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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.
This fall 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.” But I brought a picture of this because I think it’s an interesting concept. Cute, little Taylor. There she is.
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. Ow! What a fastball.” 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. Because the culture that we live in today, grandparents, you are so important in the raising of today’s kids.
My mother-in-law, so my kids’ grandma, is probably one of the most influential people in my kids’ lives and I’ve said this several times that I think my kids will be more sad when grandma dies than when I die. And it bothers me that nobody in my family disagrees with that.
So as grandparents, you are so, so important. You have got to believe, parents, that you play a hugely significant role in how your kids come out to embrace these five Cs. And I start here because, parents, you are the biggest influence in your kids’ lives. And if you don’t believe that, you actually have trouble coming your way.
If you don’t believe that you are the biggest influence in their life, you will become nothing more than a shift manager at your own bed and breakfast. See, I talk to parents a lot and parents are worried about the culture and the Internet and MTV and the dangers of Honey Boo Boo. But what they have got to realize: Your kids, more than anyone else, are shaped by parents. Parents’ beliefs, parents’ values, parents’ actions. That parents are the primary influencer in a kid’s life.
The only time that influence shifts to culture or media or friends is when a parent either physically or emotionally withdraws from the scene. See, parents, as hard as it is for you to believe, your kids want you to be their hero. Your kids want you to be the type of person that they look up to. That’s God’s design.
See, God is really big on kids. Jesus actually said this in Mark chapter 9, “Jesus took the little child and had him stand among them: taking him, the child, in His arms, He said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My name, welcomes Me. And whoever welcomes Me does not welcome Me, but the One who sent Me.’”
That when you welcome a child, you welcome God. That is a high calling. That puts a parent’s life in perspective. Your calling is so important. Folks, it is part of your destiny. You being a parent is your life purpose. It’s your calling from God and it is worth your very best effort. That raising your children, it actually may be the most spiritual thing you will ever do in your life. Your children are God’s gift to you.
That’s how they are referred to in the Scriptures. Look at Psalm 127. “Children are a gift from the Lord. They are a reward from Him.” And I realize some of you are not feeling like your kids are a reward right now. “How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them.”
Now, what is a quiver? A quiver is what archers, you know, archery? What they would wear, a quiver, on their back and it would hold all their arrows. And what he is saying is, “How happy is the man, joyful is the person, whose quiver is full of kids.”
And some of you are going, “No!” Okay. I feel like shooting my kid into another community. And I understand. There were seasons in my parenting, I remember listening to this guy one time say, “Your kids are like a cocoon. You have to nurture and protect the cocoon because inside the cocoon a butterfly will emerge.”
And at that point in my parenting, I wanted to stomp the cocoon. Okay? For fear that there wasn’t a butterfly, there was a bat or a buzzard within and I did not want to see that emerge.
But if they are a gift from God, doesn’t that change everything? If God says, I am stewarding you a gift, that you would value it. Now, it may not be what you ordered at Babies-R-Us but nonetheless, 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.