I love to create new words that capture the attention of curious people who think outside-the-box. Today’s blog is written from above. Take a deep breath and relax. I didn’t die or go up to heaven yet. I’m flying above the clouds on a Southwest airplane for the next 3.5 hours. I want to share my honest reflections on parenting.
Parenting is like flying alone on an airplane for the first time in your life. You have no idea how to book a flight, get a boarding pass, check in your luggage, or get to the right gate for your departure. You have to pray like crazy, frequently ask for help because you don’t have a clue what to do and trust your gut. My wife and I went from not being able to have children to having four rowdy, fun-loving boys and never a dull moment. None of our kids came with instruction manuals, and each one required a different approach. This dad went from grieving over never being able to be a parent to feeling outnumbered and backing up to play zone defense.
Kids take you to the edge and sometimes over the edge. Dealing with colicky kids and complete sleep deprivation makes you feel like you’re losing all your marbles. By the time you get old enough to reflect on transparentcy, you start shopping at garage sales for marbles because yours are all gone. I regretfully remember “losing it” with each of my four sons. All it took was one day when I lost my cool and saw complete fear in the eyes of my own children, and I resolved to never again yell at my children or any one of God’s children. I never wanted to parent in a way that caused my children to obey me because they were afraid of me. Now you know why I made a pact that I will never yell at people. I hate being yelled at, and I never want to develop fear-based compliance.
Being an otter, I confess that I had way too much fun being a dad! I loved wrestling with my boys and pinning all four at once when they were young lads. As they grew older, I developed some much-needed safety rules. No head shots and no jumping off the couch with flying knees to knock dad out. My father quit wrestling with me when I turned 14 years old. He said that he didn’t want to hurt me. Now I understand why he quit when he did. As Mickey Mouse said, “Safety first!”
Can you believe that I used to get blamed for winding up the kids at bedtime? I used to swing em’ around singing Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, and I’d drop em’ into bed when the walls came tumblin’ down. Then they would beg for more, and I’d notch it up to the next octave and wind em’ up even more. Bedtime was a great time to connect with our children. We read them stories, said prayers, shared the highlights of the day, and I loved to make up crazy stories that kept em’ up more. I’ve been a fun-loving, playful dad who sang too much, drove my family crazy, and messed up lots.
We can only love our kids to the degree to which we’ve received and integrated God’s love into the crevices of our lives. Kids have a way of exposing our “unfinished business” and help us deal with the junk that gets in the way of good parenting. Moms also have a way of seeing right through dads and telling us what we need to hear, but we often have to hear it from someone else to acknowledge what we’re denying. God knows exactly what we need when he finds us our soul mate.
James Dobson once said that our faith is more caught than taught. Children are intelligent. They know when our faith is fresh and when it’s fake. I tell people that no one wants to eat my spiritual leftovers. I took plenty of flack as a dad because I faithfully lit my “What is Jesus doing” transformational prayer altar early in the morning to fill up my tank with God’s Word, prayer, and journaling. My kids saw me gazing at Jesus and called me a “gazer.” They knew not to bother me until Jesus filled up my tank. I hope they experienced that my faith was fresh and growing and something that made me a better dad.
We used to say that parenting 4-year-olds and 14-year-olds was the most challenging stages of parenting. Later we discovered the hardest seasons of parenting. One by one, each of my sons spit out everything we taught them about God. It was heart wrenching to experience. I felt like a complete failure as a father. I tried to live out my real faith in Jesus to the best of my ability. They even questioned the existence of God. But when you’re going through difficult seasons of parenting, you lose perspective, and you tend to blame yourself for all the problems. To my delight and to God’s glory, each of our sons left home and engaged in a process of discovering Jesus for themselves. They integrated back into their own lives what we taught them, and they made it personal. Kids can’t borrow your faith. They need to have first-hand encounters with God for it to be real. Each of my sons have told me that you don’t really grow up until you leave home. Don’t be afraid when your kids ask the tough questions, and you don’t have the answers. Don’t be afraid to let them leave home and grow up. They’re not really your kids. They belong to God.
Kids have a way of taking you places you never thought that you would go. We traveled around to soccer fields and skateparks. Our sons turned our driveway into the neighborhood skate park for ten years, and then they flipped the platform on end, and it became a practice tennis wall. We met some of the coolest kids and parents just by opening our heart and home to people who needed Jesus and love.
God uses kids to teach us about His love and grace. Cleaning up after projectile vomits and middle-of-the-night puking up vegetable soup keeps you grounded and humble. I’ll never forget my unforgettable day of Rambo parenting. My wife went to work for the morning and left dad in charge. My 2-year-old son wiped out on the baseboard and slashed open his face. Later in the morning, he pulled out the board that held open our old, heavy windows and the window smashed into his face. By the time mom got home, our son looked like Rambo, and guess who was in trouble. I felt awful, and no part of me felt like a good dad that morning. Unforgettable moments are around many corners of parenting.
The best part of parenting is watching each child grow up and become their own person. When you see Jesus being uniquely expressed through the personality and interests and strengths of each child, you stand in awe and thank God for creating new Jesus reps for the next generation. Each child and each stage of parenting requires a different way of connecting. I frequently turned to God for help after failing miserably to connect with my kids. Then God and my kids would show me a better way. I’ll never forget the day when my two-year-old grabbed my face and pulled it towards him and said, “Dad, you’re not listening to me!” I wanted to tell him that I was a professionally trained listener, but I knew that he was right. My wife tells me the same thing. Next to my chair where I counsel kids and families I wrote the question, “Am I talking too much.” Right behind the chair where people sit it says, “Listen more.”
As parents, we must attack our lacks. None of us arrive as parents. We learn as we go. We learn more when we let our family members teach us what’s missing and what’s needed. Jesus taught me so many lessons along the way. Maybe that’s why I keep writing and creating tools for the next generations to use to help people to grow more connected relationship and a deeper, abiding faith in Jesus Christ.
How I thank God for my kids who are now grown men. I’m incredibly proud of each one. They uniquely reflect Jesus like no one else does. They’ve been some of my greatest teachers. I love the tough questions they ask me. Most of the detail-oriented questions I get I send them over to mom to answer. She gives them what I can’t give them. God sure knew how much I needed a godly wife to help me grow up and become a better dad. God isn’t finished with me yet, and He’s not done with you. Keep in step with the Spirit and watch what God does in and through you as you follow Him.