General Douglas MacArthur said: “Rules are mostly made to be broken and are too often for the lazy to hide behind.”
I would be lying if I told you I’ve never fallen prey to the age-old parental temptation to resort to the all-too-easy proclamation “Because I said so!” It’s just so easy. It’s the mindless get-out-of-my-hair-so-I-don’t-have-to-think kind of answer.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying it should never be used. It is the CEO weapon in the parenting arsenal. But I do believe that, if we resort to it too often, it loses its effectiveness and causes our children to both lose respect for us and resent us.
Parenting Principle 3:
Major on principle, minor on rules
Various Christian denominations teach rules but do not take the time for teaching the spirit behind the rules or the reasons for which they were originally created.
When I was a teenager,
I would go to church youth conferences where all the girls and boys honored a set of outward, religious dress or behavioral standards but had no idea why they held them. Because they didn’t understand the principles behind the rules, they were merely going through the motions.
For many, their hearts weren’t in it, even though they looked the part on the outside. I remember a large group of my peers who would skip church during the conference to host under-age drinking parties in the hotel rooms. There were other things but we’ll stop there.
This was, of course, against the rules of the movement, yet my friends blew through them like paper. When they saw holes in the proverbial fence, they had no moral principles in their hearts to keep them from straying from the fold and falling into the mouths of sheep-eating wolves.
Many of them are spiritual casualties to this day. Rules with no teaching, no revelation, no inspiration, simply do not work.
As I’ve said before, balance is key. Some parents lay out rules for everything in an attempt to protect their kids from any harm or mistakes and create confused children with rebellion in their hearts. Others err on the side of liberality bordering on relativism where there are no lines, no absolutes.
This creates another kind of confusion where children have to just make their own way, muddling through life learning every lesson the hard way. It’s a life of pretty intense pain and self-destruction. I’ve even seen feelings of abandonment attached to it. There’s a happy medium.
I encourage parents to teach principles and then let your kids feel the responsibility of right actions. Give them enough guidelines to create a solid structure in which to navigate, then let them work their way through it with the truths you’ve imparted to their hearts and minds. And I believe there are no greater truths than those from the Bible.
During my seminary days, it was popular for guys in the dorm to sneak out after curfew because they knew that our dorm supervisor loved a good chase. He was a stickler for the rules and kept his flashlight handy, ready to grab it at a moment’s notice and hunt down the strays in the dark. It was a game for the students, although much more serious for the dorm master.
In our senior year, however, we arrived to face a new master. The very first night, he called us into the dorm hallway and said: “Sit down, men. My name is Cooper. I am your new dorm supervisor. I do not chase students.
“When the curfew clock strikes midnight, you be in your room for roll call. Once I establish your presence, what you do after that is between you and God. You’re supposed to be here to pursue a call to ministry and embrace a destiny that could change your world.
“If you want to throw all of that away, that’s on you, not me. I will not be chasing you. Goodnight.”
No one broke curfew that year.
Cooper invited us into maturity. Principles do that. Rules do not. Teach your children the “why” behind the “what”. If you can’t figure out why, maybe you should reevaluate the rule.
And reserve the big-dog line for those moments when you don’t have time to explain but you know in your “knower” that it’s not the right move for your child. You can explain later, but please make sure you do.
Kevin Herrin is the pastor at The Fellowship of Texas City. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.