The Rehoboam Syndrome (II)
My point here is that there comes a time when you are expected to “transition” from being a child to being an adult. That doesn’t mean that you have to give up on life, but it does mean that life changes for you. The bell is, indeed, tolling now for you. In most cases, the fun days of childhood and irresponsibility are gone and responsibility becomes yours. Fortunately, this doesn’t all happen at once.
When I went away to The Citadel in 1963—the military college in Charleston, SC—for my undergraduate studies, I accepted a degree of responsibility. Not everyone wants to attend such a regimented school. Ms. Shannon Faulkner thought it was too hard so she cried and quit. When I decided to attend “El Cid,” I thought I was making a responsible decision. Since I was only eighteen, The Citadel decided that it would accept a much larger degree of responsibility on my behalf. Those in charge told me when to get up, when to go to bed, when to go to class, when to eat, when to spit-shine my shoes, when to clean my rifle, when to run the obstacle course, when to go out on the weekend, when to come back from the weekend, when to go to parade, when to go to inspection, and what to wear every day. Other than that, I made all my own decisions.
When I graduated from The Citadel I went into the US Army. I married that summer and my wife and I reported to Ft. Knox, KY on August 13, 1967 after our fun but all-too-brief honeymoon. I had new and weightier responsibilities when I reported for active duty in the US Army. I now had a wife to care for. When I reported for active duty I earned a whopping $213/month as a “butter-bar” lieutenant. I had to plan how to spend my money. I had to make car and rent payments. I had to buy food every month. I had to make life and car insurance payments. These were things I had never had to do before. I also signed for $5 million worth of tanks and equipment. Where were those carefree days at The Citadel I wondered? Long, long gone. Those days were over. They were distant memories.
But “Uncle Sugar” still told me a lot of what I was required to do. I had more freedom than I had possessed at the Cid, but I also had more responsibility. Make no mistake about it: freedom and responsibility are always bound together in the adult life. That’s the way it often goes when you’re growing up. Come to think of it, I didn’t give a lot of thought to having a “happy childhood” while I was in the Army. I did have a great time, though. My wife and I had a blast at Ft. Knox. She was teaching the 6th grade in Louisville, movies on post were $0.25 a “pop,” gas was $0.16 a gallon, and I got promoted to 1st lieutenant and started making $580/month! What were we going to do with all that money? I was a much-beloved teacher of tank gunnery in the US Army Armor School and I played handball five days a week. Life was good. Our first child was born at Ft. Knox. His birth brought even more responsibilities into my life. That’s the way it goes. I went from being single to being married; from being married to being married with a child; from being married with a child to being married with six children. With each successive step responsibility grew incrementally.
Parent or Buddy?—It’s a Choice That Makes a Big Difference
As is evident from what I said above, I believe one of the biggest problems with parents today is that they’re either afraid to be parents or don’t want to have their precious time infringed upon by their children. Both of these are recipes for disaster. The first group is more concerned about being their kids’ friend or buddy. This is a huge mistake as a parent and an equally huge disservice to your child. Kids need a couple of indispensable things growing up: boundaries and limits and those who are prepared to enforce them. This isn’t always the most popular position to be in. When our children were growing up, they didn’t often say things to my wife and me like, “Boy, oh boy, Dad and Mom, we sure love these sweet limits you’ve set for us! We know that they are going to make us better people in the long run!” On balance, they probably disliked those limits intensely and felt like we had been trained to be parents by the Marquis de Sade. That’s the way kids are. God knows about “degrees” of life that we’ve forgotten about or seem to have forgotten. I’m talking now about the concepts of “good, better, best” and “bad, worse, worst.” In our egalitarian society we don’t like to hear things like that, but they’re true. God made parents to be parents and kids to be kids. When we accept our God-ordained role that is when things work “best.” When we refuse to accept that role that is when things work “worst.” I’m not saying that it’s easy, just best. I know this is true because the Word of God tells me so. My youngest is twenty now and I still believe that a large part of raising children is like sewing buttons on custard: It’s hard to do.
I’m writing this to both parents and children in the hope that the process of having to “learn-by-experience” will be lessened. Even now I’m not even convincing myself that people will change a lot though. I’m enough of a realist to know that, as Mark Twain so aptly put it, human nature is pretty well distributed throughout all mankind. Many of us are just so downright “boneheaded” that no matter how much sage counsel and advice we receive, we’re determined to rush headlong like lemmings into things that are going to break our hearts, change our lives dramatically, and perhaps cause us great shame or all of the above—probably all of the above. All too often, we learn the hard way how unbiblical, boneheaded decisions can alter our lives in serious ways.
The world is full of men and women who, instead of the “Happy Childhood Syndrome,” suffer from what I call “The Rehoboam Syndrome.” They, we, I have tons of “regrets” because we were such boneheads growing up. I don’t know that we’ll ever eradicate “boneheadedness” from life. We probably won’t. But I am convinced that it can be lessened—substantially. How? Well, it’s going to take some doing on the part of parents and on the part of children. It’s also going to take Christian parents deciding to be biblical parents. It’s going to require parents to stop trying to be “liked” now for being loved and honored later. It’s going to demand that parents give less time and thought to their recreation and leisure time and more thought to establishing biblical priorities in their life (Matt. 6:33). I’m not going to give you a five, seven, ten, or twelve-step program on how to be a perfect parent, how to raise a model child, or how to recapture a happy childhood. I cannot because the method doesn’t exist. Nothing is idiot-proof simply because sinful idiots are so ingenious. But here’s something to think about: Evil is complex and convoluted and faith is simple. This doesn’t mean that faith is simpleminded, but it is simple. Faith is straightforward and tells us what is best for us and what will harm us. Evil always plays “mind” and “heart” games with us. Evil promises what it can’t deliver, but couches its promises in sensuous and tantalizing disguises. In the end, however, it’s a sham, a lie, and a fraud. It’s a huge deception. What I intend to present is a covenant approach to the parent/child relationship and an impassioned plea to parents to be parents and to children to listen to sage wisdom and counsel and to act on it.