In short: Faith. Respect. Love. Selflessness. Humility. These concepts are continuous threads through all relationships. And they are dreadfully hard to accomplish for a self-focused person bent on fulfilling their own needs, so you (and I) have to pray hard that God can change your heart in each of these areas...
This is the bedrock and foundation of all things beautiful or good in life, especially relationships. If you don't know Jesus as Lord of all and Savior of your soul, then you will only be able to attempt a facsimile of these values. The reason for this is that Jesus Himself models the sacrifice and selflessness necessary to truly love others. He lived a life of holiness for us, died on the cross to bear the punishment for our sin, rose again that we might have eternal life in Him, and even now mediates on our behalf before the Father's throne. Without a relationship with Christ, none of these concepts about relationships with people will fully hit home.
Relationships to a non-believer are always mutual give-and-take, you-scratch-my-back-and-I'll-scratch-yours, and are ultimately fulfilling to the self in a feel good manner. Humanists and Objectivists, for example, view love as a self-serving act that is primarily focused on the physical side of the relationship; children are a by-product of what is fulfilling to the woman herself, and only insomuch as her career and goals are not threatened, for to deny oneself their desires is the ultimate sin. In fact, any relationship is only worth what I can get out of it emotionally, to the wordly and fleshly focused. I was definitely bent on serving myself and my own worldly desires before I became a believer in Christ, and have fought through years of habitual sin and broken relationships to realize that relationships cannot always give and take.
The problem with an investment approach is that relationships, especially with children, are all too often one-sided. Children do not reciprocate your love, and yet they absolutely require unconditional love to thrive in a sin-filled world. Christ models this humble servitude perfectly by washing his disciples' feet, refusing to play the political games of the age, and being obedient unto death on the cross. In fact, as He looked out over the crowd of people responsible for crucifying Him, among His final words were, "forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do." He made provision for those that hated him to the point of murder, even as He was being killed.
We as parents need to realize that sacrificial love that puts our own needs aside for those of our children is where it all starts. And that takes a miraculous and fundamental change in our hearts, if we can't understand that. Something WORTH PRAYING FOR.
I grew up in a household where children were to be seen and not heard, and breaking the rules was met with irritation and violence, if disobedience persisted beyond the momentary lapse. The problem was, I had no respect in my heart for either of my divorced parents and began to loathe their instruction, which was nothing more than a product of their self-serving desire to keep my attitude under control, in a 'manageable', 'don't bother me' frame of mind.
Another type of parenting is to emotionally abandon the child, or alternately, to be friends with them. There needs to be a balance in the parents' life, where you are helping them to navigate away from their sin, and that sometimes takes a proactive, firm (but tender and long-suffering) approach. Using a large set of rules is all too often a cop-out to real, hands-on parenting where you actually interact with your children.
More often, however, parents are too heavy-handed...
If your expectation is that your children will one day be fellow heirs in Christ, then you have no right to treat them as lesser beings, nor should you debase them with angry discipline, nor provoking them to wrath with unrealistic expectations or by emotionally abandoning them. Your children may very well be worshiping alongside you in heaven one day, co-equals as heirs in Christ. How are you more superior in that regard, if it is Christ that paid the same price for all of our sins? How do you have the right to demand obedience, rather than pointing to the One who deserves all obedience?
Sure, you can point to the scripture that commands the child to submit to their parents, but you should probably realize that the command you are referring to is first preceded by a command for all believers to submit themselves to one another, and that the command is directed to the children themselves, not for parents to "lord it over those in their care" and present an overbearing influence so as to force submission upon the children - that would probably be the very "provoking your children to wrath" that we are instructed to not do.
No, I think that it's much wiser to afford consistent respect with your children, and to not always expect or demand respect in return (though it is completely acceptable to use disrespect as training moments). You need to reach their heart, and feed them gently and consistently from the bread of life. Two excellent resources here are Shepherding a Child's Heart and The Age of Opportunity, by the Tripp Brothers (pretty much anything these guys write about raising kids seems to be golden).
If you need to discipline (which you likely will), it should always include training and instruction in the Lord's word, and it should be done in love and not for selfish motives...
"Love is patient, love is kind..." This definition in 1 Corinthians 13 is a good start, as are the gospels; they showcase the sacrifice and pastoral care of Christ, the selflessness and servitude of what love is all about. The wholeness of scripture could be mined to help us understand the heights and depths of God's love for us, which we are supposed to do our best to point our children to as we preach the gospel and bring them before the Lord's anointing and washing in His word.
If you do not have love in your family, the spiritual waters will stagnate, and all the preaching of the word will be as a clanging gong/cymbal. In another analogy, the foundation will be bad and cause the house to crumble.
For years, I attempted to dazzle my family with my theological knowledge, and all the while I was unraveling internally as I fought secret sin. My self contempt ate away at me (this will be another blog post) and it caused me to lack love and tenderness in my dealings with my wife and kids. In short, life became dark and filled with drudgery. I had no passion for God or His word, much less for nurturing my family's faith. The Spirit of God gets "choked out" in such conditions, unless something drastic is done, and it is impossible to love others or affect Godly change in their lives when you yourself are hiding your sin in shame, hiding your true heart from others and from God. I recommend confession and accountability in such situations - be free from your sin! Then, re-establish a relationship with God.
Love for others starts with a love for God, a good relationship with our Lord that is nourished by regular time speaking directly with him in your "prayer closet", reading His word, praying without ceasing, and simple obedience. That foundation of the love for God is where you can build all good things, and without it the house will fall, and nothing good can be built. You can take your family to the water and bread of life on a regular basis, and you can act in love towards them as a result of who you are in Christ.
One resource to consider here is Crazy Love by Francis Chan. It really places a context on "how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is" for us.
Your household will take on a different shape when there is a fertile landscape of love within which to work...
If you snap at your children because they are interrupting your TV or book reading time, you probably don't understand the idea of selflessness. Love does not seek its own way. We need to consider others as greater than ourselves, and do our best to think of others' needs before our own. Especially our children. If they need to eat, feed them first. If they need clothing, clothe them first. If they need diapers, school supplies, haircuts, etc., these should come before your own needs wherever possible.
Children are utterly dependent on us for all of their physical needs. You should realize that they are dependent on us for all of their spiritual needs, as well. We serve as a conduit to them for all things Godly, and we need to lead them to the bread of life equally as much as we lead them to their Lucky Charms in the morning.
Emotionally speaking, we need to do our best to be there for them. Listen to them. Spend time with them. Get down on the floor and be at their level and play with them. Feed their imaginations with a life that is full of adventure, and abundant life. Bring them to the library and fill their heads with Godly entertainment, feed their minds with whatever good this world around us can bring. Limit the time that you allow the TV to baby sit them while you do dishes, etc. Work alongside them. Bring them into the activities that you are doing, let them be a part of just about every facet of your life. This is all a part of training, and when done in love and mutual respect, it can be very rewarding and beautiful for your entire family.
Jesus was the ultimate servant during His life on this earth, choosing a lowly existence and eschewing the temptation to rule the earth as king in place of fulfilling His true purpose on the cross. As a babe, He was born in a manger. As a child, He was raised by a carpenter in a location that was less than ideal for the religious upbringing of the Priest of all priests. He wanted no treasures, no recognition, no power. His earth-time ministry was lowly and held no accolades - many people sought Him out because He healed or gave them food, and when it came time to determine His innocence before a Roman court, they were easily incited to shout, "crucify him!". And he died the horrible death of a criminal.
We, too, should approach our families like a man who has everything to invest in them, and none in ourselves. As much as we are selfless for our children, we should also consider them as greater than ourselves (as far as the kingdom is concerned). We should desire their greatness, and that we should be lessened, that they might grow greater, teaching them that all glory is due our God and that they should invest every talent given by God for His Kingdom's sake.
Rather than humbling our children forcibly, we should edify their hearts and build them up with loving and positive reinforcement.
Christ was the servant who washes his disciples' feet, and the king who rode on a donkey, the King of the Universe that chose to die a humbling death by being hung on a tree (a disgraceful way to die, according to the Jews), and all for our sake so that we would be free from condemnation because of our sin. In all His ways, he was demure about His position in the universe, and we should choose likewise to lower ourselves consistently for our family's sake. We aren't the spiritual leaders of our household so we can puff out our chest and descend into laziness, pointing at all others to work hard while we read the paper and watch football games. No, we are to model the right behavior from in front of the troops, by leading the charge into those dishes and trumpeting the call to change those diapers ourselves!
Our Lord wanted the children to approach Him while here on this earth, and He taught them and enjoyed them. He loves us as children and calls Himself the Son of the Father, modeling for us true humility for us in so many ways. We should never think of ourselves as great, not outside of Christ. We have only Him for which we can boast, and we have only His example and Spirit by which we can lead and serve our children...
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:1-8)