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Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

  1. Every child is their own story. What works with one doesn’t necessarily work with another.  Different things inspire them, motivate them, scare them, and hurt them.  Though there may be some broad tenets that apply to all, each one requires a unique approach.
  2. Perfection cannot be the goal. No matter how hard we try, we will not be perfect parents; and demanding perfection from our kids simply makes them feel as though nothing they do is ever good enough.
  3. Boundaries are meant to keep kids safe, not to keep them from the “good stuff”. Though, as children, we all tested our limits; as parents, we cannot ignore the benefit of hindsight.
  4. Fear is a lousy teacher.  Consistently playing on a child’s fear ultimately destroys their ability to function effectively.
  5. Our children’s perception of themselves is powerfully impacted by what we say to and about them.  Giving voice to our fears, frustrations and disappointments can scar them for life.
  6. Consistently yelling at kids makes them hard of hearing. For survival sake, they simply begin to tune us out.
  7. “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work. We cannot hope to hold our kids to a standard that we ourselves do not adhere to.
  8. Though we naturally want to protect our children, it is also our job to prepare them for life without us. Finding the balance between those two things is a long and demanding process.
  9. No matter how doting, diligent and devoted we are as parents, our kids will face adversity, and they will make mistakes.  We cannot be shocked when it happens, and we need to prepare them for those moments.
  10. Love covers a multitude of sins (yours and theirs). When combined with faith, it forms the only wild card that we have in our parenting deck.
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Clearly, I meant to post this yesterday.  But, as is so often the case, things got away from me.

 

Over the years I’ve written a few tributes to my father, but I don’t recall ever doing so for my mom.  I’m sure this has to do with the fact that my dad contracted a terminal illness (and passed away) at a relatively young age.  But honor shouldn’t be reserved for the dead, and kind words ought not be saved for eulogies.  So on the occasion of Mother’s Day, I thought it would be fitting to share a few thoughts about my mother.

 

My parents had four children, three stair step boys, and then, more than a decade removed, a daughter.  I was the bottom rung of the first wave, and easily my parents most challenging kid.  My oldest brother was one of those precocious children, who talked as though he was 35 years old by the time he was six.  Our middle brother was quiet, but did well in school, and excelled at every sport he ever played (My grandmother actually referred to him as her “Golden Boy”).  And then, I came along.  Blind as a bat, emotionally unstable, and full of imagination; I was literally walking into walls by the time I reached school age.  Between struggles in the classroom, skirmishes on the playground, and little brother meltdowns, I was a kid who required a lot of parenting.  And because of my father’s demanding Air Force career, the lion’s share of that fell to my mom.  I have no doubt that it was at times exasperating, and exhausting to deal with me.  Lord knows, that was the way it felt to be me.  But my mother was never one to shrink back from a challenge, and she wouldn’t let me do so either.  As much as I wanted to accept the rather overwhelming evidence that I was simply an inferior model, she was having none of it.  She made it her mission to ensure that all of her kids would be ready to face to the world, and little by little, I began to pull out of my tailspin.

 

Unfortunately, just about the time I grew strong enough to stand on my own two feet, I began to drift into things that my parents had strictly forbidden.  My weak sense of identity caused me to look for the place that I fit in, and resulted in me trying a little bit of everything.  In those years, I made many disappointing and hurtful choices, but my parents stuck with me.  My mom’s persistent belief, and her prayers of protection, were without a doubt a key to surviving that season.  Though I broke her heart many times, she refused to give up on me.

 

It took some years, but the seeds that were planted throughout my life finally took root, and things began to turn.  God finally convinced me that my mother had been right all along, and that I wasn’t some sort of defective piece of machinery.  In His grace, God allowed me to become a father, where I gained a new appreciation for the kind of love it takes to raise a kid like me.  As I look back, I can’t help but think that God gave me to a mother that He knew would be strong enough to fight the battles, and persistent enough to go the distance.  Indeed, my mother is an extraordinary person, whose love for me has made all the difference.  If not for her, I would not have become the man that I am today.

 

As I look back, I thank God for the love that she and my father shared, which showed us that marriage was meant to last a lifetime.  I thank God that she refused to raise boys who sit around in the underwear, watch cartoons and don’t know the first thing about taking care of themselves (or anyone else).  And I thank God that after years of dealing with my disarray, He rewarded my parents with their best kid, my sister.

 

Happy Mother’s Day mom!

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I have to admit that I’m not particularly fond of the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  My disdain for this phrase is rooted in the fact that it is too often used as a rationalization for disengaged parenting, and by social engineers, who are trying to disguise their political agenda as some sort of genuine concern for the welfare of children.  Despite that, I can’t deny that there is also a measure of profound truth within this idiom.  As the father of four, I’ve always endeavored to maintain a daily presence in the lives of my children, and to have a separate relationship with each one of them.  For the most part, I’ve lived up to that expectation, but I’ve also discovered that there are instances, and seasons, when the kids need something, or someone, else.  At times, parents are too close to the situation to be objective; sometimes our fears cause us to push too hard, or maybe not hard enough.  Sometimes we’ve done all we know how to do, and we need to introduce a new element into the situation.  And sometimes our kids just need to hear it from someone else.

 

Years ago, our youngest daughter (Bekah) was struggling with reading, and we discovered that she had issues with her eyesight.   Upon addressing her vision problems, we knew that she needed help to get her reading level back up to where it belonged.  Unfortunately, by this time she was already highly frustrated with our persistent attempts to assist her, and things weren’t progressing well.  Thankfully, we found a wonderful lady (Mary) who was willing to work with her, and they very quickly formed a special bond.  Though it took a little time, her reading and writing steadily improved, and within a few years she had regained both her confidence and competence.  By then, their relationship had become so strong that she continued to go each week, and to work on other subjects as well.  Over time this amazing lady became much more than a tutor, and we have come to view her as a special part of our family.  In recent years, Bekah has blossomed as a reader, writer, and student.  She is currently a Freshman in High School, where she’s maintained her grades on the High Honor Roll (>3.5 GPA) all year, and where she was recently awarded a scholarship for winning an essay contest.  At this point, she reads and writes more than our other three kids combined.  But more than the improved academic performance, Mary’s loving investment in Bekah as a person has paid untold dividends.  Years from now, I’ve no doubt that Bekah will remember this beloved friend and teacher as one of the greatest influences in her life.

 

Similarly, there have been many other teachers, coaches, youth group leaders, neighbors… who’ve had a profound influence on our kids.  When our son Andrew was younger, he played basketball for a coach who absolutely destroyed his confidence.  After that experience, he decided that even though he loved the game, he just wasn’t cut out to play.  Despite our encouragement to give it another try, he wasn’t willing to do it; and for years he didn’t.  But as fate would have it, the new high school basketball coach became his homeroom teacher, and he saw potential in Andrew.  It was his encouragement that convinced our son to give it another try, and last Fall, he was a starter on the Freshman team.

 

More recently, after our son Patrick made the high school’s baseball team, he had the chance to be a part of the school’s Spring musical, “Guys & Dolls”.  Initially he felt sure his coaches would never allow him to miss practices, and maybe even games, to participate in the play.  But to his great surprise, the coach acknowledged what a great opportunity this was for Patrick, and allowed him to both stay on the team, and to try out for the musical.  At the first try out for the play, he only went for a small part, believing that was all he was qualified for.  But during the call back, his Choir teacher asked why he hadn’t tried out for one of the leads.  Patrick explained that since he sang bass in the choir, and that all of the leading parts were for tenors, he didn’t think he could do them.  His teacher then expressed her confidence in his voice, and challenged him to go for the more substantial role of “Nicely, Nicely Johnson.”  Inspired by her vote of confidence, Patrick took the challenge, and got the part.  After months of hard work, he and the rest of cast gave two spectacular performances this weekend.  It is an experience that he will remember for the rest of his life, and it could very well open up new avenues for him in the future.  Had his baseball coach been more worried about wins & loses than about Patrick, he might never have gotten the chance to tryout.  If his Choir teacher had not recognized his potential, and encouraged him to reach for it, Pat might never have discovered it.

 

As a parent, I am grateful for these, and the many other wonderful, people who reach out to our children.  As much as I want to be there for them, I must acknowledge that they often need things that I can’t necessarily give them.  My vote of confidence in Bekah’s ability to read, or Andrew’s ability to play basketball, or Patrick’s ability to sing/perform, wasn’t enough to get them over that mountain.  But thankfully, there were people who stepped into those areas and made the difference.  Just as people have reached out to our children, we’ve learned to reach out to other children within our community.  It is an opportunity to return the blessing that we’ve received.  Even though I still cringe when I say it, it really does take a village to raise a child, and to that end, I want to thank all of you who’ve been such a special part of our village.

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When I first got married, at the ripe old age of 19 yrs. old, I was still too much of a child to seriously consider having children of my own. Throughout my early twenties, as I listened to my peers speak of their parenting struggles, I naively wondered why handling a few small children should be such a big deal. Undoubtedly, my heavenly Father must have chuckled at the understanding of what my future held.

 

In my early thirties, my first marriage crumbled and I was grateful that at least there were no little ones to get snagged in the wreckage. A couple of years later, as a new life emerged for me, I was blessed to become a step-father and little by little the eyes of my understanding began to open. Less than a year after that came a baby boy; and less than a year after that came twins (a boy and a girl). Going 0 to 4 children in less than 24 months is something like going 0 to 60 mph in 2.4 seconds. Needless to say, the years that have followed have been a crash course in the joys and challenges of parenting.

 

Early on, it’s tempting to believe that a colicky baby, who doesn’t sleep through the night, represents a huge ordeal. But as the years pass the climb gets significantly steeper. As a child’s capacity to act independently develops and their world expands, both the possibilities and complexities compound exponentially. Though each stage of life presents its own unique set of hurdles, there is perhaps no greater ache for a parent than to watch their grown child fall headlong into a trap that they’ve been warned about since childhood, or that the parent unwittingly set them up for.

 

The pop cultural landscape is littered with countless resources for parents who are diligently seeking guidance, and while many of them do possess some degree of merit, none could rightfully be considered definitive. Each child is their own puzzle and there is no “one size fits all” approach for raising them.

 

Our three youngest children weren’t even a year apart, with two of them being twins. Additionally, they were home schooled until the 3rd/4th grade, which means that their “shared life experience” was almost identical through their “formative” years. Based on popular thinking, this consistent and stable environment should have created striking similarities in the way these kids function on a day to day basis, but nothing could be further from the truth.

 

I have found that each one thinks differently, learns differently, is inspired differently, expresses themselves differently, fears different things, has different strengths… What works well with one, is often useless with another. I have yet to find the piece of parenting advice (other than “pray without ceasing”) that can blindly be applied, and hope to be effective with every child.

 

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to understand that there truly isn’t anything new under the sun and that the struggles of today have all been encountered by previous generations. In looking to the scripture for answers, an amazingly consistent message rings out from the book of Proverbs, which is that discipline needs to be a consistent part of wise parenting. Chapter 13, verse 24 says that “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him”. Chapter 22, verse 15 says, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him”. Chapter 23, verses 13 & 14 say, “Do not withhold discipline from a child” and that punishing him will, “save his soul from death”. Finally, chapter 29, verse 15 says, “The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother”.

 

Certainly, these passages sound harsh in light of our delicate, westernized, politicized sensibilities, but their truth is hard to deny. All one needs to do is to observe any person who was raised without the benefit of boundaries, consequences and discipline to understand the essentialness of these elements. The book of Hebrews expands on this topic in chapter 12, as it explains that discipline is a means that a father uses to teach a son. It also acknowledges that going through that process isn’t pleasant, but that it is ultimately for the son’s benefit.

 

If one simply focuses on those passages, a picture of the stereotypical, rigid, religious, authoritarian parenting approach can easily emerge. But a more comprehensive reading of scripture reveals a very different and far more challenging aesthetic. Throughout the New Testament, the Apostle Paul reminds us that unless love remains at the center of our motivation, our actions become of no eternal value. He also charges us with demonstrating Christ’s character in all situations, most especially before our wives and children.

 

Interestingly, in both the book of Ephesians (6:4) and Colossians (3:21), he warns that we should not provoke (i.e. embitter, exasperate) our children to wrath (i.e. anger, frustration). I don’t believe he’s saying that we should never make them angry, because as the Hebrews passage acknowledges, no one likes to be chastened.

 

I believe the key word in these passages is “provoke”. And I would submit that he is challenging us to discern between those instances when we are genuinely trying to train our kids and when we’re just taking our frustrations out on them; or when we’re simply acting out of our own woundedness; or maybe even when we’re intentionally trying to hurt them like they hurt us. I believe that they recognize the difference, and that we as parents need to as well.

 

Finding the balance of things is a daily battle for any parent. We want to convey God’s unconditional love to our children, but we also need to help them to understand consequences. We want to provide for them, but we also need to allow them to encounter enough resistance to grow strong and stand on their own two feet. We want to let them know that they can count on us, but not make them reliant on us in the process.

 

We need to develop the ability to relate to them on their level without forfeiting the authority (& responsibility) that God has given us as parents. We cannot live in fear of their disapproval, as that will keep us from ever preparing them to make their own way in the world. We need to raise them with the understanding that the season of our influence is limited and that God never intended for them to remain as children.

 

If I’ve made good parenting sound like a daunting task, that is purely intentional. It is the best and hardest job you could ever have. I believe the only way to be a truly effective parent is to tap into the wisdom and guidance of the Father of us all. The scripture says that apart from Him, we can do nothing. That is especially true of parenting.

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There are a lot of philosophies out there about the best way to raise children, but I’ve noticed that the fruit of many of them isn’t particularly worthwhile.  In that vein, I offer the following bit of satire. 

 

 

Homegrown

I tried to give them all the things I never had

And now they feel entitled to everything they want

*

Anytime they were hungry, we’d run through the drive thru

And now they can’t seem to endure anything that’s not fast and easy

*

Whenever we went to the store, I’d get them a little something

And now they struggle with spending money that they don’t have

*

When they played sports, I made sure that everyone got the same trophy

And now they expect the same pay as the people who actually show up to work

*

I taught them that every person gets to decide what they accept as “the truth”

And now the only thing they seem to believe in is themselves

*

Every time they had a bad coach or teammate, I pulled them off the team

And now they refuse to work for or with anyone they don’t like

*

Anytime they struggled in a class, I’d storm the doors of the principal’s office

And now they blame everyone else for their problems

*

I taught them that freedom was their unalienable right

And now they feel like nobody can say anything when they’re wrong

*

I made sure that they didn’t have to work like I did

And now they’re not willing to work like they need to

*

I did everything for them

And now I’m raising their kids

*

I gave them every advantage

And I can’t understand how they turned out this way

*

I wonder what’s going to happen if I ever need their help

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I was my parent’s problem child, which isn’t to imply that my brothers and sister were perfect.  We all went through our rough periods, but I was the one who consistently struggled, and routinely required a lot of parenting.  To be sure, my low points reached far greater depths than I ever would have imagined, and looking back, it’s a wonder that I wasn’t more permanently damaged by some of my woeful choices.

 

Those struggles were not a byproduct of passive or poor parenting. In fact, my parents were extremely proactive in raising all of us.  I was just the kind of kid who desperately needed an abundance of support, guidance, accountability, and ultimately strong boundaries; all of which my parents readily provided.  I knew what was right and what was expected; unfortunately, I frequently chose to forge an alternative path.

 

If folly is bound up in the heart of a child, I seemed to be born with a double portion to work through.  Because of this, it was essential that one of the earliest revelations of my father was that of an authoritarian.  Though he was loving and caring from the beginning, recognizing him as the ultimate authority was pivotal to my early development.  Had I not been forced to adhere to some external standard, which I recognized as being greater than myself, it is likely that I would have continued to live out of the futility and chaos that has so often reigned within my own heart and mind.  I guess another way to say it is that because my will had to bend to his will, I learned that my will (e.g. what I thought, what I felt, what I wanted…) was never the final word.  Undoubtedly, few lessons in my life have been more valuable than that one.

 

Though I did eventually manage to become a fully functional adult, I also continued to make questionable choices in my life, which I believe kept my father’s paternal guard up.  Though he treated me with the dignity and respect due a fellow adult, to some degree he still had to view me through the lens of his struggling child.  Though I didn’t recognize that at the time, it became evident to me, when some years later, it changed.

 

That change occurred when I was in my early thirties, and the life that I had carefully built crumbled before my eyes.  As I cried out to God, my will finally began to genuinely yield to His, and my life began to dramatically turn.  As those changes took root in me, I noticed that it also changed how my earthly father related to me.  He was more relaxed, less paternal and more like a friend.  A few years later, when he became terminally ill, we had some amazingly frank conversations about God, life, death… where he spoke in an unguarded way; like you would with a trusted confidant.  Though my father passed away shortly after my fortieth birthday, I will always treasure those moments of friendship that we shared in his final years.  Though I was honored to be called his son, it somehow seems even more profound that he might also have considered me his friend.

 

Ultimately, I believe this pattern of relationship reflects what God intends for His children as well.  He says that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  If we don’t begin by recognizing Him as the ultimate authority, and greater than ourselves, we never yield our will to His.  Though we may speak of Him highly, and even claim to be His, we live life on our own terms, guided by our own ideas, and going in the way that seems right to us (which the Bible says, “leads to death”).  When Jesus first gathered the disciples, they related to Him as Rabbi (i.e. teacher), which was a position of great authority in Jewish culture.  They called themselves His servants and referred to Him as “Master”.  It wasn’t until the night before His death that Jesus bestowed upon them the title of “friends”.

 

Unfortunately, modern philosophies on parenting favor the idea that parents ought to relate to their children as friends over the more traditional authoritarian approach; but in practice this generally creates dysfunctional family relationships.  Children raised in this manner remain self-centered, compulsive, demanding, and disrespectful.  As in so many other aspects, Western Christianity has mirrored the culture by frequently trying to introduce the heavenly Father as “friend”; but like the earthly counterpart, this does not produce a legitimate or functional family.

 

If we do not first recognize Him as Lord, and come through the cross of Christ, we have no incentive to die to ourselves and to live through Him.  We might call Him good, and look to Him for provision, but we live in our own strength, and by our own sense of righteousness.  Though I do believe that God ultimately wants to be able to relate to His children as friends, I also believe that this is a distinction that we must grow into over the course of time.  As it was with my earthly father, I would be forever humbled to one day be counted a friend to my Father in heaven.


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