Thursday, October 28, 2010

No Quick Change

I'm guessing that most parents fall into the trap of wanting immediate results for the things we do to shape our kids. When traffic stops in front of you, you want your brakes to work quickly and keep you from plowing into the trailer hitch on the Monster truck in front of you- and yes, I speak from experience. When something happens at work that needs to be adjusted, you make the changes with an expectation of fast improvement. But unfortunately, kids don't usually respond that quickly and we get frustrated. Most relationship/behavioral issues don't operate at the speed of your computer; ask anybody who works in HR.

So when we get accustomed to the ability to affect outcomes quickly, we set ourselves up for failure in the parenting arena. We have a choice- 1. force immediate behavioral change by stopping the wrong and forcing the right. This is the scenario where you make your son say he's sorry to his sister for decapitating her doll when in fact he is quite proud of his accomplishment. He reluctantly recites the words you prescribe and you walk away thinking it's fixed. 2. sit down with your son and have a conversation about what motivated him to disrespect his sister's property. This takes some probing questions and much more time but in the end you uncover an opportunity to teach respect and self-control and deal with the issue at the heart level.

The simple truth is that unless we make corrections at the source, the heart, we have only postponed the correction until a more severe catastrophe has happened. This may be a paradigm shift in your parenting thinking because most of us did not have that approach modeled for us when we were growing up, me included. But the sooner we can implement this strategy for change, the less mess we will have to mop up after the fact.

Of course I understand that the age of the child will dictate the precise details of how this is applied. It is the proper transition from cop to coach that should happen during the elementary years as maturity allows. But having this strategy as your ultimate goal will allow you to gauge the development of your child's heart and know when to put it in practice. Just remember that it takes years to see the results, not minutes.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Now's the Time To Fix It

I hear about and see a lot of parents who are frustrated with their teens- kids who pretty much ignore any input the parents may try to have in their lives. There is an obvious disconnect and the parents seem helpless to restore any level of meaningful influence. How does that happen?

There are many possible explanations but one of the most common comes from a relationship that was damaged during the transition years- the years from about 9-12. During that developmental stage, kids are learning to make choices and they are thoughtful enough to want reasons for parental expectations. Their self-image is emerging and peer pressure is playing a big role in decision-making. Mom and Dad are not the only influence in their lives anymore so conflicting values begin to creep in and vie for their allegiance.

As kids begin to explore other options, parents often feel threatened by what appears to be a competing external influence and they tighten their grip to maintain control, fearing that their child is rejecting their standards. Just at a time when the grip should begin to loosen, parents do the opposite and the resulting power struggle gets ugly. Letting a child make a poor choice and feel the consequences is one of the toughest things a parent will ever have to do.

Transitioning from cop to coach is hard. And if you miss that transition, it can be very difficult to recover. Trust me- I know from experience. I didn't do a very good job of that with all of my kids and it cost me. What I missed was shaping my kid's heart more than their actions. Proverbs 4:23 reminds us to "guard your heart above all else for it determines the course of your life." I was more focused on actions and I was ignoring the heart attitude that drove the actions. I tried to control behavior instead of shaping a heart with godly principles.

So for those of you with young kids, work on their heart now and stay closely connected to them. Understand that your influence will one day be challenged and your kids will need a solid foundation to be able to make wise choices. Helping them learn how to choose what is right will be far more important than whether or not they spill their drink in a restaurant.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

You Have More Influence Than You Think

Have you ever thought about the fact that choices you make can influence children several generations into the future? I know I often get caught up in the routines of life and tend to focus on immediate results in the decisions I make. I also catch myself being very self-centered in those decisions, often thinking more about the consequences to my own comfort and desires than the long-range impact of what I choose to do.

The truth is that the consequences of our choices will live longer than we do. I think of my grandfather who was on the verge of becoming an alcoholic before he was 30. But something happened and he became a Christ-follower. I don't know what was the tipping point for him but that decision changed the direction of his life and ultimately shaped the course of my father's life. Grandpa started taking the family to church, my Dad became a Christ follower and eventually became a pastor. That meant I was then raised in a Christian home and chose to follow Christ too.

Subsequently my children were then taught to follow Christ and they are now teaching my grandchildren to do the same thing. A few months ago I helped baptize one of my granddaughters. So now, about 90 years later there is a 4th generation Christ follower, all because of a choice grandpa made. That challenged me- what choices am I making that influence other people's decisions? What decisions will my grandchildren make because of my influence in their lives?

A study of your genealogy will illustrate the way a family tree is shaped. Your life is not lived in a vacuum. Your are shaping others by the person you are. Your tree is not perfect anymore than mine is but with all our imperfections and dysfunctions, God works to tell His story through us. Let me sum it up in the words of Reggie Joiner in his book Parenting Beyond Your Capacity:
"God is at work telling a story of restoration and redemption through your family. No matter what your family looks like or how limited your capacity might be, you can cooperate with whatever God desires to do in your heart so your children will have a front-row seat to the grace and goodness of God."