Children quickly learn that tears are powerful motivators. Tears bring sympathy and comfort. However, tears also bring the opportunity for manipulation and deceit. Learning to discern the difference is a huge challenge for parents.
For example, a young child wants to play with a toy that his brother has. He feels sorry for himself and tries to grab the toy. When his attempt fails, he begins to cry. Amazingly, the tears allow him to possess the coveted toy. This little boy has just learned a lesson he will not forget. “Tears can bring me what I want.” Then he learns that tears will get him out of responsibilities that are unpleasant to him. Finally, he completes the trifecta by learning that tears can actually make others feel sorry for him. This boy has earned his master’s degree in sorrowful manipulation.
Are all tears just manipulative attempts to control others? Of course not! Tears can be a good and appropriate response. The question is how do you tell the difference between legitimate sorrow and manipulative sorrow?
Esau was a man motivated by an unhealthy self-interest. One day when he was hungry he followed his growling stomach and sold his inheritance rights for a meal. He was satisfied for the moment because his belly was full. But later on, he cried bitter tears of regret. He was not sad because he had made a sinful decision that dishonored God. He was sad because of the material blessings he had lost. The Bible calls this worldly sorrow that leads to death (Hebrews 12:16-17).
In contrast godly sorrow ( 2 Cor. 7:10) leads to repentance, salvation and no regret! Thus, tears that produce regret and self-pity are tears that lead to death. True, godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to change.
This is what you look for once the tears are done. Tears followed by regret and sadness for what was lost demonstrate that no biblical lesson has been learned. Something is still missing. Whether the tears come from a 2 – year – old or a 32 -year – old, the lesson is still the same. These tears are manipulative and not to be trusted! Tears of regret and self-pity are early warning signs of abuse and sexual perversion.
Tears followed by sincere change and brokenness before God mean life. When attitudes shift towards selfless behavior, when concern for others is obvious, when the honor of Christ begins to matter, these tears show godly sorrow.
Learn to discern what tears mean. This will help you safeguard your children and keep you from falling prey to the selfish manipulation of others.