This is our final post in our series on unbalanced fatherhood. In the last two posts, we discussed the absence of the father in his children’s lives. In this post, we will talk about the other extreme: the father who exhibits unhealthy control.
We have all heard about unhealthy parental control or have even experienced this with our own parents. The common example that comes across from youth is that parents, fathers included, would like to see their children grow up to be either doctors or lawyers, ignoring their talents, skills, and desires.
But this desire for control goes deeper than this desire for success. Culturally, the father is more like a dominant figure rather than a leader and a picture of Christ. It goes even beyond this, as youth and children say their fathers would like to control every step and move they make. On the contrary, our role as parents, and especially fathers, is to help our children move from being dependent on us during childhood to being dependent on God as they grow older. As parents, we sometimes fail to recognize that a child will grow and will gradually become independent and that he or she will make his or her own choices in friends, work, school, sports, retreats, services at the church, and meetings to attend. They might even come to the point of making the choice to believe in God or not. An underlying reason for this unhealthy control is that we desire that our kids turn out exactly like us or achieve what we couldn’t achieve. We idolize ourselves, so we do everything possible to get them where we, versus they, want them to be. The goal of the father is not to retain tight-fisted control over his children in an attempt to guarantee their safety. The goal is to help our children to make their own choices in total submission to God and His Word. This means that we will regularly need to leave room for our children to grow and mature. As fathers, we have to look deep into our hearts to see if they are ruled by comfort, respect, pride, and control or love and humility.
If we look into the life of the Lord, we see His submission to His Father; however, this submission is not the result of oppression and control but rather a natural result of love and humility. This is how we ought to bring our children to love and humility. When fathers have unhealthy control, the message is pride and dominance. If our way of guiding and raising them up is through yelling, dominance, and unhealthy control, they will grow up to do the same with their own children. St. John Chrysostom said, “For generally the children acquire the character of their parents, are formed in the mold of their parents’ temperament, love the same things their parents love, talk in the same fashion, and work for the same ends” (On Marriage and Family Life). The Scriptures say, “Fathers, do not provoke your children lest they become discouraged” (Col. 3:21). Provoking could occur through the extreme control that some fathers exercise over their children. St. Paul gives us the inevitable result: They will become discouraged and broken hearted. This will lead them to be weak, indecisive, and easily persuaded by society, friends, and the world.
Fear is yet another reason why some fathers desire control. They fear their children failing academically, socially, or spiritually. They fear their children will be deceived by the world and the evil in it and that their children might be tempted by drugs, drop out of school, or hang out with the wrong crowd. Truly, we ought to be very concerned about these things, but having a strong, short leash on our children isn’t the solution. The Scriptures tell us, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). Raising a child is a training process that could mean success at some times and failures at others. In the longer term, training brings forth good results, but that’s positive training, not unhealthy control driven by pride and a desire to rule.
Fathers, I know we have wonderful intentions for our kids, and our role is crucial. We need to be active participants in the lives of our children but without the unhealthy control. Let’s pray for one another so that the Lord will help all of us in the most important task of our lives.