Parenting 105: Expressing Expectations

We have looked at the way that God wants us to bring up our children in the previous articles, which may be found here, here, here, and here. We talked about parenting objectives, and how it is important to be intentional about parenting. Haphazard parenting leaves to careless lives, especially where Christ is involved, and so God wants us to think about how He wants us to raise and train our children. What better way than to look at the example that God sets forth in Genesis 2-3.

When God created Adam and Eve, it was like they were His children. I do not believe, as some teach, that every human is a child of God; Ephesians 2 would say otherwise. But there are some principles that we find in the interactions between God and Adam and Eve that are good examples of what God wants us to do as parents. What are they? They are to:

1) Set forth your expectations and objectives clearly.

2) Inform the child of the consequences for not meeting those objectives.

3) Be consistent with your consequences

4) Model good behavior.

We will look at only the first one here in this article. It is important that a parent explains what he or she wants clearly to the child. In the passage, God does just this. Genesis 2:15-17 says: “the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it…” Notice that God tells them what He wants them to do. He expected that they would spend time in the garden. He gave them permission to eat from all the trees of Eden except for one. He even told them where it was: “in the midst of the garden.” God’s expectations were clear and precise, so that they should have had no trouble understanding them.

This is one of the major reasons for failed parenting: expectations are not known. Parents simply expect their children to know what they want. Fathers are annoyed that children don’t know how to keep clean rooms when the child may not know what a “clean room” is supposed to look like. Mothers are frustrated that children aren’t doing the dishes after supper, when they’ve never stated that that’s what she expects. I’ve heard parents say, “You know I don’t like that!” and the look on a child’s face says that maybe they don’t know. I am a firm believer that objectives for the child should be clearly explained and stated.

I am also a believer that the parent should give time for the child to obey. While it’s true that the parent has a right to walk into a room, bark a command, and expect obedience, the truth is that a little “lead time” is beneficial. What is that? It is when I say to Jacob, “Jake, when you are done reading that book, I’d like you to pick up the clothes on your floor, fold them up, and put them nicely in the drawer.” I want to give him time to process what I want and to do it in the time I’ve allowed. That will lead to a boy who is much happier to obey than one who has been snatched violently away from what he was doing.

If you think about it, we all like when people are clear with us. Watching a baseball game would not be fun if there were no rules, or if everyone played by whatever rules they wanted. Boundaries are good, not prohibitive. But they need to be clear. How can I make sure that the child understands what I want? One way is to have them repeat it back to you. “Jacob, after you’re done, I want you to pick up your clothes. What do I want you to do?” Jacob then says: “You want me to pick up my clothes.” If you have your child repeat it back to you, that will cut down on the ever popular: “I didn’t hear you!” or its cousin, “I didn’t know what you wanted me to do!”

When you have objectives, make sure they are reasonable. It was reasonable for God to prohibit Adam and Eve from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil because He gave them every other tree in the garden for food. Some parents don’t think about their desires for their children, and so just end up saying something arbitrary or ambiguous, like, “Just keep things clean!” or “Just don’t do bad things!” Some parents, in frustration, will tell their children, “Don’t speak for the rest of the night!” That is not fair or clear, especially when the children did not know what the parents wanted.

Remember when expressing objectives that there are sometimes limitations. You can’t have your toddler clean the whole living room, but he may be able to put certain toys in the toy box. With older children, you can expect that they will be able to do more, and that they will be able to understand that your expectations are for their good. I try to tell my children that my objectives are for their good as well as mine. Everyone likes living in a clean house. Everyone benefits when the kids are getting along. Everyone is happier when they’ve completed their tasks and are living within “house rules.”

Thinking about your expectations will also help you when you come to the next point, which is to implement consequences for not following through with your commands. We will talk about that in our next article.