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    FAQ 56

    How Do You Deal with
    Older Children who are
    Hostile to Polygamy?

    Q. I have an adult teenage daughter who has always been hostile to polygamy, unlike her other siblings who are not. Their mother left the family some time ago before I started living polygamously and is hostile to the principle. She (the daughter) lives with us still but is very antagonistic and verbally abusive about our lifestyle and has created a sour atmosphere which is badly affecting the younger children and my wives. What should I do?

    This is not an uncommon situation where a marriage has broken up though it is by no means the only one. I know of one polygamous family where the first wife left (and who lived a very immoral lifestyle, incidentally) where the daughter remained poly-positive but the son turned hostile. It would be tempting to say that daughters more naturally empathise with their mothers feeling-wise but there are no reliable 'psychological rules' like this, in my view. Everyone reacts differently according to their temprement and personal choices.

    Family divisions can, and do, occur in polygamous marriages (like monogamous ones) where husband and wife fall out and there's no knowing how the children will react. That is another reason why I believe and emphasise the polygamy-by-love model and reject the polygamy-by-force one: the emotional problems the children of broken homes often suffer.

    The Christian/Messianic is always faced by a dilemma when a child goes off the spiritual rails, as it were, whether it has to do with marriage problems or anything else. I have raised this issue before in the context of a plural wife 'going sour' and how best to deal with a domestic situation where the family peace is being seriously disturbed and the children are starting to suffer. It is a very fine balancing act. As Christians/Messianics we are supposed to offer the other cheek and suffer silently, loving those who wrong us. That is fine when we as individuals have to make such a choice, but when it impinges upon the mental and emotional health of minors, then I fear it is a very different equation indeed. As with the verbally (and in some cases I've heard of, physically) abusive wife, if a son or daughter starts getting out of line and upsetting the authority structure of the home and setting a bad example for little children, then it is time to send them away.

    Now this is not easy for a parent - in fact, it is very, very difficult, because every decent parent in his or her heart wants only to love and help a wayward child. He or she would rather suffer than take the drastic action to throw such a one out of the house. Your case is a little unusual inasmuch as your daughter wants to remain at home in spite of being so hostile to your lifestyle - most, when they are of age and financially independent, would prefer to leave home and launch out into the world by themselves.

    We must be careful not to err in either being too strict or too lenient. King David furnishes us with an example of the latter. He tolerated and kept on excusing and pardoning his rebellious and wayward son to the extent that he dealt unjustly with his loyal subjects, leaders and ordinary folk alike. His partiality cost both his family and the nation of Israel dearly when his disloyal son, Absalom, started a civil war that cost the nation many thousands of lives. Worse, it cost many of his wives their chastity when the wicked young man violated them.

    A patriarch must consider the welfare of everyone under his roof when it comes to wayward children. He is responsible not only for the mental, emotional and spiritual health of an older wayward child but for his other children and wives too. We are never to sacrifice others for the good of a rebrobate son or daughter - our freedom only extends to ourselves and to the other adults if they make that personal decision of their own free will.

    In the beginning it is the responsibility of the father/husband to extend grace and to reason in love with patience, just as Yahweh our Heavenly Father does with us. We are to be long-suffering. If that fails, though, then, like Yahweh, we are obliged to punish. Limited punishment might include limiting contact between the rebellious son or daughter with his/her siblings, if that is physically possible. Only if limited isolation fails should you take the drastic step to throw the miscreant out. If you do the latter, and he is not yet financially independent, you will have to do all you can to help him with alternative accommodation and finding a source of income. In many cases, they just leave and take care of this themselves - sometimes, sadly, they end up in bad company and start the long descent to darkness that the Prodigal Son made. In every case, however, we can only pray for Yahweh's guiding and protecting hand.

    If the rebellious child wants to remain at home, this may be a sign that he is double-minded about his hostility to polygamy. Or it may simply be because he feels insecure about starting in the world alone and is making a plea to his father or mother for help. Children who strike out in anger do not always mean what they say and do, their bad behaviour simply being a means - desperate though it is - to get attention, and perhaps find self-worth. A parent, if he is a good one, is one of the most important persons a child has to fall back on, especially when he is going through a difficult time. And very often they will be as outrageous as they possible can to see if their parents really love them or not. One of the greatest evidences of true love is being long-suffering of abuse, within certain parameters, of course.

    There are so many different factors to take into consideration in what is surely one of the most difficult problems any adult can ever face - of being torn by loyalties. And there is no one single straightforward solution. Every patriarch must prayerfully find a solution himself which he believes is the most God-honouring and person-loving - he must carefully balance strictness with mercy, erring on the side of mercy if he isn't sure.

    If a teenager finds him- or herself in a polygamous family where his/her mother has deserted, he will, if carnally disposed, often take sides with his blood-mother. I know of families where such teenagers can be intransigent in spite of love being poured upon them by the other wives; and I know of other teenagers who simply gravitate to whoever loves the most. Very often if his mother is absent or less loving (or both) he will spontaneously seek out and find amongst the sister wives one whom he regards as 'mother'. If he does this, his father must be sensitive to what is going on and hopefully (usually) encourage the wife to become a kind of step-mother. In most polygamous families the children look upon all his wives as mothers anyway, with one primary mother and the rest secondary mothers. This is a wonderful way for them to grow up because they gain from all the different temprements and personalities which they can choose between. As they grow up, they will be attracted to different wives, depending on their needs and wants. But there will always be a 'primary mother', if for no other reason than to ensure that the proper discipline is meeted out, for little ones are not above manipulation in order to get what they want, going to the women most likely to acceed to their demands!

    In the case of a hostile child the very opposite of this desirable state of affairs can happen - they often single out one or more of the wives for their wrath especially if those women have been stricter with them in not yielding to their wishes. And unless the wives are prepared for this (this is something the husband must instruct them in), they can often get very hurt. This is true not just in the scenario of an anti-polygamous youth but generally when a youth doesn't get his/her own way.

    In my own situation, I remember how one of my teenage children going through the rebellious stage tried to set one sister-wife against the other, and especially to place him/herself between me and another wife - I had to choose 'either/or'. This the patriarch must never allow a youth to do - he must drum in constantly that he is no respector of persons (as Christ isn't) and that he will not tolerate such manipulation. If a wife is wrong and a teenager right, then any resolution of a problem I will always make in private with the two, never in front of the others. I make it clear that I always uphold the honour of my wives when in public. The only exception is if a wife makes a public scene in which case I may be forced to take disciplinary action in public (thank goodness it has hardly ever happened). Making clear the lines of authority in a polygamous family - and reinforcing them with discipline if necessary - is essential to the smooth running and happy atmosphere in the home.

    As children are quick to forget such a complex structure in a large household, it needs constant reinforcing. The details of family authority need to be worked out by the individual families concerned but the basic outline should be constant and harmonious with scripture.

    One error I occasionally encounter that comes from wives is when they believe their children are more 'important' than their husband. That is fatally wrong and is a sure way to undermine authority and create precocious and bratty children. This is the same as saying that believers are more important than Yahweh, reversing Christ's summary of the Ten Commandments to first love Yahweh and then love your neighbour as yourself.

    To love your husband 'first' does not, of course, mean that you will neglect your children, any more than loving Yahweh means you cease loving other Christians/Messianics. It is simply a question of priority and lines of command.

    One problem that can occur in a polygamous household as children become teenagers and youths is a lack of respect for the other wives because the husband treats one or more women as favourites. I make it a point to require all the children to treat all of my wives with equal respect and dignity as though they were their own mothers. Really, the only 'division' into sub-families occurs is when there is a disagreement between the wives and I am not present to arbitrate in which case a child is expected to defer to its own mother until the father makes a final decision. Thus a mother exerts a headship over her own children when that is required because of disagreement. The household therefore runs by the same set of rules. If you set up one set of rules for one wife and her children, and another for another wife and children, you are effectively setting up separate homes. Quite apart from this being a nightmare of a juggling act for the husband, it really destroys the whole purpose of polygamy which is to advance in concert to a common unity, just as the Church or Messianic Community is commanded to be one in harmonmy with the will of Christ.

    Hostility in older children can be brought about because of conflicting sets of domestic 'rules' which naturally some children will regard as 'unfair' when their half-brothers and sisters appear to be getting 'special treatment'. In this you have the beginning of a class system which historically has only ever created strife.

    When the rebelliousness of youth raises its ugly head in a family it has to be dealt with swiftly and finally because it can otherwise become a rapidly-spreading cancer. It is admittedly always more difficult the first time it happens because the parents are usually in a state of shock for a while as they fumble around for the appropriate response. This is especially so if there has always been harmony. Satan will always attempt to place a snake in Eden and when he does there must be a rapid and decisive response.

    We may look to the three temptations of Yah'shua (Jesus) for some inspiration in this regard. The first of Satan's temptations was the carnal appetite when he dared Christ to turn stone into bread (Matthew 4:1-4). Making concessions in this area to youth is fatal to their spiritual well-being and, ultimately, to the family's. They will often, if they have been exposed to it, want to bring in secular music, worldly fashions, habits and mannerisms. Stamp these out immediately. Do not budge one inch.

    The second temptation was authority when Satan offered Christ the Kingdoms of the world if only He would bow down and worship him (Matthew 4:5-7). As youngsters grow up they often make authority-bids in the home, to try and set the agenda, and to lead where leadership does not belong to them. Youngsters may, and should, be given stewardships and areas of responsibility, but not the right to lord it over their siblings and definitely not the right to dictate to the wives or to their father - ever. This tendency to assume power in the family must likewise be stampted out. Just as there is only one Elohim (God) of the redeemed, so also there is only one father/husband in the family. If the father is grooming up a son to be his successor (ideally the firstborn son, though the final decision must be based on conduct -- cp. Reuben losing the birthright to Joseph, and Esau to Isaac). The family should be taught to look up with respect to their father's and husband's successor, just as Christians/Messianics are to look to the Son of Elohim (God). Whatever authority the firstborn son has is, however, only designated authority, just as Christ's was of the Father. The authority of a firstborn son will be in proportion to his obedience to his father, and no more - an authority based on complete loyalty and submission.

    It follows that rebellious youths should have any designated authority stripped from them immeditely until they have repented. If this is true of the local church (assembly) then it definitely must be true of the home as well. A youth in rebellion should be denied any authority over his/her younger siblings. At the same time the younger ones should be taught to respect an elder brother or sister by being silent when they disagree with them, raising any concerns with their parents. Smaller children will ask if they think an elder brother or children is/are doing wrong and they must be told the truth but in a way that will not make them look down disrespectfully on their siblings.

    When the proper authority structure is in place, it is much easier to keep control of a situation that is going wrong because of a deviant youth.

    The third temptation area is power. The devil challenged Christ to throw Himself off the temple wall to prove that He was who He said He was. The last resort of one who is in rebellion is to challenge the moral integrity of the heads of the household by claiming they are not worthy to hold the position they do. It is an attempt to make the patriarch doubt his own calling and responsbility based on his works rather than his appointment.

    The problem here is that no father or mother is infallible. Indeed, if they want to, youth will always be able to fault them in something. But this is entirely irrelevent. A father is the head of his household not because he is 'better' than his wives or children but because that is where Yahweh has placed him. And we must never confuse the two. Quite apart from the fact that Christ warned us of hypocrisy - to take care of the beam in our own eye before pointing out the splint in the one we are criticising (nearly all youths are in this position to one degree or another) - we are to first remember our place. Paul similarly teaches that the members of a congregation are to respect their Pastor not because he is better than them but because this is his God-appointed office (see The Pastoral Office).

    When a youth is in rebellion because he believes (rightly or wrongly) that his father, mother or one of his father's wives, to be in the wrong, then he is in error no matter if he is right or wrong. A true patriarch will, of course, permit a son or daughter to criticise him if it is done with respect for his office and not in a haughty or rude manner. And a true son will not use a fault in his father or mother as an excuse to rebell. Yahweh will not justify him - ever - unless, perhaps, the father is so evil that he is destroying lives. But such a youth had better exercise the same kind of caution as David did when he was on the run from evil King Saul whom he continued to show respect to as his Sovereign. Let troubled youths read this story well - for this is how they should be treating an aberrant father (1 Samuel 18ff).

    This is the true Patriarchal Order and it is vital in polygamous families. Youths must remember that fatherhood is not just a biological accident caused by the birth of a child but a divinely appointed office carrying certain privileges and responsibilities. Motherhood is exactly the same. Both are sacred callings and both must be honoured by children even after they have left home. Of course, when youth marry and leave home, fathers and mothers cease to have certain responsibilities over their children. However, the respect and defference given them before is still due to them whether they agree with their parents or not.

    I confess freely that many of the troubles with my teenage children have been caused by errors on my part, for being too weak in discipline and not strict enough in rule-making. Fathers must ever be on alert to the THREE TEMPTATIONS of Carnality (Worldliness), any challenge to his parental Authority, and any attempt to usurp his Power. It is his duty to teach his children these things and reinforce this teaching by swift punishment (always followed by an increase in loving kindness to show that you still love them) if it is not obeyed.

    If a youth has been brought up in liberalism or a lack of discipline you have a major problem on your hands. If you don't break them in young you'll have a major headache when they're older.

    In my own experience, I made a fatal concession to carnality in my home, allowing worldly entertainment to enter in. This resulted in a challenge to my authority when the child became a teenager which was followed by a major power-play in which my integrity and righteousness have been openly challenged. One concession to worldliness has cost me (and the youth concerned, not to mention the rest of the family) immeasurable sorrow. Once bitten, twice shy - I resolved never to compromise my spiritual values again. I thought I was being 'loving' to the child by giving in to 'free agency' but I reaped the whirlwind. Love is not defined by freedom to do what one wants - love is always defined by obedience to the commandments (2 John 6; 1 John 52-3). When a child leaves home and starts his own, then he/she can choose to sin in these areas if he/she wishes. Foolish the man who lets his children ruin his home, or the General who does not stamp out mutiny in the ranks.

    If you are faced by a rebellious youth, it may be too late for you to be able to do much about it. Such a child may only learn the truth through the hard knocks of life. But there may still be time. If the youth is still teachable, sit down and teach what the Bible has to say on the matter and why Yahweh has set up this patriarchal structure. If the youth is non-responsive and is destroying the harmony, order and happiness of the home still, then more drastic action is absolutely needed. And throwing them out of the house may be your only real choice if you love the rest of your family. When in Christ's parable the Shepherd lost one of his sheep, he didn't sacrifice the other 99, but went out to where the wandering sheep had gone. If you are forced to throw out a son or daughter, make sure you don't break all contact, but go out of your way to encourage them to come back home on your conditions. It may be that you are rejected in which case the reformation of the youth is in Yahweh's hands and you can do no more than wait and pray.

    Author: SBSK

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    First created on 13 July 2001
    Updated on 30 April 2016

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