This morning I went for a run. (Actually, I used to run. Now I trot and breathe really hard.) As I took off on this run, I set my running app for 2.62 miles. That may seem like a random distance, but it isn’t. It’s a goal that I’ve set for myself regularly- not to let exercise be my driving goal, as much as a way to maintain some health and enjoy some personal time.
2.62 is 1/10th of a marathon. These days you may often see cars with 26.2 or 13.1 stickers on their bumpers and trunks. Those signify that the driver has completed a half or full marathon. These mark noble goals, I’m sure. They signify that the person has achieved a high level of fitness–one that I have never reached. My only concern with this goal is that it is a sign of something that I think can begin to infect families and can become a barrier to good parenting.
Back when I was young, few people ran marathons. Now, judging the number of cars with stickers, and Facebook posts and Tweets from many of my connections, it has become a trendy activity to show this achievement and personal drive.
Drive is good in some ways, but it can get in the way of good parenting. When parents train for marathons, they run from 2 to 4 hours per day. On top of their running goals, many add other health goals, subsequently adding gym memberships that require more time and hundreds of dollars in fees.
If parent drive isn’t in health areas, many more parents are driven toward personal success. Their careers become more than ways to support their family, and can go beyond a normal source of fulfillment. Careers can become the parent’s identity. Most people have to put in overtime on occasions. When a career becomes an identity, these people will work 60 or more hours a week most of the time. Personal time is frequently interrupted to deal with work situations, or these people are lost in their work mentally, even when involved in non work activities.
Drive in itself isn’t a bad thing, but many families are lost in this drive when it becomes a way of life. Driven parents lose important opportunities to demonstrate love to their children. Driven parents can pass along a number one value of being driven. Other values like loving one another, caring for your community, faith, and moderation can be lost in a driven parent’s lifestyle.
Now that my kids are grown, I have time to dedicate to new personal activities. I guess I could make the time to prepare for a marathon, but I don’t need to. For now, I’m happy with the 2.62 concept. Exercising 30 minutes per day is enough.
Yesterday, the last 3 seconds of an advertisement caught my eye. It was a boy about 11 or 12 talking about doing well in school and ended with the line, “then I can be a scientist, and I can change the world.”
I saw this ad at the same time that I’m preparing for a class that I’ll be teaching at the College of New Jersey. The class is called Society, Ethics, and Technology. I’m reading Neil Postman’s Technopoly in preparation for teaching the class. I don’t think Postman is so keen on children wanting to be scientists so they can change the world. I think he’s agreed that scientists and engineers are changing the world, but not necessarily in a good way. I’ll reserve judgment of both the book and the philosophy for now.
This series of things did get me to thinking about what parents should be doing as they lead their children into their future. Should parents teach their children to want to change the world?
Maybe there’s a better goal for parents than telling their children they have to be scientists, politicians, lawyers, rock stars, or megachurch pastors to change the world. Maybe your child will become one of these things, but the people who really change the world are the people who live life in Christ as people of character.
How do you guide your children to live lives of good character? Try these three things.
Live a life of faith and character before them. Make your faith central in your life.
Work to surround your children with people of character.
Move the target. If you teach that worldly success (being a great scientist or whatever) is the goal in life, their character will always be competitive. If you teach them to be loving and faithful, their character will be more loving and faithful.
People best change the world when Christ lives through their lives, humbly serving him wherever they are. I hope many children have great careers as scientists and other notable jobs, but I hope that in those careers they are focused being men and women of character, more than on dominating the field, their company leadership structure, or the world. Your children will be successful when they are comfortable with what Christ is doing in their life.
One afternoon I had an opportunity to talk with a parent of one of the young men who had graduated from my ministry.
“I hear Billy (not his real name) wants to go into a ministry with disabled people.” I said with excitement.
Linda, Billy’s mom, responded, “Yeah, but we’re not going to let him change his major.”
“Why not?” I asked, having figured that the family, who was very involved in our church, would be thrilled that their now young adult child was finding a clear calling.
“We told Billy that if he wants us to pay for his college he will have to finish his career path. Ministry won’t pay him enough to live a comfortable lifestyle.”
Confused, I asked, “So you don’t think his ministry plan is valuable?”
“We do,” she responded. “But we think he should work as a professional for a few years until he’s financially set to live a comfortable life. We told him at that time he could follow his ministry call.”
As a parent, I understand the concern one might have over seeing a child struggle financially, but I am uneasy when parents put planning for a child’s financial future over their child’s calling.
Anyone can find their calling. That is the point at which they use their gifts and strengths for a greater good. It is in serving a calling that people begin to find fulfillment in their work. It is by fulfilling a calling that a person benefits society. It’s a person’s calling that leads them to a point of serving God in all walks of life.
The missional family works to help their children identify their calling.
A calling is different than a career path. To manage a career path, most people set goals (e.g., to be a managing engineer, to be a doctor, to be president of the United States, or CEO of a large corporation). A calling is an attitude of purpose and satisfaction (e.g., I care for people; I give people direction; I help people understand bigger things).
Career paths often demand that people compromise. The young executive may break a few rules to his path to becoming CEO. The doctor my give up her family to build a booming practice. An engineer may fudged some of my financial numbers to underbid the competition knowing that that it will demand additional charges later.
A person can find meaning in their calling even when their jobs are menial, low paying, threatened by economic crisis, or led by a lousy boss. The odd thing about this is that people who have a firm understanding of their calling are often better employees, so their bosses respond better to them. They will succeed because they stick with their job despite frustration when others might have quit and switch jobs prematurely.
Colorado State recently held a webinar offered to alumni on the topic of calling. Psychology professor Dr. Bryan Dik presented a great picture of calling. Parents can help their children find their calling by following the four suggestions that Dik makes.
Link activity to outcomes that matter.
Focus on the greater good.
Actively craft work—Its tasks, relationship climate, and purpose.
Parents have the opportunity to set a goal for their children. It’s my experience most children learn to hit the goal that their parents set. If parents teach kids to make money, they’ll make money. If their goal is to have a successful career path, their kids will have a priority of developing a career path. If it is to do something greater with their lives, then parents need to focus on teaching their kids to find their calling.
Don’t trip children as they seek their calling. Focus on teaching a attitude of doing God’s work whether the job is big or small.
Guiding your children can be difficult. Complete the form below to schedule a coaching session. The first 30-minute phone session is free.
Parents are tasked with protecting their children. Church leaders, likewise, are responsible for protecting their church.
In both of these cases, protecting does not mean taking the safe way all the time.
Parents should put their kids in child seats. That’s safe and that’s protecting them.
Parents should not jump into every situation that can get their children into trouble. That seems safe in the short run, but in the long run, children parented in such a way will never learn to be creative or innovative. They won’t learn to fight to get themselves out of difficult places. They won’t learn to stand on their own feet.
Children need to experience unsafe challenges.
Church leaders need to allow conflict to rise in their churches. They need to learn to allow the people to work out their difficult situations. They even need to allow their people to consider heretical ideas. By allowing these things rather than taking the safe way, church leaders will have stronger churches who are more convinced of their purpose and beliefs.
If church leaders jump into every issue, their church members will be weak and reliant on leaders. This is dangerous for the church.
Church leadership is a lot like parenting. Parenting is a lot like leading.
Those are good questions, but the answer is seldom simple. Many “parenting experts” have sold books based on trying to make it simple. The problem is that their one-size-fits-all solutions don’t fit all situations.
I’ve studied parenting for years. I’ve mined the scriptures for what I can find to help me with the what do I do when questions. Sadly, I seldom find a simple, clear answer in the scriptures. The colicky infants, terrible twos, mouthy pre-teens, and angsty teens don’t come up in much biblical discussion.
Sure, the Proverbs provide some guidance for parenting children. There are some general concepts that should be taken seriously, but it’s hard to say there are any clean formulas to follow for how to discipline, or how to teach your faith to your children.
But there is one formula that will always help you in your parenting.
The quality of your parenting is directly related to your personal development.
The more you pray, the better parent you are able to be.
The more you engage in personal reflection, the better you can address your child’s issues.
The more you allow God to work in your life and to build your faith, the more your child will see a positive example of God’s work, and the more likely they are to allow God’s hand to work in their life.
Parents don’t usually intend to lie in this way, but when wrapped up in the everyday issues many parents misrepresent the truth by substituting these common perspectives. You’ll notice that most of these “lies” have an element of truth behind them. Be careful about reading always and never into the truth or the response.
The first 4 lies are addressed in a short but meaningful video by Skye Jethani.
1. “If my kids come out with good values, I’ve done my work at raising good Christian children.”
Values should be a part of a child’s development, but following Jesus isn’t about good values. It’s about putting faith in Jesus, even when a child slips in upholding values. Teach your children to have strength in Jesus’ work more than having faith in their own ability to act right. This is what Skye Jethani calls life under God.
2. “If my children get a great education in the Bible they’ll be great Christians.”
Memorize important scripture, learn the Bible stories, develop solid doctrine- Some people see these as the pathway to perfect love for God. They might be good, but they are not a guarantee of holiness. The Pharisees practiced this kind of spiritually, and Jesus wasn’t impressed. Skye Jethani calls this life over God.
3. “If youth group is fun for my kid, then I know they will grow spiritually.”
Fun in church programs isn’t bad, but it becomes bad when it is the means of feeling connected to the church and to God. Skye Jethani says this is the 3rd way that people falsely try to take control of the world, and in doing so try to take control of God. When youth group or church is about fun, we make God into a fun “vender” for our enjoyment.
4. “My kids will be spiritual when they are on mission for God.”
It is good to do the work of God, but doing missional things doesn’t make a person a follower of Christ. Being a Christian is being in communion with Christ. Our mission is an outworking of our love for God, not a means for gaining approval. God loves your child first, before they lift a single finger for his Kingdom.
5. “When my child walks away from their faith, I just need to get them around more Christians and they’ll come back.”
Many children walk away from their faith, and the natural parent reaction is to take control and to try to network the child back into the faith. Christian people are important for reconnecting, but in this way parents often become a nuisance in their child’s life. Allow these relationships to happen by God’s hand. Give that control over to him by praying for your child and constantly being faithful yourself.
6. “I don’t know much about the Bible so I don’t have anything I can teach my children about my faith.”
Your own faith is an important element in the formation of your child’s faith. If you don’t feel knowledgeable, working to improve your knowledge teaches your child a lot about the Christian walk. Passing spiritual development off to a professional also teaches your child something. Unfortunately, that something isn’t good, as they will learn that walking with Christ is something that is dedicated to certain times, certain places, and lead by certain people. Teach your children that Christ can permeate all aspects of life by living your life side-by-side with them.
7. “My compliant child obviously has a stronger spirituality than my spirited child.”
Don’t confuse obedience to you as a measure of maturity. Compliance isn’t a lone measure of spirituality. Do a simple survey of Christian leaders and you’ll find many who are spirited, high-energy, and creative children who didn’t sit still when they were asked as children. Understand that God makes all kinds of personalities, and help your children to grow according to their personality, without applying false expectations.
8. “Tough love is the key to teaching our children to maintain their faith.”
God’s way is grace. There may be times that we have to allow children to feel the full consequences of their choices, but parenting should be grace-filled as much as possible.
9. “I sent my children to Christian school/home school so that they won’t be exposed to issues of the world.”
Parents cannot shield children from the world. Wherever people are, children will be exposed to worldly choices. Christian schools and home schooling have different worldly influences, but either way, children will be exposed to the breadth of possibilities sometime in their lives. This isn’t to say that secular schools are better. In fact, children are likely influenced earlier and more often by non-Christian values in secular schools, but given the right guidance, these children can grow in a unique way that children who are educated in uniquely Christian cultures sometimes miss.
10. “I’m not important for the development of my children.”
You, mom and dad, are important. Your children see you. They see your morality. They see your faith. Your attempts to grow in your faith influence your child. Living faith each day before your kids helps them to learn to do the same. Forgiving your children when necessary helps them to realize God’s forgiveness. Accepting God’s love for your wrongdoings helps kids to be confident in God’s grace. You bless your kids each day. There’s no reason to be proud of this fact, but realize that God has given you a unique role in the lives of your children.
Parenting is difficult work. It isn’t something that should be done in isolation. At Etchea Coaching, we believe the best parents are those connected to strong churches that know how to connect them to people and resources that can help. We offer training and coaching to help parents and church leaders.
Parents make a difference. I don’t know what you think of Steven Colbert (the TV personality who drops the pronunciation of the last “t”), but you will think more of Steven Colbert when you hear his tribute to his mom. I hope this is an inspiration to revisit your favorite prayer for your children even before your deathbed.
As of this week, both of my daughters have graduated from high school. We’re moving to a new stage of life as empty nesters.
Yesterday, I wrote at post on the 5 things that I think my wife and I did well in preparing our children for adulthood. Of course, we made our share of mistakes, and we’ve had some struggles. Today, I’ll share with you 3 things that, looking back, we should have done more for our children.
1. More family vacations
We have had a tight budget for many years. There are many experiences that we had to cancel because of low cash flow. I wish we would have made a priority of budgeting these things or finding local alternatives.
Many families do the same vacation every year. In our area people own or rent houses “down the shore.” Those are good vacations as they create many family memories, but I’d suggest many different vacations. Vacations should create memories and experiences. Vacations are a great time for children to learn to be more independent, to stretch their knowledge, and to learn to problem solve.
We did some of these and had great experiences. I wish we would have done more.
2. More diversity
Elie’s graduating class of 505 people included on two people of African heritage. One of those is a first generation immigrant. One person commented that every person in her graduating class belonged to the “preppy group.” That doesn’t mean that there weren’t sub-classes, but the differences were minimum. They were so small that my daughter could actually delineate between the bandies and the “orch dorks” (her words for her group of friends).
I love the education my kids received. I love the friends that they made. But wish that they would have been in an environment where they would have know more kids of different races and cultures. I grew up in a racially mixed world. I appreciate that many of my friends had Spanish names. Just this week as I told a story of my childhood, Elie acknowledged that she missed out on understanding what I learned about the Mexican cousin experience.
We tried to introduce our children to people that are different than them. I wish they could have experienced these differences more regularly.
3. More connections to family
Because ministry called us all the way across the country, we haven’t seen much of our extended family. I wish that we could have bridged that gap more. Family connect helps a person to understand their heritage better. I wish my kids knew their cousins better. I wish my kids could have more stories about times with their grandparents.
This week my daughter graduates from high school. My wife and I move toward the empty nest stage of life. I’ve learned we aren’t really there yet as. college students still live at home when they can.
As I move from one stage to the next, I think it might be helpful if I pass on some things that I’ve learned in raising my children. Here are 5 things we discovered and that worked well for us in raising our children, and 3 things I wish we could have done or exposed them to.
5 things we discovered that worked
1. Smaller is better
When we started our ministry in Pennsylvania, we bought the house that we could afford. We would have loved to upgrade along the way. In a community where the average house size is over 3,000 square feet, our 1,400 square foot townhouse seemed tiny at times. And it was cramped.
It is that crampedness that we now recognize has contributed to one thing that many families don’t experience: we shared our lives together. We were always in the same space. Our girl’s rooms were too small for them to retreat for long periods of time. Although the basement room has attempted to be a play room, and a “man cave”, at different times, it was too dark to be anything in reality. Again, it was a retreat, but it wasn’t a place that invited long stretches of hiding.
Because we were together in our small house, we learned to talk. We learned to disagree. We learned to accommodate one another. We learned to listen to the same music (U2, Switchfoot, and more recently, Mumford and Sons). We learned to watch the same TV shows (Lost was our all-time favorite, and, honestly, I wasn’t good at tolerating Disney Channel shows.)
In part because our house is small, I believe that my children know their parents, and their parents know them, in a way that isn’t common among families.
2. Dinner was essential
In building off of our family’s closeness, dinner was essential. With rare exceptions, we ate together no matter how crazy life got.
I once talked to a man who bragged that his family was so busy that they hadn’t had a meal together at home in weeks. My heart broke. They ate a lot of fast food on the run from soccer to church, and to whatever else they were doing. They never talked as a family. Their dialog was almost always planning the next steps in their day, or giving instructions. “You pick the kids up after Karate. I’ll get them from youth group.” “Johnny, hurry up and grab your water bottle. We’re late for tutoring.”
In our family, we had great conversations. Moriah shares my sense of humor. Elie loves to tell stories. Stefanie is quiet most of the time, but when she jumps into the joking, the whole table comes alive. Caspian (our dog) knows where to go, and that our dinner means his is coming soon.
One of the best parts of having dinner together regularly is the special way we break from the rule. We call those “every sandwich for himself” nights. Somehow those have become just as special and just as relational; often, with everyone standing around the kitchen island.
Dinner was a time where we learned about one another. It was also a time that we could naturally apply Christian instruction. It was at dinner when Stefanie explained to the girls the difference between being truly popular (having friends who care for you) and being infamous (demanding the attention of many). Elie came to call the infamous girls the FTWA (future trophy wives of America).
3. Guiding helps, but let them make their own choices
We didn’t pick our children’s friends. That would have been too hard. We tried at times, but those ended up being the wrong friends to pick. We didn’t pick, but we guided.
We didn’t pick our children’s activities. I thought Elie would have been a great cross country runner. I’d hoped that Moriah would have stuck with Lacrosse into high school. Elie chose to play the oboe in the orchestra. Moriah chose to sing in the choir. Moriah was a leader in her youth group and was often a babysitter for children with special needs. Elie volunteered at the hospital.
Those experiences, and the skills and friends that they made through those experiences will last them for a life time. Stefanie and I learned to love classical music. Moriah developed a sense of empathy, strength as a quiet leader, and joy even when people test her. Elie has a big group of some of the most loving friends. She learned to counsel them through conflict, and to allow others to lead (which isn’t her first inclination).
We didn’t pick their friends or their activities, but we guided them as they chose. I’m glad they chose the friends they did, and what they chose to do.
4. Achievements are best under-celebrated
We are celebrating the achievement of graduating high school this week, but we don’t always celebrate achievement in big ways. Playing hard in a soccer game even when the game was lost was just as valuable as scoring a goal. Moriah once gave up 5 goals in one game as the goalie. We celebrated it because there were almost 20 shots at her that day and she stuck with it. No other girl would play that position because it was too emotionally hard.
We celebrated achievement, but we celebrated in understated ways. Pomp and circumstance never really made one a hero.
5. Experience is undervalued
The experiences we had together were underrated. We never did the same vacation twice. We experienced different places. We took our kids on mission trips so they could see how other people lived and understood religion. I can still remember Moriah’s eyes in the Norte Dame. I remember her different reaction when she and I returned on Good Friday. She understood the irony of the most solemn service in the Catholic calendar happening in the midst of tourists buying all kinds of cheap keepsakes. Priestly chants were overwhelmed by the cha-chinging of the cash registers.
Experiences are underrated, even when they lead to two broken arms. Elie asked as we drove away from the hospital, “Are you sorry we did this [vacation to the dude ranch]?” “No. Experience cannot come without risk. But I’m glad you weren’t hurt worse.” I replied.
Note: I first posted this in June 2011 on my personal blog. I think it’s an important reminded to dads about how they affect their children. Happy Father’s Day.
I’ve thought a lot about being a dad this June more than past. As Moriah graduates and prepares to move on, I’ve had opportunity to reflect on my own fathering and also on the relationship I have with my father. Fortunately, for me, I’ve enjoyed both.
As I’ve reflected, I’ve come across a trend. I believe that moms are the most important person for teaching us to live and to love, but this trend has reinforced in me the crucial role that fathers play in the lives of their children. It comes from the world of music.
I also Bono’s song took me back a few year to Dan Fogelberg and his song, Leader of the Band. Both artist connect their music to what their fathers taught them. Bono acknowledges his father singing “you’re the reason why the opera is in me.” Fogelberg calls himself the “living legacy to the leader of the band.”
Peter Gabriel wrote a song to his dad called Father-Son. Gabriel sings, “I first found my courage knowing daddy could save.” While not about his music specifically, Gabriel acknowledge his father for his strength. That strength certainly led to a long successful musical career.
There is something else in common with these father songs and some other songs about fathers, (i.e., Paul Simon’s Father and Daughter and John Mayer’s Daughters). It is that they all tend to be full of tension. Bono notes “we fight, all the time.” Dan Fogelberg’s dad has a “thundering velvet hand.” John Mayer sees a poor father resulting in the next generation having to “clean up the mess he made.” Gabriel’s tension of learning to trust his father comes through fear of water and learning to swim.
These songs all lead me to a last song that I’ve been thinking about. Rich Mullins wrote a great song called Growing Young. It is about a father, but not necessarily Mullins’ father. It’s a story about the prodigal son. The story that Jesus tells is a great story of the love of a father filled with great tension.
I saw a story on ABC News this week that talked about a study that showed that a father’s rough housing is important to development of children. With rough housing fathers demonstrate to their children appropriate measure of winning and losing. From rough play with dad, children learn to test their limits; they learn to discover their identity.
I learned something through this musical reflection. I learned that while it is from our mothers that we learn how to love, it is from our fathers that people gain their identity. More importantly, it is from God the Father that we gain the fullness of our identity as he allows us the right measures of winning and losing in this life.
We need fathers. We need strong, Christian fathers who are involved with their children, and let their children win; and let their children lose. We need fathers that discipline and teach our children the things like swimming that require trust. We need fathers who treat their daughters with grace and give their children a love for culture.
I’ve had a father that gave me this example. I hope that I’m that example to my children, especially now as Moriah will be moving to the next step of her life. As Paul Simon says, “as much as one and one is two, there can never be a father who loves his daughter as much as you.”