Something Better than Verbal Waterboarding Your Child

As I reflect upon the days of my parenting, I wish that I had better known and seen the difference between wise counsel that lovingly confronts error with a smidgen of righteous anger, and drowning my kids with words, words, and more words. What I call, Verbal Waterboarding them to death.

I wish I had:

1. Listened more, talked less. True, at times they didn’t talk – which is what was frustrating. But their silence and their reason for it, was not a cue for words, words, and more words – glub glub, sputter sputter!

2. Been much slower to anger, for the anger of man does not produce much righteousness in the home. In the face of real rebellion, sometimes I would either go passive-duh, or adopt a scorched earth policy. No middle ground for patient understanding and dialogue, or patience for the sake of patience.

3. Said what needed to be said, then ask, “Did you hear what I said? Tell me what I said,” then close my mouth. The desire to know for certain that they adored my words with real conviction was a lost cause; I can’t see the heart. I know that. But as a parent, we so desperately want to. So frustrating. The temptation is to just keep pouring and pouring and pouring words until we get some satisfactory response. Strange: drowning my kids with words took their breath away. No wonder they couldn’t respond.

4. Spanked more, talked less. I think it was the futile attempt to avoid spanking when it was deserved that led to verbal waterboarding them. When I saw that waterboarding was not working, sometimes I would spank as a last resort, but by then, my body temperature was so high that if I accidentally said, “flame on,” the house would have burned down.

5. Prayed more for the eyes of their heart to be opened to receive life-giving words. I spent more time talking to them than talking to the Lord about them.

6. Permitted just a little more disagreement without fearing their total rejection of me. As a parent, I tended to think at times that if I don’t hold them down to what I believe is right and best in the gray areas of life, then they’ll lose their focus on the essentials; dark gray leads to light gray and light gray leads to lighter gray and before you know it, they’re so far away from the truth that they’ll never find their way back. This reasoning is like Barney Fife saying that one piece of bubble gum paper thrown on the side-walk leads to a street full of gang-bangers. Maybe, but unlikely.

7. Allowed them to say dumb things sometimes, without immediately getting all worked up about it. God allowed Job to talk and talk and talk and say a lot of dumb things, then God verbally water boarded him: “Be quiet. Stand up. Time for me to do the talk’n now.” Sometimes we rob our kids the joy of finding out how “smart” they are by prematurely cutting off their super-duper ideas. Sometimes the best thing to do is allow them to apply their “wisdom” and see how things turn out.

One time I did do this successfully by God’s grace. Joshua and I disagreed over the first car that he would purchase. I explained briefly that “this 89 Camaro RS” is not going to turn out well . . . but it’s your choice. It’s got too much power for traction in snow, drinks the gas, and has the suspension comfort of a cheap go-cart with wooden wheels. He bought it and after a year, hated it. Life Lesson Learned without verbal waterboarding, and he got to scratch his muscle car itch and get it over with.

8. Had warned more often: “I’m not going to keep talking to you and talking to you about this until you get it. There comes a time when it is best to stop giving wise words if all you do is trample them into the ground (Matt. 7:6). I’m going to leave you alone in your foolishness. If you want to talk – I’m ready. If you end up damaging your life but you see the error of your ways and you want to return – I’m here, but if you . . . mmumpwa – mmumpwa – mmumpwa wa (from Charlie Brown’s classroom).

See how easy it is for me to just start talking and talking and talking – I hear those gasps for air!

That’s it. Just reflecting. Hope you take it to heart that there is a difference between offering wise counsel and torture: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear” (Prov. 25:11-12). I’m still working on applying this to other areas as well. So pray for wisdom, pray for your children’s hearts, and learn to speak wisely and calmly (read and pray Proverbs).

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