for us, enforcing them by chastisement, so should we with our children. The setting of intelligent, thoughtful, reasonable limits is a God-delegated duty–limits that are in line with the needs of the child and appropriate to his age, understanding and moral values.
We need to avoid meeting our own needs or whims in disciplining the child while striving to meet his–in keeping with moral principles and a Christian testimony …. As the child grows in knowledge and understanding of God’s Word, authority is transferred from you, the natural father, to God, the heavenly Father. … Have you surrendered, or only complied with, God’s authority?¹
¹Norwell J. Peterson, “The Father–God’s Surrogate,” Christian Medical Journal, January-February, 1957, pages 9, 10.