A Word to Fathers (and Mothers Too)
Fathers, don’t discourage your kids, or as Paul puts it, “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged” (Col. 3:21). What this verse assumes is that fathers, who are the leaders in the home, are providing discipline for their children. And it is essential that you discipline your children. (Unfortunately, this needs to be emphasized in our modern culture.) When my boys were little I asked a mentor, “How old do your kids have to be for you to discipline them?”
He said, “When they are old enough to tell you what they think, they are old enough for you to let them know what you think! So when they scream and throw the sippy cup, they’re telling you what they think, and it’s time to begin discipline. Don’t wait until they are 12 because they will be screaming and throwing something else.”
So I encourage young parents to be firm in their discipline when children are young. But Paul’s teaching here is that parents (and fathers are singled out) should not constantly do thing that cause their children to lose heart. The things that embitter or discourage take a lot of forms—disciplining them too severely, putting too much pressure on them, never letting them make mistakes, embarrassing them in front of others, making them participate in an activity they are tired of or a sport they hate, and the list goes on. Yes, you must provide guidance and discipline, but you must NOT do things that will cause them to become bitter and discouraged. You must not be too hard on them. Isn’t it interesting that this is the Christian ethic? We should discipline our children but not discourage them.
I know that being a parent is not easy. I have three boys, and each of them is unique. My wife and I have always had mentors—parents who have successfully navigated 25 years or more of being parents, and I encourage you to find mentors too. There are a thousand questions every parent has to deal with, and as many variations to the answer as you have children in your home since each child is different. But don’t lose the larger message of Colossians 3:21. We should care for our children—disciplining and encouraging them—to please the Lord. The results are in his hands.