“Parenting is about affection and authority.” I keep coming back to this phrase as I seek to help younger parents.
This insight is not original to me. Nor is it even originally intended for human parents. Charles Spurgeon had this to say about our heavenly Father in his devotional, Morning and Evening:
Here is authority: “If I be a Father, where is mine honor?” If ye be sons, where is your obedience? Here is affection mingled with authority: an authority which does not provoke rebellion; an obedience demanded which is most cheerfully rendered—which would not be withheld even if it might.
If our heavenly Father mingles affection and authority, how much more should earthly parents seek to imitate him?
God has given parents real authority to exercise for our children’s good. He commands our children to honor us and to obey our words. This is for their benefit, not ours.
As Ephesians 6:3 states, we do this training so that it may go well with them. When we teach our children to place themselves under our authority, we are training the same spiritual muscle that will later more easily place itself under our heavenly Father.
While obedience cannot regenerate the heart, it can shape it. As J. C. Ryle observed, “You must not wonder that men refuse to obey their Father which is in heaven, if you allow them, when children, to disobey, their father who is upon earth.”
If we don’t train them to obey, we train them to disobey.
God calls us to exercise our authority lovingly. We should feel comfortable giving commands, direction, and wisdom to our children. But we should also feel comfortable training their character by bringing consequences after the inevitable disobedience. If we don’t train them to obey, we train them to disobey.
In addition to exercising authority. we must also be comfortable expressing affection. God doesn’t merely show us a detached, objective love. We are told the Father’s love is affectionate and tender (Zeph. 3:17). It is warm and intimate. Isn’t this affection what also made Jesus so attractive to sinners?
We exemplify our heavenly Father when we foster a warmhearted, emotionally connected relationship with our children. When we smile, hug, and talk with them, we are showing them the Father’s love. When we listen to and laugh with them, we reflect his affectionate care.
Boundaries and Warmth
The sociologist Christian Smith, who has written about religious parents passing along their values, records these exact components in different words:
Though the influence of parenting style is known to vary somewhat by race and ethnicity, it is broadly true that the religious parents who most successfully raise religious children tend to exhibit an “authoritative” parenting style. Such parents combine two crucial traits. First, they consistently hold their children to clear and demanding expectations, standards, and boundaries in all areas of life. Second, they relate to their children with an abundance of warmth, support, and expressive care. It is not hard to see why this parenting style works best for raising religious children. The combination of clear expectations and affective warmth is powerful in children’s developmental formation.
Affection and authority are key characteristics of gospel parenting. Really, these are key components of any gospel leadership. For most parents, however, one will come naturally while the other will feel more difficult. It will take effort to grow in both expressions of care for your children.
I have said to young parents on many occasions, ‘When it comes to affection and authority, this generation is nailing the affection part of parenting but is missing the authority part.’
We must fight against the pressure of our current culture. Authority is now suspect, and parents are fearful of messing up their children with correction. But as we have seen, it is loving to have a home with expectations, boundaries, and consequences.
I have said to young parents on many occasions, “When it comes to affection and authority, this generation is nailing the affection part of parenting but is missing the authority part.”
Parents, you have been given the privilege of influencing an eternal soul. Imitate your heavenly Father as you care for your children. “Affection mingled with authority” should be our two great bedrocks as we build both our household and the household of God.