Come on. Admit it. You’ve said it before. We all have.
However, somewhere along the way, parents started to believe that we no longer have permission to say this to our kids. We now think that children have the right to demand an answer that makes sense to them. Therefore, we explain and justify our actions (or reactions), attempting to answer every last, “but why???!!” In desperation, we may resort to saying, “because I said so!” and if we do, we feel guilty.
I am here to tell you that it is okay – and even biblical – to respond with these words (or a form of them) from time to time. We will look at some guidelines to help you know when it’s okay and when it is not. We will also explore how it could actually be good for them down the road.
When It’s Okay
1) When you’re training them to trust. We will address this in more depth in the final section of this post, but there are times when it is beneficial to ask our children to do things that don’t make sense to them without explanation. Sometimes obedience is not so much about understanding as it is about trusting. You can say something like, “Because I said so – and you can trust me.”
2) When you have already made yourself clear. If you are very purposeful about your parenting, you probably have set rules (maybe even posted rules) that outline your expectations for behavior. If you consistently enforce these rules, your kids know them. They may claim ignorance when it is convenient for them, but you know that they know. And they know that you know that they know. Instead of saying, “because I said so,” you may choose to say something like, “You already know the answer to that question.”
3) When you are being pulled into a power struggle. Some kids like to argue for the sake of arguing. These controlling children like the feeling of power that comes from pushing their parents’ buttons. Asking “why” in response to an instruction or command may be a big, red, flashing button for you – one that is fun to push. If your child is prone to controlling behaviors, the “why” isn’t about getting answers anyway. It’s about getting power. Explaining yourself and your actions will only provide more material for debate. Responding in a non-emotional way with a calm but firm response (like, “you have all the information you need to obey”) may be enough to shut down the inquisition.
When It’s NOT Okay
1) When you’re too busy. Sometimes we get so engrossed in our own facebook page, emails, life that we don’t want to take the time to answer our children’s questions. We may give an instruction without really thinking it through. In these situations, “because I said so,” is a cover-up for a poorly thought-out plan. Be in the moment with your kids and you won’t need a cover up.
2) When you’re angry. “Because I said so!” shouted in anger smacks of an authoritarian approach to childrearing. In these families, parents believe that the children should never question their authority. Kids should be seen but not heard. Roaring like a lion at our children might scare them into submission, but it isn’t going to translate into a healthy, vibrant relationship where our children hear us and feel heard in return.
3) When they are genuinely curious. Kids naturally have a lot of questions. And a lot of these questions start with the word “why.” Sometimes we don’t know the answers to all of their questions or may not have the time to do them justice. You may want to employ a “look it up” notebook. In it, you can record the plethora of questions you encounter during the day and then find time later to uncover the answers together. Brushing off their inquiries will not only squelch their curiosity but can also create a situation where you are no longer viewed as a resource for your children.
It’s Biblical? Really?
One of the main goals of parenting is to create an environment in which our children can learn about their Lord and their relationship to a holy and perfect God. We are paltry examples of our heavenly Father, but in His infinite wisdom, He has given us the task of representing His relationship with His children in our relationship with our children.
If you ask a group of adults to choose adjectives to describe their earthly father and then ask them to describe their heavenly Father, you will find that the lists are remarkably similar. Both moms and dads bear a huge responsibility in transmitting trust and faith in an earthly father to a heavenly Father above.
But how does this information help us understand that “I told you so” can be biblical? Well, if we really think about it, God often says, “because I told you so” in response to our questions of why. We don’t always get the answers that help us understand why He does what He does. Sometimes, He asks us to trust that the puzzle of our life is going to end up beautiful, even if we can’t turn over all of the pieces right now. That, after all, is the essence of faith, isn’t it? If we can help our children to learn to trust us without always knowing why, it will be that much easier for them to trust their Lord.
In what ways do you encourage your children to trust you?