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My Way or the Highway!

When I lived at home for the summer as a college student, my dad was an imposing force with which to reckon-- all six and a half feet tall of him! He occasionally told me, "I love you," but more often I remember hearing him say in a booming voice, "Because I said so," or "Those are the house rules," or "My way or the highway, young lady." Looking back, I can appreciate that my dad disdained my dishes left in the sink, my laundry hung over the railing, and most obviously, my breaking of the evening curfew. Dad had a keen sense of boundaries and he enforced them with stiff consequences.

How many of you, praying college moms, anticipate a summer of late nights waiting up for your college-aged young adult and then rising to an early alarm for work? Or finding after-hour pizza boxes in the kitchen, or laundry piled next to the washer and dryer (worse-- left in the washing machine soggy for days)? More than once, I have been asked by praying college moms, "What can be done? They're adults now. They resent being treated like the children they were before they left for college." I often give a one word answer: "Boundaries."

The need for boundaries is well-established in a book by the same title, Boundaries. The authors, psychologists Henry Cloud and John Townsend, share Biblical principles and sound rationale for establishing emotional, physical, and spiritual boundaries with your children. If we set boundaries and follow through with consequences when our children cross the line, we are helping them develop the virtue of justice. Justice is a cardinal virtue that propels a person to give God and neighbor their due.

What are we due, as parents of college-age children? We need look no further than the fourth commandment for the answer. “Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12). By the fourth commandment, God asks (commands) children to respect and obey parents in all that is not sinful, and to help them when they are in need. The fourth commandment also forbids disrespect, unkindness, and disobedience to parents and lawful superiors. “Cursed be anyone who dishonors father or mother” (Deuteronomy 27:16).

Respect, obedience, kindness—these are rights as parents because of our inherent dignity as children of God, but also because we provide for the lifelong spiritual and temporal welfare of our children. So we stand on solid footing when we require our children to abide by established house rules and follow up with appropriate consequences if they don’t. It’s good for us, because it preserves the peace and stability of our home. It’s good for them, because it encourages growth in the virtue of justice. The whole family benefits from the peace that results in an atmosphere of mutual understanding and respect.

Who gets the car? When is dinner served? What time is the curfew? (if there is one) Who does the laundry? Who walks the dog? Every family has their own list of questions, right? Setting expectations for the summer in a friendly family meeting can set the stage for a joy filled, collaborative next 10 weeks!

After all, setting boundaries and is just another way of saying, "I love you!"

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