The rough-looking teen’s tough veneer had softened. I detected tears in his eyes.
“No one has ever said anything like that to me.”
Just minutes before, I met this teen in a line at our local amusement park. After a brief conversation, I dug a little deeper and asked Jared what he was good at. “Are you kidding?” He seemed angry. “Look at me.” Violent tattoos, tattered dark clothes, a defiant countenance and multiple piercings on his ears, nose, eyebrows and lips were suggestive of a hard life.
Over the years, Lynne and I have worked with many families who struggle with the same issues. Time and again, we see how a change in perspective can transform a parent-child relationship from one of tension to one filled with grace. When it comes to school, grades and performance, there is often a minefield of conflict over expectations. Parents often believe that they need to create change in their child to see improvement in work ethic and performance when it comes to grades. The truth is, change best starts with the parent.
Read on to learn how one mother and daughter set aside conflict and embraced grace for homework success without nagging:
Misty anxiously told me about her seventh grade daughter, Greta.
“Her grades are tanking! She’s sassy and defiant most of the time! I know she is capable of so much more, but she won’t dig in and live up to her potential. I check her grades every day. I’ve withheld privileges, created charts, offered rewards, and constantly reminded her. But it keeps getting worse. Our fights get louder by the day!”
When you’re constantly fighting with kids who don’t live up to their potential, we suggest a new approach, a new fight: the fight of faith to walk in the “fruit of the spirit.”
We are a big deal. Our kids look up to us in a unique way. They need our affirmation and approval. Statistics show that kids who get a father’s love tend to soar well into the world, and those who don’t tend to struggle. Consider that. Perhaps this is why the Bible speaks so specifically to fathers. (see Col. 3:21, Ephesians 6:4, Prov. 20:7)
My own dad had no idea what a big deal he was. He thought our mom was the cat’s pajamas when it came to parenting (and she was pretty awesome), so he left her to take care of most of the affirmation and approval stuff. He did typical dad things: we fished, golfed, watched football and laughed together some. Yet, Dad wasn’t one to put constructive words to his feelings. His silence left me wondering. Even though he loved and cared for me deeply, I came to believe that in Dad’s eyes I was a disappointment; that he didn’t love me. I made a lot of destructive choices in my teen years perhaps because I was looking for a reassurance of my father’s love.
Thomas Edison often tops the list of the world’s greatest inventors.
We have him to thank for (among other things) the phonograph, the first motion picture camera, and the lightbulb, about which he famously said of his many failed prototypes, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
But we’re interested in a less famous quote of his: “My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me: and I felt I had something to live for, someone I must not disappoint.”
You see, as a child, “Tom” Edison was seen as a difficult child with a learning disability (dyslexia). His strict teachers didn’t understand why he couldn’t memorize and recite his lessons like the other children, and referred to young Tom as “addled” — a catch-all term at the time to mean that he was mentally incapable. This caused Tom to storm out of class one day, heading home to his mother.
A mom of three kids ages 10 to 14 emailed me this story this week:
A friend once told me she worked to greet her children with enthusiasm, even if they had just come into the kitchen from the living room. I thought that might be a helpful way for me to consciously verbalize my enthusiasm for my kids, and so I began doing that a couple of years ago. “Hi, Sweetie! How’s that homework going?” “Welcome home from school!” “Hi, Hon! I saw you reading your new book in the family room. How is it so far?”
The funny thing is, the kids have all begun to do that with each other, even imitating my tone—and I don’t think they’re aware of it! When one of them leaves the house, the others jump up to hug them and to say, “Have fun! I love you!”
It is yet another reminder to me of the opportunity we have to set the tone for our home and how much it impacts our kids and their relationships, in ways we can’t possibly foresee.
Apply It Now:
If you could be a fly on the wall watching your interactions with your kids throughout the week, how would you describe the tone in your house? What kind of tone do you want to be setting?
What are some ways you could take advantage of the opportunity to set the tone for your home by “verbalizing your enthusiasm”? Brainstorm some phrases that you might say. (And feel free to share in the comments!)
“…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute – if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise – let your mind dwell on these things” (Philippians 4: 8, NASB).
Ricky had just been suspended from school for threatening his teachers – an unusual thing for a fourth grader. I was enlisted to help him and his parents learn new skills for coping with his anger. During our first meeting I asked Ricky, “What are some things you’re good at?” He shrugged, unable to give an answer. I probed further, “What are some good things the adults in your life might say about you?” Ricky about hit the roof!
We’ve written about some of these issues, but the important thing to remember is that whatever barriers to connection you’re wrestling with, the starting place is honesty with God and with a few trusted people who will encourage and pray for you.
Once I’ve been “brutally honest” about the situation, there are practical ways that I can build my Foundation for the joy of Connection with my children. Here are a few.
If you ask most parents, they would say it’s important to love children unconditionally. But in practice, sometimes that’s harder than it sounds!
What exactly is unconditional love? What does it look like?
One thing’s for sure — unconditional love is not praise for positive behavior. When I express love in any context where children can possibly interpret my affection as conditional (based on their behavior), it loses its power as an expression of love!