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6 Things You Want Your Kids To Be Able To Do – pt 3

No catchy introduction or arresting story for starting this post.  I’m picking up where I stopped last time.  Let’s look at number 3 on the list.

  • To know the difference between needs and wants
  • To know the difference between suffering and inconvenience
  • To know how to sacrifice for someone or something
  • To know how to express their emotions in appropriate ways
  • To know how to make, save and spend money
  • To know how to say yes and no

This is a very hard one to teach your kids.  But if they don’t know how to sacrifice for someone or something, they’ll spend their whole lives trying to get what they want, and in the process of getting what they want will leave a trail of collateral damage behind them.  Whether or not they are actually narcissistic, they’ll look and act like one.  Narcissism isn’t just selfishness, although narcissists are selfish.  Narcissism us a serious diagnosable psychological disorder.  People with this disorder live horribly difficult lives that are full of broken and murdered relationships.  They leave a very wide and bloody trail behind.  I’m not thinking of these kinds of people here.  I’m thinking about our kids, who need to learn how to sacrifice for someone or something other than themselves and their own desires.

Years ago, a friend of mine told me that he thought you can reduce all the theology of following Jesus to a simple statement: Discipleship is a process that takes a person from selfish to unselfish.  I think he’s right.  That’s essentially what I’m advocating with this bullet point on my list.

I often read and hear people say that God calls us to be selfless.  That Jesus was the ultimate picture of selfless.  That His Golgotha suffering and death were selfless.  This, I believe, is not the case.  I believe all these things about Jesus and what He wants from us are unselfish, but not selfless.  My reason for this is in the literal meaning of selfless: without self.  I believe there has never been anyone (nor will there ever be anyone) who was more in possession of their self than Jesus was.  There has never been (and there will never be) anyone who was as unselfish as Jesus, but He was not selfless.  He was not without self.  He gave Himself up for us, but this did not leave him self-less.  I could go on and on about this, but I won’t.  I’ll leave it at this: I do not believe Jesus intends for us to be self-less.  His plan for us is that we will become unselfish.  To do this, we must be in full possession of our self.  OK.  That’s enough on that.

You noticed with your first child, didn’t you, that they came into the world very selfish.  Their only concern was for themselves.  They had only their own desires and what they perceived as their needs driving them.  They literally gave not a single thought to you and what your needs were.  Just cry, cry, cry.  You remember, right?  This is by design.  Babies are not bad people because they are so incredibly and absolutely selfish.  They’re just babies.  Not big babies, like the 20-, 30-, 40-, 50-somethings or older who just whine, whine, whine.  Babies are so selfish because they have to be selfish in order to survive.  There is literally nothing they can do for themselves.

At birth, our journey from selfish to unselfish begins.  As we develop, we become more independent and able to meet our own needs, but we may not necessarily become less selfish.  We needed outside help to learn how to to do that.  We won’t naturally develop into an unselfish person.

So that puts your job, as a parent, in a developmental context.  You’re your child’s primary instructor in this learning process.  You are their primary teacher for them learning how to sacrifice for someone or something beyond themselves.  This is what unselfish people do.  They make sacrifices.  And, again, the two primary ways you teach this are by what you say and what you do.

It’s important to talk about making sacrifices.  But be careful how you do this.  If you talk (and act) as if you’re a martyr or a victim, you won’t be teaching your kids how to sacrifice.  You’ll be teaching them how to call attention to themselves, and worse than that, how to be socially acceptably selfish.  You might want to go back to what I wrote last time about knowing the difference between suffering and inconvenience (6 Things You Want Your Kids To Be Able To Do – pt 2) for this.

One thing you can use for this is literature.  Great stories have always involved sacrifice.  No hero in a good story ever became a hero or acted like one without sacrifice.  So when you and your kids read great stories, look for sacrifice.  Talk about what the motive might have been for this.  My favorite stories for this come from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.  But other stories and books deal with sacrifice.

So do great movies, which are just great stories made visual.  If you’re watching a movie at home on your TV, plan to use the pause button so you can point out sacrifices.  Don’t kill the fun of the movie, but don’t be afraid to pause it so you can point out sacrifice.  Then, when you’ve finished the movie, talk about it with your kids.  Ask them what they think about it.

This kind of conversation isn’t for pre-schoolers, generally.  Sacrifice isn’t a concept that younger minds can understand.  Use other words for it.  Maybe something like, “Wow!  Did you see how he/she did that thing?  It was so great!  They did it so that the other person could be happy.  Isn’t that cool?”  Use your words not mine, but if you’re experimental and playful, you can introduce the idea of sacrifice to young kids.

Then one last thing.  It’s a very smart thing to talk about motives when it comes to making sacrifices.  Because at the heart of sacrifice is motive.  Of course, this means you will have to sift your own motives for the sacrifices you make, if you want to talk about them with your kids.  How often, and for what reasons do you make sacrifices?  Do you avoid them?  Do you gloat about it and call attention to it when you make sacrifices?  Do you resent it when you’re called on to sacrifice?  I guess that’s more than one thing.  Sorry.  Not sorry.

 

6 Things You Want Your Kids To Be Able To Do – pt 2

There are more than 6 things, but I’ve limited myself to a manageable list.  Here’s what I came up with.

  • To know the difference between needs and wants
  • To know the difference between suffering and inconvenience
  • To know how to sacrifice for someone or something
  • To know how to express their emotions in appropriate ways
  • To know how to make, save and spend money
  • To know how to say yes and no

Last time, I wrote about knowing the difference between needs and wants.  This time, let’s think a bout knowing the difference between suffering and inconvenience.

That doesn’t sound like rocket science, does it?  But when you begin thinking it through, you realize that our culture has absolutely no idea about this.  None.  Nada.  Well, that’s not exactly true.  My parents (who are now both deceased) were part of a generation that actually knew the difference.  People who grew up during the Great Depression and World War II know about this difference, first hand.  Sociologist call this generation the Greatest Generation (thanks to Tom Brokaw).  According to research by the Washington Post, the final member of the Greatest Generation should die around 2046, so there are still lots of these people around.

They’re at the fringes these day, though.  I’m not talking about people in their 70s.  Those people are older Baby Boomers, the children of the Greatest Generation.  The people in this shrinking generation are in their 80s and older.  Many of them were movers and shakers in their prime, but by now, they’re either moving out of those roles or have been out of them for a long time.  To a large degree, their influence is shrinking with their demographics.

My generation (Baby Boomers) grew through our adolescence and beyond believing our parents and their generation were out of touch and irrelevant.  Our enthusiasm for this idea, along with the numerical superiority of our demographic (which, incredibly, actually exceeded our feelings of intellectual and social superiority) made our sense of their irrelevancy the winner in the arena of ideas.  That’s a lot of words to say, “We pushed these geezers to the margin.”

Few in my generation and the succeeding generations have experienced actual suffering.  Wars have continued, and with them, casualties of war.  Men and women (and boys and girls) have gone to war and come home wounded, disabled, in caskets draped with American flags.  This thin slice of the generational pie knows about suffering.  The rest of us pretty much don’t.  We have no personal experience with it.

When I can’t find my favorite brand of K-cup coffee at our little Walmart, suffering through with something inferior, which they’ve got on their limited shelf, feels like a bigger deal than it actually is.  It’s a comic (sad) illustration of the fact that I often mistake inconvenience with suffering.  The same thing goes for cable and satellite TV limitations, slow internet speeds, a weak mobile phone signal, and a few hundred other things.  My life (and yours, too, probably) has been made so easy and convenient that anytime circumstances bump things a little bit off center, if things get a little inconvenient, it can feel like we’ve got to “suffer through it.”  Really?

If you want to discover real suffering, you’ll need to travel out of your neighborhood.  Even if you think you live in a crumby neighborhood.

Go to the “3rd World” (which is now more Politically Correctly called “Developing Countries”), and you’ll see actual suffering.  But only if you get away from the resort or the tourist areas.  The resorts and modern hotels will lead you to believe that things there aren’t that bad.  And they’re not, as long as you don’t stray beyond the resort walls or the street the hotel’s on.  Cross our boarders south and go beyond the tourist district and you’ll encounter suffering.  But when you go there, be careful.  Part of the suffering that goes on there is due to the fact that it’s not safe there.

Actually, you don’t have to get out of the country.  Go to any big city in America and carefully go into the ghettos during daylight

Really, you don’t need to go that far.  A nursing home will introduce you to suffering, if you bring yourself to look closely enough.  Lonely people whose world has been reduced to one room in a big building.  (By the way, I’m not disrespecting nursing homes.  I’m thankful that we are blessed with good ones that take good care of people who can’t care for themselves.  These won’t make the news.  The ones who break the law or withhold care, or where careless negligence happens get the headlines, but they are far outnumbered by compassionate care institutions.)

Or go to a children’s hospital and walk the halls.  Look into the eyes of moms and dad and grandmas and grandpas who know they’re losing their boy or girl.  This, too, is actual suffering.

So I have two things on this.  First of all, don’t talk about inconveniences as if they were suffering.  Your kids will pick up on this instantly, and they will be your first and worst mimics.  Verbally identify inconvenience for what it is.  Can’t get all the channels you want on your cable or satellite system?  Get over it.  Have to go somewhere else to get your favorite coffee?  Get over it, Steve.  Amazon can’t get your stuff to you overnight.  Get over it.  Generally, just get over it.  Virtually nothing in the common, ordinary life you and I live fits in the suffering category.  Suffering, actual suffering, is happening in the cancer ward, in the famine-struck regions of Africa, in Nebraska’s farm belt where hundreds of thousands of acres of farm land stands under water and billions of dollars of destroyed homes and implements are left behind as the flood waters recede.

Second thing: travel.  Go.  Get out of your neighborhood.  Take your kids with you.  And don’t stay inside the resort walls.  Do some homework and expose your family to what real life is like off the cruise boat.  Cross oceans if you can.  Visit missionaries.  Visit orphanages.  Almost nothing will expand your kids’ perception of the difference between suffering and inconvenience like travel will.  It’ll change you, too, and that’s a good thing.

6 Things You Want Your Kids to Be Able to Do

Only 6?  OK, I know there’s more than 6 things you want your kids to be able to do.  I’m not even saying these are the 6 most essential things.  I’m just saying these are 6 things I would want your kids to know how to do before you unleash them on the world.

Here’s my list, in no particular order of importance:

  • To know the difference between needs and wants
  • To know the difference between suffering and inconvenience
  • To know how to sacrifice for someone or something
  • To know how to express their emotions in appropriate ways
  • To know how to make, save and spend money
  • To know how to say yes and no

If you’ve got your own list, good for you.  By having a list, you’ve made a huge step toward raising great kids.  Way to go!

For the other 99%, walk with me through this list.  I’ll do it a little bit at a time.  And I’ll try not to overshare.  Each of these things could have somewhere between a chapter in a book and a whole book to themselves.  Don’t be afraid, though.  I’m writing a blog, not a book.

But before I get into the list, we need to do some thinking about how you can teach these things so your kids will get them. There are two primary ways.  By what you say and what you do.  Long ago I heard, “Children will rarely remember what you say, but they’ll rarely forget what you do.”  I’ve found this to be true.

Don’t let the fact that what you do is powerful make you think that what you say isn’t, though.  They’re both essential.  Asking which is more important is like asking which wing of the airplane is more important.  Not being an aeronautical engineer, I couldn’t say.  But as a passenger, I can say I don’t want either wing to be missing or not in their finest working order when it’s time to take to the air.

Your words are more powerful than you can imagine, even if it feels like they’re not being listened to.  What you say to your kids about what you believe about them (and about you) are the most powerful words you’ll speak.  Your words about other people, your work, your beliefs, your thoughts, your world are being picked up by your kids.  Even the ones who give you every indication that they’re not listening.  They actually are listening.  So think about what you say and how you say it.

And your actions are incredibly powerful.  So watch your actions.  Monitor them for yourself, and ask wise and trusted people in your life to help you monitor them.  You’re being watched by your kids.

Nothing is as confusing and destructive for a kid as hearing your say one thing and do another.  Nobody’s perfect, and all of us will miss the mark of making our words and actions consistent and congruent.  So it’s going to happen.  But don’t kill yourself trying to be perfect.  You’ll never succeed at being perfect, and if perfection is your goal, you’ll end up raising kids who think they’ve got to be perfect to be loved.  And that’s a horrible way to live.  When you fail, admit it, apologize, and start the journey again.  The Bible calls this repentance.

OK, so now the list.  First up: To know the difference between needs and wants.

We’re part of a culture that has no idea how to make this distinction.  I’ve written rants about this before.  They system is rigged to blur the lines between needs and wants.  This works very well in a consumer culture.  If it didn’t work, Facebook, Google, and pretty much every other free service I access all day every day on my electronic devices wouldn’t be free.  Gazillions of dollars are shelled out so advertisers get to help you believe that what they want you to buy is a need.  The deck’s stacked against your kid being happy and contented with what they’ve got.  By the way, it’s equally stacked against you being happy and contented with what you’ve got, too.  Duah.

So how do you make the distinction between a need and a want?  At its most basic level, the question comes to this: is it essential?  If it’s essential, it’s a need.  So there you go.  Easy-peasy.

Except it’s not a black and white thing.  There are all kinds of shades of gray between black and white.  Is it absolutely essential, or is it just kind of essential?  And is it essential now, or will it be essential later?  How long will it be essential?  Can I even know?  Why do I think it’s essential?

That’s probably the real question.  In order to say whether it’s essential or not, I have to be able to answer why I think it is or isn’t.  One way to do this is to think about what your life would be like without it.  If the question is whether I need food, water, shelter, physical safety and security, the answer to what life would be like without them is that it would quickly get really ugly.  Like in The Walking Dead.  Are these essentials?  Yes.  Imagine life without them.  But if it’s about how much food and what kind of food is essential, well, we’re in an altogether different discussion.  This is the level of discussion you’ll have a lot as you raise your family.

At this point, you might be thinking that if it’s not an essential, an actual need, it’s wrong to want it or to try to get it.  That’s not what I’m saying.  What I’m saying is that I often convince myself that a want is a need.  Lots of wants get misidentified as needs.  But every want isn’t evil.  If I can’t tell the difference between a need and a want, I’ll have many ugly problems in my life.  I’ll default to seeking out what feels like a need.  You can easily see the problem with going with what you feel is a need, and not sifting through to see if it’s actually a need.  But needs aren’t intrinsically evil.

What I’m advocating here is that you help your kids decide for themselves what’s a need and what’s a want.  When they’re very young, you decide this for them without discussion.  Don’t try and reason a 4 year old into understanding the difference, though.  That will always end badly.  Stiffen your spine and just tell them what you’ll permit and what you won’t.  But if they’re 11, and you’re still doing it that way, you’re asking for trouble. Big trouble.

Your kids need to learn to make this call for themselves, with your guidance.  Like pretty much all the other important decisions and judgement calls in life that they need to learn how to make.

Go after this experimentally, in partnership with God.  And if you’re blessed to be a part of a smaller community of people who are also committed to living their lives according to God’s design, lean into them.  Support them and let them support you.  It’s a daunting task.  But to quote a line from the life-changing cinematic masterpiece, The Water Boy, “You can do it!”

 

The Next BIG Thing

It’s big.  I mean REALLY big.  Huge.  Mega Huge.

I don’t always click the button to learn more, or stay tuned for the rest of the ad, but sometimes I do.  I can count on one hand the number of times that what I clicked on or stayed tuned for was actually really big.  It’s usually much adieu about nothing.

I’ve noticed this is true in the professional world I live in, too, the world of Marriage and Family.  Books, blogs, videos, conferences, retreats, consultations and coaching get launched all the time, claiming that they’re the next big thing in marriage and family life.  Some of what gets pushed out from these sources is actually good.

But let’s be honest, when it comes to your marriage and your family, there’s not going to be a next big thing that will absolutely revolutionize you, your wife, your kids, you dog, your cat (and pony, if you’ve got one).  More than 3000 years ago Solomon wrote, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)  In terms of human nature, human needs and human relationships, the centuries between then and now have proven him right.  There isn’t going to be a commercialized, monetized next big thing for your marriage or your family.  There is nothing new under the sun.

There will be A next big thing in your marriage and your family, though.  That’s the nature of marriage and family life.  It’s developmental and dynamic.  It doesn’t come to some magical point and hold steady.  I sometimes wish this were true, but its not.  Generally, I’m glad it’s not.  Different stages of development bring different challenges and hazards.  And different opportunities.  Even when your kids are grown and out of your house.  Even after decades of marriage.  There’s going to be A next big thing for all of us.

The fundamental needs of families and marriages haven’t changes since Solomon’s day, though.  Cultures change.  Technology changes.  Styles and trends change.  But people and their needs stay the same.

If you had to study any psychology at all in your educational experience, you came across Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  It’s a pyramid of 5 levels, starting with the most basic physiological needs and moving up to emotional fulfillment, or what Maslow identified as “self-actualization.  From food, shelter, physical safety, love and belonging, to self-esteem, and then finally self-actualization, or being the real you.  I think it would be pretty hard to improve on this.

I’ve read a number of Christian writers and teachers who criticize Maslow because he leaves out the essential aspect of our relationship with God, and the redemptive work of Jesus.  They’re right.  Maslow leaves out the spiritual dimension.  I see it as part of the top three layers of the pyramid – love/belonging, esteem, self-actualization.  I won’t argue for Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs being a biblical model because it’s not.  But there’s plenty of room for interpreting its value through the lens of God’s design.  Sorry.  Bunny trail.

Here’s why I’m bringing Maslow up at all.  While each of us are unique, and fearfully and wonderfully made by a loving Heavenly Father, we’re all very much the same in terms of what our needs are.  You family’s needs are not fundamentally any different than every other family that’s ever existed.  Really?  Really.

But what we identify as needs has changed a lot over time.  Any conversation you have with anybody about what they feel they need will quickly convince you that a whole lot of what we think of as needs are really only wants.  Like your mobile phone.  Need, right?  Uh…  A need is something you cannot do without.  We (I include myself in this!) confuse convenient with necessary.  Breaking or not being able to find your mobile phone will make your day a lot less convenient, but you’ll be able to make it through the day or night without it.  You’ll limp through.  But you’ll get through.

My wife and I recently downsized to one car.  It’s made Debbie’s and my life more complicated to not each have our own vehicle, but getting a second car doesn’t fit strictly in the need category.  We can make it with one car.  We have to plan a lot more, and we have to be more flexible and thoughtful, but do we actually need a second car?

I could fill up this blog with dozens of other examples, but you get it.  Needs and wants aren’t the same thing.

Your kids won’t easily see the difference, though.  Because you can’t easily see the difference.

Don’t punish them or yourself for this.  Just factor it into your conversations and talk about how to make the distinction between a need and a want.  What makes something one and not the other?  And how do you figure out the difference when there’s lots of emotion in it?

The process on this is in some ways more valuable than the product is.  So in partnership with God, step into the process with yourself and with your family.  Teach (and learn) how to know and live within the difference between needs and wants.

So you’ll know, I’ll be coming back to this whole thing about the universal fundamental needs of families.

Victims Untie!

Hi.  I’m Steve.

Hi Steve.

I’m a victim.  It’s been 5 minutes since I acted like a victim…

That’s what a Victims Anonymous meeting would sound like for me.

I’m a recovering victim.  Like all people in recovery, I have forward movement and victories, and I have setbacks (what is called relapse in the recovery world).  It’s a dance that usually goes, “Three steps forward, two steps back.”  I call it the Recovery Rumba.

I’m sharing this because I know I’m not the only one who is (or should be) in recovery from being a victim.  As with other more recognized addictions, there are many in the throes of victim-addiction who don’t know they’re addicted.  The intensity of it isn’t strong enough yet to get in their way too much.  Or it’s all they’ve ever experienced, so they think it’s normal.  There are others who know they’re addicted, but are in denial about it because they still love their addiction and addictive behaviors, or because their shame is so strong they feel they can’t move in any direction but farther into the addiction cycle.

I want to think about Victim-Addiction observationally.  That means we’ll look at it without being judgmental – of others or of ourselves.  This will be hard for some people.  It’s kind of an acquired skill.  But you can do it. I’ll use a few questions.

First observational question: Are you a Victim?

Some people are.  There are victims of crimes.  Not just petty crimes; some people have been victimized by unimaginable and unspeakable evil.  There are victims of natural disasters, like floods, tornadoes, hurricanes.  There are victims of war.  Innocent people who were simply in the path of military aggression and violence, but who wanted to have nothing to do with it.  They simply couldn’t get out of its way.  There really are legitimate victims.  God has a universe of compassion for them.  As followers of Jesus, we can’t pretend these legitimate victims don’t exist and aren’t something we need to think about or act on.  Go read the parable of the Good Samaritan.  The question is, “Are you an actual victim?”

Second observational question: Who victimized you?

In my life, and in my experience in ministry and counseling over the last four-plus decades (wow… I feel old), more people are victimized by the consequences their own choices than consequences from someone else’s choices.  I’m certainly in this group.  I’m guessing most of you are, too, at least to some extent.  And it’s about this group that I want us to do most of our thinking.

Third observational question: When was the last time you were victimized – or felt victimized?  Think it through and identify it.  Big, little, or a disappointment or offense somewhere in between.

One last observational question: How often to you talk to yourself using victim language?

You have to know what I mean by “victim language” to be able to answer that one.  It’s not very complicated, really.  Victim language is always some form of, “Why did this happen to me?  I don’t  deserve this.”  It always eventually leads (and sometimes quickly leads) to “Poor me.  Poor, pitiful me.  Nobody gets how bad this is for me.”

I suppose there may be someone who never uses this kind of language in their self-talk (the things they tell themselves), but I’ve never met them.  I’ve known some people who have learned how to hear themselves telling themselves these kind of things quickly and then tell that voice to shut up, but I’ve really never known anybody who doesn’t occasionally say these things to themselves.  I’ve already admitted to you that I’m in recovery (with routine relapses) from this.

So WHAT DO YOU DO TO ABOUT BEING A VICTIM?  Believe it or not, the traditional 12 Steps of Recovery are a powerful tool for recovering from being and acting like a victim.  Here’s a link to my favorite way of working the 12 Steps, Celebrate Recovery: https://www.celebraterecovery.com/resources/cr-tools/12steps

Step One: We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable.

That’s an ugly realization for most of us.  Powerless?  Unmanageable?  Dude!  I’m not that bad off.  And besides, it’s just how I am.  Take it or leave it.  I’m a sensitive soul, that’s all.

Well, sensitive though you may be, if you’re letting your self-talk take you down the path of victim language, you’re holding yourself back on virtually every level of your life.  So let’s get specific about how you can move away from this.

Victim thinking and language in our internal, mental dialogue with ourselves is a habit.  The nature of habits is that the longer one has had a habit, the more difficult it is to break or change it.  Most people who have the habit of victim language and thinking have had this habit for a LONG time.  For some of us, it started when we were preschoolers, back when we couldn’t help but pick up the habits and patterns of our parents and family members.  Nobody meant to build this habit of thought into us.  We sure didn’t mean to pick it up!  But that doesn’t matter.  We got what we got.  Nobody can go back in time and undo or redo that.

If you’re like me, and your victim mentality was an unintentional bequeath from your family of origin, you’ve got a very big challenge ahead, if you want to break the habit of victim thinking.  And admitting you have a problem here is the first step.  Literally.

As with all addictions, having this awakened awareness is the start, but very far from the whole thing.  Even having a strong desire to change isn’t the key.  You won’t change without it, but it’s not THE key.  There is no one thing.  But there’s not 30 things, either.  In fact, for lots of people, making it too complicated will make it impossible to work.  I won’t take time and keystrokes to try to give you everything you need to move forward meaningfully through a process of recovery from victim thinking and acting.  I will say, though, that the 12 Steps I’ve referenced are incredibly helpful.  If you go to the Celebrate Recovery website I offered a few paragraphs ago, you’ll see that each of these steps are connected to scripture.  Which leads me to my next-to-the-last thought on this.

Nobody wants you to move out of the victim life more than God does.  I think one way to describe the Gospel is that it is God’s design to transform us from victims to victors.  It may not (in my experience, it’s not likely to) happen in an instant.  More likely, it will take time and effort .  But it will happen.  Not because of your hard work and dedication.  Not even because of your sincerity.  It will happen because of the grace of Jesus, and all that He’s already done.  We get to partner with Him and walk toward freedom and maturity in Him.  This is huge.  When the Creator of the Universe is walking with you as your partner, that’s big.  Don’t minimize it.

And now, the last thought on this.  One essential key to breaking a long-standing habit is to notice when you’re slipping into it, and choose another path.  The earlier you realize you’re slipping into it, the better.  For most of us, along with God’s partnership through the Holy Spirit, we need the help of a trusted friend to raise a flag when they see or hear us acting and talking like a victim.  None of us needs another behavior cop in our lives, but all of us can benefit by the help of a friend we know well enough to know that they won’t hurt us when we fail, but will ask us, instead, how they can help us not make that mistake again.  For me, this is the essence of accountability.  None of the many people I know who have made the journey of recovery successful have done it on their own.  They’ve all had accountability people in their lives.

Replacing these victim thoughts is essential.  You can’t just say, “I won’t think or act like a victim.”  JUST is the operative word there.  You’ve got to decide (and tell yourself often) that you will not think or act like a victim.  But you’ve also got to know what you will do instead.

Here’s what I suggest as the best way to do that: accept responsibility for what is yours.  If it’s not yours, it’s not yours.  You’re not responsible.  So don’t tie yourself to it.  But if it’s yours, then own it.  The route out of victimhood is responsibility.  At it’s heart, this victimhood I’ve been going on and on about is the belief that someone or something else is responsible for what’s happening in my life.  Letting this habit continue will only keep you held hostage by victim thinking and behaving.

So untie yourself from it.  If you thought what I have for the title of this installment was a typo – that I meant to type with Victims Unite – well, it wasn’t a typo.  I want victims (me at the head of the line) to untie from the habits that keep pulling us down and holding us back.  So victims, untie!

Snowplow Parenting

By now I’m reasonably sure most everybody’s heard of “Helicopter Parents.”  These are parents who hover, making sure nothing bad happens to their kids, and that they are protected and taken care of against all the possible difficulties in life.  There should be a decal of the motto, “To Protect And To Serve” on the side of the helicopter.  These parents do this because they think they have loving motives.  They want to protect and shepherd their kids toward their best possible future.

There are lots of problems with this parenting approach.  Enough that somebody’s probably publishing a book about it.  I see a couple of down sides to Helicopter parenting.

First of all, it’s exhausting to the parent.  Most Helicopter Parents I’ve been around are constantly tired and worn out from all the rigors of hovering over and around their kids.  They’ve got to be at every activity, every event, every time.  That’s a lot of work.  And this in addition to the rest of their adult responsibilities.

Another aspect of this is that when the child is out of their house, after 18 or more years of hovering, the Helicopter Parent has no mission in life.  When there’s no kid to hover over, what will they do with themselves?  How will they find fulfillment and significance?  And then there’s their spouse, who they’ve been able to generally avoid for these many years in favor of time and energy given unselfishly to the kids, who so desperately need to be hover-shepherded.  Now it’s just you and the spouse, and you don’t know if that’s going to work.

Then there’s the kid’s side of this.  Lots of these kids leave home mentally and emotionally long before they leave it physically.  They resent the intrusion of their Helicopter Parent, but they’ve learned how to wring out the maximum benefit from it.  They’re not stupid!  When they finally “leave the nest,” they have no idea how to take on the independence they’ve been given, which is what they’ve been dreaming about for the last 5 or 6 years.  There’s nobody there to make their bed.  They’ve got to figure out how to get their laundry done.  And what they should wear today.  Mommy or Daddy isn’t there to do their homework for them.  It quickly gets messy.  If you talk with a college professor or administrator, they’ll give you stories ranging from the hilarious to the absurd to the tragic on kids who haven’t a clue how to step up to the responsibility of an independent life.

This week I read of a parenting term I’d not heard before: Snowplow Parents.  This is taking the Helicopter Parent thing to the next level.  These Snowplow Parents make their mission in life to snowplow away any and every obstacle that might get in the way of their precious baby’s success.  All the kid has to do is to stay in the wake of the snowplow.  If Helicopter Parenting is a bad idea (and I think it is), Snowplow Parenting is two or three clicks worse.

You’re neither a Helicopter or Snowplow Parent.  If you were, you wouldn’t have time to read a blog by some unknown guy at the edge of civilization.  You’d be busy laying out the socks and matching shirt for your kid for tomorrow, or scrambling to make sure your menu for dinner will meet their discriminating and delicate tastes.  Or beating yourself up for not sponsoring a parade for the B they got in math.

This is where it’s right for me to offer my best alternative motto to “To Protect And To Serve.”  You may want to highlight this.  Ready?  Here it is: Never do for your kids what they can do for themselves.

This idea is predicated on the idea that your God-given role as the parent is not to make your kids happy and comfortable, but to train them to step into life as a responsible and maturing adult follower of Jesus.  There is often a very wide valley of difference between these two approaches.

I’m not advocating that you become abusive and indifferent to your kids.  To help them grow up and step into independence, and then interdependence doesn’t have to be some version of Marine boot camp.  But you won’t be able to pull it off helicoptering and snowplowing.

Never doing for you kids what they can do for themselves isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.  Every kid in your house is different, and their specific abilities may be considerably different.  But even accounting for this, all kids grow up following a similar developmental pattern.  Healthy kids crawl, then walk, then run.  But not on the exact same schedule.

Discovering what your kids is capable of doing for themselves happens when you study your kids.  Don’t hover, but observe them.  What do you think they could do for themselves?  I don’t mean what they can do easily.  I mean, what could they do, even if it won’t be easy for them and the end product won’t be perfect?  A good question here is, “What could they do that I’m doing for them now?”

This soon becomes part of a strategy for teaching kids how to contribute to the family, not just to their own happiness and success.  Many of the things they’re capable of doing, but which you’ve been doing for them, are things that will benefit the whole family.

The goal of this kind of thinking is to release your kids into a progressively more responsible life.  What they can do for themselves at age 3 is very different from what they can do at age 13.  But if you wait until they’re 13 to begin expecting them to take care of things they can take care of, and hoping they’ll do it with enthusiasm, you’ll be in for some really ugly reality.

Go to your kids’ activities and events.  Cherish their childhood.  Love them and love being close to them.  But, please, don’t hover.  It’ll hurt them and you.

 

The Most Important Thing You’ll Ever Give Your Kids (or get from them)

Our youngest daughter, Jenny, gives the best gifts.  Me, when it comes to giving gifts, I either give the neatest thing I find on Amazon in my budget range, or I’ll get something I’d like to have (on the assumption that everybody I know is as smart as I am and would have the good sense to have my awesome tastes).  It usually only takes me a few minutes to pick out a gift card.  Umm.  I probably shouldn’t put that out there on the InterWebs…

That’s not how Jenny does it.  She takes time to find just the right thing for the person she’s giving the gift to.  I mean, LOTS of time.  And lots of thought.  The outcome is that what she gives is a delight to the recipient.  I know because I’ve been the delighted recipient lots of times.

What’s the best gift you’ve ever given someone?

What’s the best gift you’ve ever been given?

The answer to both of these questions is totally subjective.  There’s no standard for what’s a good gift or a bad one, except what you think is good or bad.

Here’s my answer to both of these questions: Forgiveness.  In my life, the best gift I’ve ever been given is forgiveness, and the best gift I’ve ever given is forgiveness.

Yes, I’m going a little theological on you here.  The most dramatic gift of forgiveness I or anybody else has been given is God’s forgiveness.  Yep.  That’s a great Sunday School answer.  But it happens to be true.  My life both now and for eternity depend on this.  This is the message of the New Testament.  The only hope any of us has for eternity in heaven is that God has given us the gift of His forgiveness.

And it is a gift.  Forgiveness can’t be earned.  It has to be given (and received) as a gift.  None of us are forgiven and made right with God because we deserve it by earning it.  Lots of people are trying really hard to earn their way into a forgiven and whole relationship with God.  They go to church, read the Bible, pray, give time and money.  And then they carefully turn their gaze to God and ask, “So are we good now?”  But they never really know if they’re actually good with Him.  It’s a flawed system.

Forgiveness is a gift of grace.  God forgives us not because we deserve it, or because we’ve finally done something that makes Him have to give it up for us.  He gives it because of His grace.  As a gift form His heart and hand.  It’s not that complicated.  But it’s possibly the most important theological concept of all.

And when we forgive another, it’s a gift of grace, as well.  It’s not given because they deserve it.  It’s not something they can earn.  It’s a gift, plane and simple.

Now, trust is earned.  That’s a whole other thing.  When you forgive me, you aren’t binding yourself to trust me as though nothing has happened.  You can forgive me without fully trusting me.  You release trust to me as I demonstrate my trustworthiness.  Some people get really hung on the horns of this dilemma.  They struggle to forgive because they struggle to trust.  I get that.  I have this same struggle from time to time.  But trusting and forgiving are two different things.

OK, let’s bring it out of the clouds, down to the runway.  No relationship can survive without forgiveness.  Every human relationship is between two (or more) imperfect humans.  Because of our imperfections, we will disappoint, short-change, hurt each other.  Sometimes hurt each other deeply.

This is nowhere more true than in marriage and family life.  You’ll hurt your spouse.  You WILL hurt them.  You may have already done it today.  You’ll hurt your kids.  Your spouse will hurt you.  Your kids will hurt you.  Welcome to the dance, fellow human.

There’s a lot more to forgiving than I’ll be able to put into this blog post.  I teach a six-session series on it called, Choosing To Forgive.  Maybe one day you’ll get to do this series with me.  But not today.  I’ll just put this part of it out there: forgiveness is a process, not an event.  The process begins when I choose to forgive the one who hurt me.  It may continue for a very long time as I continue to choose to forgive them every time the offense (the hurt) comes to mind.  But any offense that is deeper than a scratch will take more than a moment, and will involve MANY choices to forgive.

So with that in mind, what’s the finest gift you can give your kids?  You’ll be glad to know it’s not an XBox or an iPhone, or a laptop computer or a new car.  It will cost you more than any of these.  That’s the nature of forgiveness.  It’s noble to talk about, but it’s often really expensive and hard to actually forgive.  My favorite author, C.S. Lewis, said it this way:

“Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive.”

Forgiving – truly forgiving – your spouse or your kids is the best gift you can give them.  Not one of the best.  THE best gift.

Dr.Archibald Hart says, “Forgiveness is giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me.”  That’s big.  Especially in a world of tit for tat.  Especially in a family that keeps score.

But when I choose to give up my right to hurt you for hurting me, even though I may not be able to trust you until you prove that you’re trustworthy, I can open my heart to you and want for you what is best for you.

When you do that, it’s not the offender that goes free.  It’s you who does.  But holding on to an injury or offense is tethering yourself to it.  It’s choosing to be chained to it.  The result is anger, resentment, bitterness.  In a word, bondage.

And then there’s this one other thing (with two parts).  When you don’t forgive people, you model a behavior to your kids that they get, even if you don’t think they do.  They’ll do what they see.  But when you choose to forgive, they see that, too.  And they’ll model it.  And that’s important, because sometime you’ll need them to forgive you.