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For Your Marriage

Josh and Stacey Noem have been married for almost 20 years and have three children in middle school and high school. They blog about parenting and their adventures as a family.

Breakfast on Golgotha

I was making breakfast for the kids, getting them ready for their day full of climbing camps and swim lessons, when Simon looked at me and said, “Daddy, sometimes I don’t like you.”

My initial reaction was, “Wow—haven’t heard that one yet,” and I was curious to see how it played out. I wanted him to see the consequences of his actions, so I did a little acting and played sad. I was proud of Oscar, who tried to help Simon understand that what he said was not nice.

Then he said it again.

This time, I told Simon that what he said hurt my feelings. In truth, I wasn’t hurt personally by what he said, but I was not pleased that he was not being respectful to me. My reaction was to demand an apology—threatening a time-out—because he is “not to speak to me like that.”

Simon does not react well in these types of situations. His personality is like a Chinese finger trap—the little bamboo tubes that you put two fingers in. The harder you pull, the tighter the tubes close on your fingers. The more I pressure Simon when he’s in a foul mood, the fouler he becomes.

So, the situation fell apart from there. Fortunately, Stacey stepped in right quick and coaxed Simon off the ledge. I’m continuing to work on the ability to show him love while still holding a line, but she is very good with it.

When we debriefed about it later, Stacey helped me see that the only response to a statement like Simon’s is to accept it and respond with a statement of love. Instead of saying, “You can’t talk to me like that,” I should have said, “That hurts me to hear you say that, Simon. I love you very much.”

Simon, and all of our children, have to know that there is nothing that they can do or say that will threaten our love for them. He has to know that even when—perhaps especially when—he is pushing against us, we will reach out to embrace him.

I am grateful to Stacey for this insight. When it comes to parenting, respect for authority ranks high on my priorities, but it should not come above the imperative to love. I was reminded that this is the kind of love that God has for us, the kind of love that is embodied in the person of Jesus and in his death on the cross. And it is precisely in family life, the domestic church, where children first learn about this kind of love.

More to the point for me, it is precisely in marriage and family life where spouses and parents learn to give this kind of love.

Stacey can usually respond to the children instinctively with this kind of love when she parents, and her example evinces my respect. My guess is that if respect is still important to me as a parent, it will come in a much deeper and more genuine form if I can offer our children love first.