While with effective parent-child relationships families are extremely rewarding, in most cases, it is challenging to maintain good relationships. A successful family is built on love, care, support, and respect from both the parents and children. Parents are expected to guide their children and discipline them when they go astray so as to grow as responsible adults. Unfortunately, families do not grow as it is expected. As evidenced in today’s society, brothers are killing each other, children are turning against their parents to the extent of killing them, and parents are severely punishing their children to the point of death. Families are no longer founded on love and care. Even when born to the same mother, today’s families have siblings who are the worst of enemies. This is the reason a brother would be immersed in wealth while his siblings and parents are languishing in poverty. While there are some families in the Bible that evidence effective parent-child relationships, most of them are not very different from what is evidenced in today’s families.
A good example of a family in the Bible with ineffective parent-child relationship is that of Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Esau. While Isaac loved Esau more because he was obedient and responsible, Rebekah preferred Jacob to Esau. Even though Isaac was close to Esau, this did not mean that he hated his other son, Jacob. However, Rebekah’s behaviour towards Esau is questionable. Even though he was his son just like Jacob, she preferred the latter. As a result, Rebekah not only favoured Jacob but also connived and schemed against Jacob. This shows how families can get messed up when a parent gets close to one of the child and makes it clear that he loves and favours him over others. Through her manipulation, Rebekah used Jacob to trick Isaac to rip Esau of his birth right.
According to the Bible, Ephesians 6:4 says, “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord”. This is a verse that applies to both parents who are supposed to be their children’s guidance. In the example of Esau and Jacob, Rebekah should have acted as a good mother who directed both sons to grow loving each other, loving both parents, and live in a happy family. Since the traditions during those times required that the first born had some birth rights, Rebekah should have respected this and bring Jacob up understanding that his brother, Esau, was his big brother and entitled to some privileges as the first born. Instead, she decided to connive with Jacob to rip Esau of his birth right. This way, Rebekah, just as evidenced in most of today’s families misguided Jacob by showing him that there are shortcuts to making his life better.
As noted in most families, parents are no longer playing their role as parents. Instead, parents are encouraging their children misconduct. For instance, Climie and Mitchell argue that most parents are playing a great role in their children misbehaviour as they encourage their vices. A good example is when a child steals or bullies others in the neighbourhood and at school and after the parent is informed, instead of investigating and correcting his child’s misbehaviour, he supports his child. In most schools for example, teachers are banned from punishing their students and upon reporting the student’s misconduct to the parents, no action is taken. In fact, some parents defined their children even without further asking. They argue that they trust their children and thus are incapable of doing what they are accused of. While parents think that by defending and supporting their children they are enhancing their relationship, they are only bringing up all sorts of criminals and would be blamed later.
According to Birditt et al, the example demonstrated by Rebekah and Jacob is evidenced in a number of today’s families. Even when with several children, it is unfortunate that a parent might prefer one over others. While this favouritism did not lead to enmity between Jacob and Esau, it creates great rifts in today’s families. When the children in a family are convinced that their parent loves one child over others, hate grows between the children and the preferred one as well as for their parents. It is also possible for children to scheme against one of them if they feel that he is closer to the parents than they are. Popov and Ilesanmi also argue that such children are more likely to grow hostile and disobedient to their parents. Even after a child wrongs and is punished by the parents, he would not consider it done out of love to correct his ways but rather done to show him how much he is hated since he is not the preferred one.
This can be explained using the example of Joseph and his brothers. It is because the brothers felt that Joseph was loved more by their father that they tried killing him but later changed their minds to sell him off as a slave. Even though Joseph could elaborate dreams, his brothers could not see this talent in him because for them, everything he did was to win their father’s love even more. Every time his father approved what Joseph did, he was only hated the more. The brother saw him as an enemy and thought that by eliminating him, they would get their right place in their father’s heart. Without Joseph, the brothers thought that their father would show them equal amount of love and grow closer to them.
It is therefore evident that parents are more likely to provoke the behaviours evidenced by their children. Colossians 3:21 say, “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged”. This means that in order to maintain a close and healthy relationship between parents and their children, parents should mind what they do. Some of the actions by parents can be very genuine while they end up provoking their children. As a result, while it is easy to provoke them unknowingly, parents should consider the consequences of their actions. If parents are in close relationship with their children, Stafford et al argue that they would easily note any negative change in children behaviours and through discussions in the family, they would come up with causes and solutions to the evidenced problems. This is to avoid a situation in which a parent would provoke his children to hating one another or drifting away from the parents.
Based on the example of Joseph in which children feel that their parents are closer and love one child more than others, the relationship among the siblings and between the less preferred siblings and their parents is adversely impacted. In this case, the parents lack the skills or time to sit down with their children and work on their relationship. When a parent realises that the children are drifting away from him or her, he or she should look for ways of improving the relationship. Such discussions are meant to prevent severe consequences in which as it happened to Joseph, the less preferred siblings might plot on harming one of their own. While the family should be based on love and care, with hate, the family members would be celebrating when one of them is facing challenges rather than helping him.
As argued by Stafford et al, with negative parenting, the parent-child relationship is strained. In today’s families in which parents are busy working and leave their children under the care of nannies, there is reduced supervision and decreased parent involvement in a child’s life. In most families, even when living in the same house with their parents, some children live for days without seeing their parents. This is mostly for working parents who have to live their houses before their children are awake and get back home when the children are already asleep. In other cases, some parents have very busy work schedules involving travelling for several days. As a result, children lack the time and attention they require from their parents.
Parent-child relationships are also strained by increased punitive discipline that leads to antisocial behaviour of the children. Aggressive behaviour in parents in terms of corporal punishment results to poor behavioural and emotional adjustment in children. When children consider their parents hostile and with negative affectivity, they become less close to them and form relationships outside the family. In todays’ society, this is evidenced more in families in which children are happier in the absence of their drunkard and abusive parents and immediately they get home, the children grow numb. In such families, children grow with more resentment and guilt and the families are characterized by poor communication skills. Children with unsupportive and uncaring parents would have no one to share their problems with and would even seek friendship anywhere even from their misleading peers. When children are brought up by parents who have negative affectivity, they are more likely to indulge in substance abuse, exhibit depressive symptoms, and have suicidal attempts or thoughts.
Even though current families are facing challenges that lead to hate and distance between children and parents, there are recommendations to strengthening the relationship. It is notable that parents should guide their children all their life. This is what is referred in various Bible verses as use of the rod to correct the child’s behaviour. However, literal use of the rod might lead to rebellion by the children. As a result, parents should look for ways to get close to the children. As the elders in the family, parents should show their children love, support, and care. Parents should ensure that the environment at home is comfortable and conducive. Even at their young ages, children should be very comfortable at home and the company of their parents. It should not happen that children are happy at their relatives’ places, at school, or when their parents are not at home.
It is expected that every action or decision taken by any family member should be to enhance parent-children relationships. As explained in Malachi 4:6 “And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse”. This means that enhancing relationships is the responsibility of both the parents and the children. For it to be successful, the relationship should be created at very young ages. A child should grow up knowing that his parents are his best friends. Before a child considers sharing her or his problems with her or his friends, she or he should have her or his parents as the first confidants. Blondal and Adalbjarnardottir note that when a parent is friendly and approachable to the child, the relationship lasts forever. The child feels so secure and attached to her parents that she will trust and grow close to them even at her adulthood.
By replacing socio-centred family structures with person-centred families, parent-child relationships are enhanced. In socio-centred families, child’s needs and values are ignored and as a result, the child is only accepted in the family is she agrees to the point of view of the parent. This way, children feel coerced and would do anything to get far from their parents. On the contrary, with person-centred families, parents pay attention to the personality and inner world of the child. They respect the child’s values and needs and exhibit unconditional acceptance for a child’s individuality. This way, even though a child would be guided, he would not feel oppressed. The parent would only guide but not decide for his child. He would advise him to take the right decision rather than force him into something he is not interested in.
The failure of a socio-centred family is evidenced in the family of Joseph and his brothers in which the brothers defected from what their father wanted. Their father wanted a socio-centred family in which the children agreed to what their father said. Instead of the father considering the need and values of his children, he forced them into being like Joseph since for him, he was socially accepted. According to Climie and Mitchell, when a child’s individuality is overlooked and instead he is forced to behave and act in a certain manner, he would defy and keep distance from his parents. On the contrary, when children are allowed to be themselves, they will be happy even in the absence of their parents. This is explained in Ephesians 6:4 “Parents, do not treat your children in such a way as to make them angry. Instead, raise them with Christian discipline and instruction”. This advocates for respect of children based on their individuality and personality.
It is therefore clear that the challenges faced in today’s families are evidenced in families in the Bible. While children should be close to their parents, it is not possible when parents lack time for their children or children feel that they are forced into doing things they consider to be against their values and needs. It is only after parents respect their children views and also have time with them that their relationship would be enhanced. When children consider their parents their best friends, they grow close to them. If children are brought up with their parents as their confidants, they feel comfortable with them and would always be close to them. Parents should therefore engage their children in discussions to learn their challenges and solve any problems between them. This is to avoid a situation in which children feel that their parents prefer one child over others.
Birditt, K.S. et al., ‘Tensions in the Parent and Adult Child Relationship: Links to Solidarity and Ambivalence’, Psychol Aging, vol 24, no. 2, 2009, pp. 287-95.
Blondal, K.S., and S. Adalbjarnardottir, ‘Parenting practices and school dropout: A longitudinal study’, Adolescence, vol. 44, 2009, pp. 729-49.
Climie, E.A., and K. Mitchell, ‘Parent-child relationship and behavior problems in children with ADHD’, International Journal of Developmental Disabilities, vol. 63, no. 1, 2017, pp. 27-35.
Mangeli, G., and M. Toraldo, ‘Parent-Child Relationships and Psychological Challenges during Adolescence: Which Solutions?’ Journal of Psychological Abnormalities, vol. 4, 2015, pp. 145-7.
Popov, L.M., and R.A. Ilesanmi, ‘Parent-Child Relationship: Peculiarities and Outcome’, Review of European Studies, vol. 7, no. 5, 2015, pp. 253-63.
Stafford, M. et al., ‘Parent–child relationships and offspring’s positive mental wellbeing from adolescence to early older age’, The Journal of Positive Psychology, vol. 11, no. 3, 2016, pp. 326-37.