The Temptation to Control our Children: Serving the Lord’s Portion to our Teens

Parenting has exposed several idols in my life. A desire for control is at the top of the list. 

On the one hand, God has created order out of chaos and has called his people to join him in his work of establishing laws and peace. 

On the other hand, when it comes to my home, I can confuse God’s definition of peace and control with my personal preferences for organization, cleanliness, and well-behaved children.   

Pastor Joe Carter says that examining our imagination, attention, and emotions exposes our idols and determines whether God has been replaced by other “good things” in our lives.

I imagine a couch without three hoodies tossed over it and a kitchen without sweatpants on the floor. My attention is fixed on keeping a perfectly on-time schedule. When I am interrupted at church, forced to repeat myself, or assist in another search for a lost shoe, I become annoyed, angry, and frustrated. 

Perhaps the Israelites’ worship of a golden calf in Exodus is not all that silly when compared to my worship of a clothes-free sofa, perfectly coordinated schedules, and children with reasoning and self-correction processes like AI programs.

In my work as a dietitian, I talk about control in terms of portion control. I teach about the difference between a serving size and portion size: a serving size is a standardized amount of food used to express precise amounts on a plate or quantities on a food label. A portion size is the amount of food we choose to eat, unique to each person at each meal.2 

In the Bible, portion is another word for inheritance. Our inheritance in Christ includes all that Jesus purchased for us through his death and resurrection, given to us by grace through faith (Ps. 16:5; Eph. 1:11-14). 

So often, I want to create serving sizes in my parenting: standardized rules and consequences that work for each child, in all situations, every day. Yet, God parents us with portion sizes unique to his children, their circumstances, and with mercies that are new every morning. I would do well to parent my children in this way.

Dietitians help clients eat healthy and satisfying portions of food with the following recommendations. Similarly, these may also help me extend the Lord’s portion to my children rather than my serving size:

Read. Reading nutrition labels can tell us how much and what we are eating. In the same way, reading the Bible can tell me what God says about parenting and where to take my sinful desires to control my children. Scripture also reminds me that I am forgiven of all my idolatrous ways and that I have a helper in Jesus himself.

Slow down. Research shows the health benefits of slowing down and eating together, rather than rushed and alone. If our family’s lifestyle is hurried and individualized, I tend to parent from a hasty and selfish perspective. However, when we carve out time together and reduce busyness, we are more attuned to each other’s needs. 
Slowing down allows me to exchange an explosive outburst for a deep breath or a curious question that leads to meaningful conversation or behavior change with my children. 

Use the right tools. Measuring utensils help us get the right amount of ingredients into a recipe.  A sheet pan and an 8-inch chef’s knife are the right tools for roasting vegetables. Having these tools in our kitchens will help us prepare delicious, healthy meals. An intergenerational church family is just the right tool for raising adolescents. Sunday school teachers, youth ministry staff, and other adults who are following Jesus give my children steady portions of Biblical instruction, love, and prayer. 

Skip the upgrade. Paying 50 cents for a larger amount of food does not always translate to a better value for our health. Upsizing to share or make a second meal can be a clever strategy, but otherwise, we should stick to the amount that we know we can eat in one sitting without feeling too full. There are a lot of upsizes in the parenting world: books, podcasts, blogs, and social media. When one of my children is in a crisis, my tendency is to hide the problem from others and head to one of these places first for “expert” advice… or at least a good laugh.  But the Lord has also given us prayer and fellowship. I have a well of Christian mothers, teachers, and camp directors I can draw from for support. Even better, I can pray for my children. The upgrades that technology and experts provide have their place in parenting, but the simple tools of prayer and Christian community are powerful gifts from God. 

In the song Take Over by Shane and Shane, they sing: “What am I supposed to do with all my kingdoms next to You?”. The idol of control is one of my kingdoms, particularly in parenting. But compared to the glory of God  I can say, “You’re the Lord, I could gain the world and more. It’s all nothing next to You.”

All the control I could ever exert over my children that I think will bring peace and order in my heart and home is nothing compared to the peace that comes from God: the peace that he established in creation, the peace that Christ gave us through the cross, and the peace that the Holy Spirit uses to continually instruct us. In Christ, this is my portion, my inheritance. 

I am not in control, but God is. And that is good news for my family.

Dr. Melissa Powell is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and Assistant Professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance (HHP) at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga (UTC). She is married to Chris Powell, Executive Pastor at North Shore Fellowship, and the mother of two children. An old dog, a good book, a big salad, and a long walk are a few of her favorite things.

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