Few things will send a child scurrying down the black hole of dysfunction more than the angry dad. An angry dad in the home is the metaphorical equivalent of rolling a child’s heart through a mine field.
He lives between two worlds: (1) striving to be perfect for his dad and (2) receiving exasperating disapproval from his dad. The accumulative effect of this kind of tension is hard to overcome.
In fact, most children never completely overcome it. I have counseled scores of “50-year old” children who are still trying to please their fathers, even though some of their dads have been dead for many years.
The traumatic consequences of a dad’s anger is incalculable.
Born to be fearful
Children come into our world fearful and insecure. This was part of the fallout from the Adamic curse.
Adam walked away from God and part of the consequences of his sin was fearful insecurity. And because we are “in Adam,” we have inherited his consequences. Being fearful is part of the curse.
Imagine a child coming into our cold and harsh world only to find himself dependent on an angry dad. It is a lose-lose situation for the child. He does not stand a chance. It’s not unusual for the child to harbor resentment toward God for this “trick of nature.”
The only people he knows to depend on are the “big people in the room” and when one of the big people has an anger problem, the child is confused as to how to respond.
A child does not have the spiritual or psychological capability to accurately process what is happening to him.
Initially he sees his parents as perfect. And why not? They are older, taller, stronger, less dependent, and smarter than he is. They are also his authority figures.
It stands to reason they are perfect because they are in the know and are always right. Therefore, what the parent says has to be true. Right?
At least that is how a child processes what he is experiencing. Therefore, if a dad yells at him, then it only makes sense the child did something wrong.
“I must be doing something wrong. Why else would daddy be yelling at me? I messed up. There must be something wrong with me.”
The quiet introverted child
The child’s constitution will determine how he internalizes, processes, and responds to what is happening to him. If the child has a propensity toward introversion, then he will “go quiet.” Being quiet is normal for him; it only makes sense for him to “hide” from his dad by being silent.
He may choose to get “lost in television” or video games. He can go “into” these safe worlds as a way of escaping from his dad. A 30-minute sitcom is the perfect cure.
In 24 minutes (6 minutes of commercials) there is (1) bliss, (2) a problem, (3) a solution, and (4) back to bliss again. It’s a wonderful fantasy that always ends well for the hurting child.
In his real world he dare not say more than necessary because of the potential of being harshly corrected, scolded, or put down. “If it ain’t right, keep quiet or you will be corrected.” He learns to occupy himself inside of his own world. It’s his safe place.
The sad part about the internalization of his troubles is that he is actually seething in anger. He doesn’t necessarily show it at an early age, but his turmoil and confusion will eventually come out as anger and bitterness when he gets older.
He’s too young to articulate these things as a child. Therefore, he quietly sits and simmers until one day he is able to express what he has been harboring for many years in his heart.
The angry acting out child
If the child’s constitution is bent more toward extroversion, then he will be more outwardly angry, competitive, or whiney. He will be angry with those he can be angry with because he knows he can get away with being “superior” to them. He is modeling his dad’s superiority-through-anger behavior.
He will be competitive with those he can defeat, another aspect of his dad’s superiority-through-anger behavior. Then he will be whiney when he does not get his way, or doesn’t win.
This is the equivalent of his dad showing anger as a means of getting his way. Being whiney is a form of grumbling or complaining, which is a form of biblical anger.
The quiet child is afraid to extend himself because he is not sure he can win and he does not want to be yelled at or put down if he does not succeed. His dad’s anger has a way of circumventing his desire to perform or achieve.
The acting out child wants to model his dad’s aggression, which he does in a childlike way, e.g. competition, anger, or whiney. He doesn’t mind exerting himself because he will either win or complain about losing.
All things in common
The one thing these kids have in common is their desire to please their father. The quiet child does not want to displease, so he does very little.
The extrovert child tries to please, so he is willing to do most anything. For both of them their hope is to “close the distance” between themselves and their father.
Initially, there is a natural distance between a parent and a child. This is because of sin. It is upon the father to remove the barriers that hinder their relationship.
There is also a natural distance between us and our heavenly Father too. If God the Father was belligerent or unkind toward us we too would also be scurrying for cover, only coming out when we knew we were assured of His approval.
Thankfully God does not treat us this way. Rather than placing harsh demands on us while exhibiting anger for our faults, He chose to punish His Son for our faults. It was the love of God that drew us to Him. Or as Paul said in Romans 2:4, it was the kindness of God that led to our repentance.
Nothing relieves the dysfunction in our souls like a father’s approval. If we were motivated to serve God out of fear instead of love, we would be nothing more than nervous circus performers. The angry dad creates this kind of nervousness in his home.
This kind of “theology” wreaks havoc on the children’s understanding of God and their functional relationship with God. When they do accept God as their Savior, they view Him in a similar way as their own fathers.
Even though they may know it is “not by works, but by grace alone,” there is a sense that if they don’t perform accurately before God, He will exhibit His displeasure (Ephesians 2:8-9).
They have a hard time embracing the mercy, favor, grace, and love of God because it quite frankly has not been their experience. How could they think otherwise? The only father they have ever known was an angry man and they lived in the constant fear of not meeting his expectations.
A note on anger
Some dads may read this and say that they don’t have the kind of angry anger that I have talked about here. I hope that is the case. However, that does not relieve you of your responsibility before your child.
Any kind of unkind disapproval will have a similar impact on your child. Your child looks up to you. He is ignorant. He is unsure if he is “doing it right.” He needs to know. He needs your affirmation.
Dad, you are the primary person in his life to affirm your affection and approval of him. If you are harsh, picky, unkind, uncharitable, unloving, or disapproving in any way, then you are sending a strong message to him that he does not measure up. When he gets older, there is a 100% chance he will look for approval in other places. Typically, the first place he looks is toward girls.
As an aside: Because he is a craving approval seeker, this is why a teen can “go off the deep end” when a girl breaks up with him. It is one more rejection in his life; it is one more than he can handle at this point in his life. The same goes for girls. This is one reason why I think it is foolish to encourage teens to date.
Dad, you must repent of all of your angry sins, including the rolling of your disapproving eyes or the elevated tones in your voice sins. Both of these lesser sin patterns let him know he is not accepted.
There is a way to deal with your child’s sin, but any expression of anger, no matter how subtle you believe it to be, is not the answer.
Though you may not be a cussing or throwing things across the room dad, please examine your heart and your behavior regarding how you respond to your children.
Ask your spouse or your friends how they have seen you talk to your children. Don’t fall for the self-righteous comparison trap: I’m not as bad as so and so. You may not be as bad as your friend, but the person you want to compare yourself is Jesus Christ, not another sinner.
Be an encourager
And let me press the point even further. You must go far beyond the subtle forms of disapproval like the rolling of the eyes or huffing under your breath. Even apathy is a form of anger and hatred. There is no neutrality between love and hate. Your expressions represent either love or hate to your child. There is no middle ground.
Your goal must not be just to stop being angry. You must go beyond this. While it is good to put off a bad behavior, it is best to put on a good one (Ephesians 4:22-24).
You must be a lover and an encourager to your children. If you have been motivating them by fear because of your anger, then I appeal to you to repent of this.
Then put on a new kind of parenting, which begins with motivating them by grace and love. Here is a good question to ask your child as a way to examine your heart and behavior before him or her:
“Son, if you knew that you could answer this question in any way that you wanted to and that I would not get angry in the least bit, how would you answer this question?
When you think of me as a dad, what are you more aware of: my approval and affirmation of you or my disapproval and displeasure in you?”
My dear dad friend, you won’t be able to stop being angry all by yourself. I encourage you to get help. There is no other way. Sanctification happens in community.
I appeal to you to humble yourself before others. Don’t try this alone. Ask your pastor or spiritual leader in your local church to serve you. Get help today. Release your kids from the bondage of fear.
Once you determine that you are going to repent, then go to your children and confess your sins. Ask for their care and accountability. Give them the freedom to serve you. Let them help you to overcome your sin.
My youngest daughter is 5-years old. I talk to her about these things. She will lay her head on my chest and pray to Jesus to help me not to be angry. I need her help. I need her prayers. I need her friendship. She is a means of grace to me.
I exhort you to become a Christian family today!