Good, Better, Best

I had the great joy the other day of witnessing a good thing happening: a child gave his mother a dandelion.

woman holding flower
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Then, this even better thing happened. He realized what a good idea it was, and picked a second flower to give her.

Then, the best thing happened: the mother received the flowers exactly the way they were offered – as a gift of love from her son. She could, I suppose, have received them as a couple of weeds he had picked up. But she didn’t.

How much of the value of a gift comes in the spirit in which it is given? How much in the spirit in which it is received?

An Argument I Cannot Win

black and white blank challenge connect
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As many as three times a week, I am tempted to argue with my kids. But in that particular setting, I know it won’t do any good. It would be to start an argument I cannot win.

We try always to eat dinner together as a family, even if I have an evening meeting. Then, when I do have a meeting, and I get ready to leave, nobody is happy. I would rather stay home; they would rather I stay home.

Sometimes one of them says something like

You’re always gone at meetings. You never stay home with us.

I know this isn’t true. I am home at least a couple of nights a week!  And, what’s more, I know parents who aren’t able to come home for dinner with their families as often as I do. And I know parents who simply don’t come home, even if they are able.

But when my kids say those things, I don’t respond with reasons, or justification, or by attempting to prove to them that I am doing better than some parents. None of those things would help. None of those are arguments I could win.

Instead, I hug them again, tell them I love them, and encourage them to “make good choices” while I am gone. I think they understand when I have to go to a meeting, and I think I understand how they feel.

I am very sure arguing won’t make it any better. In fact, taking up a case against their wanting their dad to stay home would actually work against me. I don’t want to convince them that I should be going to meetings, and I especially don’t want to convince them that they shouldn’t miss me.

So I accept their love and offer mine in return. Which is probably almost always better than arguing.

 

Is God like this?

When I climb the stairs in our house to check on our kids, I usually don’t announce myself. It’s not that i want to catch them doing something they shouldn’t be doing. I would just as soon catch them doing something they should be doing.Man-Walking-Up-the-Stairs 2

In fact, I would prefer the latter.

But I still show up unannounced. And regularly, I surprise them.

And sometimes, they are (or one of them is) doing something they wouldn’t be doing if they knew I was watching.

I recalled one time, having just surprised them, that children learn much of their understanding and ideas of who God is and what God is like from their early relationship with their parents.

Which has made me reconsider my stealthy approaches.

I don’t want to give my children the idea either that God is sneaky or that God operates by surveillance. These seem to me to be training them to live by shame, or the avoidance of shame.

I don’t get the impression that this is God’s primary posture towards us. In fact, in Genesis 3, right after the incident with the serpent and the fruit, God is walking in the garden, we are told.

NOT sneaking up on the humans.

And the man and women hear God coming and hide.

God calls out to them, giving them the opportunity to approach God, to come to God, to enter a conversation with God. And God does NOT shame them.

I’m going to be more careful  abotu how I approach my children.

 

 

 

I am NOT the (a) babysitter

Rachel has been out of the country for several days. She is leading a team from our Church on a mission trip in Belize. As other times she’s been away, I am humbled by the tasks required to parent alone.

And this is only for 1 week! And I have the incredible benefit of being married to a mom who has raised our kids in such a way that makes it a comparatively easy for me.

But let me make this as  clear as I can: I am not babysitting. I’m a dad.

Sometimes taking care of my own children is part of the title “dad.”

Not a few people have asked me, “How’s the babysitting?”

I don’t know: I’m not babysitting, I am being a parent. Actually providing care to my children goes with the territory. It’s in the job description.

All (due) Respect

wadr-logoI found myself prefacing a comment on facebook last week with the phrase “with all due respect.”  Admittedly, that was more filler than thoughtful; if what followed felt like a blow, I added the preface to soften it.

Then I got to thinking about respect.  My mind can’t go there without quickly passing through 2 thoughts.  The first, of course, comes courtesy of Aretha Franklin. Thank you, Ms. Franklin.

The second thought is from a time when I was in youth ministry. Trying to counsel a high school student through his parent’s divorce, I was struck with an insight that, honestly, impressed me.

I had been encouraging the young man to treat his parents with respect because they deserved it.  I’m a parent, and I like that line of reasoning.

On the other hand, I knew some of the choices his parents were making were not good choices.

In other words, they were not, in many ways, earning respect.

So, here’s that insight that surprised and impressed me: “Sometimes,” I said, “you have to treat people with respect because you want to be that kind of person. Someone who treats others with respect.”

(You might wonder why that so surprised – and impressed – to think of such a common sensical sort of thing.  Be patient with me; I’m still learning this thing called life.)

We who are parents like to think we can command the respect of our children simply because we are parents.  While I would agree we should be able to get some mileage out of this, if the ONLY basis you have for expecting your children to treat you with respect is ‘I’m the parent, that’s why!’ then I’m afraid you are going to be in for a lot of disappointment and heartache.

With all due respect, parents (and adults in general), let’s act in ways that deserve respect rather than just demanding we be treated with respect.

Let’s start with treating others with respect. Whether we feel they deserve it or not. Let’s respect others because of who we are.

 

Parenting by Hypocrisy

My kids were really noisy this morning.

Perhaps this is better than having to drag them out of bed to get them ready for school.

At one point, though, I caught myself yelling at them to stop yelling.

Reminded me of the time I spanked my older daughter (she’s 26).  She was probably 3, and as I spanked her, in perfect rhythm with the spanks I spoke words of correction:

WE — DON’T — HIT — PEOPLE.

I didn’t spank her after that.

I don’t think stopping the yelling at my kids will go away so easily.

I am on my way to becoming the parent who looks up from his smartphone to tell his kids to spend less time with their electronic devices and more time with the real world.

For this reason, Rachel and I gave up cell phones (and tablet, etc.) at meals before Eliza was born. We knew that parenting required at least a little credibility.

Jesus identified this challenge when he asked:

Why do you see the splinter that’s in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye? How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when there’s a log in your eye? You deceive yourself! First take the log out of your eye, and then you’ll see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s or sister’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)

Hey, fellow parents: Let’s work on our hypocrisy so that we might not only correct our children, but maybe even model for them better ways to behave.

Hey, Jesus people: Let’s try to be a little less hypocritical in our judgment and consternation toward the world around us.

It’s not like we’ve got all our stuff together.

What comes between you and your children?

What comes between you and your children?  Before you answer, consider this:

what they seeI am about to head out to my children’s preschool spring program.  I am excited to see my own children perform, as well as all the other children.

But what will our children see?  Too often, as I observe, the above picture represents what our children see of us during such “big moments” of their lives.

I will make a concerted effort this morning not to let my camera come between me and my children.

It’s not worth it.  Even if I think this will help my memory of “the event” years from now, I have to wonder what their memory will be.  I don’t want the above picture to by the memory my children have of me.

Just Saying “no”

Eliza learned to say “no” yesterday.  It was actually quite cute; she wasn’t saying no to something we wanted her to do.  She has been repeating words and sounds that she hears us say, and, at that one point yesterday, “no” was the choice to repeat.

She didn’t say it once, or even twice. It was more of a “no…no…no…no…no…NO…no…no….” We chuckled together as she practiced holding her mouth to pronounce it clearly.

“No” can be cute.

To be honest, Eliza was able to tell us “no” even before she she could say “no.”  Several weeks ago, as I was getting ready to count her piggies (tickle her toes), she got a really serious look on her face and shook her head.  This meant, I understood, that she didn’t want to play piggies at the moment.

Suddenly I recalled that there were times when, as a child, I didn’t feel like being tickled or having some other cute “look at the little kid” thing played at my expense.  There are times when Eliza enjoys these games, so I decided to respect her wished at the times she doesn’t.

Eliza learned “no,” and her own ability to say (or choose) it.  There are times, of course, when she will say no that she doesn’t get her way.  There are times when I’d like to say no, but I’ve learned that I don’t always get that choice.

In learning to respect Eliza’s “noes,” I couldn’t help but wonder if some of the challenges our kids face when they are teens are short-circuited if we don’t respect their “noes” when they are younger.  This is just one aspect of giving children a voice, but it could be an important one.

I don’t know how much difference it will make for Eliza when she reaches adolescence.  Check back with me in about 12 years.

Maturity – What?

Once upon a time, I heard that a baby’s cry is one of the most disconcerting sounds there is to human ears. I don’t doubt it. Eliza has been cutting her eye teeth for several days now.  Rachel tells me she has heard and read that this is quite painful.  I know something has been waking her at night in quite a bit of pain.

While I realize my disccomfort at hearing her cry is nothing compared to what she must be feeling, my heart aches to do something, anything, to ease her pain.

“If only she could express in words for us what hurts,” I caught myself thinking a couple of days ago.

But, alas, this is one of the things babies cannot do; express themselves with words, let alone appropriate words. As parents, we succeed to a great degree if we can bring our children to express verbally what they are feeling.

I too quickly realized that I, a reasonably mature 48 year old, still fail too often to express verbally what I am feeling.

I suspect we would have a better shot at teaching our young to verbally express what they are feeling if we would ourselves learn to do so.

I am going to practice this especially this advent. I invite you to do the same.

What a tremendous gift this would be for everyone we know!

If it doesn’t take a village, it at least takes an adult.

Last night we did a session about grief with our kids.  The topic was timely as many of our kids face difficult times in upcoming homevisits for the holidays.

If you think Thanksgiving with the family is tough, try being an adolescent whose mom or dad choose the new spouse over you, which panded you in a residential care home.

During our time together last night,w e were all invited to write down and share what has made us the saddest. Several kids wrote that their mother or father gave them up in exchange for a new husband or wife.

I remember when, in 1996, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s It Takes a Village was published. Many people reacted against the notion that families could not be expected to raise their own children.

I believe that the main thing it takes to successfully raise children these days is for those of us who are adults to actually start acting like adults.

Real adults don’t chose a new relationship with another adult over their own children.

It broke my heart to read those notes, written last night, with things like “my mom chose her new husband over me.”  It broke my heart a few minutes later when I realized that my own daughter, now 22, may well have felt that way about me at some point in her life, since her mom and I divorced when she was 13.  There were some rocky years in there.

So, yes, while I am railing against all those adults who choose some new hunny over their own child or children, I am not standing off at a distance and addressing it condescendingly.

This is OUR problem, not theirs.  We, all of us adults, must do the hard work of behaving in all the mature ways we would like our children to grow up into.