Enough time has passed that the truth can now be told – with permission: I have a son who was gifted with words from his earliest years, but when adolescence arrived, a hurtful side of that gift manifested itself.
It wasn’t that he became openly rude or defiant. It was more that he showed an ability to sting with veiled scorn at the mention of something he didn’t agree with. This registered first as disrespect for his mother as a woman and a mother.
In response, my wife reminded me behind the scenes that she would not take disrespect from any of her children. This was not a negotiable issue. Her words were firm and heavy with emotion. I knew she expected me to go into action.
Soon after that exchange the veiled scorn appeared during an evening meal. It was directed toward something my wife had said. I interrupted the meal to march him to his bedroom where I delivered myself of a lecture that, though many years have passed, still strikes me as right.
First I let him know that the kind of disrespect he was showing would not be tolerated in our home. I delivered my message with conviction. This was a high intensity engagement.
Then came the key moment of our exchange. I explained that I might not be able to curb the disrespect he showed his mother within his one-on-one relationship to her. But I let him know that she was my wife and I would not tolerate any disrespect I witnessed or became aware of after the fact towards the woman I had pledged at the marriage altar “to love and to cherish.”
That appeared a new thought to him and the message sank in. There was genuine remorse. We ended the meeting kneeling side by side at his bed and engaging in a heartfelt prayer for God’s forgiveness and help. After all, it is God who decrees that children are to “Honor father and mother” — even though it is a father’s responsibility to enforce that commandment when it is violated.
I recall a similar situation a father of my acquaintance had with an obstreperous daughter. She was only four years of age but she was already using newly-acquired vocabulary and a sharp tongue to make life miserable at times for her mother. The father shared with me that he came home one day to a distraught wife who had received this unpleasant treatment off-and-on during the day
Upon learning this, he told me, he went into a drill of his own. Taking the little girl aside he confronted her with intensity, making sure she realized her conduct had ruined her mother’s day. She listened in tears. By the time the meeting was over that girl knew that her developing misconduct was out of bounds in that home. The father now tells me that that and other talks over her developing years were powerful in recruiting her own will to the task of respectful behavior.
I am aware of objections to my insistence that fathers have a special duty to enforce in children respect for their mothers. It may be that in some homes no father is present. Or that a father may be feared too harsh in dealing with such matters. Or that a step-father’s intervention might not be accepted, possibly making things worse.
I realize also that some may contend that a mother should have the skills to command the respect of growing children by herself without calling for a husband’s help.
But a father can do wonders by standing up relentlessly to protect the well-being of his wife when a child seems committed to destructive disrespect. In the process, he is likely also to win respect for himself and peace for the family.
Both of the above scenarios happened many years ago. Whatever became of those children? The son skilled with words is now the father of married children himself, and channels his gift with words into his lifetime work as a publisher and editor. I can witness that he could not be more solicitous of his mother’s well being. And he himself has raised a mutually respectful family.
Of the girl, now a working adult, her father tells me that her relationship with both parents is warm and collegial. I can bear witness from occasional personal contacts with that family that the cohesion and respect among all members of the family is a delight to behold.
I may be old-fashioned in my views about the father’s role in such situations. As I see it, he is to be the authority figure and thus if growing children show insolence or impudence toward their mother, he should carry primary responsibility to curb that misconduct.
My observations across a lifetime of ministry is that families benefit dramatically when a father takes responsibility to foster such respect – respect that goes both ways, child-to-parent and parent-to-child. Such families experience playfulness and mutual enjoyment in the good times, and “store up” sufficient goodwill to achieve recovery in times when someone falls momentarily “below the line.”
Blessed is the mother who has such a champion during the tough times when children are growing up. And blessed are the children who have built into their characters such standards of respect — for the pressing needs they will face in their own adulthood.
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