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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 seriesMessage Transcript
All right. We are picking up part two, ten things kids need from caring adults. I am going to build on what I talked about and if you weren’t here… hoh, hoh, you missed it. No, you can go online and listen to that to be caught up. Because I am going to build on those relationship principles. I will say that we said, “Let’s start with the end in mind.” What would it look like if kids who grew up in our homes, at the very end, you can look in your notes, had a sense of confidence and character and convictions and compassion and competence?
I defined each of those and said, “What if we made that our end goal?” Because really, it goes by so fast. I have three kids – twenty-five, twenty-two, nineteen – it feels like it was just yesterday that we were in the hospital giving birth to them. When I say “we” I had something to do with it.
But we were there and it went by very, very fast. This is my middle child, Cody, in 1992, bouncing on my rock hard stomach at the time. And then I blinked and Cody graduated high school. He went away to college to play football. At the end of the first semester, he sent me and Cathy a text and said, “Mom and Dad, I feel God is calling me to do something radical with my life. I want to drop out of college and go serve in Africa. Before you shut me down, please pray about it.” He used the prayer card, I’m the pastor. You can tell he’s a pastor’s kid.
Long story, short – my son dropped out of college to go serve orphans and street kids in Africa. And he did that for seven months. And it’s weird that you raise your kids to have convictions. And to follow the teachings of Jesus.
And then when they actually want to follow the teachings of Jesus, and it doesn’t fit in your plan for them, “Son, are you sure you want to do that? Dropping out of college…” It wasn’t what I dreamt up for him.
But kids who are raised with this sense of confidence, kids who are strong in character, they have their set of convictions that actually express themselves in compassion – they will become competent. To not take up space on this planet, but become competent to use the gifts and skills that God has given them to make a difference in this world.
They may not fit your American dream, Mom and Dad. They may not want to live behind a white picket fence with two point three children. They want to do something meaningful and impactful and it may break your mold, something that you didn’t dream for them.
What I am asking us to do is to say, “Parents, let’s do the possible.”
I don’t care how old your kids are. Let’s do the possible and put our faith in God that He will do the impossible. And as we talk about the possible, what I am doing is I am giving you ten actions that I think all kids need from caring adults, whether you’re a parent, a grandparent, a mentor, a coach, a teacher, a neighbor, an aunt, or an uncle – if you have a kid in your life, this is what they need from you as a caring adult. It’s not going to guarantee success, but what we are trying to do is enhance the odds.
Last week I said you need ongoing belief in your role as a caring adult. I said they need ongoing affection. And you need encouraging words. Again, if you missed it, pick it up online and listen to it.
The fourth thing that I think all kids need from caring adults is what I call: “serious fun.” Serious fun. And for some of you, you’re like, Doug, really, that makes your top ten list? Yeah. You know why? Because today’s generation of kids are totally stressed out.
Why are they stressed out? Because it’s a faster paced society than what you grew up in. But really, the primary reason, truth be told, is that they are stressed out because their parents are driven. And their parents are putting pressure on them to perform and succeed because successful kids make parents feel better about themselves.
And when a kid can grow up in an environment of fun and laughter and play, what it does is it releases their anxiety. It actually helps diminish their fears, and it lessens their hostility and their anger.
And like last week when we talked about, we are looking at biblical principles, many from the book of Proverbs, I want to return to the book of Proverbs because we find this here. In the book of Proverbs chapter 17, verse 22 it says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine. But a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.”
See, we are told that a joyful heart is good for us, both physically and also emotionally. In Proverbs 15 it says, “A glad heart makes a happy face.”
For those of us who have chosen to align our lives by both the person and the teachings of Jesus, I believe we ought to be the ones who actually model fun.
But for some reason, in our Christian culture, we have come to believe that the more serious we are is the more mature that you are. The more serious you are is the more spiritual that you are. But the truth is, the more serious you are, the more boring you are. Okay? I know a lot of boring Christians and so do you.
See, the opposite of funny is not serious. The opposite of funny is unfunny. Okay? So I put this in your notes and it’s my direction to you as parents. Parents, you need to lighten up and schedule some fun.
See, because if you were to read in the Old Testament, the book of Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiastes lets us know that there are necessary rhythms in life. And two of the necessary rhythms in life that it talks about in the book of Ecclesiastes is laughter and dance.
What it says is that if you really want to become fully alive, that if you want to live abundantly, meaningfully, joyfully, you have to dance and you have to laugh. Because those are necessary rhythms of life.
Now, personally, I am glad God put laughter and dance. Because I don’t do a very good job dancing. And so I can live with laughter, if it was just dance I would be in trouble because my dances are ugly. I avoid them. When I do dance in public, people typically call the paramedics. They think something is wrong with me.
But laughter, what a great value. And, by the way, if you’re visiting, you are at a church that values laughter. Now, we are very serious when it comes to Jesus and the teachings of Jesus. But we don’t take each other very seriously because we all know we are a bunch of screw-ups, all right?
And I am, personally, I am one hundred percent confident that Jesus laughed. I cannot show you a verse in the Bible where it says that Jesus sat at the campfire and cracked jokes. Hey, you guys! Did you hear the one about the Pharisee, the tax collector, and the rabbi? I can’t show you this. But the reason I am confident that Jesus laughed is because the Bible says that Jesus was a hundred percent God and a hundred percent human, all at the same time. And humans laugh.
And think about it, if you read about Jesus, He had plenty to laugh at. He hung around with knuckleheads. I’ve got to believe Peter said something really funny that Jesus laughed so hard he snorted. Okay?
And Andrew called Him out, You guys! Did you hear that? Jesus just snorted! And when I say that, for some of you, you’re like, Doug, I just, I don’t think that’s accurate. I just, I don’t think that would be true. Okay. Jesus probably said, “Thou aren’t funny, Peter. I delighteth in thy jesting. And you maketh Me laugh so hard I snorteth goateth milk out of My nose.” Whatever. Friends. If you believe that Jesus never laughed or never smiled or never used humor, you have an inadequate view of God.
And it’s that view of God that people are either drawn to or they run from. And, parents, I just want to say to you, you’ve got to lighten up. You’ve got to schedule some fun.
And I realize when I say, “schedule fun,” it may seem like an oxymoron. But it needs to happen in your house. The reason I chose “schedule” is because I want to communicate to you that, yes, there are fun things that happen spontaneously.
But you have got to look at your calendar and you have got to say, Okay, when are we going to schedule it in? What are we going to do? And maybe Monday nights is fun night and we’ve got to get this vacation. We are going to do this together as a family.
I am just like you. I’ve got to figure out: How do I infuse fun into my home because I want your kids to grow up with play and laughter and adventure and giggle and laugh. Because here is the deal, and I promise this to you, if they don’t have it in your home, they are going to seek it out. They are going to seek out fun and play and laughter and they are going to find it elsewhere. They will find it. It just may not be the healthy type that you would appreciate. Make sense?
Cathy and I are convinced that one of the reasons that our older-aged children come back to our house a lot and hang out at our house is, one, we pay for the food. But you know what? We worked really, really hard as they were little to try to infuse fun and laughter and joy into our family.
And I want to encourage you to give this some serious consideration. To ask the question: Where is the fun in our house? Now, because for some of you, this may feel like a shallow idea, but I’ll tell you, it’s very, very deep. And it has the power to change your kids’ lives.
The fifth thing that I think all kids need from caring adults is what I call: “delicate discipline.” And when I was a new dad, discipline was really rough for me. I didn’t have mentors, I didn’t have people to help me with this, I was just learning on the go. And so when my kids would act demon-possessed, I didn’t know we weren’t supposed to lock them in a room with a juice box and a jug of licorice.
So I had a lot of questions related to discipline, but I know what the Bible teaches about discipline. So I was always trying to hang on to that. And I want to pass that on to you.
See, biblical discipline is guidance with love, not punishment in anger. Okay? Guidance with love, not punishment in anger. If you want to read Hebrews chapter 12 on your own, you can see this.
But you don’t love your child if you don’t provide discipline. Actually, it goes like this: Discipline and love go hand in hand. One of the ways that we express love is with discipline and I’m adding a modifier to it: delicate discipline.
Proverbs chapter 3, “My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline and don’t be upset when He corrects you. For the Lord corrects those He loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights.” You see, discipline is an act of love.
For those of us in here who are Christians – you have said, “I am a disciple, I am a follower of Jesus.” You can’t be a disciple without discipline in your life. Discipline is key.
Now, let me give you a couple warnings that you might write down if you’re taking notes. The first is this is you need to be cautious. You discipline with caution. Bodies are fragile, yes, we know that. But spirits are more fragile.
The warning that we are given in Ephesians 6, now a word to you parents, “Don’t keep on scolding and nagging your children, making them angry and resentful. Rather, bring them up in the loving discipline the Lord Himself approves with suggestions and godly advice.”
Scolding and nagging, making them angry and resentful. You want to make your kids resentful? You want to push your kids away from you? If you do, then operate in the two extremes. Extreme over here is over-discipline, you go intense with it. Or the other extreme is you provide no discipline at all.
Anytime you operate in the extremes, you lose. And as somebody who spent his whole life, his adult life working with kids and writing, speaking to parents as what I call myself as a kid-advocate, I beg you: Don’t discipline in anger. It doesn’t work. It’s awful.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you won’t ever get angry. Of course you will get angry. It would be stupid of me to say that you wouldn’t get angry. What I am suggesting is you learn to discipline and not be angry. There is a big difference.
Some of you who want to see a psycho kid, you go to a McDonalds Playland. And when I see the type of discipline that I see, it’s not discipline as an act of love. It’s actually discipline for the sake of compliance. That’s not loving discipline.
See, angry discipline results in humiliation, embarrassment, violence, and it produces angry kids. See, when you discipline in anger, they don’t hear your words, but they sense your spirit. And when you lose control, they lose respect and ultimately, they will become angry themselves.
So, parents, please, yelling doesn’t work. I don’t know how else to say it. It just, it doesn’t work.
Now, let’s be honest, we have all blown it. Okay? We have all blown it, including myself. And there are things that I regret and I am ashamed of. I actually have a book in my bookshelf, I don’t know why I keep it because it’s the stupidest title in the world. It is called, Regret Free Parenting. There’s no such thing. Okay? You are going to have regrets.
And the hard part for me is the memory that I have of seeing my kids and it wasn’t a look of remorse like, Oh, Daddy, I’m sorry I did that. It was a look of fear. And perfect love casts out fear. When we love our kids, we don’t want them to grow up with a sense of fear. So when I would occasionally lose it and go to my wife for support, she’d be like, “Oh, you blew that. Get out of the way while I try to pick up the pieces.”
Now, some of you will say, Well, Doug, have you not read the Old Testament? You know what it says, “Spare the rod; spoil the child.” Yeah, people have been using that verse out of context as a license to beat kids for a long time.
What you need to understand is the text in the Hebrew that the word “rod” – “Spare the rod; spoil the child,” people then go, “You’ve got to spank ‘em!” A rod was used by a shepherd. And a shepherd would use a rod to guide the sheep, not beat the sheep. Okay?
The rod would guide to keep the sheep on the right path, to keep the sheep out of the lion’s den, away from harm. That’s why King David says in the twenty-third Psalm that you are all familiar with, “Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.” Not beat me.
Now, I am not making a statement on spanking – pro or con. You figure it out. Whatever works for you. Here’s what I am suggesting: In whatever you decide, you must be delicate. You be cautious.
The second thing I want you to write down is to be wise. And this is my way of saying, “Think it through.” Parents, you don’t have to provide discipline right away. Okay? It’s not like you are a traffic cop and you’ve got to get them right there. No, you can delay the discipline so your anger delays.
So wisdom says: Regardless of the situation, regardless of the situation, I am going to stay calm or find a way to get calm. Two, I am going to work hard to make sense, to be wise, but I am going to bring discipline regardless of their response.
Personally, well in my opinion, I think the best discipline is what I call: “discipline by choice.” Discipline by choice is a fair consequence clearly communicated ahead of time connected to the offense.
Maybe if you’re taking notes I’d write: “No surprises,” off to the side. The kid shouldn’t have any, any surprises there. Now, what this does is it doesn’t set you up against your kid. Most discipline is this: Me, as the parent, against my kid.
But if it’s agreed upon ahead of time and it’s clear, what happens is, and then there’s fair and natural consequences, what happens is it is me and my kid against the consequence. And there’s a big difference.
Now, you need to figure this out in your context what it means for your age-appropriate kids. But, like, when my kids, most recently, again – twenty-five, twenty-two, nineteen – so when they were in high school, and my daughter, we had curfew. So my daughter, let’s just say she breaks curfew. Well, a lot of parents meet their kids at the door screaming and yelling and shaming and threatening.
For Cathy and I, we played it different. We would answer the door and go, “Oh, gosh, I’m so glad you’re safe. You know how much we love you and when you didn’t come in on time, we were just getting a little bit nervous because normally you make such great choices. And then I started to get sad for you because I know how much you like to go out on Friday nights and then the next three weeks you have to stay in with me and mom. And I just feel so bad. But I figured you took all that into consideration because you knew that all choices have consequences.”
Now, no matter how well you say it, your kids are still going to get mad. I have never had one of my kids go, “You know, Dad, you’re right. Thank you. Thank you. The way that you established clear boundaries and I knew what the measured consequence was and I evaluated my decision and, Dad, you’re really an excellent father. Thank you. Thank you.”
That never happens. But what it does is it keeps me from being an idiot. From yelling and screaming and shaming and posturing. For many parents, the most difficult part of this is enforcing. And if you can’t enforce delicate discipline, you’re never going to be an effective parent. And that’s a biggie. Because if you don’t, your kids are never going to become responsible.
And that’s the sixth thing that all kids need from caring adults is they need activated responsibility. Activated responsibility. When people find out that I am an advocate for kids, whether it’s a radio interview or promoting a book or something like that, people will say, “Doug, why do you think today’s young people are so irresponsible?”
Okay? It’s a fair question. But nobody likes my answer because I always say, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s your fault.” Really. “What do you mean it’s my fault?” “Yeah. It’s your fault that kids are irresponsible. The reason it’s your fault is because responsibility is not genetic. Responsibility must be taught and it must be modeled.
And I think this one is one of the biggies to get us to the five Cs that we have been talking about. And the way, if you’re going, How do I know if my kid is irresponsible? I call it the A, B, Cs. “A” stands for apathy. Where they just go, “I just don’t care about being responsible.”
“B” is blame. “It wasn’t my fault. It’s the stupid teacher, it’s the lame coach, it’s my dumb parents.” Always blaming everybody else. The “C” is what I call the “care for me” mentality. “I have been cradled my whole life. It’s not that big of a deal. Somebody will save me from this. They’ll figure it out.”
So, parents, how are we contributing to this? Let’s at least hold up the mirror and say, Okay, how are we contributing to kids being irresponsible?
Well, a couple ways. One, always picking up after kids when they are little, not making them responsible. I think when it comes to money, we make money easily available and not valuable enough. By telling kids they can do no wrong, that it’s not their, “Sweetheart, the reason you got a bad grade is because your teacher is just inexperienced.” Okay? “Buddy, I don’t know why you’re sitting on the bench. You’re the best athlete on that team. Your coach, your coach just can’t identify talent.”
And by saving them from consequences. We need to allow our kids to experience some of the pain that goes with poor choices. So, for example, when the school calls and says your kid forgot their lunch, what do parents do? “Oh my gosh! I’ll get it there right away! Because I don’t want my child to starve!” Not just starve, “I don’t want my kid to starve to death!” I know, because they are going to die if they miss their lunch!
Now, maybe your kid is going to get a little hungry. And you know what those hunger pains will do? They will travel up into their brain to realize it was their responsibility to bring their lunch, not mom and dad’s. Mom and dad make the lunch, pay for the lunch, the least I could do is take the lunch.
Activating responsibility. And here is the thesis statement: It is helping kids move from infantile dependence to healthy independence. What are some simple ways? You’ve got to assign chores. Make them age appropriate, but kids, when they have chores, it helps them develop responsibilities and it promotes life skills and work ethic and, yes, you could do the job better yourself or hire it out. That’s not the point. You’re trying to help them become responsible.
And, obviously, and I have said it a couple of times, you’ve got to allow consequences that, when you’re always bailing your kid out each time there is dilemma, you are wounding them. They need to experience consequences in order to be healthy. They have to understand there is a relationship between what they do and what happens to them, and that is a good relationship.
I put it in your notes, I love this phase: Consequences build self-esteem. When kids realize that their behavior has consequences, here’s what they learn: I have power and I have control. I don’t always have to be the victim. I can be in control in this situation. I have power over those consequences.
So let me try to make this really practical and, a matter of fact, how discipline and responsibility merge together. So mom, you go out at three thirty in the front yard, Jimmy is skateboarding. You say, “Jimmy, you need to get in and do your geometry homework.” And Jimmy says, “Mom, I don’t want to do my geometry homework! I want to skateboard!” And you say, “Well, Jimmy, if you don’t do your geometry homework, you’re never going to be able to figure out the area within a trapezoid!” And Jimmy says, “I can live with that.”
So with that, then you’re going, Well, Doug, there is a natural consequence. And the natural consequence is he will flunk his class. Jimmy doesn’t care. Because Jimmy is going to be a professional skateboarder. So this is when Mom and Dad, or sometimes, those of you who are single parents, I told you this last week, the toughest job on the planet is being a single parent. But this is when Mom and Dad, when there is a natural consequence and it is ineffective, we have got to establish some fair discipline so Jimmy develops responsibility.
“Jimmy, if you flunk that class, you choose to flunk that class, you don’t ride your skateboard until Jesus returns.” Okay? Or whatever it is. Because if not, Jimmy will grow up to be a simpleton.
In Proverbs 27 it says, “A prudent person foresees the danger ahead and takes precaution. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.” Parents, we don’t want to raise simpletons. We want to raise kids with competence and character and conviction and compassion. So responsibility begins to be formed when they are little and you, as a parent, follow through on the consequences connected to the boundaries. Or else, kids don’t learn anything about boundaries.
So those of you with little kids, and you play the counting game, what that means is, get to three. And then allow them, calmly, to experience a consequence. Don’t do the, “Don’t let me get to three! One, two, maybe you don’t, you’re not hearing me! Do not let me get to three or there will be a cyclone of fury that comes out of – one, two, two point one, two point six,” you’re figuring areas within a trapezoid. Get to three! All right? Get to three calmly and it may be inconvenient for you, but that is parenting. Let them experience the consequence.
The goal is not to ruin their life. The goal is to help them develop. Does that make sense? Okay. There’s a lot here. Serious fun, delicate discipline, and activated responsibility. A lot to think about this week, a lot to pray about.
I have a friend who told me, “Doug, when my kids were little, I used to talk to them a lot about God. As they got a little bit older, I started talking to God a lot about my kids.” And I think that’s a great way of saying it.
I know some of you are here and, as a parent, you’re tired and you are wounded and you are worried and you feel inadequate. Whatever it is, I invite you to talk to God about your kids and about everything else.
One of the things that I do when I move into a time of prayer in my home office, I have a chair and I have another chair right in front of it. And sometimes I sit in that chair and I imagine a conversation with God. Just, God is sitting right in that chair.
And I realize for some of you, that raises theological concerns like: Should you have three chairs for Father, Son, the Holy Spirit? Does the Holy Spirit even need a chair or does He hover? Whatever.
For me, I picture God in the flesh as Jesus. The person of Jesus. And He is compelling, He is totally interested in me, He is warm, He is attracted to my heart, He is leaning in, excited to be there and to listening, just communicating this warmth.
And a lot of times, I do most of the talking. But sometimes I just listen. If I don’t have anything to say, I just listen. And I have imaginary conversations and it’s going to seem dumb to you, but here’s one of my imaginary conversations where I see Jesus saying, Doug, you make Me laugh. Sometimes you are really funny.
And I get this sense of pride that, Man, I made God laugh. How cool is that? And so we have this moment of laughter. And then Jesus settles in. And there’s this warmth that radiates that I feel and He says, Doug, I love you so, so much. And I love this time with you. And I want to take our relationship to deeper, deeper places. And I know you think, Doug, that you know how much I love you because you’re a parent and you love your kids and that’s cute. But My love is deeper. See, your love is finite. You have a limit to your love. But My love is infinite. And there is no depth and I take all of that love and I direct it to you. It’s a depth of love that you will never be able to understand.
And then I interrupt Him, Okay, Jesus, are You saying I’m not smart enough? And He laughs, kind of a big laugh. Like I caught Him off guard, which I know I didn’t because He’s God. So He knew what I was going to say. So He is obviously exaggerating to make me feel better about myself.
So that’s how it goes with me in prayer. But I share that with you because when I connect with God through prayer, through spending some time to read about Jesus and what He taught and how He interacted, how God in the flesh modeled how to live for humanity; when I read that He wants to come in and totally transform my character and shape me into His likeness – I am drawn to Him.
And the more I am drawn to Him, the more I fall in love with Him and want to follow Him and be more like Him. We have been taking a look at a few words that are so powerful that we want to go deeply into your bones.
Found in Ephesians 5, verse 1, where it says, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children.” Look at those four words: “As dearly loved children.”
See, when that becomes your identity, everything changes. When that becomes your identity, that you’re a dearly loved child of God, everything changes. For some of us in here, our identity is what we do. Your identity is where you live or what you drive or what is in your bank account. But if you could get your arms around the fact that your identity is you are a dearly loved child of God, everything changes.
See, that’s what helps our parenting. That’s what helps our relationships. I could give you the best parenting tips in the world and I want to be really helpful to you. But if you’re parenting out of a broken identity or a wrong identity or a wounded identity, all my tips are going to fall short. But this is what I want you to get: People who know that they are dearly loved are able to love dearly.
People who know that they are deeply loved, and that is their identity, they are able to love deeply. I want to help your parenting. I do. I really want to help your kids. I want to help your kids be the benefactors of this content that we are talking about. But that’s not what drives me.
What drives me is that if you draw closer to God and you fall more in love with Him and you sense His love for you, it will change everything. Everything about you and your relationships and how you act.
And God is not this distant deity that is out there that needs to be conjured up. He is here loving you, laughing with you, grieving with you, hearing your cries; He is accepting of your faults and your failures. He is wanting you to know Him in deeper ways because He has wisdom to help you in your relationships, specifically in your parenting.