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10 Characteristics of The Servant Parent

As part of my current doctoral studies I have been reading a lot about leadership.  There are a multitude of approaches and theories about leadership.  Some say that leaders are born that way with special traits that make them “great men”.  Others say that it is possible to learn to be a leader as long as you learn the correct skills and behaviors. Some have decried the myth of the charismatic leader saying that you do not have to be inspiring, exciting and passionate only consistent. 

In my reading I have been drawn to an old essay that was written way back in the 1970’s by a guy named Robert Greenleaf.  He proposes that to be a leader one must first and foremost be a servant.  He uses something he calls the best test to determine if one is an effective leader it goes like this,

“Do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”

I think this is a great way to view leadership, but what if we applied these concepts to parenting? What if we decided that the best way to raise our boys was to become a Servant Parent? But wait! Some might say,  “parents are supposed to be in charge!”, “kids need to follow the rules or they will never learn how!”, “if parents act like servants kids will never learn responsibility!”  Well, I think they are wrong. I think it is crucial for parents to first be servants.  So, based on an article by Larry Spearstitled “Practicing Servant-Leadership” I will be making my case for the 10 characteristics of the Parent as Servant

  •      Listening
  •      Empathy
  •      Healing
  •      Awareness
  •      Persuasion
  •      Conceptualization
  •      Foresight
  •      Stewardship
  •      Commitment to the growth of people
  •       Building community

Over the next several weeks I will be expounding on each of these characteristics and why being a Servant Parent is a great way to parent boys into men.

Do you think we should be servants first, parents second?

 

My Life as an Extrovert Nearly Killed Me

I used to think that success required an extroverted personality.  Over the years this belief has nearly killed me with heartache, depression, feelings of failure and worthlessness. 


If you asked people who knew me in high school they would probably say I was an extrovert.  I was involved in everything: sports, music, plays, student leadership, and all sorts of social activities.  If you asked people about my freshman year of college they would say, “who?”  That’s right, they probably wouldn’t have known me.   I was usually hiding in my room listening to music or hanging out with a small group of friends with whom I felt very comfortable.   At the time I wouldn’t have admitted that I was an introvert (this would have meant admitting weakness), but I think things would have been a lot easier if I had been able to accept my introversion at a much earlier age. 


Following college I was pulled towards people ministry.  Work felt good when it involved serving others, being creative, or impacting another’s life.  My first attempt in this arena involved working as a camp counselor for the entire summer following my senior year of college.  I am not sure if you have ever met a camp counselor, but they tend to be an extroverted lot of people.  They are full of energy, excited about everything, and endlessly positive.  I gave a pretty good go of it for a while; I lead worship, sang silly songs, and built relationships with as many campers as possible.  I poured out all the energy that I had.  By the middle of the summer I was spent.  I had nothing left and I had no idea where to go to get more of whatever it was that I was giving.  The other counselors seemed OK; they weren’t as tired as I was, what was wrong with me?


Looking back on this summer, I realize that I was trying to be someone that I was not.  Actually, looking back on much of my adult life I realize that I have many times pushed myself to act like an extrovert when deep down I am an introvert.   I felt guilty when I wanted to spend time alone. I thought I was being selfish when I gravitated to individual conversations rather than groups.  I forced myself to speak up in classes when all I wanted to do was observe from the back.   I developed a love for reading, but felt guilty about reading too much and not spending enough time “ministering” to people.  In short I could not accept who God had made me to be because I thought to truly serve him I had to be someone different. 


In recent years and even months I have grown to accept my introversion.  I am learning to view the time I spend quietly reflecting, my sensitivity, and the way I organize my thoughts before speaking as strengths rather than weaknesses.   Working as a therapist has been a very good fit for my introverted personality.  I have the opportunity to connect deeply with the people I counsel.  We talk about deep, thought provoking subjects with ultimate meaning. One thing I have been reflecting on recently is how an introverted person like myself can successfully parent 3 seemingly extroverted children.  Like many other areas of my life, I have tried to fake it as a parent, over the years.  I have pushed myself to interact more and more and more while on the inside desiring time to slow down, reflect and think.  I wonder how much they have missed by my ignoring my inner self.  Could they too be introverts that have been pushed to act like extroverts in order to survive?  If I had viewed introversion as a strength would they have greater ability to accept themselves for who they are?  My introversion added into the mix could actually have been a good thing giving to them an experience of rest, and reflection in a culture that is hurried and over-stimulating. 


I am hoping to continue to grow in this area both at work and home.   I desire to parent more like “me” I desire to work more like “me”.  The more I accept my introversion as a strength rather than a weakness the more my personal leadership and parenting style will come out.  I think I will find that I will have more energy to give, because less of it will be wasted pretending to be something that I am not.

Faith Takes Practices to Develop

faithI have fond memories of praying, “now I lay me down to sleep” each night before going to bed.  I can still see the colorful children’s bible stories my family would read at the dinner table each night.  I recall the rhythm and tone of Sunday worship services; standing to read scripture, reciting the Apostles Creed, sitting for the “long prayer” and knowing the end was near when the pastor raised his arms and pronounced the Aaronic blessing “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace” Numbers 6:22-27.

            In the fourth grade my teacher challenged her class to read the bible every night in order to win a prize.  My sweet tooth was as strong as ever and I conquered that challenge easily.  In sixth grade I went with my youth group to provide meals for homeless children in downtown LA.  In eighth grade, while at a youth group retreat, I put my faith in Jesus for the first time.   Through out high school I played the drums for my church worship team and was actively involved in youth leadership.  But, It was not until my senior year of college, eight years later, that this faith that had been planted in my soul as a child, had taken root as a teen, and was watered with the prayers of my parents began to grow. 

Those eight years of high school and college were long, slow, and sometimes frustrating years.  I longed for a connection to Jesus that did not materialize.  I struggled with guilt, doubt, pride, anger, and depression.  I attempted and failed to continue the practices of prayer, bible reading, worship, and service that had begun in my youth.   I hoped they would establish the connection I believed was missing.

Faith sprouted on a mission trip to Nicaragua, on which I came to the end of myself and discovered that it was my striving and self-reliance that stood in the way of honest connection with Jesus.  On returning to school I found for the first time that I could read scripture and actually understand the WORD.  The end of my college experience was the beginning of a faith journey that has progressed through starts and stops over the course of my adult life. 

Over the last several years I have been convicted of my responsibility to pass this faith on to my children.  I am overwhelmed by the enormity of the task.  How can I, a father that is passionate but struggling pass on something that is so fragile and broken?  At times I want to throw in the towel and succumb to the pressures of money, time, apathy, and culture. 

I was reminded today of the role I play in my children’s faith development.  I am called to plant seeds that the Holy Spirit cultivates into faith.  I am reading, Shaped By God: Twelve Essentials for Nurturing Faith in Children, Youth, and Adults” Edited by Robert J. Keeley.  Don C. Richter writes “Faith begins in practice, in words and songs and gestures and things we do with and for our bodies, with and for one another.  We learn to pray by praying.  We learn to serve by serving.  We learn to care by concrete acts of caring.” (Keely,pg 24) I was brought back to my childhood prayers and bible stories.  I was reminded of the practices that have shaped my faith over the years.  In the beginning they were clumsy, with out heart, and in the case of the bible reading contest motivated by greed.  These practices however having been awakened by the Spirit my senior year of college have been the soil in which my faith has grown.  They have become the “means of grace to nourish and sustain the life of faith” in me. (Keely, pg 30)

 I cannot awaken my children in faith, that is the Holy Spirits role but I can provide for them the raw materials of faith.  I can provide experiences of prayer, worship, bible reading, and service.  My hope is that these experiences will shape and inform their understanding of Jesus.  I trust that they will come to know him as provider, savior, master, and king the one in whom true connection can be found.

WHAT PRACTICES HAVE SHAPED YOUR FAITH OVER THE YEARS?

HOW ARE YOU PASSING YOUR FAITH TO YOUR CHILDREN?

The Two Great Objects

aeca2-7438004430_cc90853bbeA few days ago I read this post entitled “6 lessons of an influence seeker.  It was written mostly to people that write, speak, or teach.  The idea is that if you truly want to influence people you need to do the 6 things described.  The post really has nothing to do with parenting or raising a family but the more I think about it the more I hope to apply its first concept in my life.

            Lesson one is “know your two great objects” the author sights a journal entry from British politician William Wilberforce that states, “God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners [moral values].”  These two objects were the driving force behind Wilberforce’s life work.  Everything he did followed from these two passions.

The moment I read this quote I asked myself the question, “What are my two great objects?”  A number of things came to mind right away; family, faith, and work were at the top.   I tried to get more specific, what are my two great objects at work, for my family, and in my community?  As I began to think more deeply I discovered that I had no clue what my two great objects were.  There were lots of things that I thought were important.  But I was finding it difficult to narrow down the two things that really set me ablaze, got me excited, and drove my passions.  I found that so many things were important that nothing was really important.

So, I have set out to more clearly define the two great objects in these areas of my life.

  •             Family
  •             Work
  •             Faith
  •             Community

I am hopeful that clarifying these objects and more intentionally focusing my energy in these areas will increase my sense of purpose and improve my ability to positively influence those around me.

Will you join me in this endeavor?  Leave a comment and share your two great objects!

THE BULLY FREE ZONE

bullyingSometimes I mentally rehearse how I would respond if my family were in danger.  If an intruder broke into my home what would I do?  If we were attacked on the street would I be courageous enough to protect them?  I am not sure what gets me thinking about these things, and many times I try to put them out of my mind.  Today however, I watched the documentary Bully directed by Lee Hirsch, this film has got me stirred up again, but this time it is more disturbing.

In my fantasies of family danger I am powerful, swift to action, and able to put myself in the place of my children when they are in danger.  Bullying is a much different beast.  Those who bully tend to be more covert, they have practiced and honed their skills, and many times they are bullied themselves.  The problem with bullying is how powerless adults seem to be in protecting those who are bullied.

Bullying usually does not occur when adults are around, adults cannot sweep in and meet might with might.  In many cases, as depicted in the film all adults can do is talk with the one who is bullying.  They sit in an office and rationalize about kindness, respect, friendship, and permanent school behavioral records.  It all just seems very weak and vividly demonstrates a universal principle that adults hate to admit.

“ADULTS CANNOT CONTROL THE ACTIONS OF CHILDREN”

            I think we hate to admit it because of how scary it is.  Aside from physical coercion we have absolutely no control over the behavior of children.  I cannot make my son clean his room, do his homework, be kind to the neighbor, or apologize to his brother.  Children tend to behave based on what they perceive will get them the thing that they want.  Many times we adults do not understand the pay off for a child’s behavior and therefore fail to find a way to change it.

            I think one solution to this problem is to stop trying to control something that we cannot.  We cannot control a child’s behavior so let’s give it a rest.  Let’s be real and honest with our kids.  Let’s end the charade we have been perpetrating all these years and tell them the truth.

“SON, YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE THAT CAN CONTROL YOUR ACTIONS”

            I believe that when we let go of attempting to control our children they will become better citizens.  Please do not misunderstand me I do not think children should be allowed to do whatever they want, have no rules, and no responsibility.  I believe that adults should set the structure and expectations for behavior so that WHEN the child crosses the line appropriate and logical consequences follow.  Adults have fallen into the trap (myself included) of wanting to control a child’s behavior in order to get a certain outcome.  This outcome based parenting sends the message that adults control the child’s behavior; I want to send the message that kids are in charge of their behavior.  They are able to choose their actions and the consequences that follow are part of their choosing.  When adults control behavior, children can blame the adults for the following consequences both good and bad.  When children control behavior the consequences are theirs, they own them.  These owned consequences are the powerful payoff that reinforces or discourages certain behavior.   This is how children learn that they can make life what they want it to be.  In the long run children that know they are in control of themselves are children that step up to stop bullying.  These type of children will “Be More Than Bystanders” by engaging in the following activities

    • Be Their Friend
    • Tell a Trusted Adult
    • Help Them Get Away
    • Don’t Give Bullying an Audience
    • Set a Good Example

Bullying is a very difficult problem.  Solutions must be long term rather than short term.  All adults must play a role in protecting and empowering children at school and in neighborhoods.  A first line defense is to remember that children are in charge of their own behavior.  We want them to be in charge of their actions because when they are in charge they are actively choosing what they want life to be.

For Further reading on how to empower children to stop bullying visit stopbullying.gov

 Have you or your kids ever been bullied, how did you respond?

Doll Play VS. Gun Play and A Parents Worst Fears

Read: ANGRY ARTthe meaning of play

Play is the language of a child, it is the expression of inner most thoughts, feelings, and desires.  Or is it?

I was playing dolls with my daughter the other day and found myself reflecting on the meaning of her play.  We were alone in the playroom and she brought me her doll over and over again asking (without words) that I swaddle it in the small blanket like I had swaddled her when she was an infant.  She would pick it up and nearly fall over from the weight and size of her child.  She mimicked the back and forth rocking of “rock a by baby” and eventually rocked so hard that the doll fell to the ground while rolling out of the blanket.  She gathered the doll into her arms and slammed it into the tiny wooden crib, making a loud smacking sound as the head knocked against the side rail.

I found myself analyzing her play.  Does she completely lack empathy?  Is this play a sign that she will grow up to be a bad mother? What if she has no ability to care for others?  My thoughts began to race, and the “parents worst fear” meter was redlining.  As I continued to watch and observe I stopped analyzing her play and began analyzing the meaning I ascribed to her play.

I found that I was thinking like an adult.  I was observing her play and assumed that she was doing what she was doing for the same reasons an adult would be doing it.  An adult that drops a baby or slams it into a crib does so because of a lack of empathy, inability to care, and probably anger.  So, of course that must be why she was doing.

OR PROBABLY NOT!!

I began to think more about the meaning that adults ascribe to a child’s play.  Is the meaning that I interpret the same as what the child hold in their mind? I remembered back to several articles I had read about children being suspended from school because of play deemed inappropriate by school administrators.  Both instances involved young children and make shift guns.  One involved pointing a pencil at another student like a gun and the other involved chewing a pop tart into the shape of a gun.

I tend to get pretty frustrated with these situations in which play is criminalized.  It seems to me that children are being punished based on the projected fears of adults.  Do we really believe that a pencil is dangerous for other children?  I wonder if these decisions come from fears of what our children might become.   At some point we just have to laugh at these ridiculous stories but I wonder when we adults will realize that children do not think like us?  I wonder how the world would be different if adults could play like a child?  What if adults were less fearful and more adventurous like children? Oh what fun we might have!

Read Angry Art

Can Tolerance Cause More Bullying?

tolerance

I took my son to the public pool last week.  We had a wonderful time and learned a lesson to last a lifetime.  He was standing in line at the diving board as I was watching from a few feet away.  I noticed that he was talking with a slightly older boy and it appeared the conversation was becoming quite animated.  I resisted my desire to intervene and waited to see what would happen.  After a few more moments my son turned to me and said, “dad he says that I cannot wear a swim shirt on the diving board.”  In uncharacteristic fashion I quickly shot back my response, “it doesn’t matter what he says, it matters what the lifeguard says!”  Just at that moment a lifeguard walked by and I boldly asked, “Is it ok if he wears a swim shirt on the diving board?”  The lifeguard said, “yes!” and walked on without giving it a second thought.  The boys accepted the lifeguard’s answer and continued practicing their cannon balls.

As I reflected on this very brief interaction I began to wonder what it was about this lifeguard (a teenager) that caused the boys to move on so quickly from their disagreement.  Was it his confidence or age?  Maybe it was his gender or personality?  I don’t think so!  I think they accepted his answer because he was viewed as an expert on this topic.  He knows this pool, he is there everyday, he is in charge of safety, and it is his responsibility to enforce the posted rules.

The boys knew that this person’s opinion was important.  It did not matter what anyone else had to say on the subject.  This guy in the red swim trunks and way too dark tan was the final authority.

I am afraid that the art of discerning whose opinion matters has been stripped away from our school age children.  I wonder if in our rush to teach tolerance and acceptance we have inadvertently made our children targets for loud-mouthed bullies?

The Cambridge online dictionary defines tolerance as “willingness to accept behavior and beliefs that are different from your own, even if you disagree with or disapprove of them.”  It also lists acceptance as a synonym for tolerance.

Please do not get me wrong, I strongly believe in the inherent value of all people.  Each person is wonderfully valuable and deserves to be treated with the utmost respect.  I do suggest however that not all opinions or beliefs are of equal value.  The opinion of the young boy trying to tell my son what he could and could not wear was of very little value.  He was wrong, misguided, and unreliable.  This is not to say that the boy himself was of little value just his opinion.

What does this have to do with bullying?  Well in my experience as a school counselor and therapist I find that those children that are most susceptible to verbal and emotional bullying are those who accept all opinions equally.  Somehow they have learned to accept all opinions and beliefs as truth no matter the source.  Unfortunately, many times this includes all opinions and beliefs that others have about them.  So, It appears that they accept the opinion of the kid who calls them stupid, weak, or ugly as equally valid to the adult who refers to them as kind, intelligent, or strong.  This in my opinion is a horrible mistake and we as parents make an even bigger mistake when we teach our kids that all opinions and beliefs are to be equally accepted.

Simply, it is not true.  My opinion regarding politics for instance is of significantly less value than that of the President of the United States.  It does not mean that I cannot express my opinion loudly and vehemently, but loud and passionate does not make true and accurate.   In the same way a fellow classmates opinion about my child’s level of strength, intelligence, or athletic ability is of much less value than my child’s opinions about himself.

I am regularly asked to referee disagreements about the value of playground opinions.  I have come up with a standard response that I find pretty effective.  When Jimmy runs up to me and says, “Mr. Vander Ley Billy called me a douche bag!” (or some other derogatory name)  Jimmy expects that I will get upset with Billy.  He anticipates consequences and passionate pleas for Billy to be kind and friendly.  I take Jimmy off guard however, when I ask a simple and pointed question.  “Are you a douche bag Jimmy?” “Uh, no” Is the usual response.  “Good, I didn’t think you were, it doesn’t matter what Billy says.”  Off they run to complete their game of girls chase boys (if it hasn’t been banned at their school)

Rather than teaching our children to value all opinions and beliefs equally let’s teach them to discern opinions and beliefs based on sources.  Who are the experts in the field?  Who has put in the time to know this topic?  Who is safe and who is reliable?  If we teach our children to be discerning about truth I think they will come to realize that they are the experts in the field of me.  Their parents and trusted teachers hold reliable information about who they are and what they are good at.  The verbally aggressive playground bully does not know them and is not a trusted source of information.  More importantly this playground bully’s opinion does not create truth regarding their person.  The truth about a child is based in their inherent personal value.  They can sense this value from loving adults who are passionately engaged in the wonder of becoming an expert in the field of them.  Go now you passionate parents and uncover the infinite mystery that is your child!

Daddy Will You Hold Me: Containing Feelings

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One of the most important aspects of holding a child involves emotions.  A child will feel held when their parent is able to contain the powerful emotions of the moment.  A child will feel dropped when the parent is either overwhelmed by or unresponsive to the child’s emotions.

I readily admit that I tend to drop my children when they are feeling powerful emotions.  At times I feel too busy, too tired, or just plain sick of dealing with the chaos.  The truth is unfortunately that in these moments I am more concerned about my own feelings than I am about my child’s.  I have become overwhelmed with what is going on in me, and do not have the capacity to deal with what is happening in my child.

I just read a nice article titled Attunement Parenting The New Attachment Parenting and was reminded that my ability to contain my child’s emotions is directly correlated to how well I am taking care of myself.  In other words my ability to handle my son’s anger is impacted by my ability to handle my own anger.  Arriving home from work frustrated from the day significantly impacts my interactions with my children.  I must do a good job of taking care of my self in order to take care of my children.

I struggle with this, I tend to give, give give, and then give out.  I wear myself to the bone, attempting to be the best parent I can be, constantly striving to meet everyone of my child’s needs, never allowing my self to be distracted from the task of engaging in their lives.  THIS IS EXHAUSTING!! It is not possible to be the perfect parent, it is not possible to meet every need, and it is not possible to engage at every moment.

I have learned that I need time to refuel.  I am a very reflective person, and when I have neglected the time I need to slow down, and think I become short tempered, impatient, and depressed.  I am thankful for the reminder that it is OK to do something that I enjoy.  I am allowed to put the headphones on and listen to my favorite album.  But where does one draw the line? How much parenting is enough? And is it possible to measure up?

How do you RE-FUEL as a parent?  Where do you draw the Line?