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.