Summary: Why do families fail? Compares the stories of Absalom and the Prodigal Son.

The Perils of Parenting: When Families Fail

Eph. 6:1-4; Luke 15:11-32; 2 Samuel


What happens when families fail?

For the last two weeks we’ve been talking about parenting in times of peril.

Two weeks ago we looked at a young mother named Hannah who was able to raise her son Samuel to be a godly man despite living in a world of overwhelming religious hypocrisy.

Last week we talked about staying on target in our parenting - doing everything we can to help our children grow up to love and follow Jesus Christ with all of their heart, all of their soul, all of their mind, and all of their strength. I encouraged you to make the most of every opportunity because the days are evil, modeling and coaching your children towards spiritual excellence.

Today we want to talk about what happens when families fail. What happens when our kids aren’t turning out the way that we planned? What happens when our kids seem to be rejecting our values and all that we have taught them?

For many parents, it’s the teen-age years that bring this tension to a crescendo. There’s something about adolescence that changes the relationship between parents and children. The following letter illustrates this tension clearly:

Dear Parent,

This is not a normal chain letter! At the bottom of this letter you will find a list of eight names and addresses. Please send your teen-ager to the person at the top of this list. Then add your name to the bottom of this list and send the letter out to seven others.

In approximately two weeks you will receive 1024 teen-agers at your home. Simply choose the one that you like.

WARNING! One parent broke this chain and got back his own teen-ager.

For many parents that letter captures the frustrations that they feel in raising teenagers. And yet James Dobson asked hundreds of teens what they would like to tell their parents. Their answers might surprise you:

* Teach us about God and spiritual things.

* Guide us towards good marriages by modeling a good one.

* Don’t curse and smoke, if you don’t want us too.

* Be consistent and follow through on things.

* Play with your kids.

* Tell us that you love us often.

* Look for good things in kids and not just the bad.

* Don’t pressure us too much to excel.

* Believe us and believe in us.

* Talk to us straight about sensitive subjects.

I don’t have to tell you that parenting is a difficult task. Developing a quality parent-child relationship can be a real struggle, not just for the parent, but also for the child.

You can see that struggle in the words of our first scripture for today, found in the New Testament book of Ephesians:

Ephesians 6:1-4 NIV

1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 "Honor your father and mother"-which is the first commandment with a promise- 3 "that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth."

4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Do you see the tension in those twin commands? Children are to obey their parents in the Lord. Many children have heard this verse repeated to them over and over again as they grew up.

But the second command is equally important:

Ephesians 6:4 NIV

4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

The word "exasperate" means to provoke your child either to anger or to discouragement. Many parents exasperate their children, either intentionally or unintentionally. While exasperating your children is never an excuse for their disobedience, it can be a significant cause of that disobedience.

As we look at the reasons why families fail, it’s tempting for both parents and children to use these verses to point out one another’s faults - for children to point out the way their parents exasperate them and for parents to remind their children of the ways that they disobey. But that’s not God’s desire - he wants us to use these verses to look inward. He wants children to ask, "Am I obeying my parents in the Lord?" and he wants parents to ask, "Am I exasperating my children?"

I want to share two stories from the Bible that look at failed families. Be forewarned - these are not fairy tales, and one of the stories has a decidedly unhappy ending. But I pray that as you look at these two families, both parents and children will look inward and ask the Lord what they need to learn.


In the first story both parent and child have made mistakes. They have frustrated one another and as a result their communication has disintegrated. Eventually this distant relationship between father and son turned into open rebellion. And that open rebellion resulted in terrible tragedy.

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