Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Perfect Family?

What's your image of a perfect family? I'll bet when you got married you had an ideal in mind and you thought for sure you were going to become that family. You thought your kids were going to be compliant and cooperative, in spite of the fact that you never were. Or at least that's what you hoped for. You had all kinds of mental pictures of how your family was going to be better than the one you grew up in and you weren't going to make all the mistakes you'd seen other parents make.

So as you think back to those idealistic images you had when you brought that baby home from the hospital, how's that working out for you? Has that "white picket fence" image come true or have you run into a little thing called everyday reality? The truth is that our image of family is changing, and I'm not talking about the legal definition that the politicians are arguing over.

Guess what? You don't have a perfect family and neither do I. You know why? Because we aren't perfect people and never will be. And that means our kids won't be either. We are all broken to one degree or another and our families reflect that. I say all that to encourage you to drop the guilt you feel for not measuring up to your ideal and get real about the imperfections in your kids that frustrate you.

Maybe instead of trying to create this unrealistic image of our family to impress other people, maybe we should accept the reality of our imperfections and dysfunctionality and allow God to use us as a model for redemption and restoration. I can promise you that if they haven't done it already, one day your kids will break that picture for you and everybody will know the truth. Maybe we should focus more on getting better, not being perfect in public. Maybe we should be real and authentic.

I think that would take the pressure off of us as parents, off our kids, and allow us to be believable in the eyes of those we really want to influence. And in the process, your relationship with your kids will be much more effective because they will see a model of transparency in you that is attainable.

Friday, September 24, 2010

New Tool for Parents

I'm taking a break from our current theme to share an interesting new site that may have value for your family. It's called D6 and its a concept designed to link church and family together by providing resources for parents. They recognize that the church is incapable of being the most important, no less only, spiritual influence in the lives of your children. By empowering parents to shape the spiritual development of their kids, the Biblical blueprint for parenting found in Deuteronomy 6 becomes a reality.

One of the tools is called SPLINK. "It’s a FREE weekly email packed with ideas to help connect your family. Splinks are creative ways of interacting with your children with family devotional starters and ideas for family time. Splinks can also help you use teachable moments to pass along spiritual truths and life lessons while making memories or just having fun together."

So check it out and see if it is helpful for you. Click the link above to subscribe for free!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Cop or Parent?

I'm on my way home from work, relaxed after a busy day, come around a lazy corner, and my heart skips a beat because of the instantaneous surge of adrenaline. There is a cop car sitting in the grass facing me. I instinctively look at the speedometer and heave a sigh of relief because for some strange reason, I'm actually doing the speed limit!

Then I get to thinking- why have I developed such a visceral relationship with this cop, that a momentary glance can put my body into panic mode? I don't know him personally, probably have never met him, and yet he scares me to death. Why is that? Well, it doesn't take much analysis to figure out that my attitude about him is shaped by my assumption that his sole purpose for sitting there today is to catch me doing something wrong. That instinctively makes us adversaries. Now I know cops have a much bigger role than that and much of what they do is positive and helpful but when he takes that position to trap me, I resist that.

Then is hits me- as a parent, I have many responsibilities in shaping my kids, most of which should be positive and helpful. But when I focus on catching them doing wrong, I set up an adversarial relationship that is counter-productive to my mission. I create an atmosphere of fear, avoidance, and dislike. Nobody likes being corrected and when I see that as your primary role, I'm not focused on changing my behavior; I'm focused on how to do a better job of not getting caught- and continuing my wrong behavior. My heart is not interested in change; it is merely trying to avoid penalties.

Why do we parent like a cop? Several reasons-
1.My guess is that its easier to say "No, don't do that" than it is to demonstrate proper behavior and explain why it is the best way. That takes time and we're usually too busy being focused on something else to be interrupted by a long explanation and modeling session.
2.I haven't thought through the reason for doing something well enough to explain it, so I resort to the "Because I said so" routine.
3.We live in a culture where bad news gets the attention and good stuff goes unnoticed so we transfer that mindset into our parenting style.

So the "cop" model of parenting is not a good one. It weakens the relationship and diminishes your influence. The alternative is far more effective and productive. Rewarding good behavior, positive reinforcement, and encouraging praise are far more likely to produce the behavioral change you want because you will be operating at the heart level and strengthening the relationship influence. When correction and/or discipline are necessary, remind them that this is unfortunate and unnecessary and then show them how it can be avoided by dealing with the motive that produced the wrong action and reviewing the proper response.

Yea, I know, it takes a lot of time to do that and you have to be fully engaged in their lives but its a "Pay me now or pay me later" kind of thing. And the truth is, if we do a good job at being parents, the cop won't have to step in later and fix what got messed up. And the best part is, you will enjoy a lifetime relationship of love and respect with your kids that will carry into adulthood. And that's pretty rewarding!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Importance of Your Relationships

So I'm sitting in the Home Depot parking lot, waiting to turn in to a parking space, while this lady in a car is screaming at the top of her lungs at her kids in the back seat. She stops in the middle of the road, blocking traffic, yells again, and as she drives off, reaches into the back seat and gives her kid the middle finger!

There are just so many things wrong with this picture that I could write for weeks on multiple topics but let me stick to the theme we began last week- getting to the heart of the problem. This lady was obviously struggling with her own inability to control her children and given her actions, I think we can safely conclude that the relationship side of this equation is so damaged that this scenario is not going to end well.

I know from personal experience that there comes a time when no amount of control will work. Eventually the only influence you will have will be from the strength of the relationship. So if that is the inevitable endpoint, we have to keep that in mind as the goal as we transition out of control mode. Even as you operate out of control during the toddler years, you have to focus on building a relationship of trust so that you will have a foundation in place as the relationship begins to take over.

Nurturing that relationship means connecting to your kids at the heart level. That begins with unconditional love. Perhaps the most important foundational concept you can teach your kids is that your love for them is not affected by their behavior. Now that may be a disconnect for you if you grew up in a home where love was dispensed or withheld based on your ability to be good. But think about it- God's love for you isn't based on your performance. In fact Romans 5:8 says "But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners."

Since all of us were created with a basic social need for love and acceptance, demonstrating unconditional love meets that need and provides a relational safe place that kids will always run to. I've told my kids, "You can't do anything bad enough to stop me from loving you." In that kind of environment a kid knows he or she is loved and protected and the magnetic force of that relationship will allow you to have influence in ways you never thought possible. And as they get older, that influence will be more effective than any other control mechanism you could ever devise.

So remember, you are never more like God than when you love unconditionally. That's the foundation on which a strong parenting relationship is built.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Getting to the Heart of the Problem

"The human heart is the most deceitful of all things and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?" Jeremiah 17:9

ANSWER- any parent! Sure your baby looked so innocent when first born but it wasn't long before you realized that he or she had a will of their own and it didn't gravitate toward doing good.

So we typically go into the "battle of the wills" mode and make sure they understand who is in charge. And that carries through the toddler years and into the elementary stages and by the time they reach their teen years, we're still controlling them by invoking Bill Cosby's parenting rule- "I brought you into this world and I can take you out!"

One of the most common parenting mistakes is never shifting out of the control mode that worked during the toddler years. Out of frustration we default to forcing kids to behave instead of training them to make good choices on their own. So we employ things like "time out" and "restriction" because they produce the short term control we want but unfortunately they don't produce long-term change.

In his talk about dialing into your child's heart, Reggie Joiner asks his audience to think about their own experience with restrictions- did you ever come out of a restriction thinking something like- "You know, I've had a real awakening here. I need to change my behavior and do things differently!" Nope, me either.

Why is that? I think it is because we have handled the symptom and not the problem. We have controlled behavior but not changed it. And that gets to the heart of the problem- many of our defective parenting tactics are designed to control behavior, not change the heart where the behavior originates.

In the weeks ahead we'll look at some things that contribute to heart change since that is the real source of the behavioral challenges we face. Change the heart and you change the actions.