Parenting Peace

I truly believe that parenting is the most difficult job in the world.  The wonderful part is that many times when we encounter challenges personal growth follows.  In my personal experience I have found parenting to be one of the most powerful character-building factors in my life. I’m not even done with the process yet.   The most difficult part of parenting is to balance all the different skills that need to be used on a daily basis.  How much freedom is appropriate for my teenager?  How emotionally involved should I be in my child’s daily life.  What level of responsibility is necessary for my child’s age?  How do I encourage my child’s growth in identity?

I have struggled with these questions since I became a parent and am so thankful for the lessons learned a long the way.  I have come to believe that the four most important areas of parenting are Encouraging Challenges, Modeling Care, Giving up Control, and Being Present.  I believe that if parents can find the balance in these four principles they will also find “Parenting Peace.”

One night over three years ago, I could not sleep; my head was filled with ideas for a parenting workbook.  I could not shut my thoughts off so I got up and began to write what has become my newly released E-workbook “Parenting Peace.”  The book has taken several different forms in this time.  It began as a parenting seminar that I presented to groups of parents; I then developed it into a parenting class that I taught while in private practice.  It has now become what I never imagined, an E-workbook to be downloaded and used by individuals or groups.

I am very excited to share this resource with parents and those that serve them.  I am hopeful that the parenting instruction and self-reflection exercises contained in the book will help those who read it.  Please follow the links below to find out more information about the E-workbook.   Contact me if you have questions, and especially if you have any form of feedback.  If you know of a friend, therapist, or pastor who might be interested in using it feel free to share the link.

DOWNLOAD PARENTING PEACE HERE

How to Halt the Entitled Generation: I Need Your Help

Ephesians 4:12 “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up”

My children are growing up as part of the “entitled generation.”  I have read several articles recently discussing this generation of youth as lazy, entitled, coddled, and narcissistic.  One article written by Brett Mccracken from relevantnetwork.com describes the entitled generation as,

“raised on the notion that we deserve things, that the government owes us something, that everything we want should be accessible and that somehow we are not responsible if we don’t end up quite as successful in life as we’d hoped.”

Several years ago a colleague and I were sharing with a group of parents about Shelterwood, the teen-counseling ministry that we worked for.  At the end of our presentation a parent asked us what we saw as the most troublesome problem facing teens today.  Thankfully my colleague answered the question, however his answer surprised many of the parents.  They expected to hear an answer of online pornography, drugs, texting while driving, or peer pressure.  Instead, he described a sense of entitlement as the number one problem facing teens today.

How does a parent raise children that are thankful for the smallest of blessings?  Is it possible in this day to raise children that view their purpose in life as serving others rather than accumulating possessions?  If they are willing to serve others will they do it to please God or to gain some sort of notoriety?  How can I do as Ephesians 4:12 says, “prepare God’s people for works of service.”

I witnessed an impromptu class in teaching the “entitled generation” about service during a family retreat while working at Shelterwood.  All the parents and families had come to town for the weekend.  This was our time to meet, encourage, support, and get to know the families of the teenagers that lived in our care.  We were serving them right?  After dinner one night the staff were to stick around to help clean up so that the families could leave to spend some quality time with their teenage child.  One father had a different plan.  As the families began to leave for the night he began picking up tables and chairs with the rest of us.  He didn’t say anything, he just started pitching in and offering a hand.  The class began when I witnessed his two pre-teen sons jump up behind him and mimic their father’s actions.  I thought in my mind that this could not have been the first time these boys saw their father standing up to serve others.  They must have seen him helping others over and over and over again.  They desired to be a man, and from what they saw, men were servants.

I was convicted and inspired by this lesson on preparing my kids for works of service.  I confess that many times my mind is set more on preparing my kids for college, a good job, or responsibility, rather than serving others.  I often find myself losing sight of God’s mission of service for my life.  I find myself desiring money, possessions, and notoriety.  Like the lesson I witnessed first hand has taught me, the best way to halt the entitled generation is to be a servant myself.

I have been challenged to say to my children, “come on, I need your help” when I have opportunities to serve others.  I hope that when my boys think of “manhood”, they picture a servant who is quick to pitch in, take out the trash, and stack up the tables and chairs.

Start the conversation below

In what ways can a family serve together?

How have you taught your children that serving others is important?

What are some other ways to Halt the Entitled Generation?”

Where Does it Hurt?

“Who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap.” Psalm 113:6-7

Before I had children I thought I knew a lot about being a parent.  I had been working with teens for years, read many parenting books, and observed (judged) parents for countless hours.  In my arrogance I thought that I was well prepared to raise the “perfect” child.

When my first child was born I was halfway through my graduate program studying marriage and family therapy.   I had so much to learn.  At this point in my life I thought it important to raise a son who did not over-react when he got hurt.  So, I set about under-reacting to my son’s needs.  I thought that if I was calm and collected and acted like nothing was wrong he would learn to respond the same way.  When he falls down he will get up and dust himself off.  When we drop him at the baby sitter he won’t shed a tear.  He will be strong and he will be independent.

What a mess!  I was parenting from my own needs rather than my son’s.  I needed a son who did not bother me, did not whine, and allowed me to stay disconnected from others.  What my son needed was a father who was attuned to his needs.  He needed a father that responded with compassion and grace.  He needed a father that said, “Where does it hurt?”

I am so thankful for the difficult and challenging lessons that followed those first nine months of parenting.  As I gained experience as a counselor and parent, the Lord was busy refining me into the father my son needed.  I learned that my parenting approach was actually starving my child of compassion, nurture, and love.  The more I closed my heart to his hurt the harder he cried out for me.  The more I said, “suck it up, boys don’t cry” the more abandoned he felt.  Paradoxically my plan to make him tough was actually making him emotionally fragile.

 I was privileged to attend a professional training as a counselor that revolutionized my approach as a parent.  I found in this training that compassion and nurture are vital to a child’s normal development.  I discovered that children who are not touched, held, or cuddled would actually die.  I learned that if a parent is attuned to their child’s needs and provides the appropriate level of nurture and compassion, their child would not have to ask for it.  This child is then free to grow, play, explore, and laugh rather than having to worry about being nurtured, loved, and protected.

It was a slow process, but I found that when I asked, “where does it hurt?” my heart began to soften and my son began to relax.  He finally knew, “my dad will protect me, I am safe from being harmed”

I strongly believe that our sons need fathers that will respond with compassion rather than dismissal.  Ignoring a child’s hurts and saying “boys don’t cry” does not make them stronger, it makes them emotionally fragile.  It is when fathers (and mothers) respond with empathy, compassion, and care that boys learn to manage their hurts and control their changing emotions.  I challenge fathers to  “stoop down to look upon your boys and girls, raise your poor son from the dust and lift his bloody knee from the ash heap.” Paraphrase Psalm 113:6-7

How do you show compassion to your child?
What valuable lessons have you learned as a parent?

How have you witnessed the harm of a “boys don’t cry” culture?

Stuff Dads Say

Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction; pay attention and gain understanding.

Proverbs 4:1

I am always a little shocked by how much my children actually hear what I say.  It is even scarier to realize how much they watch what I do.  Several years ago I had picked our boys up from school and was driving home when from the back seat I heard my oldest say the word stupid.  I quickly turned around and said,  “Hutson we do not say stupid.”   Later that same evening the boys and I ventured into the back yard to play in our sandbox.  As I dragged off the cover, designed to keep the neighbors cat from pooping in our sand, I discovered a nasty deposit.  I scooped out the poop and said under my breath, “stupid cat”.   Hutson came running over from about 15 feet away, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Dad, we do not say stupid!”  Ouch, the painful humility of realizing my own hypocrisy.  I was reminded of how powerfully the words and actions of a father impact the lives of their children.

I strongly believe that the messages fathers send, stated and unstated, have a profound impact on how their sons (and daughters) come to view the world, God, themselves, and others.  I have compiled a list of the top ten most important messages all boys need to hear from their fathers.  I believe these messages should be sent over and over again throughout a son’s life.  They are paying attention and will gain understanding.  The question is, understanding of what?  Over the next several months I will be expanding upon each point with one or more posts dedicated to each message.

The most important messages every boy needs to hear from his father

  1. No Kicking in the face
  2. Where does it hurt?
  3. Come on, I need your help
  4. Let’s go on an adventure
  5.  Oh, Let’s try that again
  6.  Let’s go help mom
  7.   How are you going to handle that?
  8.  I’m sorry
  9.   What do you think about that?
  10.  How do you ask nicely?

I have caught myself saying each one of these phrases.  Before having kids I never imagined that they would become part of my parenting vocabulary.  I am excited to share with you how they have shaped my journey as a father and how I believe they continue to shape the way my sons view the world.

What messages do you think should be added to the list?
What messages did you hear from your dad?
How do “father” messages play a role in how children view God?  

Parenting in Community

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…” Hebrews 12:1

I recently read an article by Ross Taffell entitled “The Decline and Fall of Parental Authority”.  This article was nothing I expected it to be.  I expected the author to argue from national statistics and personal anecdotes that today’s parents were not strong enough.  I anticipated that he would describe teenagers run amok, parents providing alcohol at parties, and 7 year olds with I-phones.

I was surprised when, instead of heaping guilt on parents who were working very hard to raise their kids, he offered an old solution to the new problem of the decline of parental authority.  The author notes that arguably the most damaging thing to parental authority today is the fragmentation of society.  Taffel believes that a parent’s authority is attacked from every corner of the world.  Children are bombarded with alternative voices of authority from the online world, television, school, friends, and advertising.   Each system sells its values as the most important part of leading a “successful” life.  Friends say it is being “cool”, TV says it is having the right stuff, school says it is getting all A’s, and the Internet says it is having all the right information.  Each of these systems preys on a parent’s fear that their child will not “measure up”.

The solution offered by Taffell is to raise children in community rather than isolation.  The technology that fills our lives and was intended to connect us seems to actually separate us.  Families are so busy with activities that little time is left to socialize with neighbors and connect to one another.  Taffel says, “what most overwhelmed parents of out-of-control kids need… is a strong, vibrant community that includes other parents, parents need help and encouragement in authority building.”  I am reminded of Hebrews 12:1a “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.”  I imagine a group of parent’s who “by faith” raise up their children to honor and serve the Lord.  I pray for a community of parents standing a long the edges helping to steer and direct the development of my family.

When I was growing up my parents personally knew each of my friend’s parents.  If I did something stupid they would hear about it.  The other parents helped to support and enforce the values created in my home.  Taffel challenges parents to build communities of authority in which to raise their children.  He encourages us to build partnerships with schools, to support other parents, and to be active in our neighborhoods.  I am inspired by his suggestions yet overwhelmed by the task.  To build community requires risk and sacrifice.  It requires slowing down and intentionally connecting with others.  I am hopeful that as my children grow, I will also grow in my ability to assemble a “great cloud of witnesses” to cheer them on as they run the race marked out for them.

Control Issues 1

I have many discussions with parents that center around the issue of control.  The surprising part for many of them is that I emphasize giving up control rather than maintaining control.  It seems to me that parenting is a life-long exercise in gradually giving over more and more control to our very precious children.  This process can be a very scary, or even painful, endeavor for many parents, especially when it is done either too quickly or too slowly.  Many parents wonder, “If I give up control to my child, then how will he learn what is right?” or “Won’t they end up being wild children who are continually in trouble?”

Though it is tempting for some parents to believe that gradually giving control over to their children will result in ineffective or poor behavior, the truth is that giving age-appropriate control to our children is actually in their best interest.  In reality, giving more control to your children as they mature will help develop a confident, internal moral compass from which they will make better decisions on their own.

            Let’s make the distinction between being “in control” and being “controlling.”  In his book, “In Defense of Childhood Protecting Kid’s Inner Wildness Chris Mercogliano, describes being “in control” as “establishing age appropriate limits, while at the same time supporting children’s growing sense of autonomy by allowing them to make choices and learn from their mistakes” (pg. 9).  Being “in control” is setting very clear limits for children and enforcing those limits consistently.  However, if a child is moving within those limits, he is free to be in control of his decisions and behavior.  The approach of the “in control” parent allows children to practice making choices that meet their needs or desires, but provides appropriate limitations to that freedom.   Alternatively, Mercogliano describes “controlling” as  “placing high value on obedience, shepherding children toward specific outcomes, and discouraging verbal give and take” (pg. 9).  A controlling parent is not only setting limits, but is active within those limits, making choices and decisions for a child that he could have easily made on his own.  A controlling parent who is focused “toward specified outcomes” has his own ideas for the child and is out to make them happen.  This parent does not consider the child’s desires, interests, or skills.  Instead, this parent’s focus is on meeting his or her own needs.

            The key is to gradually give age-appropriate control to our children, which is given in the form of choices.  For example, you may ask your young child, “Would you like to wear shorts or blue jeans today?” or “Would you like to drink milk or water?” or “Do you want to read books or play outside?”  All of these choices are opportunities for parents to give children control over the moments of their lives without allowing them to be in control of the household.  We have all seen the three year old who is clearly in control of the parent-child relationship.  Instead of being given choices chosen by the parent, this child is dictating the agenda for the entire household.  Giving a young child too much control is not only unhealthy, but is also harmful for future development.  On the other hand, giving age-appropriate choices to our children boosts their healthy development.

Angry Parents

 

Why does a person get angry?  What is it about a child’s behavior that can cause a parent to lose control?  Parents get angry and lose control with their children when they experience stress or anxiety above their levels of tolerance.  Typically, when parents experience this level of stress, one of their four core fears—danger, failure, loss of love, and loss of control— has been triggered by their children’s behavior.  Often, the end result of this fear is the parent’s extreme emotional response to the situation.  Learning to identify and better understand the impact of these fears in our parenting helps us learn to maintain better personal control with our children.

Danger:

The fear of their child being seriously hurt, emotionally or physically.  Parents who experience this core fear feel anxious when their child takes risks or is out of their sight.  The most common way of relieving this anxiety is to protect.  These parents have a hard time maintaining personal control when their efforts to protect are being avoided by the child.

Failure:

The fear of failing as a parent, or their child failing as an adult.  Parents who experience this core fear work hard to make their child a success and have a hard time maintaining personal control when their child’s behavior seems to work against them

Loss of love:

The fear of losing their child’s love.  Parents who experience this core fear may rely on their child for feelings of affirmation and value.  In times of trial they feel abandoned, alone, and betrayed by their child and may struggle to maintain personal control.

Loss of control:

The fear of losing control of their child or the situation.  Parents who experience this core fear see misbehavior as a sign of things to come.  They are afraid that if they don’t get things under control, their child will grow up to be a hardened criminal or worse.

We all lose our cool from time to time.  Being aware of our buttons, and what underlying fears trigger us to lose control can be very helpful.  spend some time reflecting on the last time that you lost your cool.  What was your child doing?  What were you doing?  Which one of the four core parenting fears triggered you?  Spending a few minutes in self reflection can help you to maintain control the next time your core fear is triggered.

Portions of this post are excerpts from my parenting workbook entitled “Parenting Peace”.

Read Angry Art

Read The Angry Growl