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?

 

Why Would A Good Guy Go to Hell?

 

79a85-10444504_sMy sons ask some really tough questions. They are so inquisitive, and curious about how the world works and why people do what they do.  Many times the questions they ask let me know that there is much more going on in their head than I realize.

The oldest has been working on a school assignment to memorize the Apostles Creed.  At breakfast one morning my wife was quizzing him on the phrase, “He descended into hell; and on third day he rose again from the dead.” After a few moments of thoughtful silence he dropped the bomb on us.

“Dad, Why would a good guy go to Hell?”

I could see the connections being made in his brain.   He was thinking, “Mom and dad have been telling me all along that this Jesus guy is good, they say He is perfect, He is God, He loves me, and that I can trust Him.”  “I also know that hell is a bad place.  I know that there is fire; pain, hurt, and that I do not want to go there.”

So his little brain reasoned quite logically, why would this good guy go to such a horrible place?

 Isn’t this the question on which the whole world hangs? Why did Jesus die on the cross descend into hell and come back to life?

I attempted in my feeble way to share surprise and wonder with my son.  Isn’t it amazing that Jesus went to hell on our behalf?  Imagine how horrible it would be if you and I had to go to hell for all the bad stuff we do?  Or, what if the only way for us to be right with God was to live a perfect life?  How good does a person have to be to be ‘ok’ in God’s eyes?

This question from my son revealed to me anew the wonder of salvation.  I AM NOT GOOD, NO ONE IS GOOD apart from the sacrifice of Christ and it is only through his life, death, and resurrection that I have hope for the future.  This good guy went to hell so that I don’t have to.

Thank you Lord, for teaching me through the thoughts of a young boy.  Thank you for working in my child’s heart and planting the wondrous seed of faith.  Grow in him this seed of faith allowing it to blossom through trust in the powerful work of Jesus Christ.

THE ANGRY GROWL

anger
As a younger man I thought anger was a really effective tool for working with kids.  I thought it worked because when I got angry I yelled, when I yelled my voice changed from monotone kindness to something that sounded like a growl from hell.  When my voice changed to this scary growl from hell kids listened.  In my mind this worked.   I would ignore frustrations, hurts, or annoyances until I could ignore no more, then I would explode with a scary tone.  Once I had exploded I felt a lot better, my feelings had been expressed and the people around me seemed to “understand.”

            I have two vivid memories of discovering that my explosive anger was not helping people to understand me but to fear me.

            I was working as a direct care staff at a residential facility for teens.  These were normal kids who had struggled at home; they came to us to heal their family relationships.  I was very young myself but had been charged with the task of “parenting” and leading these teens.  One day toward the end of my yearlong commitment of service, I had asked a young man to complete his chore by taking out the trash.  A few minutes later I peeked out the door to check on him and realized he had been distracted while “sword fighting” with a broom.  I felt the anger well up inside of me, whipped open the door and growled, “Stop screwing around and get to work!”

            Just then a new staff member appeared around the corner. (Literally having arrived the day before) I had this instant feeling of being caught.  I felt embarrassed and ashamed.  I also felt powerful because of how quickly that boy jumped to attention and finished his chore.

            A couple years later while working as a youth pastor, I taught a 7th grade Sunday school class.  This class was challenging for me; there was a difficult mixture of the “popular” kids and those that were “annoying”.  One Sunday was filled with especially snotty remarks and I could take it no longer.  I laid into them with talk of kindness, respect, and love all in my characteristic growl of anger.  The room grew silent and I could see their faces fill with what I thought was remorse.

            Shortly after arriving home from that Sunday school class I received a phone call from a concerned parent.   Her daughter who tended to be pretty sensitive and was not involved in the snotty remarks had returned home in tears.  The parent asked what had occurred and if I could speak with her daughter.

            As I began to mature and gain some much needed self-reflection skills these two incidents stuck in my mind.  What was this experience that simultaneously produced feelings of guilt, shame, and power?  Was this technique that seemed to produce such a swift response in people really working?

            More growth and first time fatherhood brought about increased pressure and self-reflection.  The most profound realization of my need to change came one night as I was attempting to console my newborn baby.  He had been crying for what seemed like hours and we had tried everything we knew to soothe him.  I held him close to me as he screamed and writhed in my arms.  The thought that kept coming to mind was, “STOP BEING SUCH A BABY” I wanted to yell it at the top of my lungs.  I felt the anger welling up and had nothing but a worthless growl voice to rely on.

            That is the moment I realized that anger is a primitive and under developed parenting skill.  My growl was useless in the face of my son’s tears.  Actually, if I had used my go to skill it would have only made the situation worse and created fear rather than love.   My growl of anger had evoked action in the teens I worked with but only out of fear.  All these years when I thought I was effectively motivating, I was really fearfully motivating.  If I was to become the parent my son needed I would be required to find new ways of managing my emotions and responses.

            In the years since that night in the nursery, I am thankful to have gotten a handle on my anger.  I have learned to express frustration and discontent in the moment rather than allowing it to build up.  I have developed a better sense of personal boundaries in relation to work, family, and friends.   I have learned that an out of control parent is very scary for a child.  When children are scared of their parents they miss out on the opportunity to learn from their own mistakes.

            There are still moments when my anger builds inside of me.  I feel warm and become tempted to motivate with fear.  There are also moments when I slip back to using my primitive and underdeveloped skill of anger.  I am hopeful that as I continue to grow and reflect these moments will become less intense and less regular.  May you experience the same joy of self-control.

Read Angry Art

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How have you learned to control your Anger?