Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Ephesians 6.4 (NIV)
“No, you cannot have an iPhone!”
“There’s no way you’re having a sleepover!”
“No! You’re not going outside wearing that!”
There’s nothing wrong with saying “no” to things. Sometimes, there is no way she’s going outside wearing that, and no, he doesn’t need an iPhone. On the other hand, permissive parenting always says “yes” even when it’s not appropriate. Instead, your kids need to see you as a father with the power to withhold permission in their lives. At times, “withholding” has the power to exasperate.
I was looking through our family photo albums one day and noticed something striking in our kids’ baby pictures. In pictures where their mom was holding them, she always held them “in” – in other words, their body would be turned toward her. Always. However, photos where I held them, I always had their bodies turned “out” so that they would be facing the world at large. Always.
I’m not a psychologist, but it seems that there’s a reason for the difference in the way men and women hold their children. A mother keeps the child close, sheltering and protecting. A father keeps the child close as well, but he gives permission to step, run, fall or stumble headlong into the great big world. I believe you dads are the primary permission givers. You’re the one who has the power to say, “Yes, I believe you can!” or “Well, I don’t know, but why don’t you give it a try?” This isn’t to say that mothers can’t give permission as effectively. But when it comes from a father, it’s different. It just is.
Here are two examples, one with my son and one with my daughter. I gave my son permission to wear shorts this spring. Now, we live in Colorado, where April is sometimes very similar to December. If the decision had been up to his mother, she would not have let him wear the shorts, choosing to parent out of a desire to shelter and protect. As his mother, to not feel that desire would deny who God made her to be. But I decided to let him wear the shorts, thinking, Well, son of mine, it’s only going to be maybe fifty degrees in that big old world out there, but why don’t you give it a try? If you freeze your brains out, then you’ll probably learn a valuable lesson, so go for it.
My son is in the early throes of puberty, and he needs his father to give him permission at appropriate times to step, run, fall, stumble headlong or freeze his brains off in this great big world. It’s a very powerful piece of the puzzle he’s putting together in these years of growing into manhood. I was giving him permission to do something that was powerfully connected to the man he hopes to one day be.
I am also called to do that for my daughters as they grow into womanhood. A couple of months ago, I gave my daughter permission to cry. She experienced a loss, and being the middle child she was, well, she was caught in the middle. She didn’t want to do the first-born-be-mature-tough-it-out thing and she didn’t want to lose-it-completely-like-my-baby-sister-does either. What’s a middle girl to do? I sat beside her and held her and said, “It’s o.k. to just cry about it.” And with my permission, she did. I chose to hold her “out” to face the world while still holding her close, and drew from my fatherly repository of country music lyrics: [How can I help you to say goodbye? It’s o.k. to hurt, it’s o.k. to cry. Come let me hold you and I will try.] Daughter of mine, it’s hard being in the middle and it probably always will be, but I understand that, probably more than you know, and sometimes when things or people on either side squeeze you, the you in the middle, then it’s best to just let the tears fall, so go for it. It’s o.k.
I was giving her permission to do something that was powerfully connected to the woman she hopes to one day be, although sometimes it’s hard to hope that from the middle. My “yes” was permission to not be conformed (Romans 12:2) to what this world holds for women (where vulnerability means weakness) and instead to see how a vulnerable heart is an essential part of becoming an Eve, a life-giver, one who shelters and protects as God intended. Her mother could have done that just as effectively as I did, but coming from her father, it was different. It just was. I cried with her, and then she asked if it was too cold to wear shorts in February in Colorado.
I said go for it.
Men, you can give permission without being permissive. There’s a powerful difference between the two. There just is.