Handling Family Problems Before They Grow
What is a source of frequent danger? How best can you protect your children?
Have you ever seen someone start to weed his garden late in the summer when the weeds are already taller than the plants? You know it means a great deal of backbreaking toil for him. Not only that, but in many cases the roots of the weeds and the legitimate plants have become so intertwined that it is practically impossible to remove the weeds without damaging the plants. Yet, if the weeds are not removed, the fruitfulness and beauty of the garden will be marred. Surely a frustrating predicament!
But, as you reflect on the matter, you realize he could have avoided such a situation by taking the job of weeding in hand at the proper time. During the vital growing days of late spring he could, with a minimum of labor, have kept the weeds out of the garden patch and so given the flowers and vegetables a chance to develop strong roots. At those earlier stages he could have covered the whole garden ten times with his hoe in the time it now takes to weed one row.
Yes, such a gardener has his problems and they are now big ones. Do you know that, if you are a God-fearing parent with young children, this could apply right in your own backyard, so to speak? You have often heard it said that children grow like weeds. But they should properly be fruitful plants, and they need protection from the encroaching weeds of a wicked system of things. So, what kind of gardener are you? Do you put off dealing with the minor problems of your family until they have assumed major proportions, until their solutions are beyond your ability?
DANGER FROM SHELVING PROBLEMS
All too often children go to father or mother with some small problem, only to be brushed aside by a parent who feels too busy to be bothered. It may be only a simple question the child has, or a request for guidance on some project, yet the attitude of the parent threatens to undermine that child’s future. To whom else can the youngster go? True, the question may be considered inconsequential by the parent, but to the child it may be quite important.
In the early teen years the boy who has often been treated this way may well have bigger problems to tackle, but he has been made to feel that his parents have no time for him, and, besides, they have not maintained that close family relationship that would have made it easy to go to them. The boy may have been keeping company with a group his own age and noticed them doing things that did not seem right. If only he could have felt free to approach his parents for advice! But no. Too late he has become involved in bigger trouble, and the parents are shocked by police inquiries involving him.
In the later teen years the boy begins to have dates with the girls. A strange new part of his life is now opening up before him, and, oh, how he could have benefited from parental counsel on many occasions! But somehow he has had to muddle along on his own. How could he talk to his parents about such intimate matters anyway? By now they have become almost like strangers to him. Why should they be interested in his problems now, when they showed such little interest heretofore?
Can’t you just see those worldly weeds growing up around him, their roots becoming entangled with his? He has listened to counsel from outsiders, from other young people with poor judgment, or from adults who get sentimentality mixed up with their judgment. His whole future is already endangered.
Finally the blow comes. Being underage, he now needs the signature of his father in order to wed a girl of another faith with whom he has been having sex relations. What are the parents to do? They hasten to seek counsel of mature fellow Christians. But what can be said to them now? Is it not now a matter for their own decision? They have surely allowed their problem to be compounded into a frustrating source of anxiety and grief.
THE BETTER WAY
How different the situation would now be had they handled the small problems of their son in his earlier years! Think of the many opportunities they missed when they could have cemented a warm, loving attachment to their boy, which, in turn, would have made them the respected confidants of both his pleasures and his troubles. In fact, it was their Christian responsibility to follow such a course, for the apostle Paul gave this instruction: “Fathers, do not be irritating your children, but go on bringing them up in the discipline and authoritative advice of Jehovah.” (Eph. 6:4) Regular family Bible study sessions are, of course, essential if this advice is to be followed. When the children come with questions, however, parents have a wonderful opportunity to work in a little more of Jehovah’s instruction or discipline.
Christian parents have the same responsibility to teach godly principles to their children as the Hebrew parents had during the operation of the Mosaic law. The comprehensiveness of this teaching program is revealed in the command: “These words that I am commanding you today must prove to be on your heart; and you must inculcate them in your son and speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road and when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deut. 6:6, 7) This divine counsel was calculated to prevent the onslaughts of weedlike worldly ways and ideas in the boy’s life.
Note what could be said to one young man who, in his early years, received warm and loving help and counsel from his Christian mother and grandmother: “You, however, continue in the things that you learned and were persuaded to believe, knowing from what persons you learned them and that from infancy you have known the holy writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through the faith in connection with Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 3:14, 15) Timothy did grow up to be a creditable fellow laborer of the apostle Paul. Because his father was not a dedicated Christian, the responsibility fell upon his mother to rear him in Jehovah’s discipline.
Likewise, commencing at infancy, there is need to teach your child and to help him with his little problems. Timothy did not believe simply because his mother commanded him to do so. He was “persuaded to believe.” That should be the case with children of Christians today. It can be accomplished only if there is an interchange of love and confidence between parent and child. When this proper relationship has been carefully built up throughout his childhood years, your boy will not hesitate to come to you with his teen-age problems.
NO EVASION OF RESPONSIBILITY
There can be no evasion of responsibility. If you are a father, for example, you may be tempted to think that it is up to your wife to help the children with their problems. Besides, you have your own problems at work, and when you get home in the evenings you are tired out. But are these good reasons for sidestepping the counsel of the apostle, ‘You fathers, go on bringing up your children in the discipline of Jehovah’? Surely not.
Even at your place of business you have learned by experience how important it is to tackle problems before they get out of hand. If you had failed in this you would not have been successful at your job. It is true that your salary and the material welfare of the family depend upon your making sure that business problems are handled before they become too big. But how far more important is the future spiritual welfare of your family! Lives are at stake, lives that have been committed into your stewardship by a just and loving God, who will, in due course, require an accounting.
So it is not altogether a matter of how you view your responsibility to your children, but how God views it. Faithfully expressing the heavenly Father’s mind on the subject, we find Jesus voicing this principle to his disciples: “The person faithful in what is least is faithful also in much, and the person unrighteous in what is least is unrighteous also in much.” (Luke 16:10) Thus it may seem a small thing to brush off your youngster when he wants to talk to you or show you something he has accomplished, but to him it is a great disappointment, and to God it may be failure on your part to take hold of an opportunity to build up the child’s faith and confidence in your Christian leadership.
Indeed, so seriously does God view the matter of family supervision that he inspired the apostle Paul to declare: “If indeed any man does not know how to preside over his own household, how will he take care of God’s congregation?” If a Christian would have such a privileged responsibility he must have his “children in subjection with all seriousness.” (1 Tim. 3:4, 5) This means he must take a serious view of the matter of presiding over his household and do his utmost to make a good job of it. He cannot achieve this simply by a heavy hand and a show of authority. Love and empathy must also be exercised.
No conscientious parents want to see their child become a lawbreaker and so spoil his chances for a happy life. They do not want to see him become a stranger to them. They know that one of the greatest forces for good or for bad in the future life of their child is the kind of marriage into which he enters. They know that the Word of God advises that his worshipers marry only those who see eye to eye with them in matters of faith or religion. (1 Cor. 7:39) So they would surely want to see their son or daughter find the right mate.
How wise, then, to start handling problems in the family while they are still small, while you can still solve them! In this way you can regularly weed out all undesirable things from the life of your child. You can, at the early stages, forestall the probability of his becoming a lawbreaker or joining in marriage with an unbeliever. You can, with God’s help, develop a family relationship that can be likened to a beautiful and fruitful garden.