10 Characteristics of The Servant Parent

Aec662-fatherandsons 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

How to care for introverts

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

faith

I 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?

Why Would A Good Guy Go to Hell?

My 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.

Daddy Will You Hold Me?

I used to be a cruel and sadistic parent.  I was selfish, tired, resentful, and overwhelmed.

       My first son learned to walk when he was around nine months old.  At about 18 months I figured he had had enough practice and I expected him to walk everywhere he went.  When we went to the store he would slowly climb his way out of the car seat, I set him on the ground and expected him to walk to the store.  He would start to whine about halfway there, when his little legs struggled to keep up with my full strides.  As he plopped himself on the ground crying, “daddy hold me” my frustration would start to boil, I attempted to provide a logical choice, “You can walk, or you can ride in the cart.”  However, logic was thrown out the window when I expected an 18 month old to walk the length of a parking lot.

            8 years and 3 kids later I was reminded of my cruel and sadistic past.  My five year old is high energy and high emotion.  By the end of the day he has run his tank dry and seems to have little energy left for any self-care.  As we finish reading books he plops himself on the floor and asks, “daddy will you hold me?”

            When I scoop him up and carry him to bed I realize that “holding” a child is so much more than bringing that child from point A to point B.

Holding a child is:

  •             Protecting from harm
  •             Containing feelings
  •             Softening your heart
  •             Anticipating needs
  •             Accepting uniqueness
  •             Caring for hurts
  •             Enforcing limits
  •             Sacrificing self
  •             Creating safety
  •             Seeking to understand
  •             Being present
  •             Offering grace

Over the next several months my posts will be discussing questions about  “holding” your children.  Is it possible to drop a child emotionally while holding him physically?  Is it possible to hold a child while not physically touching him?  How do fathers hold differently than mothers?  What are the consequences of never being held and how can one learn to hold if they never experienced it themselves?

Please join me in the discussion and offer your own reflections or questions about your experience as a parent.

My Wife Went Out of Town and I Asked For Help

Several months ago my wife started preparing me for the inevitable.  A long time friend was getting married and she floated the idea of attending the wedding. She would be a plane flight away while I stayed home to care for our four young children.  My normal response in these situations is silence.  I am trying to remain calm, and avoid totally betraying the feelings of anxiety and frustration that immediately crop up.

I love my kids, I am a very involved father, and I am passionate about impacting the lives of my children.   When it comes to parenting alone for a weekend however, I am a mess.  I really desire for my wife to have time of her own, I desire for her to connect with old friends, and I have had many chances to take such trips.

My problem is that I get overwhelmed; there is just so much to do.  There are moments when things are going fine, and then there are moments when it feels seconds away from implosion.  As I move through the days doing my best to stay one step ahead of the chaos the feeling becomes more powerful and out of control.

So, with this trip on the horizon I asked for help, my mom came into town and my sister and her pre-teen daughter spent time lending an extra hand.

Somewhere in the middle of the weekend I started to wonder if I was betraying my fellow man.  I have read several articles lately and am aware of a pretty significant movement of dads looking to improve the image of fathers.  I have felt that I am a part of this movement.  I do desire to demonstrate that men are capable parents.  So, I wondered if asking for help made me a sell-out?  Had I become a hypocrite in the world of active fathers?

After some reflection I have decided that no, I am not a sell-out or a hypocrite, I am just me.  I am laid back, low energy, low structure, introverted, reflective, and male.  When I enter a group of people I hang around the edges, observe for a while, and then settle into a conversation with 1 or 2 warm personalities.  My wife is outgoing, high energy, high structure, extroverted, logical, and female.  When she enters a group of people she jumps right into the mix, moves from group to group, and meets many new people.

I am struck by the fact that our different personalities also reflect our different styles of parenting.  She is perfectly comfortable managing and directing the crisis of taking four children to the grocery store.  She responds quickly in many situations and is adept at moving from child to child, while maintaining focus on the task at hand.  My reflective personality causes me to respond more slowly.  I want to think things through.  I wonder how my words in this moment may impact the future development of a fragile psyche.  I analyze motivations, body language, and tone changes all in the hopes of responding perfectly as to avoid any further complications.

Isn’t it amazing how who we are as people, so totally impacts who we are as parents?  I am very thankful that my wife is not like me.  I am also thankful that I am not like my wife.  Our personalities and parenting styles are complementary and we have become a really great team.  She is a force of energy, passion, excitement, and structure.  I am steady, thoughtful, calming, and relaxed.

I am beginning to realize that my anxiety and frustration with parenting on my own may not be the result of deficient skills.  I think it is more like losing a valued teammate.  I think I am a better parent in the presence of my wife.  We work well together and support one another.  She gives me strength and I give her stability.  Asking for help is like inserting a sub, the new player can never replace the trusted veteran but neither does it reduce the value of the remaining player.

 The weekend with my wife away went much better than I expected.  It was a nice opportunity for my children to spend time with their grandmother and cousin.  I enjoyed having new team members at my side and am thankful to have learned a lesson about accepting my weaknesses and strengths.

Oh, and my wife points out that it took three of them to replace the one of her!!

This Post originally appeared at The Good Men Project

Permission to Laugh

This morning was a little different than normal.  I was taking the boys to school.  My wife was leaving early to drop our daughter at daycare.  She had to dress professionally in preparation for her clinical training day.  The boys had slept in a little longer than normal and we parents had taken advantage by sleeping in ourselves.  Things were going OK but we were late and nerves were running hot.

The boys were eating their biscuits and jelly, while my wife was holding our daughter and trying to prepare her breakfast at the same time.  She needed to rinse a bowl in the sink when it happened.  She flipped on the faucet, the sprayer nozzle stuck and water went flying across the kitchen soaking her, our daughter, and the floor.  The surprise of the cold water caused my wife to let out a loud high pitched scream, which scared the 9 month old daughter causing her to cry.

The boys and I sat eating breakfast not knowing quite how to respond.  The 3- year old covered his mouth trying to keep his breakfast from spewing out as he stifled a giggle.  The 5-year old let out one lone giggle and then shut up quickly sensing that mom might not appreciate his response.    I stood there dumbfounded remembering the night before when I had the same problem but was too lazy to find a solution.  The 7-year old forced out the obligatory, “don’t laugh, it’s not funny!” reprimand of his younger brothers.

Now, this situation could have gone a number of different ways, but thanks to a patient and playful response things took a positive turn.

My wife paused a moment, seemingly to gather her super human strength, took a breath and said playfully, “well, it was kinda funny!”

                  The boys burst into laughter!  They let loose with belly laughs and howls that are normally reserved for only the most hilarious moments.  The previously tense feeling of the morning had been shattered, nerves had been instantly cooled and we shared a family laugh in a stressful time.

As I reflected on this moment I was struck by the importance of giving children permission to laugh.  They desperately wanted to laugh, but they needed to know it was safe.  My wife could have responded with anger, and continued the morning with increased tension and pressure.  In her patience and playfulness however she sent the signal that she could laugh at herself and they could follow suit.

We have laughed about this moment several more times in the days to follow.  We remember back with our boys about the time mom got sprayed by the sink.  We share mini moments of laughter in the midst of the daily grind.

What a blessing we were given, a moment to laugh on a busy hectic morning and a lifetime to remember that wonderful feeling of connecting in joy through the power of laughter.

What are your funniest family moments?