Can I Teach My Children To Turn The Other Cheek?

Jesus tells us to not only resist retaliation but to turn the other cheek.

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:38-39 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

While I attempt to humble myself to this calling by listening closer, measuring my words, and remembering that with with God’s help, I am strong enough to let go of my need to be right, I struggling with this concept when it comes to my children.

It’s fine and dandy for me to decide to take a name-calling, to quietly pray for someone, to give until I am uncomfortable, or to seek council to understand a person better rather than lash back, but to ask my children to do the same? When my children are hurt, I feel an anger and fierceness I never knew was inside me. I want them to stand up for themselves. To tell people: No, it’s not okay. I want them to fight back or find an adult to fight for them. I want them to insist on love and fairness.

My children are young so I don’t know how developmentally capable they are of putting themselves in another person’s shoes at this point, but once they are, will I want them to do it in all those scenarios? I will be proud, but I will also worry that they are sacrificing themselves too much and too often.

I believe humility is the key to peace and serenity in this world, but it is also terrifying. People are cruel. My children will still be learning even as teenagers, and I won’t be there to point out when to walk away. What if people take advantage of them? Our culture seems caught up in fear and insecurity and judgement and winning and money and power. I am not immune either. I want to seem important, too. I get angry, indignant, and fearful I won’t get “what I deserve.” The lessons of humility are difficult to shallow even for me with so many people who couldn’t care less about turning the other cheek.

On a more metaphoric level, while I can set an example of grace and humility when I’m not caught up in my importance, can force it upon my children? I do not believe Jesus asks us to make other people turn their cheeks as well. That seems counterintuitive to the entire notion. Is it humbling to prod other into being humble even if they are my children?

While I would love to sum up this article with the amazing answers I have found, I have none. All I know is what I have said goes around and around in my head: I attempt to humble myself daily, but it is difficult and frightening so I don’t always want it for my children. But I do want it for my children because it is the way of joy, serenity and a path to God. However, in the end, I don’t even know that I can give humility to anyone anyway.

I will continue to be the best example I can be, pray and be open to suggestions.

About the writer: Alex Iwashyna went from an undergraduate degree in political philosophy to a medical doctor to a stay-at-home mom, writer and Christian by 30. Four years later, she spends most of her writing time on, a humor blog, except when it’s serious, about life, parenting, marriage, culture, religion and politics. She has a muse of a husband, two young kids and a readership that gives her hope for humanity.

Review & Commentary

  • Jeb Hoge

    Do you ever wonder what it was that happened in Jesus’s life that led Him to the point of “turn the other also”? I don’t think He just came up with that as a good idea…I think that’s borne out of experiences. Do you think He ever fought back and found it wasn’t worth the cost?

    I think that we’ve got to be able to feel strong (and by that I mean capable, confident, able to withstand, etc., not necessarily burly/tough/whatever) to get to a point where we can truly appreciate humility. Knowing that I *can* stand up for myself against those who would be against me and choosing not to…that’s humility to me.

    It also means that even if I’m humble and willing to allow slights against myself go unanswered, I still know I have the strength in reserve to stand up for those who can’t. That’s something I want my kids to develop; that’s the strength that helps a friend face down a bully, or helps another child through uncertainty or sadness. My eldest and I often have “If ___ happened, what would you do?” talks while walking to school, and that’s something I hope that I can teach him through words without having to ever actually experience it, but from what he’s told me, I think he’s already been tested a few times. He seems to get it.

    • Alex Iwashyna

      I guess I’ve always thought of him as humble so it’s interesting to think of it as a process. I like that.

      However, I don’t think though that this passage is referring to standing up for others. That is found in separate passages and something I think is simpler to teach. I think it is about whether we stand up for ourselves and practice that humility. Maybe the idea is that we’d be surrounded by other’s who would stand up for us if you put all of Jesus’ teaching together? Ha!

  • Katie

    This is such an interesting thought. This is a hard one for me. I teach my kids (and my students) that violence and revenge are not the answers. It’s hard for my students since they come from such a violent life and watch it in the media. “eye for an eye” is their motto. They can’t believe that I never hit my kids. Anyway, I don’t know that I can tell them that not only do they NOT fight back, but to turn the other cheek. Give your enemies more to beat up. I can’t do that. I want to teach my own kids (and my students) to stand up for themselves without using violence. I’ve struggled with this from the Bible because I wonder…does it only apply to physical violence or is it emotional and psychological violence too? Because surely Jesus wouldn’t tell us to stay in an abusive relationship.

    In fact, I am not sure I even follow Jesus’ lesson very literally. If someone steals from me, I do not hand them my cloak. Not in the literal sense. I do pray for them and try not to hold a grudge, but to literally give them more?

    Great piece, Alex.

    • Alex Iwashyna

      For a passage quoted so often, it is one that is hard. I do think that we walk this passage in increments like at first we don’t fight back with our fists, then our words, then perhaps we do turn our cheek. I have had things stolen from me and responded: “I guess they needed it more than I do.” I wonder if that is what he meant by the cloak part?

  • Christy Lee

    This is such a tough topic! I’ve been sitting her for a while, trying to figure out how to respond.

    I agree that this verse is a mind-bender. What do we do?

    I think Jesus’ actions, along with these words, give us the answer. Jesus teaches us to choose our battles carefully, so that we may glorify God with our actions.

    I have two boys, ages 10 and 11 (almost 12). They’re great kids. They’re honest, kind, funny, hard-working. They are the best of friends, don’t beat eachother up or call names or engage in sibling rivalry or arguments. Basically, everything a mom works hard for. I just hope I can continue the trend through the teen years.

    They’ve both been victims of bullying. Over time, my husband and I have worked to instill in them honesty, a protective instinct, a loving heart, and to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).

    We’ve also worked hard to teach them to pick their battles. Some fights are worth fighting, and some are not. God gave us free will to determine that. We fight to protect those who cannot fight for themselves. We stand up to those who would continue to hurt others. We do what’s good and right…not just what feels good. The high road isn’t the easy road. “It is not necessary that whilst I live I live happily; but it is necessary that so long as I live I should live honourably. ” (Immanuel Kant)

    I think Jesus believed that too. He didn’t just turn his cheek when he overturned the moneychanger’s tables. He didn’t just avert his eyes away from the adulterous woman who was about to be stoned. He stood up for them. Yes, he said to turn the other cheek when a fight was not required, but he did not shirk a skirmish when it was necessary. He swooped in, like a war eagle, to do what is right and stop wrongdoing, all the while thoughtfully admonishing the wrongdoer.

    It all comes down to choosing your battles. Choosing when to fight or not, on the behalf of righteousness. He chose when he went to the cross. Some say that he turned the other cheek when he was brought to trial, and I agree. But he also chose to do battle on our behalf when he went to the cross by becoming a living sacrifice to God. And now we are righteous in His eyes.

    • Alex Iwashyna

      It IS a tough passage — I mean, how many adults are truly following it?
      I definitely agree that we are supposed to stand up for others and that is much easier to teach, but I think this particular passage is talking about when we as individuals are wronged and how we are to respond rather than responding when others are wronged and that’s where I struggle with my children because I want them to stand up for themselves. I sort of extrapolated from your comment that perhaps starting with people who are easier, like siblings, before moving into the evildoers makes sense for children. We are already doing that with them and with good friends as well as some strangers (understanding why someone might cut us off on the highway for example) so perhaps I am on the right track. Thank you.

  • Marge Wood

    Hand out homemade cookies just warm from the oven. I think that’s the modern day version. Love one another, and love is not just a feeling but a choice of actions. It is a commandment. I think this concept needs to be studied from several different passages in the Bible, starting with the Old Testament (an eye for an eye) to the New Testament (vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord). Easy to say, hard to do. Kids should feel safe to tell at least one adult anything worrying him/her so they can find a solution. When I used to tell stories in a low income neighborhood it used to worry me that parents encouraged kids to beat other kids up if necessary. In contrast, one of my elderly gentlemen friends said his father told them never to get into fights. He says he never did. Pass the cookies.