Why Don’t You Control Your Kids?

I want my children to do the things that I want them to do. I don’t want them to do the things that I don’t want them to do. Sometimes it’s easier to create fear to get this done. But we’ve got to learn to parent with a grace mentality.

Parenting with grace does not mean that we don’t discipline our children when necessary. Sometimes they need discipline, and we have options. They might have to go their room. They might get grounded. The might lose their iPad for a little while, or another favorite technology. There are ways to discipline our kids, but we have to remember to do it in love.

Loving children means talking to them. Children have their own abilities, and they have their own thoughts. I try to understand my sons. I do things with them. I listen to them, I talk to them, and I relate to them. I let them make their own choices as situations arise, good or bad. If my son makes a bad choice, sure, there might be some discipline, especially if it’s something we’ve already discussed. But even if he has to go to his room or lose his iPad, I still want to talk to him. I want to sit with him and say, okay, what are we learning from this? It’s up to me to find out what he’s taking away from a situation, and to understand how he’s figuring things out.

I truly want to know my sons, and that’s why I deal with situations as they come up. I don’t try to control them. Sometimes I get that look from other parents. You know the one I mean. I get the look that says, “Man, what’s wrong with you? Why don’t you control your kid?”

It makes me feel a little bit guilty as a parent, but in reality, I don’t want to control my sons. I can’t! The more I try to control my sons, the more I’m going to wound them, and I can’t bring myself to do that. I am not going to wound my sons. I am going to protect them.

To protect them, I need their permission. Yes. We have to earn our children’s permission to speak into their lives. Without their permission, I can say whatever I want. “Well, I told him he shouldn’t have done that!” Right? Or, “How many times do I have to tell you?”

Here’s a favorite: “I told you so!” How many times have you said that? (Or wanted to?)

I could say it. It would to make me feel better as a parent. All I have to do is say, “I told you so,” and there, my hands are clean. My son made a bad choice, but it’s not like I didn’t tell him that he shouldn’t.

But if I don’t have permission to speak into my son’s life, then actually, I didn’t tell him anything. I said words, but those words didn’t get into his heart. If my words don’t get into his heart, then I’ll find myself wondering why he’s not listening to me — because he’s not. If I don’t have his permission, then he’s not listening. And therefore, I can’t protect him.

If we don’t get our children’s permission to speak into their lives, then we have to switch from disciplining and protecting them to punishing and scaring them. And we just can’t do that! Fear and punishment will wound them, and they will carry those wounds forward into their lives. Then you will find yourself wondering why they become unhappy. You’ll wonder why they act in unhealthy ways, or struggle in their relationships.

It all starts with how we first relate to them. Do we build relationships with them through acts of permission? Do we love them in grace and trust? Or do we use fear and punishment to control them? Our kids will see God as they see us, so if we decide to use fear and punishment, they will grow up with a fear of God that is deformed and dysfunctional. They will get that fear from us.

That’s why I talk to my sons the way that God talks to me. I talk to them with love. I walk with my sons the way that God walks with me. I walk with them in grace. I tell them, “I’m not going to punish you. I’m going to love you. Sometimes I’m going to discipline you, but it will be in love. I’m always going to tell you why. I’m always going to talk with you, and I’m always going listen to you. I’m always going to protect you.”

More on this next time. See you Tuesday.

No Simple Way To Be A Dad

Parenting is not easy. It is not simple!

I meet people all the time who try to simplify parenting. You can’t blame them. It’s only human to try to simplify something that’s so hard to do. The problem is, parenting can’t be simplified. You can’t just adopt a handful of rules and then expect it to work.

It makes me sad when people say that all you have to do is yell at your children. Threaten them, they say, and it will all be fine. Well, yes. I suppose so. I could just yell threats at my sons. It might keep them safe from running out in traffic, or keep them healthy by forcing them to go to sleep.

But the next thing I know, I won’t have a relationship with them. By the time they’re sixteen, they’ll be done with me.

Some people say that it’s normal for your teenagers to tune you out. They say it’s inevitable. It’s just the status quo. “Wait until your boys are teenagers! That’s when they are going to reject you.”

You hear it all the time. It’s the conventional wisdom.  “Wait till your boy’s sixteen. He’s not going to be around much anymore. My son is the same way. He’s sixteen now. He doesn’t need me anymore. That’s just how it is. You just have to deal with it.”

Well, no matter how many parents accept this as the norm, I don’t want it! I want my kids to want to be around me. I want them to need me at sixteen. I want them to have a strong relationship with me at sixteen. When my sons are teenagers, I want to dialogue with them about life.

That’s not going to happen if I push them away now. Yelling at them now will create a relationship in which they don’t trust me enough to tell me things. I don’t want that. I want to develop trust starting now. Now is the time to build relationships with them that will feel safe and nurture dialogue when they are teens.

Some people tell me that it’s impossible. There’s nothing I can do, now or then, because that’s just not how it’s going to be. Okay, maybe. Maybe I’ll relate now and love now and dialogue now in order to establish a strong foundation that lasts through the teen years, and then have pie in my face when my kids are sixteen and reject me. But I’m willing to take that risk. I am going to do my best. I’m going to tell them that, too. I’m going to tell each of my kids, “Son, I am going to figure out a way that you and I will always have a relationship. That way, when you have an issue and you need help, you won’t be too embarrassed to talk to me. We will always be able to talk, because you will trust me. You will know that there will be no condemnation from me.”

To me, that’s big. That’s my effort to parent from God’s perspective, the best way that I know how. I don’t necessarily know how God would do things. But I work at it. I study and read scripture. I engage with my sons. Every day I try to understand them a little better. I’m learning all the time, and I will always do the best I can to protect my children and protect their hearts.

If I can do that, then I’ll feel like I did my best to parent my sons the way that God parents me. I’ve given God permission to know me for who I really am, and now I believe that He will protect me. He will discipline me as I walk with Him in a way that shapes me, lets me know when I’m wrong, and protects my heart from being hurt and pushed away.

That’s how I want to reflect God as a dad. I want to parent my sons as I see God parenting me. I want to do that because God’s the best, obviously. As my Father, His plan is always to protect me.

See you Friday.

Dad, I Messed Up

“Hey dad, I messed up.”

“What did you do?”

“Well, I was speeding. I got a ticket.”

“Okay. Right. So what are we going to do about that? Let’s talk about it.”

When this happens, this is how I want it to go. I’m not going to snap at my sons. I’m not going to say, “How could you possibly do that?” I want to create a safe environment for dialogue with my kids. I want my kids to be able to talk to me without fear. There has to be discipline, but not in an angry way.

How about saying this? “Okay, son, well here’s the deal. If you get another speeding ticket, I’m going to have to take away your license for a little bit. You need to understand that it’s not good to get speeding tickets.”

I’m going to help them understand that I’m not giving discipline out of anger, or because I think that they’ve committed some hideously unprecedented deed. They haven’t. A speeding ticket isn’t all that unusual. I mean, I’m no different! I’ve had a speeding ticket. So I’ll say, “Son, I got a speeding ticket too. And you know what, when I was sixteen I got in two wrecks in a row and I had my license taken away. Until you understand how important it is to drive safely, we have to do these things.”

I’m not going to hammer on my kids. You won’t hear me say, “How could you do that?” Or, “Why are you such an idiot? I’m tired of you driving fast!” Hammering, hammering, hammering them – that’s not going to help. There are many different ways to handle any situation. You can find one that keeps your children safe in their relationship with you. The judging, and the holier-than-thou stuff, has never worked. It will never work.

Jesus didn’t like it. It made Him angry! He blew up at the Pharisees, because they were holier-than-thou people. They were ones that said, “I’m the best.” They were the ones that said, “You have to follow us and do what we do, because we’re better than you.” They were the ones that said, “We’re going to police you, and if we catch you breaking our rules, we’re going to take you to the Sanhedrin. We’re going to haul you up before the high priests.”

Jesus criticized them constantly for this. He knew it never works. It never works. Thinking you’re better than everyone else will not draw people to you.

Your kids want to see someone who can say, “I messed up.” When they see that, they know that they can go to you and say, “I messed up too.” They know that they can come to you for help. They can trust that you’ll say, “You know what? You’re right. You messed up. I’ve made that same mistake. I know how it is. Let’s talk about it. How can I help you? I won’t judge you. There’s no condemnation. I want to love on you, man. I love you”

If I want to have a relationship like that with my sons when they are old enough to drive, then I have to start now. More on this next time. See you Tuesday.

The Ultimate Parent

I want to raise my sons to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and become servant leaders. In order to do that, I need to parent my sons the same way that God parents me. I mean, God is the ultimate leader! There is no better example I can give them, if I want my sons to grow up to lead by serving.

But this means that I have to think about how I’m parenting them. There can be a very tight connection between the way we view our parents and the way we view God, so I need to be thoughtful with my sons. To be a good parent, I need to look at how God parents me.

It’s very common for us reflect our feelings about our parents onto God. Our parents become a filter through which we see God. Until we’ve had a chance to think this through and grow in maturity, we might expect the same things from God that we got from our parents. This isn’t good if we were parented without grace.

For example, if your parents managed you by punishing you, then you might think of God as a punisher. That causes you to think in negative terms about yourself. When you have trouble in your life, you might think that you deserve it, or that you brought it on yourself. We all bring trouble on ourselves sometimes, sure, but when you think God is punishing you, you don’t realize that He wants to help you.

If your mom or dad was a heavy disciplinarian, or you had an abusive parent, then you might have some really negative ideas about how God sees you. You might believe that God looks at you and says the kinds of things they said, like, “You can’t do anything right.” You might believe that God shames you. You might truly believe that this is how God works.

We can also reflect our feelings about God onto our parents. So if we are angry with God, then we might show it as anger with our mothers or fathers. If we are experiencing God’s forgiveness, then we might be at peace with our parents.

All of this belongs to the ways that we, in our human flesh, portray God. That’s why we have to think about how we’re parenting, so that we don’t put ourselves or our feelings in the way of God. We want to reflect Jesus into our children’s lives, not ourselves as substitutes for Him.

Since we are sinners, we don’t have God’s purity. But we can do this. I start by asking, okay, what do I know about God? Well, I know that God regards me as His child, and He is the ultimate parent. He parents me with grace. God parents us with a ton of grace. He parents us with a ton of love and mercy.

So that’s what I do with my children. I do my best. I mess up! I don’t always do it right. But there is no condemnation. I see that everywhere in scripture. I see it in the Gospels and in Paul’s letters. There is no condemnation because we’re in Christ now. We’re part of God’s family. And in His family, there is no condemnation when we do wrong.

That’s how I parent my sons. God parents me, His child, with grace, so I parent my children with grace. That does not mean that my children get a free pass. I don’t get a free pass either. That’s not the point. The point is that we are living in Christ.

If you live in Christ, you will reflect Him. You will live in relationship with love, grace, and mercy. And when you do mess up, there is no condemnation. There is no shame. There is love, and grace abounds.

More on this next time. See you Friday.

Hiding in Shame

The consequences of hiding in shame are deep and damaging.

When you hide in shame, you don’t reveal who you truly are. You don’t let your husband in. You don’t let your wife in. You don’t let your children in and you don’t let your friends in. This is very serious. If you don’t let them in, then they can’t protect you.

You will fall.

Eventually you’ll get to the point where you won’t even let Jesus in.

That’s when you get entrenched in addiction, whether it be alcohol, gossip, porn, lying, negative thoughts, anger, rage, or something else. Whatever it is, it all comes from the absence of grace. In the absence of grace, shame moves in.

If you can extend grace to other people, then you can give them permission to speak into your life and protect you.

People who affect you deeply are the hardest to give grace to. I’ve seen it. It can create a nasty cycle of anger, fear, despair, and distrust. And it all happens because of shame. So the one thing I never want to hear in my home is, “How dare you do that? You should be ashamed of yourself!”

That is not said in my home. But in how many homes is it said? I was raised in it. I had it said to me. And I’m sure my parents had it said to them. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

I’ve heard it from the pulpit! “You should be ashamed of yourself for doing that.” No I shouldn’t! I shouldn’t be ashamed. None of us should be ashamed of our weaknesses. We should recognize them and ask for help. 

When you ask for help, you give your loved ones permission to protect you in the areas where you are weak. If you don’t ask them to help you, then you will hurt them, because you’ll react out of the weakness you are trying to hide. You can avoid this. You only have to reveal your true self. That includes your weakness.

It’s not easy! I know it’s not. It’s very hard to reveal our weaknesses when we have been shamed. Shame makes it very hard to ask for help. But we have to ask. If we can’t overcome shame, then we will die in our weakness, and we can’t let this happen! It contradicts what Jesus did on the cross. He hung on a cross to take away our sin and our shame! 

And yet Christians shame each other all the time. We can’t seem to acknowledge that everybody will react out of weakness now and then. We are shamed so much that we end up hiding in it.

No matter how hard it seems, it’s okay. We already have all the help we need. We have Jesus. Jesus loves us! We are so precious to Him! We can give Him permission to protect us, because He longs to do it. Then through Him, we can give permission to our loved ones. We can allow them to love us as we truly are, and they will allow us to love and protect them in return.

Jesus will help us before we react out of weakness, whether it be anger, rage, fear, pride, greed, laziness, envy, or something else. Other people can protect us too. They can stop us when they see what we are doing, or are about to do. They can protect us from circumstances that trigger our weakness, either by intervening directly with us or running interference for us.

In your shame, you might ask, why would they do this for me? Easy! They’ll do it because they love you.

A lot of things go into relationships. A lot of things go into marriage, and parenting, and friendships. These relationships are very important and we need them to be healthy. But a relationship is only healthy when the people in it protect each other. You have to allow this. You have to protect others and allow them to protect you. It takes a lot of patience, but it honors what Jesus did for us on the cross. His sacrifice was for our sake. It was for the forgiveness of our sins. Look at what He did! He took away our shame, and gave us the gift of life!

This is a big deal. It’s a deep deal. It needs to be addressed, and very quickly among Christians. Grace is the way to Christian unity, and our unity in love and fellowship is something that Jesus deeply desires for us.

So let’s love one another in truth. Let’s love each other openly, not hiding in shame. “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

See you Tuesday.

All Messed Up, and It’s Okay

“I know you’re a mess.” That’s what God says.

He knows. He knows that every single one of us is a mess. We’ve messed up before, we’re messing up now, and pretty soon, we’re going to mess up again. God’s promise is that there will be no condemnation. There will be no shame. (Romans 8:1)

There are plenty of people who hear that and are incredulous. “Wait a minute!” they say. “No condemnation? No shame? How is that possible? You have to be punished for breaking a rule.”

And God says, “How did that work out for you guys the first time?”

He says, “That’s why I sent my Son to the ultimate punishment. He died! And now, because of His sacrifice, you don’t have to sacrifice lambs or sheep. You’re already right with me.

“You also don’t condemn people and stone them. Don’t do that! Jesus died for everyone.”

In His death, Jesus also took away shame. So now God says, “Don’t sacrifice your souls by keeping yourselves in shame. Don’t keep other people in their shame either. Don’t sacrifice your relationships by trying to control people. You’re never going to have control. You’re not!

“Why not just trust me instead? Trust that I sent Jesus because I know you people are a mess.

“If you give me permission to speak into your lives, then I can protect you. Trust me to protect you. When you mess up, I won’t punish you. I’ll help guide you. Some of my guidance will include discipline, yes. Sometimes there will be ramifications. But it won’t be because I’m mad at you. It will be because your choices can really hurt you. That’s why sometimes a slap on the hand is okay. The sting helps. It lets me tell you no, you don’t want to do that, and here’s why.” 

God says, “Do you know what? No matter what you do, I’m still going to love you. If you will let me, I’m still going to speak into your life. I’m still going to guide you. I know you’re going to mess up again, and when you do, I’m going to say it’s okay. In your flesh, you have weaknesses. You have weaknesses that are unique to you. I know what they are, because I know what has happened in your life. That’s also why I know that you’re going to mess up. It’s okay. You don’t have to be perfect for me.

“If you can trust me and give me permission to speak to you, then I can protect your heart. That way, you don’t have to make the same mistakes as often. Hopefully, you won’t have to make them at all.”

In the wake of His passion and resurrection, this is God’s message to us.

You only have to allow God to do it.

See you Friday.

Grace is not a Chore

In a life filled with grace, you receive such joy and fulfillment from loving your neighbor and doing the right thing that the law becomes unnecessary. You want to love, so you love. You want to give, so you give. You don’t need a set of rules to tell you to do it!

There are ways to teach our children about this. How often do we meet resistance when we say, “Clean your room!” When I tell one of my sons that he has to do something, the resistance can be incredible. There might be yelling, and jumping and stomping of feet. Doors might be slammed.

But what if I can look at him and say, “Hey bud, you know what? It’s your call.”

In other words, what if I take my son’s freedom into account? When I do, it is amazing. No one gets angry! I don’t yell at him and he doesn’t yell at me.

If you can allow your children to make their own decisions, then you may not meet quite so much resistance.

I have learned to talk with my sons, instead of making demands. I tell them, “You need to clean your room, because Mama has asked you to clean your room. I’m just letting you know that you can make your own call here. There are two roads you can take, and you’re the one who has to choose. If you take the wrong road, there will be consequences, but we’ll deal with them together. I’m going to help you, and I’m still going to love you. So it’s your call.”

That way, when it comes to doing chores, my sons knows it’s their choice. And I also tell them, “You can be angry. It’s okay to be angry. I’m not going to force you to clean your room. We’re living in grace here. I’m not going to tell you what you have to do. I’m going to help you understand what you should do. And then after that, it’s your call. If you make the wrong choice, we’ll handle it as we need to, in love. It’s up to you.”

After explaining it to one of my sons this way, I just look at him. He looks at me. And then he says, “Okay, I’ll clean my room,” and he does. He cleans his room and we go on with our day.

I’ve had to learn. My way of making decisions is not necessarily the way any of my sons make decisions. My boys don’t have the same personality as mine. God has given each of them their own personalities. It’s tough to learn the different personalities of your children. It’s a challenge! But when we can do it, there’s freedom. There’s freedom in being able to allow our children to live in grace. There’s freedom in saying, “Hey, look, it’s going to be better for you if you choose to do right, but it is your choice.”

I think God treats us the same way. We have the freedom to choose between right and wrong, and when we choose wrong, there are consequences. But there is no condemnation. We’re living in grace here. God has brought us into His family, and He will help us deal with the consequences of our choices. He will help us in love.

I’m going to love my son just as much if he doesn’t clean his room, even though my wife and I will discipline him. I will never love my son less. I couldn’t!

How much more does God love us?

See you Tuesday.