The other day my oldest son said, “I can’t believe you let me drive across Guatemala City by myself when I was 17 years old.”
Looking back on it, he’s right. I can’t believe I allowed that either. What was I thinking!?
There were risks involved in many things we let our children do but they were calculated risks – based upon their history of responsibility or irresponsibility.
And I’m convinced it’s the freedom we gave them, once they earned it, that made all three of them the courageous Christians they are today.
We had boundaries for them but we tried to make them boundaries based on God’s Word – not fear, convenience or adult peer pressure.
Here are three tips for setting boundaries for our kids.
1. Set your default to “Yes”.
It’s so much easier and safer to say “No” to our kid’s requests. “No” means no risk, no mess, no fuss. But we cannot, nor should we try, to shelter our children from all risk and hurt. God does not deal with us that way. In fact risk is essential to faith and every believer I know has experienced pain and disappointment in serving God. It’s part of His growth process.
There will be times we say “Yes” and our children fall flat, disappoint us and may even get hurt. But you have done this before. You know how it works. You did this when they were learning to walk. You watched anxiously as they toddled around and fell flat. You tried to keep them from major injury – hitting their eye on the edge of the coffee table.
But you knew they had to stumble, fall and even get a few bruises as part of the process. And all the time you were there encouraging them, “You can do it! Come on. Try again.” That is exactly how we help them to walk through this life.
2. Choose your battles.
As your children get older it’s increasingly important to choose your battles. Not every hill is worth dying on. Their hair style or color (or colors) may be hideous. Their clothes may look like they came from Clown University. Their moodiness may only be exceeded by their pimple count. These are tough years for everybody. These are years parents need to remember, “God looks on the heart”. We too must learn to look past the outward awkwardness and look at their heart.
If the outward weirdness is not a reflection of inward rebellion then rejoice. Celebrate orange hair, black nail polish and a shaved head – on your daughter. (OK, gotta admit that would be tough to “celebrate” but it’s not sin so I’m not sure I’m willing to go to war over it.) Plus, the fact that it doesn’t get a rise from you makes it a whole lot less appealing to your teen.
Be like God. Look past the outward appearance and look at the heart. If they have a heart for God, all the other things will grow out, fall off or eventually stabilize. Choose which hills are worth dying on and those are hills related to eternity and things of the heart.
3. Always ask God for wisdom.
God knows your child. God loves your child more than you ever could. God has a plan for your child. So, even though your default is yes, there may be times you sense a “No” from the Lord. In that case you don’t have to give 50 reasons why. “I just don’t sense it’s something I can let you do. I don’t understand it. I would like to say ‘yes’ but I’m uneasy about it and I have to say ‘no’ because, just like you, I’m going to give account to God for my obedience.”
Sometimes you may even sense a “no” from God when it’s an OK activity. “Others may. You cannot,” is a phrase I followed from early in my walk with the Lord and shared with my kids. God knows our personal weaknesses and sometimes will tell us to stay away from activities that would be harmless for others but would feed a weakness in us. Sometimes others may – it’s a harmless activity for others – but you may not.
If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. James 1:5
Bottom line: Listen to the Lord. Pray and Obey.