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About this series
10 Ways to be an Exceptional Parent in a Quick Fix World
Just like anything that’s constructed well – a solid business, a powerful engine, or a superb meal – successful parenting requires intentionality and a plan. And that’s why Living on the Edge is pleased to share this series from Doug Fields, Senior Director of the Homeword Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University. Doug has been called by many "America's youth pastor."More from this series
Hey, everybody. I am so thrilled to be with you all as we talk about what kids need in caring adults. I want you to start by raising your hands if you had parents. Let me see. You had parents. Okay, that’s good.
Anybody like me that, when you were a kid you actually thought your parents knew what they were doing? That they were just experts at it? That they had thought it out, they were strategic, that they had followed some guidelines? I really thought my parents were pros at parenting until I became a parent and thought, Oh, they had no idea what they were doing. They were making this stuff up as they went. The having the kids part was easy. It’s just the figuring out what to do with them.
If you’re not a parent, here’s what parents would say about parenting. It’s difficult. If you’re a single parent, you would change the word “difficult” to “impossible.” And if you are a single parent, you are one of my heroes in life. How you do it, I don’t fully get it.
There are some people in here called “empty nesters” who are laughing at everybody else because their kids have grown up and they have moved out of the house. And then there are some of us in here who are boomerang parents. And those are kids who left the house and then came back and they now live in their house, like mine. And those of us cry ourselves to sleep at night.
Now, I also realize there’s a large group of you that you’re not parents, you don’t like kids, you don’t want kids, you just don’t even think about kids. And you are actually the type of people that I like to sit next to in a restaurant. Okay?
Really. When my kids were little and growing up I remember looking, I remember one time we got seated, and this lady, the eye rolls, the looks of condemnation like, I would never do that if I was a parent. That type of thing. She actually asked the hostess to move. And I was a little hurt by that. So I asked the hostess if we could move as well.
And so we moved right next to her, because that’s what pastors do. They help you grow and mature and become patient and kind.
And, actually, here’s the deal, even if you don’t have kids, this will be helpful for you unless you’re a hermit. Unless you’re a hermit, your life is going to intersect with kids. Whether you’re a parent, a grandparent, a coach, a teacher, a mentor, an aunt, an uncle, a neighbor who has friends who have kids this is going to be helpful for you.
I am going to contextualize in the context of some parenting illustrations, but really what I’m talking about is all relationships.
I taught some of this material in Seattle and a woman came up to me afterward and said, “I don’t have kids. But these were really helpful in how I treated my husband.” And I kind of feel sorry for him.
Now, and if you’re here and you are a kid, I love it that you’re here, because now you can hold your parents accountable. That you can go home and, “Doug said don’t do that, mom!” Whatever. Here we go.
But as we begin this, let me just start by giving you what I would call some disclaimers. Okay? Let me give you some Doug Fields disclaimers. First of all, I am not an expert at raising kids.
I used to be an expert at raising kids until I became a parent. Okay? Then I moved from my expert status. Then when my kids were teenagers, I actually became the dumbest human on the planet, okay? And that was really exciting. But I am a veteran parent. My kids are twenty-five, twenty-two, nineteen years old. They are all doing very, very well in the foster care system.
And so second disclaimer is what I lack in expertise as a parent, I make up as really what I am is probably a youth expert. For thirty years of my life I have worked with teenagers, I have studied youth culture, I have written books to kids and to youth workers and to parents. Early in my marriage, working with teenagers was our primary form of birth control because I didn’t want to bring any into the world.
And then when Cathy would get that look in her eye, it’s like, We should have a kid, I would just take her on a date to a McDonalds Playland and I’d just see one of those psycho kids running naked, holding his diaper and I’d go, “Really? Really? You want one of those?” But I do study youth culture.
Third disclaimer is that I just want to let you know that I am not going to take any time to bash culture. I know a lot of people do that as a scare tactic and I show you pictures of Miley Cyrus on a wrecking ball and say, “This could be your kid.” That’s not my goal. My goal, we all know the culture that we live in and the condition that it’s in. I don’t want to give you scare tactics. I want to give you hope tactics.
And the fourth disclaimer is I want to let you know this, I’m not going to be speaking to Christians or to non-Christians. Doug, did you not take your medication today? Do you not know where you are? No, I know exactly where I am. Here’s who I’m going to be talking to: Parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, mentors, aunts, uncles, neighbors, friends.
Some of you are followers of Jesus. And some of you are curious. You’re questioning faith and God and Jesus and there’s everyone in between. So if you are here and you are a Jesus junior or you are here and the only time you say Jesus is when you golf – I am thrilled that you’re here. And I tell you all that because I want to let you know this is going to be a safe environment to bring anybody that cares about kids.
Now, I have a bias. I have stolen most of my material from the Bible. And the Bible sheds a lot of light on relationships and how to do them right. But if you look in your notes, what I want to do is I want to begin with the end in mind. And I want you, as a parent, to think about the end in mind. This is not a new concept. Marketplace people, they do this all the time. You have a job, a business, when you enter into a business you think: What is our exit plan?
Even in the Church we have things about, like: What’s a one year, three year, five year goal? What do we hope to accomplish in the end? I think that’s an important part of parenting. It’s not a new deal. We have been told this for thousands of years.
Take a look at the Scriptures. In Psalm 90 verse 12 it says, “Teach us to number our days” – why? “that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” That we need to be wise with our days because they disappear so quickly.
We have some friends who just had a baby in May and for Christmas, I gave them a jar of nine hundred and thirty-six marbles. And this jar of nine hundred thirty-six marbles represented the number of weeks that little Taylor has until she graduates from high school.
And the gift to the parents was to, every week, take one marble out and reflect and to think – what happened last week? To thank God for this, this gift. And then to see how many more weeks you have to go.
Now, my twenty-two-year-old son said, “Dad, that is so depressing.” And I’m sure there’s a joke in there about parents losing their marbles but the idea is that time goes by very, very quickly. And if we don’t pause to stop, reflect, and think about it, we are going to find ourselves with a lot of regrets.
And I gave that to them because I didn’t want them to do what so many parents do, and that’s not pay attention to the time. It was just yesterday, December 15th, 1988, when I was standing in Hoag Hospital and I went from not being a parent to all of a sudden being a parent. I’ll never forget it. It literally, it feels like it was just yesterday when the doctor held my daughter and said, “Do you want to hold her?” And I said, “No. No. She looks slippery.” Those were my words.
And if you’ve never seen a newborn baby before, just think like Vaseline covered weasel is kind of what it was. And I was scared. I was not ready for that. And then I said, “Clean her up first.” And then they handed her to me. And as I held ET in my hand, I’m telling you, bam! Time blew by and now she is twenty-five.
What would it look like if parents painted a picture of the end? Cathy and I chose to do this over twenty-five years ago because we worked with really, really good kids and really troubled kids.
And we said, “What are some of the common factors in these troubled kids? What are some of the common elements of these really, really good kids? And let’s just paint a picture of what we want our kids to look like.”
And so I share these with you. And I share these with you because, not for you to copy ours but just to paint a picture for you of what I’m talking about. And I put them there in your notes as just, Cathy and I call them: The Five Cs. The first is we wanted our kids to have a sense of confidence.
A healthy confidence that they would actually feel good about themselves, that they would know who they are, that they would walk through life with, not arrogance, but confidence. That they would know who they are because of whose they are.
The second C is we wanted them to have character. What parent doesn’t want their kids to have character? A moral compass. To make decisions of integrity, of right and wrong, of values. If you’re a follower of Jesus, you hope that your kids have a Christ-like character. But regardless of your faith background, you want your kids to have character.
The third is that we wanted our kids to have convictions. And convictions are beliefs. Every one of us has convictions. The question becomes: What are your convictions based on? Are they based on what you feel at any given moment? Are your convictions based on what other people say? Or are your convictions based on what might be called a biblical worldview? Because one’s convictions shape one’s character.
You can’t have true character without convictions. You see a lot of people who do, though, that – watch this. Is they try to have character – mom and dad force character on them – “This is what is right; this is what is wrong.” But if they don’t have convictions, what happens when the temptations come, the character folds up.
You see this with kids all the time. They put on an act. They wear a mask. When they are around mom and dad, they have character. But when they are on their own and all the influences of the world are around them, the character folds because there is no conviction.
The fourth C is we wanted our kids to have compassion. We wanted them, as they grew up, to have a love and concern for those who are marginalized, for those who don’t live life like they live life. We wanted them to take the focus off of themselves and to put it on other people, other people who are hurting and to serve them in several different ways.
And finally, we wanted our kids to have a sense of competence. This is the big picture idea that they would actually be able to live and function and thrive in today’s world, knowing that they have God-given gifts, having developed some skills. And not just merely taking up space on this planet, but actually being a competent contributor to the world.
That was, for us, that was our end game. And, by the way, we stole that from the Bible too. Okay? If you look in 1 Timothy, you’ll see that the apostle Paul paints a picture for young Timothy to become these areas.
Now, with these, what it does is that when you have an end game in mind, what happens is you parent in intentional ways rather than reactive ways. When you have an end game in mind, you parent with intentional ways rather than reactive ways.
It doesn’t mean you’re not going to have regrets. I have regrets. I did not parent my kids as they were growing up perfectly. But what you are doing is you are enhancing the odds. We are enhancing the odds. I’m not guaranteeing results, because as intentional as you want to be, there is still this element of mystery that surrounds parenting that I have observed that some really good kids have come from some really bad parents. And vice versa as well.
So what we are talking about is enhancing the odds. Us as parents, doing the possible with faith that God will do the impossible.
That all kids are different. There is no one parenting formula, that each have their own unique brand of free will. But there are some biblical, relational principles given to us from God that, if we can align ourselves with those, we are going to enhance our odds.
I am going to give you ten. The first one is this. What I call, “Ten Actions Kids Need from Caring Adults.” The first is strong belief. Strong belief. And I don’t mean this is you believing in your kids. Like, “Oh, you’re a terrific singer, dear. I love the way you throw.” No. I’m not talking about that.
I am actually talking about strong belief in your role as a parent. That there is actually a high value in you being a parent. And as I talk about parents, let me throw in grandparents. You are so important in the raising of today’s kids.
If God says, I am stewarding you a gift, it’s your gift from God to value it. That’s a big deal.
If you’re a parent, raise your right hand and repeat after me: I am a big deal. You are! That’s it. You’re a big deal. And what do you think if we would begin to value the idea of parenting as a bigger deal than our paycheck? Or our hobbies? Or our social situations?
What if the next time somebody says to you about, “What do you do for a living?” you don’t mention your career? You actually refer to your high calling? “What do I do? Funny you ask. I’m in charge of raising three Homo sapiens in the dominate values of the Judeo Christian tradition in order that they might become instruments for the transformation of the social order that God prescribed. And what do you do for a living? Oh. You’re just a lawyer? I understand.”
See, because if you believe in the value in your role as a parent, if you don’t believe that that is a high value, the consequences of your unbelief sabotage your effort and actually wound your children. This season of parenting is a huge spiritual challenge and it is worthy of our very best effort. And that’s why I put it as number one. Okay? They’re not all ranked in order of importance, but I wanted to start here. Okay? Strong belief.
All kids need, what I call, “ongoing affection.” I added the modifier “ongoing” for those of us guys in here. Because guys are real simple. And if I would say, “Your kids need affection,” I can just see my buddies going home and going, “Hey, son.” Okay. Check. What else? I’m going to get through the other nine really quick.
Okay, because often times, men are accused of being the emotional equivalent of a brick. And, ladies, stereotypically and statistically, you are much more affectionate with your kids than men are. That’s why never in the recorded history of the world has a kid ever been hurt in the front yard and ran in the house and yelled for dad. Okay?
When kids are hurt, they run in, who do they ask for? Mom. Why? Because dads don’t care. Okay? As much. I might, my dad’s line was, “Shake it off.” I would run in crying as a little kid, “Ahhhh!” “Shake it off, Doug. Shake it off.” “I want to, but my bone is sticking out! And I’m afraid if I shake it off…” “You’re going to be fine. Go get me some ice cream. Get out of the way of the TV.” That’s guys.
I can remember as a child being sick in the middle of the night, having to go to the bathroom to throw up or something like that, and it felt like before the toilet lid even went up, man, boom, mom was there, right? With a washcloth, scratching my back, whispering in my ear, being really gentle and comforting, analyzing what it was that made me sick. And I used to think to myself, Where’s my dad? And I never knew until I became a dad that he was tired.
Man, affection, affection is something emotionally healthy kids have in common. And it’s not just a male issue. Ladies, affection is something emotionally healthy kids have in common. And healthy kids have been given a lot of affection.
From the time that we were born, social scientists refer to this as skin hunger. And what that means is that we need a touch, we need affection. And that affection must be fed consistently and appropriately because if it is not fed consistently and appropriately, what is going to happen is we are going to settle for inappropriate affection and actually become emotionally distant from our parents.
So guys, if you can’t figure out how to give, express your emotion properly, let me just tell you, your kids are going to suffer. An unaffectionate father, this isn’t Doug’s opinion, okay? This is research. An unaffectionate father will produce boys who don’t know how to express themselves emotionally or girls who will express themselves sexually.
Most promiscuous teenaged girls have emotionally, not all – everybody, I’m not saying this is one hundred percent of the time, but most have emotionally absent dads or physically absent dads. That the dad may actually be there but there is no affection lights cooking anywhere.
And I understand, I understand there are hurdles to this. I have talked to enough parents over the years and I can hear what some of you are thinking, Doug, affection wasn’t modeled to me as I was growing up. Or, I’m just not a touchy-feely type person. It’s not my personality. Or, I have had bad experiences with misguided affection to me.
Here’s my response. I am so sorry. I am so sorry there are hurdles in your life but as a parent, you have to face your hurdles. You have to identify them and you’ve got to figure out a way to get over them, because if not, you’re going to wound your kids.
It may require some counseling; it may require some intervention into your life. But something may need to change or your kids are going to suffer because of that.
Those of you with pre-teens or teenagers, and some of you don’t have it yet, it’s coming your way. Those of you with little kids, your kids want to hug you. They run in the house and are like, “Hi! Hi! Hi!” They want to hug you. They hit a certain age; they don’t run in the house. They walk in the house with a little bit of attitude and they don’t come running after you to hug. They see you and they roll their eyes and walk the other way. Okay?
And that’s when you need to pour it on. You need to get close to them. You need to be affectionate with them. And here is what they are going to say: “You’re weird and embarrassing to me.” Which is the most ironic statement in the world that you are weird and embarrassing because you want to say, “Really? I’m weird and embarrassing? And you wear a Justin Bieber backpack to school?” Okay? “And posted seventy-five selfies of yourself? But I’m weird and embarrassing?”
See, that stage of life is when they need it the most. But here’s what parents do: They become passive aggressive and they go, Well, my kid doesn’t want to hug me so I’m not going to hug them. If that’s you, you need to grow up. You need to be the parent, all right? They need that affection, because if you push those connections away, you’re going to push them away.
And, again, kids that don’t get appropriate affection will seek it out in inappropriate ways. And our culture has a lot of opportunities for them.
The third thing all kids need from caring adults is they need encouraging words. If your child is breathing, he or she needs encouragement. Encouragement is one of the deepest cravings of our soul. And I have never met anybody in my entire life who is like, “Stop it. Really. I can’t take anymore encouragement. I just can’t. I’m going to explode. Do not encourage!” No! Nobody does that.
Encouragement is like food for our soul and people around you are starving. They need that fuel. And, by the way, those of you who are older, your kids have not outgrown this. Okay? I’m just letting you know. They may not live with you anymore, they might not even be in the same state as you, but they haven’t outgrown it.
Here’s what words do: Words have the ability to shape a kid’s life for the positive or the negative.
So let’s go really, really practical. Let me help you be more encouraging. How do you do this? Well, one, when you see it, say it. Say it positive. When you see something positive, say it! Catch them doing things right instead of always catching them doing things wrong. I’m not saying you never say what they are doing wrong.
I’m just saying if you were to put a microphone in the average house, all you hear is, “Would you put the backpack by the back door? I tell you that every, single…get the cleats off the pool table! How many times do I tell you, ‘Get the cat out of the microwave!’” We are always on kids about stuff.
Now, by show of hands, how many of you would rather be around people who like you than criticize you? Let me see. I’m just curious. Yeah. Well, why would your kids be any different?
If you’re constantly on their case about stuff, you are conditioning them to avoid you. They want to be around people who actually like them. So what if you switch things around? Yes, instruct them in what they need to do. But also catch them doing things right. “Buddy! You put the toilet seat down! That is so great! Here’s some licorice and a Mountain Dew! Let’s throw a party!”
Catch them doing things right. Here’s what I’m getting at: I want you to imagine your kid with a tattoo on their forehead. Okay? Now, for some of you, it’s not too hard to imagine because it’s just going to happen in a few years.
But the tattoo says this: Encourage me, mom! Encourage me, dad! So when you see them in the morning, “I’m so glad you’re breathing! You dressed yourself. I love it! You’re alive! That is great. Your nose ring matches your blouse. Woo!” Whatever it is. Just give them so encouragement.
And, parents, here’s the key: Don’t expect it back. Okay? Don’t expect it back and you won’t be disappointed.
But when you encourage them, especially in the pre-teen/teen years, they are not going to encourage you back. All right? They don’t have the emotional vocabulary to affirm you. So what parents do, again, they go passive aggressive: Well, he’s not saying anything nice to me; I’m not going to say anything nice to you. Again, grow up. Be the parent. All right?
Let me come at you from the future. Okay? I told you. My kids are twenty-five, twenty-two, nineteen – they begin to get it. It will come to you. Okay? Just don’t expect it right now.
And let me get a little advanced with you and some of you may not be ready for this, but others, you’re ready for this. This is advanced encouragement. You’ve got to learn to encourage kids beyond their performance. You have to go deeper than just their performance. Now, track with me for a minute.
A lot of language directed at kids is either shame oriented or performance oriented. And some of you grew up in that environment. You did something wrong, you got the look of, “Shame on you.” You did something right, you got the little pat on the head, “Way to go.” Shame on you; I’m proud of you. Shame on you; I’m proud of you. You’re just kind of like, I don’t know. Shame on you? Proud of you?
And so then, you try to live for the more, “I’m proud of you.” So you grew up, now, all of a sudden, trying to earn your parents’ praise. That’s why you are surrounded by tons of adults who are classic people-pleasers. Because they grew up in a “Shame on you; I’m proud of you” environment. Let’s face it – your kids are going to fail. Okay? And when they fail, you don’t want to shame them.
But it’s not smart to say, “I’m proud of you,” for failing. So you’ve got to look for encouragement opportunities that is not based solely on your performance. So when you go to your kid’s game and they hit a homerun or they strike out, the encouragement is the same: “I love watching you play. I love watching you play.” Talk about building confidence in a kid.
When you encourage, think about those five Cs that I gave you at the beginning. When you encourage, encourage toward those five Cs. Okay? You might even say something like, “I’m amazed at how patient you are with your little brother.” What is that? That’s character.
“I noticed that mom didn’t want to get up from the couch and you got the remote for her. I love seeing you serve other people.” That’s compassion. “I was really proud of the way that you stood up for your convictions.” “Hey, buddy, I was looking at your report card the other day and it is so obvious that you are not cheating. And it’s just really good.”
Words are powerful. The Bible says in Proverbs 12, verse 6, “The words of the wicked are like a murderous ambush.” I love this. “But the words of the godly save lives.” The reason we have a difficult time using good words for people is because those good words originate in one’s heart.
Good words actually come from a good heart. That’s what Jesus said. In Matthew 12:35, Jesus said, “A good person produces good words from,” – what? “…a good heart and an evil person produces evil words from an evil heart.”
Careless words or careful words – Jesus says they are birthed within our heart. That’s why everything in all relationships goes back to the heart.
I’ll tell you my story. When Jesus really transformed my heart, my parenting changed. Because if I’m really honest with you, as a parent, I wasn’t ready to face the ugliness of my selfishness.
I thought that when I got married that I was dealing with my selfishness. But marriage is nothing compared to the selfishness that I feel parenting. Because as a parent, you’re always on. Kids don’t leave you alone. And, honestly, my heart was not strong enough to love my kids the way they needed to be loved. So I had to ask Jesus, I had to beg Jesus to change my heart. And when He changed my heart, my parenting changed.
And here’s the deal, there’s no technique, there’s no plan, there’s no relationship strategy that really matters at all if you miss how God views us. None of this works if you don’t understand how God sees us.
In Ephesians 5:1 it says, “Follow God’s example, therefore,” read the rest with me, “as dearly loved children.” It’s dearly loved children. It doesn’t say, “Follow God’s examples as the one God tolerates.” “Follow God’s examples as the ones God is mostly disappointed with.” No. It says, “Follow God’s examples as dearly loved children.”
See, I think what I have for you is really helpful. I’m really excited to help many of you parents. I think it’s practical and helpful. But if you miss this core truth, none of it really matters.
See, the best help is going to come up short because what happens is you wind up parenting from a wounded heart. You wind up parenting from a broken heart. You wind up parenting from a wrong identity.
But when people know that they are dearly loved, they are capable of loving dearly. When you know that you are dearly loved as God’s child, you are capable of dearly loving. And that’s our dream for this community of people that we call “the Church,” that we would go through life knowing that we are dearly loved.
I have the total audacity to believe that your parenting can be helped, your children can be changed, and they can make a difference in this world.