5 Ways Parents Exasperate Their Children


There is a simple and deadly serious command to parents, specifically to dads, found in Paul’s letter to the Colossians that I’d like to focus briefly on in today’s post.  The verse is Colossians 3:21 and it reads, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart” (NASB).

So simple and yet so serious.

In this portion of Colossians 3, the Apostle Paul is helping Christians understand what it means to live under the Lordship of Christ in their earthly relationships, and at home in particular.  In Colossians 3:17, he tells us that we are to do “everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,” and beginning in 3:18 he expands upon what he means by the word “everything.”  Everything includes the things we do at home.  And so, in rapid-fire succession, Paul instructs the Colossian Christians to honor Christ in the way they live as wives, husbands, children, parents, slaves, and slave-masters, respectively.

It is in that rapid-fire instruction where fathers receive one simple command, which is, “Do not exasperate your children.”  Or as other translations prefer, “Do not provoke your children.”

The word translated exasperate or provoke here means essentially to stimulate someone toward either good or evil, depending on context.  Here the idea is stimulating children toward evil.  Provoking them to sin.  Frustrating them to such a degree that it makes them tired of the faith which we profess and saps them of the motivation to take our Lord seriously.

More specifically, this simple verse calls fathers (and by extension all parents) to avoid living in such a way that it makes our children resent Christ; to avoid provoking them to apathy and bitterness toward Christ.

How do we do that, dads (and moms!)?  What are some of the ways we can exasperate our children?  I will share five ways here that I’ve learned from my own sinful practices and experience.

We exasperate our kids by giving them law without the Gospel.

We exasperate our children by giving them incessant commands without any encouragement when they break those commands.  We do it by administering discipline without restoration.  We do it by making our expectations abundantly clear and then leaving them guessing about whether they are truly forgiven when those expectations are not met.  We provoke our children to resent Christ when we lay down consequences for disobedience and show little patience with the process of their personal and spiritual growth.  When we are all law and no grace, we stimulate them toward the rejection of Christ.

We exasperate our kids through constant critique.

Parents tend to be very skilled at pointing out the foolishness and immaturity of their children.  A skill that most of us probably would do well to develop, however, is the skill of knowing what expressions of foolishness actually need our critique and which ones simply need our patience and prayer.  We are nowhere called as parents to point out and/or criticize every foolish choice our children make.  Does the Lord do that with us?  Do we enjoy it when others do that to us?  Does it push us to Christ or make us discouraged?  Consider these things when you’re tempted to try to take up residence between your child’s two ears and issue the role of their God-given conscience. Choose your battles wisely, parents.  Point out the big things to your kids and get better at pointing out more of the little things merely to the Lord in prayer.  No one thrives under the critical thumb of another; not you and not your children.

We exasperate our kids by seeking to have too much control over their lives.

I’ve met many children (some of whom are now adults) who had over-controlling parents.  Some might call them over-protective.  Parents who fail to give their children appropriate freedoms on a regular basis often cultivate in the hearts of their children a desire to be free from all authority, whether parental authority or otherwise.  When we try to control our kids, especially when it comes to more wisdom related decisions, we teach them to long for the day when they are free from our instruction, and in the worst of cases, free from our faith and free from our Lord.  If our faith in Christ leads us to be domineering over our children, they can easily begin to see Christ himself as a domineering kill-joy, and grow increasingly disinterested in him over time.  Let ‘em live, parents!  Teach them to take responsibility for their own choices; don’t try to make their choices for them (especially as they grow older).  Seek to woo them with the Gospel; don’t suffocate them with it.

We exasperate our kids by our own spiritual hypocrisy.

Honestly, I tend to think that at least 50% of biblical parenting is about living lives of authentic trust in and dependence upon Jesus.  Being a Christian parent is first about living as a genuine Christian.  Nothing turns a child off to the Gospel more than spiritual hypocrisy.  Our lives at church and in public should match our lives at home.  If you’re not the real deal, spiritually speaking, you shouldn’t expect them to respect you as a spiritual leader; and you shouldn’t expect them to think very highly of your Jesus.

And I’m not talking about perfection here.  You’re not perfect and won’t be anything near perfect until Jesus himself perfects you in the Resurrection.  I’m talking about being real, authentic, and un-pretentious in the way you live out your faith in Christ.  This will be as impactful to your kids (if not moreso) than anything you will teach them.

We exasperate our kids by our failure to confess our own sins and failures.

If we never confess our need for grace to our kids, how could we ever expect them to think very highly of God’s grace themselves?  If it is only their sins that are discussed in our homes, we are bound to frustrate them and provoke them to resent the Lord.  We parents need to be the lead repenters in our homes.  (Dads, we especially need to work on this!)  No one should more readily acknowledge their need for God’s grace in a Christian family than the parents of that family, and nothing makes Christ look more relevant to children than a parent who is honest and transparent about his ongoing daily need for Christ.  What use is a Savior to them who is of little use to us?  And what can show our need for him more, than transparency (with discretion, of course) about our own ongoing struggle with sin?

These are simply a few of the ways I believe that we parents are prone to exasperate our children.  What are some other ways we do this?  Feel free to add wisdom to this post below!

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About Zach Putthoff

Originally from Tonganoxie, KS, Zach, serves as pastor for preaching at Shepherd's Community Church, in Lafayette, CO. He received his B.A. in Biblical Studies at the Moody Bible Institute and put in a few years of graduate level study in biblical counseling at The Master's University. Zach is happily married to his best friend Noelle, and has three awesome kids.