Thursday, April 16, 2015

Games People Play

This is the first in the series of five articles on parenting. I am calling this series Reactive vs. Responsive Parenting. Reactive parenting is done in reaction to something, whether a whining child or a parent’s own anxiety, but it is impulsive and produces poor results. Responsive parenting is thoughtful and is in response to the child’s best interest whether the child realizes it or not.

The games people play is another way of saying that dysfunctional patterns develop and are passed on to each succeeding generation. For example, Jacob had a problem with deception—especially lying; however, Jacob’s father and grandfather had the same problem, and Jacob’s children did too. Let’s look how this problem of lying in Isaac and Rebekah affected their sons.

Isaac and Rebekah, like so many couples, couldn’t have children, so they prayed about their problem. Soon the Lord heard their cry and answered their prayer. During the pregnancy the Lord spoke to Rebekah and told her that she was going to have twins and that the younger would surpass the older (Gen 25:23). This troubled the couple, especially Isaac because traditionally the oldest fared much better in regard to inheritance. God’s pronouncement was based on his sovereignty and omniscience, but also on the willingness and receptivity of each boy to follow God’s heart. Like so many couples Isaac and Rebekah never came to any understanding of how they would parent the boys, and consequently they worked against each other.

Despite God’s pronouncement of his will for Isaac’s family, Isaac planned to give his patriarchal blessing to his son Esau instead of Jacob. In other words he planned to pursue his will and not God’s will for his life and family. He asked Esau to prepare him the tasty venison that only Esau knew how to make, and afterwards Isaac would bless him (Gen 27:4).

When it comes to parenting, it becomes clear that Isaac and Rebekah are not on the same page; in fact they aren’t even in the same book. Unbelievably, they have both chosen their favorites and are working against each other and against their own children.

One of the main sources of conflict children face is marital discord.  There is a clear link to children’s exposure to marital conflict and children’s behavioral problems. The conflict seems to predispose some children to elevated moods which cause conduct problems and in smaller children leads to meltdowns because it compromises their sense of security.[1]

Parenting was meant to be a cooperative effort with both the mother and father working together to provide love, security, guidance and exemplary behavior to their children. When this happens, a child’s personality and independence develops in the right way.

Rebekah reacted to Isaac’s decision to bless Esau and decided to do something about it.  She knew even though Isaac couldn’t see very well, he could still smell and taste.  She connived that Jacob would deceive his father and steal the promised blessing.  Rebekah prepared the venison with the same flavor of wild game that Isaac was expecting from Esau, and she dressed Jacob in goatskins so he would appear hairy to his father and be accepted as Esau.

How ridiculous Jacob must have looked all dressed up in goat skins.  How far had Jacob and his mother been willing to go to get what they wanted?  Only the years would tell how costly the toll of their manipulation of their own family members would be.  They both would live to regret this day.
The one thing we need to give our children is authenticity. We must learn to truly be who we are to our children if they are going to be themselves. If we don’t, we will effectively teach them to imitate others, thus robbing them of the strength of their own authenticity. Isaac and Rebekah did not know how to solve their problems and come to some kind of middle ground in regard to parenting, so they started trying to deal with their problems in dysfunctional ways. Jacob learned how to lie like a pro.

Look at how he lies to his father several times:

Gen 27:18-19 “My father." "Yes, my son," he answered. "Who is it?"  Jacob said to his father, "I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me.  Please sit up and eat some of my game so that you may give me your blessing.”

Jacob’s deception would alienate him from his father and mother and cause a rift between him and his brother. Worse of all, this pattern of deception had taken hold and would be passed on to his children. The good news is that Jacob finally did change in the latter years of his life after suffering the consequences of his actions.

Isaac and Rebekah were reactive parents. They could not work out their differences, and they used their children against each other. Rebekah and Isaac both reacted to their boys’ behavior out of anger or frustration.[2]  The emotional connection they had with their less favorite child was a poor emotional connection charged with negative feelings.  Their decisions were made in a reactive mode—being impulsive decisions which were not thought out. These decisions were either too harsh or too permissive, but not appropriate.  Their children were left frustrated and confused. They used guilt and the withdrawal of love to coerce the children to conform to their wishes. Esau was propelled into a life of rebellion, and Jacob continued his life of deception to get what he wanted, and the entire family was separated.

[1] Ablow, J., Measelle, J., Cowan, P., & Cowan, C. (2009). Linking marital conflict and children’s
adjustment: The role of young children’s perceptions. Journal of Family Psychology, 23(4), 485-499. doi:10.1037/a0015894
[2] Bramlett, M., & Mosher, D. (2002). Cohabitation, marriage, divorce, and remarriage in the
United States. Vital & Health Statistics, 23(22), 1-103.

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