TLP 494: Are Older Children in Charge of Younger Children, Part 2 | birth order and admonition
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I’m your host AMBrewster, and today we’re continuing a discussion we started last week, so if you missed Part 1, please go back and listen to that first.
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So, last time we talked about the relationship between siblings and authority; now let’s look at the practical exercise of all of that.
Let’s start by remembering that the first and most practical step you have to take is re-training your kids to understand the biblical reality and consequences of authority. Take the information we discussed last time and help your kids submit to the biblical paradigms God created.
They have to understand the fact that none of them have any Inherent Authority in the home. They don’t get to kick someone out of their room. They don’t have the right to not share. They need to rely on their parent’s and their God’s Inherited Authority to set their siblings up for success.
We’ll talk about the practical examples of this momentarily. For now, though, the key is that we have to get our family on the same page concerning Inherent Authority, Inherited Authority, maturity, and the like.
We also want to teach them what it means to admonish. Biblically speaking, the word most often translated “admonish” in the New Testament has a dual purpose of both teaching and warning. In order to appreciate what this may look like let’s consider . . .
1. Real Life Scenarios
In a best case scenario . . .
A. All of your children are growing in their conformity to Christ.
From a spiritual perspective (in situations like this) there generally is little reason to think that you have to give any one child your Inherited Authority over the rest. If they are all imperfectly desiring to make Christ-honoring choices, and they’re teachable (which means they receive admonishment from you and their siblings well enough), then each child needs to recognize that they all have Inherited Authority from God Himself to keep the others accountable whether you’re in the home or not.
Of course, sometimes there’s still wisdom in giving Inherited Authority from a practical perspective. If you’re going to be gone during dinner, and you believe that your oldest child is physically and spiritually mature enough to safely use the stove to make dinner for the rest . . . then by virtue of their height, knowledge of the kitchen, practical competence with kitchen appliances, knives, food safety, etc, combined with their spiritual maturity, it would be best to give them authority over dinner selection and prep than a child that is not capable. Because no matter how spiritually mature your six year old may be, it would likely be very unwise to give them free reign in the kitchen while you’re gone.
But what about . . .
B. Some of your children are growing in their conformity to Christ, but others are not born again (or are double-minded).
At this point, two questions have to be asked:
First, are the unsaved or unstable children — by the grace of God — going to submit to the spiritually more mature siblings? If you were to leave, what are the chances the unsaved or double-minded child is actually going to listen when their sibling admonishes?
If the answer is “pretty good,” then . . .
Second, is the more spiritually mature sibling capable of using their Inherited Authority to help keep the unsaved and unstable siblings physically and spiritually safe — especially if they were to push against the authority?
If the answer to both of those questions is yes, then there is wisdom in giving your Inherited Authority to the more mature sibling when you leave the home, and — as always — all of your children have the same Inherited Authority from God to keep each other accountable. But since an unsaved child is incapable of exercising God’s Inherited Authority, and since a double-minded child cannot be trusted to correctly use their Inherited Authority, identifying the more spiritually mature child for that role (regardless of their age) is a good strategy for setting everyone up for success.
But what if you couldn’t answer “yes” to one or more of the previous questions?
C. None of your children are growing in their conformity to Christ, or some are mature but others are terrorists.
In situations like this, we have to understand two things:
First, once again, all of your children have God’s Inherited Authority on their lives, but if none of them are going to exercise it by biblically admonishing each other, then they can’t be trusted to glorify God without the proper authority present in their lives.
Second, even if one of your kids is on the mature side, it would be unwise and unkind to leave that child to be the spiritual authority over another child who is dead-set on doing wrong.
Listen, I get it. If you’re in this situation, you yourself are already tired and worn-out by the rebellion of your child. I understand how badly you want to escape the madness. But to leave one of your kids in charge of the terrorist is plain wrong.
If you really must get out — and there are tons of legitimate reasons you might have to — then you need to find a mature adult authority to watch the kids while you’re gone — someone who has Inherent and Inherited Authority, and someone to whom your child will hopefully submit.
This was my situation for the five years I was at Victory Academy. I was the other adult authority the parents entrusted with their child. But I also had to make similar decisions in the home. For example, not all of my college-aged resident assistants were as mature as the others. There were some RA’s I would leave in charge of all the guys, but there were others I wouldn’t. I knew they weren’t mature enough to handle a full-on meltdown, and/or I knew certain of the guys wouldn’t submit to the RA.
Now, as we progress, I’m not really going to talk about this third category. We have whole series devoted to discussing rebellious kids. Just check out our Anti-Terrorism Series and our Parenting a Zombie Series.
But families with those kids really shouldn’t be putting the burden of the rebel on the other children in the home. We need to free our kids from that responsibility.
So the rest of our points today are going to be for the first two categories. And since none of our kids are perfect, whether they’re double-minded, foolish, or progressing well, they’re all going to sin, and — therefore — what we’re going to discuss next is applicable to — what I’m going to call — “normal” families.
What I mean by “normal” is that the family structure is working according to God’s design. It may not be working well, but — generally speaking — it’s on the right trajectory.
So, what is a normal, working family? Whether they’re doing it for Christ-honoring reasons or sheer self-preservation, the children in the home know what it is to submit to authority. That’s how God created the family to thrive.
If the children are willing to submit to God’s expectations for their lives, regardless of who is teaching or reproving them, then you’re in a good spot.
Obviously, we all need to to the right things for the right reasons, but if the child is willing to listen to dad and mom, then you’re in a much better position than if one or more of the kids refuse to learn from the parents.
So . . .
2. Practical Inherited Authority among Siblings
First, let me tell you that we have some great free resources available for you in the description of today’s episode. One of those resources is an interview I did with Jessica Mair about tattling. That conversation hit on a lot of points that apply to our study. Definitely check out that interview.
Second, these points apply whether you (the parent) are in the home or not.
I recognize that questions about sibling authority often come up when it’s time for dad and mom to leave the home and therefore put one of the kids “in charge.” But the Inherited Authority from God is identical whether the parents are in the next room or our of town.
So, let’s see how this works.
A. Inherited Authority doesn’t exercise Inherent Authority.
Your kids are never allowed to boss each other around. Here are some examples of things that your kids should never say:
“Leave me alone.”
“Put that down.”
“Get out of my chair.”
“Give it to me.”
I’m not suggesting that the other child shouldn’t leave the room or evacuate the chair or give the toy back. I’m saying that no child has the authority to tell another child what to do. Every attempt is a power play. Because I’m bigger or because the room is mine or because I’m gonna tell on you if you don’t stop, I’m trying to use my power and threat of punishment to control you.
That is a sinful exercise of delusional authority.
However, children are allowed (and should be encouraged!) to remind their siblings of what their parents and God want them to do. This is the very nature of admonishment.
We’ll get more specific with this momentarily, but a simple example may be, “Do you remember what dad said about coming into my room without asking? Please leave, and if you want to come in, knock and wait like dad told you.”
This is not a power-play. Sure, it’s possible the child may adopt the right language as an attempt to use the parent’s authority to eject the annoying sibling from their room — and, obviously, you parents are going to want to help that child submit to God in this area like you do all others — but, generally speaking, handling the situation this way is very good.
It acknowledges that the child is not in charge and that there is a higher authority to whom they are both responsible.
So, we want to teach our kids that it’s never going to be Christ-honoring for them to use their power to punish (or threaten to punish) their siblings.
B. Inherited Authority only works when the Inherent Authority has clearly set High Biblical Expectations.
One of the reasons our kids are tempted to flex their perceived authority is the fact that we parents haven’t clearly taught our kids what is right and wrong.
It’s sad, but this happens for a few different reasons. Sometimes we don’t even know what God has to say about righteous living. Sometimes we know what the Bible says, but we have a hard time applying it to our family life. Sometimes we assume that our kids can apply for themselves the general principles we’ve taught. Sometimes we’re lazy or unimaginative. And the list goes on.
Either way, in order to set our kids up for spiritual success, we need to clearly teach them the truths of the Scriptures and then apply those expectations with clear house rules.
I love Nehemiah 8. Nehemiah had recognized that the Children of Israel were ignorant of God’s law. So he tasked Ezra to stand up on a podium and read the whole thing to all the people as they stood listening.
But they didn’t stop there. Now, keep in mind, the majority of these people are adults. And yet, verse 7 lists off the names of thirteen men who “explained the law to the people while the people remained in their place. 8 They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.”
Did you catch that? They didn’t just read the Bible, they explained it. They made it clear so that the people didn’t just know what was said, they understood it.
We’ve talked about this a lot — it’s not good enough for your kids to know something. They have to understand. But it’s not good enough to understand if they’re not going to wisely put that information into practice.
In order to help them know, understand, and apply, I need to be specific.
It’s good for me to tell my kids that they need to love each other. But it’s better for me to teach them how to love each other. The more specific the better.
“Love your brother,” becomes, “When your brother does something unkind to you, don’t retaliate, instead be kind,” which becomes “When your brother bursts into your room without asking, politely remind him of the fact that he’s not allowed to do that, and kindly ask him to leave,” which I can further modify specifically for my child’s unique sinful temptations, “When your brother bursts into your room, kindly ask him to leave. Kindness involves your word choice, your tone of voice, and your actions. Don’t throw your book at him. Don’t scream at him. Patiently, ask him to leave as if you were asking your friend to come over after school.”
And — believe it or not — I could get even more and more specific. I can even have her memorize a script if necessary. The goal is to be as specific as is necessary so that our kids can be successful.
If I have clearly communicated to my children that they are not allowed to enter the other sibling’s room without being invited in (and I use this as an example not because I think this is necessarily the way it needs to be, but it’s a legitimate stereotypical issue among siblings), and I have taught them how to request entry, and I’ve clearly explained what should happen if they were to fail, then everyone is on the same page and set up for success.
There’s no chance the kids don’t know their responsibility. Hopefully we’ve talked about it enough, role-played, and whatever else is necessary so that they understand it and are equipped to actually do it.
When you communicate High Biblical Expectations with understandable family applications, you’re empowering your children’s Inherited Authority. They’re growing in their Inherited Authority from God as they know Him better, and they’re growing in their Inherited Authority from you as they understand your expectations.
And this leads to . . .
C. Inherited Authority upholds Parental Authority.
This is an important part of the process, not just in theory, but also in practice.
Generally speaking, name-dropping and passing-the-buck are considered less than legitimate ways to communicate. In the eyes of the world, such practices are used to persuade someone to think something about you or respond to you because of the merits of another. Passing-the-buck is also viewed as lazy escapism.
However, in this context, name-dropping and passing-the-buck are the whole point.
Mindee, one of my board members likes to describe me as someone who communicates with periods. When she says that, she’s referring to my confidence and straight-forward way of dealing with topics. The important thing to recognize is that any such confidence does not flow from my own inherent parenting skill or my personal authority. I’m confident communicating the things of God because they are precisely that . . . the things of God.
Quoting from Jeremiah, Paul proclaims in II Corinthians 10:17, “But he who boasts is to boast in the Lord.” In chapter 3 of the same letter, Paul writes, “4 Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.”
And we want your kids to be able to admonish with confidence knowing that the instruction and warning they’re passing on to their sibling is from their parents and grows from the things of God.
Therefore, it’s so important for them to say, “May I please have that chair?” And if the other child doesn’t move, they can follow up their kind request with, “Remember how mom said she wanted me to use that chair because of my tailbone issue?”
This allows the conversation not to be about the child’s preference, comfort, or well-being, it’s about mom’s authority. And — by extension — allowing his sister to sit in that chair should be motivated by love for God, his mother, and his sister.
And leads us to . . .
D. Inherited Authority upholds God’s Authority.
As we’re careful to teach our kids that they have no Inherent Authority and, therefore, how to use their Inherited Authority as Ambassadors of God and you, you will need to carefully teach them God’s Law and apply it practically to your home life.
That connection between “this is what we do” and “this is why we do it” is so vital.
Do I want my kids to be kind to each other? Yes. Do I want them to work diligently while they’re doing the dishes? Yes. But they need to understand that the practical family applications aren’t just dad and mom’s power-play.
When we teach our kids to work in the kitchen, we can be teaching them about how God does everything decently and orderly. We can teach them how it pleases the Lord to prefer others above ourselves. We can teach them to be a servant and sacrifice for others as Christ does for us. We can teach them some practical outworking of biblical love. We can teach them how complaining is challenging the love, sovereignty, and wisdom of God. We can teach them that not doing what they’re told the way they’re told for the reasons they’re told is disobedience.
Remember, doing the right thing in the right way with the wrong motivation is a sin. We need to root our reason for obedience in God.
And this is intrinsically tied to . . .
E. The best application of Inherited Authority will root the Parent’s Authority in God’s Authority.
So, now when one child doesn’t load the dishwasher as they’ve been repeatedly instructed, one of their mature siblings can admonish this way, “Remember how dad taught us to load the dishwasher? We have to obey because it pleases the Lord.” Or, “Remember what mom taught us about stewarding our belongings for the Lord? Putting that cup in there like that will likely break it. How about you put it somewhere else?”
That is so much better than, “You better do what dad says, or you’re going to be in trouble!”
Teach your kids not merely to drop your name, teach them to point their siblings to Christ.
“But, Aaron, I don’t even parent my kids that way! How can I expect them to talk to each other like that?”
Well, I think the observation contains the answer. This is exactly how God expects us to parent. As intentional, premeditated, disciple-making, Ambassador Parents, it’s supposed to be all about God.
The necessity of being quiet should not ultimately be about mom’s headache or the fact that dad had a hard day at work. Instead, we bring up our kids in the discipline and instruction of the Lord by saying, “Kids, Mommy has a really bad headache, and the best way you can show me love and respect right now is to play as quietly as possible. This is good practice for changing our behavior in order to prefer others above ourselves. I want to please God by having a good attitude even though I have a splitting headache, and you should want to please God by being as loving as you can.”
And the more we talk like this, the more natural it will sound to our children.
Someone recently posted online that every night for four years as his child has drifted off to sleep, he’s rubbed his son’s head and whispered affirmations to him. He shared this because earlier that day he had laid down on a lawn chair to nap, and it wasn’t long before his four year old was rubbing his head saying, “Shhhhh. I love you so much, Daddy.”
So, yes, we need to exercise our Inherited Authority by pointing to Christ because it’s what God commands, but it’s also a really important way to lead by example.
Alright, so . . .
A. Inherited Authority doesn’t exercise Inherent Authority. But . . .
B. Inherited Authority only works when the Inherent Authority has clearly set High Biblical Expectations. And when we set our kids up for success, their . . .
C. Inherited Authority upholds Parental Authority. But, more importantly . . .
D. Inherited Authority upholds God’s Authority. Therefore . . .
E. The best application of Inherited Authority will root the Parent’s Authority in God’s Authority.
And finally . . .
F. Inherited Authority understands its boundaries.
From a human perspective, if I’m the ultimate authority in someone’s life, then it is my sole responsibility to make sure they submit to my power, and — if they don’t — it’s my sole responsibility to punish them.
That’s why your kids flex their perceived power in the family, and that’s why they punish those who don’t cow-tow.
But, if I’m not the Ultimate Authority, that means two things . . .
First, it means that my authority is limited to the authority I’ve inherited from the Ultimate Authority. I’m not allowed to overstep my bounds.
And second, it means that when I’ve come to the end of my Inherited Authority, I have to pass the situation off to the Ultimate Authority.
And this is as true in our parenting as it is with our kids’ interactions with each other.
Practical Example #1: Let’s say that your oldest son has made dinner for the rest of the kids while you and your spouse are on a date. It’s now time to eat, and one of the younger children is complaining about eating their vegetables and/or on the brink of refusing.
Your son would be wise to admonish like this, “Dad and mom have told us that we need to eat the food we’re given.” This is instruction by way of reminder.
If the child persists, he could say, “Remember, God wants us to take good care of our bodies, and that involves eating well. Please obey.”
But if the unruly child persists, and your son has exhausted all of the teaching admonishment he’s been equipped to give, he then can move into warning admonishment. “Listen, [child’s name], if you don’t obey, you know there will be consequences. Sin hurts. Are you sure you want to do this?”
Perhaps our little rebel will submit simply out of self-preservation. Either way this will likely need to be revisited later by the parents (we’ll talk more about that looks like shortly), but for now, all is well.
But if the child continues to disobey, there may be one or two additional steps.
The first is, have you given your son the authority to issue consequences? Knowing that your younger child might refuse to eat the vegetables, you may have sat your older and younger child down together and said, “And if you don’t eat your vegetables, your brother won’t let you have any dessert, and then there will be additional consequences when we get home.”
Now your son knows what he has the authority to do, and you’ve preemptively parented your other child.
By the way, if you’re going to give your children the authority to give each other consequences, you absolutely must clearly identify what they are and are not allowed to do, outline exactly how it’s work, and even role-play if necessary. These things go south really quickly, and most of the time it will not be wise to allow them to do anything significant. Withholding dessert or another privilege may be manageable enough, but groundings and corporal punishment and the like are really, really bad ideas. Those things can wait until you get home. You are — after all — the Inherent Authority in the family.
So, since there are many situations in which deputizing your child to give consequences to their siblings is definitely not a good idea, let’s say that your son has correctly taught and warned and now finds himself with no other tools in his tool belt. What should he do?
Well, the answer is simple, but it’s one that too many children don’t want to do, and it’s one that too many parents don’t really want their child to do . . . contact the parents.
Your son may not want to contact you because it will seem like he’s failed. He may not think to contact you because he’s exited his Inherited Authority role and would prefer to engage in a power play. That’s my kids’ biggest temptation. They know what to do, but — in the moment — they think they can handle it better. It’s the delusion of sin.
But he may also not want to contact you because you always get so annoyed when he does.
And — let’s be honest — we get annoyed in situations like this for purely selfish reasons. Parenting should never seem like a distraction. Parenting is one of God’s biggest responsibilities for you. You can definitely set aside a few minutes to take a call from your son and admonish your youngest to eat his vegetables.
Whether the child submits or not will determine what you do next. Depending on the severity of the issue, you may deal with it when you get home, or you might have to cut your night short.
The point is, your older son needs to recognize the limits of his Inherited Authority. When he reaches that limit, he needs to be equipped to pass off the situation to the appropriate authority.
And the same would be true in our Practical Example #2: Let’s say that your children understand that they’re not allowed to watch TV when you’re out of the house, but one of your kids walks in on another child watching something.
At this point, the second child could say something like, “Mom said we’re not supposed to be watching TV when she’s gone. You should turn it off.” That’s the teaching part of admonishment.
And, let’s say the child does turn the TV off. What then? The child obviously disobeyed, but there were no consequences. Are the children simply to go on with their day as if nothing happened?
Let’s say that both children are older. One good way to handle this is, “You know that was a sin. You’re either going to need to call dad or mom right now and tell them, or you need to tell them first thing when they get home,” and here comes the warning, “If you don’t, I’ll have to let them know what happened because we shouldn’t try to hide our sin from our parents.”
Once again, I encourage you to listen to the interview about tattling. There’s a very fine line between sinful tattling and the spiritually mature handoff of authority.
Hopefully, you foresee issues like this and equip your kids to know how to respond. Again, you want to provide the mature child with all the Inherited Authority necessary to make the right decision without it coming off like a power play.
And — by the way — this does work with younger children to. You need to make it age appropriate, but don’t wait until they’re older and have a bunch of bad habits before you teach them to do it the right way. Even little kids delusionally try to exercise power and punishment. They need to learn early.
At this point, the child who did wrong has actually had the Inherited Authority passed to them. They’re now in charge of doing the right thing, and — if they once again do wrong by not communicating with you — the other child isn’t going behind their back to tattle.
In fact, right before going to tell you about what happened, the more mature child could once again exercise their Inherited Authority by lovingly offering to go with their sibling to talk to you.
And this exact same plan could work for Practical Example #3: Perhaps you’re home and the kids do have permission to watch TV, but one of the kids is watching something they shouldn’t.
Again, the child willing to obey by using their Inherited Authority to positively admonish their sibling needs to confront them about their sin before God and encourage them to reveal what happened to their parent.
Of course, if the child refuses, the mature child needs to understand the limits of their Inherited Authority and pass the situation on to the parents in the best way possible.
This really isn’t a complex situation. God has given everyone in your family the permission to admonish each other in truth and love. We just need to teach our kids how to do it the best way possible.
To that end, be sure to download our free episode notes, check out our related resources in the description of the episode and linked in the body of the transcript, and never hesitate to reach out to us at counselor@TruthLoveParent.com for individualized biblical counsel for you and/or your family.
And — as always — please share this episode on your favorite social media outlets so that other children can be saved from the delusion of thinking they have Inherent Authority that they do not, and so that they can learn the joys and blessings of Inherited Authority.
I hope you’ll join us next time as we once again open God’s Word to discover how to best worship God with our parenting.
To that end, we’ll be discussing Parenting and Consequences.
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