I have two boys and two girls and in many ways I would say parenting the girls is harder. The issues they present are much more vague and emotional. There is a lot of whining and attitude problems and with those it is often hard to know where to draw the line. Boys, in contrast, can be very clear cut. You hit your brother? That is wrong. It’s much easier to see where the lines are.
But some boys (and I have one of these) are difficult to parent in that they never seem to learn. They are incorrigible. Some of them just don’t respond well to discipline. Or they don’t remember. There is a constantness to them that really wears a parent down. And a physicality that is hard to take. They are always in some one’s face, on top of some one, needing stimulation. They can be very competitive and confrontational.
So how do we deal with boys like this? I don’t have all the answers by any means (or my own would not be such a trial) and I know there are lots of books out there on difficult boys. But I do have two thoughts. Neither is a clever discipline trick to solve your problems, I am afraid. They are, rather, a bit of perspective on how we as parents should view our difficult boys.
The first is the simple but comforting idea that not only is this not a new phenomenon, it is one as old as the human race. Reading through Genesis, I am struck by how many of the main players seem to be just this sort of boy. Now some are not good examples like Cain. No mom wants her son to end up like him. Ishmael and Esau both seem to be wild men. Jacob is trouble in a different way — the sort of boy who is deceptive and always hatching a plan. Joseph starts out proud and braggy. His brothers are not much better. And yet God chose some of these to be the leaders and forefathers of His people. In the New Testament, many of the disciples seem to fit the bill as well. Some were revolutionaries. Others are self-promoting. Or they have hair-trigger tempers. They are trouble quite often. Yet again God chose these men.
So my first big thought is that God can and does use people like this. Indeed, more often than not God seems to choose the people that we would not expect Him to. There is a warning in here for us parents, especially if like me you have two boys. Don’t assume that the “good” one is okay and that the other one is the one to worry about. You don’t know their hearts, not for sure. And you don’t know if and how God will use them.
Which brings me to my second idea — a lot of the same qualities that drive me crazy as a parent could be really useful to God. My son, unlike the rest of his family, is not a quiet person. And he has no problem with conflict. Indeed, he seeks it out and creates it. It seems like trouble now but which child do you think would be able to go into a foreign environment and tell people about Christ? Or, perhaps more scary, to stay home and tell his neighbors things they don’t want to hear? I am not saying my son is perfect — he isn’t. But I am also beginning to see that he has qualities which may serve him (and his God) well later in life.
So those are my two ideas. I hope they are encouraging to other parents of difficult boys (or girls for that matter). We still have to parent them which includes discipline, but perhaps at the same time we can begin to envision all the ways their more abrasive characters can actually be used for good.