Lynne and I blew it a lot. We had a lot of great moments as a young family, but we also had a lot of bad moments – the kind of stuff that over time can lead to growing disconnection between parents and kids. We yelled. We said and did ugly things. We exerted our power in order to control. Did we mention condescension, micro-managing, and nagging? Much of this we did in the name of “being the parents” or “tough love.” We learned to be quite effective at disguising our selfish, sinful motives behind masks of authority, logic and even “spiritual” guidance. We found that in spite of the most wonderful of intentions, sin still does easily entangle.
As a result, on numerous occasions we simply did not obey the first part of the instructions to parents found in Colossians 3:21 and Ephesians 6:4a. In the name of “being the parent,” we provoked our kids to anger, embittered them, and downright exasperated them.
In spite of our fairly common displays of ugly parenting, we got past all this and found our way into rich connection and influence with our children. You can too. How?
When kids act up, it’s a parent’s job to guide them through the difficulty. But kids’ trouble often pushes parents’ buttons. Need for control? Push. Desire for quick fixes? Push. Anxiety about what’s gonna happen with this demanding kid? Push. Inconvenient timing? Push.
The kids get treated as if they’re the only ones in trouble — but in fact, their parents are in trouble too. It’s a different kind of trouble. Harder to solve. But trouble nonetheless.
We meet or talk nearly every day with parents. Most of them contact us because they need help. After hearing bits of their story, we usually ask, “What are your goals as parents?” In their answers we learn much about what we think is the big problem with parenting. While every story and response is unique, a common theme shows up in the answer. It can be summed up this way: “Our goal is well-behaved kids.”
There is nothing wrong with wanting well behaved kids. But as a first priority it pits parents against kids in power struggles of all sorts. Or — and we think this is even worse — it produces compliant kids who do right things, but have empty hearts.
I’ve blown it many times. But the following event stands out as an example of both failure to live by the stuff I teach, and the power of the teaching. Upon reflection, it’s a tale of battling giants.
One warm afternoon my blooming adolescent son Daniel pushed me beyond my limit. We’d been arguing and the basic conclusion was, “Son, you’re going to do this because I’m the dad!” He didn’t like my conclusion. So he kept arguing. I tend to like when my kids stand up for their beliefs when dealing with others. But not with me.
I just read another decent parenting book by a well-known author. It’s got some good ideas in it about how to manage kids’ misbehavior. But like so many of the parenting books I read, it is laced with what I think is a subtle but huge parenting mistake: Arrogance.
Sam and Tara contacted us about their 20 year old daughter, Nicole. They were broken-hearted, wounded, desperate and exhausted.
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In their first coaching session they introduced their plight. “Our daughter is an adult in the eyes of society, yet she is making very poor decisions, living at home, not holding up her end of the bargain; she wants nothing to do with us unless she wants something from us.”
Then, like almost all parents in this sort of situation, they asked, “What should we do?”
For parents of “extended adolescents,” this is a particularly desperate question. It’s natural to dig for simple answers when we feel overwhelmed and hopeless. But before deciding “What to do?” we’ve found it profoundly helpful to ask another question first, “What’s going on – in me, and in my son/daughter?”
Anger is tough to understand. Most parents, in the name of getting their kids’ anger in check, tend to act quickly and without much thought to the deeper layers of what’s going on in both the child and the parent. We have come to firmly believe that if parents are to deal constructively with their kids’ anger, they must first look more closely at their own anger.
This is hard. It is unnatural, especially at first. It takes new ideas and new attitudes. It’s more normal and natural to greet kids’ anger with anger, frustration, commands to stop, punishment, or some combination of these. These approaches may or may not get kids to behave, but for sure they do nothing to teach kids new skills for constructively managing their anger. So over the next weeks, we’re going to share some basic ideas that can help.
As some of you know, Lynne and I provided a home for a single mom and her baby boy for his first three and a half years.
As you might imagine in that setting, we had numerous learning opportunities with this strong-willed little fella. On one such occasion I caught my two-year-old little buddy in my emerging garden. I was surprised and yelled at him to “get out!” (Yes, I still yell without thinking sometimes too!) Then I realized I had a Flipcam in my pocket and I taped a little experiment. You can watch it below — pay close attention to Eli’s change in attitude as I go from stern and demanding to gentle and inviting him with choices.
No matter how hard we try to keep calm, sometimes we blow it. When that happens, we can be open to ideas from the Holy Spirit, as was Brenda, a mom who receives our email tips. When we heard her story we invited her to write it to share. We hope you find her story as inspiring as we do!
It was another busy evening – kids home from school, parents home from work, dinner to make, homework to do – and tension was running high. Our three lively children aged 5, 9, and 12 were talking over each other and interrupting my husband and me. I strive to model the peace, patience, respect, and love that I want my children to experience and learn, but needless to say, this is easier at some times than others. Trying to keep our cool, we gently reminded them to speak one at a time and listen when someone else was speaking. This worked…for a bit.