Children see, children do.
To be honest, this is one of the most uncomfortable truths about parenting that I have to face. How many of us have been in the grocery store and had to apologize for what a child said only to realize later that they probably heard it first from us. Or have you ever looked at your spouse after witnessing your child do something and smiled as you jokingly said, “I wonder where she gets that?”
A number of years ago, NAPCAN, Australia’s National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, put out this sobering commercial. Watch with caution as it contains mature content…
For better or for worse, children learn behaviors from their parents. Bad habits, negative personality traits, discouraging phrases and poor ways of handling problems are all passed on to our children. The better news is that good habits, positive personality traits, encouraging phrases and helpful ways of handling problems are also passed on to our children.
Imagine if my child was left to inherit the messy way I deal with life with no real power to overcome the obstacles created for her. Also imagine if the limits of their capacity for making positive changes in their world were set by my own standard of doing good.
I don’t want my children boxed in by the limits of my “goodness” or the depth of my depravity.
Thankfully, there’s a teacher better than us that can use both the good and the bad to redeem our children from our parenting. If we consider the words of Jesus, we can be relieved from the hopeless pressure of raising the perfect child.
“I’m telling you these things while I’m still living with you. The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught.” John 14:25-27 (MSG)
Children see and children do – yes. But thank goodness, there is a Friend, that brings peace in our chaos and equips us to excel beyond what we have witnessed.
“You mean we get to take her home?” I remember my wife, Krista, putting into words the very thoughts I had been having since the nurse told us that we would be discharged from the hospital. Our daughter had been born not even 72 hours before we got into our Ford Focus and headed home. Were we ready? We thought we were…
Until we realized that “getting ready” meant much more than baby showers, putting cribs together and stocking up on diapers. In reality, our efforts to make our home a place that was absolutely perfect for our baby girl were vain attempts to control a situation that was out of our hands to begin with. What we only realized in part, was that God was yearning for us to fully surrender our newborn baby over to him. He was still certainly going to use us to raise her, but He had something very important for us to learn that we could not find in the pages of a self-help book. We would learn it by raising the white flag.
In the single act of surrender, we were doing more for our child than years spent striving to be a better parent or know enough about child-rearing. Our surrender meant that we believe God holds the victory in our daughter’s life and that we can choose to join him in it or be his adversaries. Whether or not we were enough as parents didn’t matter if we had gone “palms up” and handed her over. This surrender meant that we would have to become better listeners. We wait for God to speak. He does and we hear, then choose to continue on with the white flag raised. This surrender means that we may not have clear answers. We do not negotiate the terms, we simply trust.
When we raise the white flag and surrender our parenting over to God, he takes us where we are and begins the victory dance. In fact, he invites us to join in with him. When you dance with the Victor, the parenting battles become boogies, the tantrums become tangos, the wrestling turns to a waltz. We dance with God in the joy of surrender and let him take the lead.
“Daddy, can a woman with no husband have a baby?”
Uh… Quick… Don’t panic! Don’t panic! Hmm… What exactly is she asking here? How much do I need to tell her? Why is Krista upstairs? Uh….
“Well, that’s a good question sweetie! Why are you asking?”
This is what started our conversation over the breakfast table before church this morning. I was caught totally off guard and for a short while had absolutely no clue how to respond. Luckily a well-crafted question bought me some time to think as well as figure out just what my 5 year-old daughter was wanting to know.
Turns out she was at a church consignment sale with my wife yesterday and they had posters up advertising an adoption information meeting. We also have been sharing openly about a family from church that has just adopted a little boy from a teenage mom. While we have gone into just a little detail recently about how boys and girls are different, we haven’t had that talk yet. I surmised that what she really wanted to know was whether it was okay or not for a child to be in a family with no daddy. I think she was also wondering why a mommy would choose to give her baby up for adoption.
I am often amazed at the weight of things kids think about. Our daughter is surrounded at church and homeschool events by families that have adopted. We talk about adopting into our own home and how much of a blessing it would be to both the child and our family. We had never really given much thought about how, for a five-year old, it wouldn’t make much sense. I wanted to be sure to respond carefully.
“You know, I love how you are always thinking of other people. I can tell this is important to you. Remember how God made everything and had a plan for how it would all work? Sometimes things don’t work out the way God had planned. This isn’t because God was wrong or couldn’t make it work. Sometimes people think it would be better to try a different plan. God’s perfect plan for babies is that they would have a mommy and a daddy who are married to each other. There are lots of reasons that a baby might be born without a daddy. Sometimes it can still work out good, but God’s ways are always better.”
I was amazed at the attention span of my little girl. I didn’t want to keep talking if she had checked out of the conversation so I asked her if this all made sense. She nodded that it did but I could tell that she needed a little more explanation. I began telling her about the family from church that just adopted a little boy. I explained that the mommy just felt that it would be better for the baby to be in a family that had a mommy and a daddy who were married to each other. I shared how difficult it must have been for the little boy’s mommy to make that decision but because she loved him so much she wanted to do what she felt was best for him.
Our conversation seemed to answer her questions for now. She will likely have additional questions soon so we will continue talking about it as she puts pieces together. I love these talks we have because it just broadens the communication pathways between us and our children. Without reacting we set the stage for future conversations that might be more difficult. I also love them because it gives us a chance to share with our daughters God’s heart. I didn’t go into any detail about mistakes that people make with pre-marital sex or how families end up divorced. But through talks like this we communicate a very important message: God loves his people and wants what is best for them. This will be a thread woven into future conversations with our kids. We want them to know that God’s love is bigger and better than anything we could want. Because of this, he can be trusted with our plans.
I would love to hear from others who have had conversations like this with their kids. Share what your conversation was like in the comment section and how you felt it drew your children closer to the heart of Christ.
It seems that all my most exciting parent observations happen at Chick-Fil-A. I truly think it is because people feel at home there and can just be themselves, letting others glimpse both the good and the bad! Today I got to spend some one-on-one time with my youngest daughter. Given the choice between Moe’s and Chick-Fil-A, my daughters will always choose the latter. I really do love this place. There is no other restaurant that can beat their customer service. You would think that at a place where it is always their pleasure to refresh my beverage that everyone would be at their friendliest. Not so today.
My daughter was playing in the play area along with another little boy who was two years old. His grandparents and I were sitting just outside the glass door, watching where we could swoop in and rescue them at a moment’s notice. Though I may sounds like a helicopter parent, I am not. As you will soon read, I believe with my whole heart that children should experience the consequences, however big or small, of their actions. The price tag only goes up as they grow older so now is the best time to learn the lessons – while the price to pay is minimal. Not too long after she began playing, three older kids sauntered into the play area. When I say older kids, all that really matters is that in their sauntering, they walked past the cow holding the height restriction sign, heads bobbing well above the arrow indicating 54 inches. They were probably 10, 12 and 15 years old. The youngest made a bee line straight up the slide (everyone knows this is on the no-no list). The 12-year-old made her way up the steps and the oldest ran through the little toddler area, around the steps and enthusiastically chased his brother up the slide. My daughter and her little friend just stared blankly at the commotion. As they entered I groaned a little more loudly than I realized because the boys grandparents sitting next to me groaned in agreement. No words were necessary; we all agreed. The older kids were too big to be playing in there, especially with toddlers.
So here, we were left with some choices. As I mentioned above, I realize there are consequences with every choice – even my own. If I swoop in and take my daughter out of there, she will miss out on play time. Chick-Fil-A, until today, had become a place where I could sit and get my beverage refreshed while my kids played behind sound-proof, glass walls. I wasn’t quite ready to leave my mini vacation yet. Another option would have been to go and notify the manager that there were three rowdy kids in the play area. I didn’t feel I could risk leaving her in there while I notify the manager. Though there may have been other choices, I went with a third option. I opened the door as the oldest was making his way up the slide and crouched down where the slide let out and said, “Hey guys, I really think you three are too big to be playing in here while there are little kids running around.” That was it. I didn’t even ask them to leave. I partly wanted to give them the chance to make a choice of their own, but also felt that my statement was just shy of actually telling someone else’s kids what to do! With grumbles they acknowledged what I said and began making their way out.
As I went back to my seat, I gave the boy’s grandparents a look that indicated I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. Just as I was sitting down, the older kids’ mom was approaching to enter the play area. I always feel it is better for parents to hear about conversations I have with their kids from me first so when mom made eye contact with me, I said with a smile, “I told your kids I thought they were a little too big to be playing in there with little kids.” Before I could finish my sentence, with a voice loud enough for the whole restaurant to hear and finger waving in my face, she exclaimed, “How dare you tell my kids what to do! NO ONE disciplines my kids.”
Thinking back on the situation, I realize she and I aren’t really as different as I felt at that moment. We were both acting out of the protective instincts God gave us. I was trying to protect my daughter, she was trying to protect her children. I may have reacted differently than her if the situation were reversed but her reaction came from the same place mine did. I have thought all day about what her life may be like. Has she had it rough? Have her kids been through things that I could never imagine? Hearing her say, “NO ONE disciplines my kids,” I was thinking about how they were missing out on the blessings of boundaries. Rather than saying that, I fumbled through an apology and tried to explain that I was concerned for the little kids but she was not interested in hearing anything I had to say. She quickly got her kids, got her food and went to eat outside. The little boy’s grandparents were in just as much shock as I.
So, was it in my place to say something to the older kids in the play area? Under the right circumstances I think anyone could justify it, even if there are other ways of removing my daughter from the situation. Really, it’s not a question of what was going to be best only for my daughter. What happened to me today is a sad indication of where a lot of families find themselves. I was able to brush off rather quickly being scolded in public by another parent. The lasting effects of today’s run-in at Chick-Fil-A are going to take their toll on the three kids who missed out on a teaching opportunity from their mom. I certainly do not want other kids to learn their lessons at my daughters expense. The cost now might have been a few bumps and bruises for the little ones and some temporary guilt for the older. The cost later on could include hospital bills and years or remorse. I have no earthly idea the impact of my actions on those other kids. Their mom might not really be bothered by their carelessness around other people. Or, perhaps as they were sitting around eating their spicy chicken sandwiches and waffle fries, a conversation was happening that might have been neglected otherwise. I can handle an irate mom, complete with finger waving in my face. If, indeed, no one disciplines her kids, she will have much worse things to be angry about later on.
This week I have been at the Orange Conference. A three-day event for ministry leaders who have as their primary interest a partnership between the church and the home. To be honest, I felt a little out-of-place. This past August my job as a full-time children’s minister ended and since then I have been taking up the responsibilities of a stay-at-home parent, homeschooling my kindergartener and chasing our 2 year old around the house! Attending the Orange Conference last year, I was focused on attending classes that would help me to equip the volunteers working under my leadership and networking with other ministry leaders from whom I had much to learn. I happened to bump into a few people I have met over the years who, through Facebook and twitter, know vague details about where me and my family are at. A brief exchange between me and another children’s ministry leader who I look up to a lot, left me feeling insulted for the first time about my “at-home” status.
He asked me what I was up to and if I was ministering anywhere. I replied, “Yeah, I am staying at home and homeschooling our daughter.” His first response was, “You need to get a job, buddy!” I don’t recall exactly what I said to him in response. I fumbled through a kind response, hoping to end the conversation quickly, hoping to communicate that I consider it a privilege to minister to my children at home. I always found it shocking when I would hear a report of people diminishing the importance of the role that stay-at-home moms have with phrases like, “So, you don’t work?” or “Don’t you miss having areal job?”
Stay-at-home moms, today I can honestly say, “I know how you feel.”
Still praying through this one. I know God is using my current situation to draw me closer to my daughters. In a world where the positive relationship between a father and his girls has such an invaluable impact, I cannot afford to let such comments deter me from giving my daughters my very best. They need to know that right now, raising them full-time isn’t something I am settling for. Every dad has a calling to disciple his children. Father’s of girls have the additional responsibility of showing them what it means to be loved like Christ loves the church. It’s impossible to estimate just how valuable the time I spend with my girls is during this season of life. Only God knows what it is worth and how much my life will be blessed by it.