Fathers, do not exasperate your children, instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)
Paul's words came to mind as I waited for my flight. Standing behind me were a mother and her two teenage children, the less fortunate one of whom bore the brunt of an incessant lecture on how to behave around elderly people.
"Please promise me," mom beseeched, "that even if Grandma doesn't ask for your help around the house, you'll help her anyway, without being asked. Now look at you! How can I trust you to do the right thing when you've got that look on your face??? I know you don't want to go in the first place, but your visit means so much to Grandma. Please, please, promise me that you won't treat her like you sometimes treat me...."
And on and on she went, beseeching, berating, complaining, scolding, criticizing ... a nonstop harangue that ended only when the boys boarded their flight. If that mom was familiar with Ephesians 6:4, she obviously thought it didn't apply to her. (Note: Albeit in this passage Paul specifically addresses fathers, I don't think one is in error to assert that it is equally relevant to mothers.)
My trusty dictionary defines exasperate as "to disturb or irritate persistently" and lists harass, torment, and hound as synonyms. That mom was surely the perfect example of how to exasperate a child. In that regard, it is significant to note that - as was the case with that mom - a parent who exasperates a child is always him/herself exasperated - i.e., frustrated, greatly annoyed, at wits' end.
Today's parents are often exasperated. I conclude that few - even perhaps a minority of those who hold dear the wisdom contained in Scripture - are bringing their children up "in the training and instruction of the Lord." Surely Paul is saying that in so doing, one will never become exasperated. Is it "pie in the sky" to think that parenthood can be exasperation-free? Paul obviously didn't think so. And note, Paul did not say, "Now, I know some children are more vexing than others..." or "Except for those fathers whose children have attention deficit disorder, for my sympathies lie with them...." He said, clearly, that if you, a parent, are exasperated with (and therefore exasperating to) your children, you are not bringing them up in a manner consistent with God's design. Paul was intimately familiar with God's Word. He knew that Scripture - what we today call the Old Testament - is full of child-rearing wisdom.
Discipline, effectively administered, turns a child, slowly but surely, into a disciple, a little person who will follow his or her parents' lead. As Paul was Christ's disciple, so a child is to be his or her parents' disciple. The exasperation of which Paul spoke prevents discipleship. Instead of causing a child to want to listen, it causes the child to want to be somewhere else. Instead of bringing about good behavior, its inherent inconsistency brings about a confusion of behavior, good and bad. Instead of causing a child to look up with respect and admiration, exasperation causes the child to regard the parent as, at best, a servant who is there to indulge and at worst an annoyance.
That mother at the airport was not disciplining. She was exasperating. She was accomplishing absolutely nothing except confirming her sons' impression that she is - in the vernacular of their generation - a "major flake." How could she have handled her anxieties concerning her boys' visit with their Grandmother without exasperating them? How about prayer? She could have taken them into a relatively private area of the airport, taken their hands and asked them to bow their heads. She could have prayed thus: "Heavenly Father, I ask that you find some way to help these two children of ours understand what it means to have lived for more than seven decades and realize that this visit is a time to lay aside their personal concerns and do for their Grandmother everything they would want their own grandchildren to do for them when they reach the twilight of their lives. In Christ's Name we pray. Amen." Then, she could have led them to their gate, kissed them both good-bye, and wished them a wonderful trip.
I have to think God would have given three thumbs up to that.