What drives your family? I am not asking who drives your family…nor am I asking if your family owns a Chevy, Ford, or Toyota. I am asking, “What motivates your family life?” What influences your family decisions? What is the heartbeat of your family? Many families allow fear or guilt to sit in the driver’s seat. When fear or guilt sits in your family’s driver seat you are in for a wreck. For instance, families driven by fear of bad behavior believe that structures and rules will make everything “work out alright.” As a result, when the fear of bad behavior sits in the driver’s seat, the family finds themselves on the road of over-rigid, legalistic, and unrealistic expectations. Fear-driven families remain overly vigilant to assure the loose morals of society do not creep into their family. If anyone’s behavior starts to do down the “wrong road,” the family simply adds another rule to detour the negative behavior; and rules of avoidance are put in place to keep family members away from the “immoral influences” of society. Rules pile upon rules. The structure becomes the top priority in the family…until the family experiences the inevitable collision with rebellion resulting from an inability to meet the expectations. Yes, the wreck is inevitable. Family members never internalize healthy limits in the family driven by the fear of bad behavior. When they find themselves “out from under” the family rules, they rebel. Or, when they feel that “no matter what they do it is never enough,” they give up and rebel. As the saying goes, “Rules without Relationship leads to Rebellion.”
Other families are driven by the fear of looking bad. When children throw a tantrum in the store, the parents in this family begin to worry that everyone will think they are bad parents who have no control in their home. Their embarrassment overrides the need to stand firm; and, they give in to their children’s tantrum behavior. This family, driven by the fear of looking bad, is more concerned with appearance than character. Their children have to perform to a certain level to experience acceptance and feel appreciated. This family believes that only the star athlete, the straight “A” student, the lead actor, the first chair musician, or the first whatever has truly achieved their potential. Anything short of this visible success brings “encouragement” in the form of prodding, nagging, or comparisons. Appearance, however, is fleeting. Achieving top status is not fulfilling. Sooner or later we all fall short of perfection. And, we all want something that no amount of success can grant us…acceptance. When that moment hits the family driven by the fear of looking bad, the wheels go into a skid, the sparks fly, and the family crashes into the wall of disappointment, anger, resentment, and isolation.
Families may also find guilt in the driver’s seat. Families driven by guilt often want to make up for some past hurt…the divorced parent who gives their kids everything they want; the parent who feels guilty when inducing the pain of discipline so puts up with inappropriate behavior; the spouse who hurt his partner unintentionally so now gives in to her every desire. Each of these families, and more, are driven by guilt. Families driven by guilt may “discourage” unwanted behavior with guilt-inducing discipline. When guilt drives a family, you can expect a wreck. Intimacy is replaced with anger and bitterness. Family members help one another while harboring resentment that “I have to do this.” Even activities normally thought of as enjoyable become a burden, stressing the family relationships.
Instead of letting fear or guilt drive your family, put love in the driver’s seat. With love driving your family, each person will find acceptance and intimacy. The whole family will experience honor and respect. Mutual acceptance, honor, and respect will open the door for reasonable rules and structure to be internalized. Positive behavior will be lived out more intentionally. With love in the driver’s seat, no one worries about being made to look bad. Instead, each person encourages and lifts the other person, striving to make other family members look good. A family driven by love still disciplines as well. In fact, they discipline more effectively because they discipline with truth and grace, love and limits. They do not easily give in or give up. They graciously discipline in love, teaching a better way to live sensibly in this world.
So, what drives your family? Fear? Guilt? Or love? Think hard and answer honestly. A wreck awaits your family unless love is in the driver’s seat!