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    Entries in Mistakes (1)

    Sunday
    Aug252013

    Just Sayin': The Power of a Parents Rants, Promises and Praise

    (Retro Entry:  I wrote this for Homelife a couple of years ago.  Never posted)

     

    I have a confession to make.  My four sons have created a lexicon of the most wrong-headed rants and phrases that I’ve said. Now that they’re all in their teens they entertain each other with these stories. They don’t remember the great pearls of wisdom that I toss casually along their path when my quiet times transform me into a hybrid of Beth Moore, Oswald Chambers, and Billy Graham. They rarely remember the times when I precisely calculated the family budget, fixed bikes with bailing wire and a discarded bra strap from my wife’s closet or my keen ability to recall the answer to 4th grade history questions without googling. They do, however remember my thunderous rants about bunk bed safety, sanitary conditions in the bathroom and driving instruction.(i.e.:  Whoa…. WHOA! WHOA! WHOA! WHOA!) These parental sermons of mine gave birth to a kind of parental gibberish. I’m not proud of these moments.

    One of their favorite games is to catch me stealing lines of dramatic dialogue from an old movie as I debate curfew, dog cruelty or church attendance.

    “Dad, that sounds like Rocky 3—Mr. T.” They all laugh including my wife. Yes, I’ve been busted for argumentative improvisational plagiarism by an 11-year-old movie buff.

    Sometimes I forget that not everyone shared the same legends and traditions I did.

    “Look at this room! It looks like Gilly Williams’ place!”

    “Gilly Williams?” My 13 year old isn’t as used to the term and the older brothers.

    Gilly Williams was a guy who squatted on my great-grandfather’s land back in the 40’s. Gilly lived in so much squalor that his name has been passed down generationally in my family as the ultimate illustration of messiness. But without hearing the legend, I suppose my simile held little to no meaning to a son whose room really did look like an a-bomb testing site  (or like Gilly Williams place.) I should have gone with the A-Bomb testing site imagery.

    And so I submit to you a handful of lessons I’ve learned the hard way … and I’ll try not recreate movie dialogue to make my point.

    But Dad! You Promised!

     

    Sometimes I’ve made the mistake of prioritizing people in order of their weight. The big people get priority first. That leaves my kids at a distinct disadvantage.  Jacob was just 6 years old when he felt the pain of being outweighed.  I had promised him that after I completed an important project, we’d go see a movie he’d been looking forward to seeing since he saw the trailer a few months earlier.  He’d ask me about it almost every morning. Bleary eyed from the late nights trying to change the world and impress my boss, I’d explain that I had more to do before I’d have a night free. The project at work lasted a couple of days longer than the movie’s run. I tried to redeem the situation but I should have noticed how selfish my priorities had become.  I was promising far too much to “big people.” The project at work impressed my boss but didn’t make the cut when it was proposed to company management.  I regret the choice I made because life became all about my job, and not the higher calling of being a dad.  The book of Proverbs underscores this truth with the warning:  It is a trap for anyone to dedicate something rashly and later to reconsider his vows. (Proverbs 20:25 HCSB) Do you remember a time when your Mom or Dad didn’t keep a promise? Did they ever apologize? If not, change the spiritual landscape by keeping promises. Promises are great rewards but horrible motivators. If you keep your promises, you are saying to your kids, “You can trust me. My words have value and meaning.” If you don’t, you’ll lose something very sacred and you’ll spend a huge amount of energy and time trying to restore their trust.

    Practice the power of a sincere apology.

    Isn’t it uncomfortable when you are in a debate with your child and their side begins to make more sense than yours? It feels embarrassing. Aren’t parents always supposed to win the argument?   The old rule of parenting is parents are never wrong and if they are wrong they should never apologize.

    My two oldest sons celebrated the 21st century rite of passage a few years back: a cell phone.  We found one of those family plans where you get a four phones and numbers on one plan. That Friday night I called my oldest son’s number. The line was busy.  Every time I tried to call, the line continued to go to a voicemail that wasn’t set up yet. The longer I tried the more frustrated I became. When he finally got home I was furious.  I had no idea what he was trying to pull but I knew it had to be something.  Face red, eyes bulging from the sockets I articulated the longest run on sentence in the long sad history of parental lectures. Then he looked at me and calmly said, “You picked up the wrong phone.  The one you gave me was your phone.  The one that I have is your phone. You’ve been calling YOURSELF.”

    Oops.

    A sincere apology was in order.

    One of the biggest gripes I hear from students that have broken, dysfunctional and generally messed up relationships is that their parents were unable to admit mistakes. Our desire to be the perfect, spotless, infallible one really blocks their path to the real Messiah.  Therefore asking for forgiveness can be one of the most powerful, game-changing feats of parenting. When we never fess up to our huge failures and or subtle peccadilloes we become a source of frustration and despair. For many, this swims against the current of our family history. We grew up in homes where we just didn’t question. When we experienced a mess it was hidden or dismissed with petty excuse. We fast-forward 20 years later and as parents we are hard-wired to sweep our parental sins under the rug. It’s a major cog in the machine of generational sins. The only way to stop it is to speak it, as painful or humiliating as it sometimes is, especially for men.

    Don’t Focus on the Don’ts

    Many parents have a three word mission statement for their kid: “Don’t mess up.” We get so focused on crime and punishment that life steals the joy out of parenting. Let’s remind each other to catch our kids doing something right.  This takes some practice since some of us grew up in homes where words of praise were few. This doesn’t mean drown them in praise. The best way to see results is by noticing their accomplishments and coaching them for better success. If you see something you’d like your child to improve on first notice what they’re doing right and then give them some adjustment on how they can improve.  Praise your child with your voice, your eye-contact, your expression and your hands! 

    I’ve been amazed to see how much better my kids respond to my parenting when I first affirm their effort and what they’re doing right. If your child comes home with all A’s and B’s and one D in Algebra, where does the focus of your parenting naturally gravitate? Of course it’s to that D in Algebra. Certainly we have to help our kids focus on areas of improvement, but don’t forget the areas of strength. Don’t let the D steal all the joy of God-given excellence in the other five classes. Don’t forget to praise and offer unconditional acceptance of your child as a unique person with huge areas of strengths.

    *Besides, Algebra… What’s that all about?  Numbers mixed with letters? Something’s wrong about that. I’m just saying. 

    Grow up with your kids.

    I’m convinced that one of the reasons God gives us kids is to keep us in a state of constant accountability reality and growth. Not much gets by them, does it?  Even two year olds have an uncanny and sometimes maddening ability to scrape away to veneer of happy-shiny appearance management and bring us into the realm of seeing our true messiness. Sometimes our lives spin out of control. Inside—deep down- we are a wreck equal to Gilly Williams place. They get that. So we as parents have a choice. We can confess it in front of them and let them know that we are still growing, changing and learning in a myriad of ways. The airport adage is important, “Put on your own oxygen mask before you assist your children.”  

    The implications of growing up are huge. We have a choice. We can stay with the familiar patterns of how we deal with relationships, parenting and emotional pain. Or we can grow into something real, powerful, and transformational. So where do I start?  That was my question a few years ago when I faced some substantial nosedives into the canyon of parental shame, marital meltdowns and deep disappointments. Personally I think you’ve already started.  You’ve made it to the end of this article! Now connect with others in community. This pilgrimage isn’t for Lone Rangers. Most Christians refuse to be in a transparent small group. It could be a support group or a small group or even a ministry team. Find a safe place to connect and then live out your life in front of your children. Grow, forgive, receive forgiveness, and if you’re married, as far as it depends upon you, stay married and work God’s plan out in your relationship. Keep your marital slate clean. It’s hard work.  But it’s good work.