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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
CHIP: Thanks, Dave. Well, to wrap up the series, we wanted to sit down and talk with our guest teacher, Doug Fields, and just have a little deeper dive into the content, pass along some wisdom to some of you that as you listened to Intentional Parenting and were thinking about, How can I be more intentional? And then things that he talked about, a lot of questions come up: how does that look like in your daily life? And so, it’s a real joy to have Doug Fields with us. And, Doug, you have quite a journey and quite a career in ministry, but give us a little background maybe on a little bit about your family, ministry, and I heard we have something in common that we have some grandkids. So, fill us in.
DOUG: Yeah, absolutely. Well, it’s an honor to be with you; thanks for the time. My whole ministry is basically youth ministry. I have spent about forty years working in the church and working with families and kids and parents and along the way, I have had some encouraging people who have said, “Hey, that talk that you just gave to parents or kids, you should turn that into a resource.” And so, I have written a bunch of books, I started a youth ministry company called Download Youth Ministry where we resource youth pastors across the world. I work with my youth pastor currently, Jim Burns, who is the president of Homeword. And we do a lot of marriage and family and parenting stuff together. So, I am still even a part-time youth pastor at a local church where I live here in Orange County, California. So, that’s my world, that’s my gig. I’m pretty boring in terms of, like, a single focus. It’s like kids and teenagers and families.
CHIP: Well, I can tell you, my son was a youth pastor for many years, and you were the man! He’s a senior pastor now and is growing a church, but a number of years ago, it was like, if you want to know what to do in youth ministry, ask Doug Fields. And I read, is this a typo? Have you written sixty books?
DOUG: I, you know what? I lost, I think I have written more than I have read. But, yeah. I have, over the years, written a little bit, but youth ministry, a lot of books. Some parenting books, some marriage books, but yeah again, people that have spoken into my life and encouraged me to not sit on some of the things that I have learned and then I had to pass on. I am actually, maybe like you, Chip, I am surprised that anybody listens to anything that I say or write. So, I’m just pleased that I am still alive and that God is using me. And I have three of my own kids, they are all grown and married, and they like each other and they like Cathy and I, and we have three little grandkids that we are beginning to take some of this Intentional Parenting and just changing the name out: Intentional Grandparenting. Because the reality is everything that we wrote about in this book and everything I’ve been speaking about in this series applies to grandparents as well. Coaches, mentors, teachers – anybody that interacts with kids.
CHIP: Let’s jump into the parenting world. Where did this series come out of? You actually probably taught it first and in a situation, what birthed it?
DOUG: Yeah, the series that you played is the one that I spoke at my church, Mariners Church in Orange County, California. And it was a three-week series to help parents. And I have been a student of parents, I have watched good parents, I have watched difficult parents, I have watched good kids, I have watched bad. You know, just seeing what can you learn from families who win and families who struggle? But really when we became parents, we thought, Let’s begin with the end in mind and say, okay, we have only got them for eighteen years before they go away to college. And what is it that we can do? What can we do as parents as the possible? Obviously trusting God would do the impossible. But, so, that’s where it started, just helping the parents in my church and a little three-week series and I walked through the elements of intentional parenting. And you know this, Chip, you do, you have made a career out of this is that when you help people be better in their primary relationships, they are super thankful.
CHIP: Okay, so it’s not Biblical Parenting, although it’s very biblical. It’s not Encouraging Parenting, although it is super encouraging. It’s not even Practical Parenting or Positive Parenting. Help me with, that’s a pretty interesting choice of words, Intentional. What is behind that as you think, maybe even tie into where you see parents struggle?
DOUG: Yeah, well, it could have been called any of those: Biblical Parenting, Encouraging Parenting, the whole bit. The reason I chose Intentional Parenting is because I think parents need to aim at something and be intentional. The psalmist says, “Teach us to number our days so that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Now, what’s the flip side of intentional? The flip side of intentional is to – reactive. Or quick-fix parenting, which you and I know is easier, but it’s not as effective. So, there’s nothing secret behind it, it was just saying, “Parents, I want you to pause, I want you to slow down, and I want you to think about your endgame.” That’s not a new, I mean, that’s – in business, people know their exit strategy. When you and I went to college or graduate school, we knew how many classes we had to take to get to that finish line. And I’m suggesting the same thing in parenting. Like, what is it that you want to do intentionally all the time to help what you can do as a parent to help your kids succeed and grow to be healthy young adults.
CHIP: Where do you see parents struggle most? Or maybe even teenagers’, kids’ struggle when it comes to them being intentional with sort of all the noise and all the distractions?
DOUG: Yeah, that’s a great way to say it, Chip. There is a lot of noise, a lot of distraction that just even you, as a communicator, we have had to change the way we communicate because people can’t sit and listen like they used to. I think one of the biggest issues right now is kids feeling isolated, because it’s really easy, you know, I was at a restaurant this morning and I just looked up from where I was sitting, and there was six people in this restaurant and they were all down on their phone. And three of the people were at the same table. So, meaning that they weren’t even engaging with one another. They were on their devices. And so, I think what happens, even though you’re on your device, you can be connected to anywhere in the world, you and I are one click away from all kinds of information and resources and everything, but even though we are one click away, we are isolated, because it’s so much easier to put your head down and be by yourself and escape on kids on YouTube or gaming or whatever it might be as opposed to when you and I were kids, we didn’t have that. And had to go outside and interact and play in the front yard, ride a bike. Today’s kids are like, “Why would I ride a bike? I can get on my phone and Uber anywhere I want to go.” So, I think that’s one of the biggest issues is isolation.
CHIP: I was talking to a man just yesterday, and he, all the kids are coming back to school and he happened to be an instructor and now, think about eighteen months, and because we live in California, many of our schools have been shut down basically on or off for the majority of that time. He’s a middle school teacher and he just said, “I walk back after a week of classes just heartbroken. None of the kids make eye contact. None of them look you in the eye, nor do they look each other in the eye. They have almost lost the ability to do that.”
So, talk to that parent who says, “I don’t want this for my kids and I know they are on screens too much, but I’m not doing very well at, forget being intentional, being consistent with dialogue, communication, and my kids growing as a person, not being glued to a screen.”
DOUG: Yeah, well, quick fix parenting just, you turn on the screen and let them go. And so, we are asking for something different. So, intentional parenting, it is not an easier route to take. And I tell parents this all the time, like, “If you want the easy route, being an intentional parent is not an easy route. But you are the parent, so that means you own the device. You own the – you develop the resources to create the device, that it is a gift and not a privilege of being in this family.” And you would never give a car to a fourth grader and just hand over the keys to a car. But, you know, my kids have been out of high school for a decade or more, but when they were in high school, we set a boundary at ninth grade. You didn’t even get a device until you were in ninth grade. Now, it was not a very popular position.
CHIP: Right. Right.
DOUG: But now, my kids who are married and have children of their own have come back and thanked Cathy and I for having some boundaries and some rules and some discipline. No child is going to thank you for that in the moment. You know, “Thanks Mom and Dad, you are, someday you should write a book called Intentional Parenting, because the way you discipline is so honoring.” None of that. So, parents, I’d say you are in charge of the screen. You would never give a car to a fourth grader. So, why would you give a phone to a fourth grader without any set of rules and boundaries? And I think, I think it’s one of the most dangerous things we do is we give young kids access to the world without any boundaries. And boundaries actually communicate love and discipline. So, you know, Chip, you know this as well as I do that my role as a parent when my kids were growing up is really not to be their friend.
DOUG: And I think that’s where a lot of parents struggle. You want to build good relationships, so right now, we have great relationships with our grown kids. And we just, we feel like we are stealing other people’s blessings because our kids still like to be around us. But we were not, we were not their, our goal was not to be their friend, our goal was to develop a great relationship with them so that someday, we would be their friend. And so, if parents can’t enforce consequences, they are just never going to be effective parents.
CHIP: The one line I really, as I was listening to your series, you made a comment it was along the idea of one of the major problems in families are kid-centric families. In other words, families are run by, “Where do the kids want to eat? And what sports are the kids playing? And what do the kids want?” And, like, asking four and five-year-olds, “Do you want this or this or this?” And I’m sure there’s an ego stroking there, but um… would you just role play now about: how do you handle that? Because the people listening right now are going, You just described my life.
DOUG: Totally. The problem with kid-centric parenting is that by the time those six thousand five hundred seventy days are up and the child has moved out of the house, what we now experience, Chip, is what is given the term the grain of divorce, meaning grey hair. That, people are getting divorced at later years, because their whole marriage was based on parenting. And so, the problem with that, is that if everything is about the kids and nothing is about your relationship, you’re not going to be on the same page even raising the kids. And one of the most loving things you can do is to improve your marriage, which maybe is another discussion, another time. But I think parents have got to understand that the health of your marriage is going to affect the longevity, the health, the maturity, the spiritual development of your children. So, that’s kind of when I say kid-centric parent, I mean, we are all into our kids. It’s a – we all love our kids. But we have to love our spouse if we want to fully love our kids. So…
CHIP: No, I think it’s critical, and I do think as I say to a lot of guys that I meet with is if you get lost in your work and she gets lost in the kids, and you both wake up about twenty, twenty-five years later, if that’s what it is built on, man, it’s a crisis. It makes the empty nest one of the most tragic times in your life. And, yeah, one of the things that we do that help our kids feel really secure is, guess what, your mom is more important that you. Your dad is more important than you.
CHIP: And kids learn they can’t work you when that’s true as well.
DOUG: That’s right, that’s right. I was actually just talking to some married couples and I kind of did this aside, and I said, “Whoever the working person is, when they come back home,” and it’s difficult to do, but I would always just go straight to my wife. And I was like you, I’m going to hug her first, I’m going to kiss her first, I’m going to come in singing a song, “When a man loves a woman,” I won’t sing it to you. It’s painful. But it was fun in my house and my kids knew that when dad comes home, he goes right to mom. And that sends a message even at an early age of what is the most important.
CHIP: Ya know you talk about the kind of discipline that is honoring, that is both fun and firm. Of all the topics, when I ever talk about parenting, people just want to go to, “Would you guys forget the chatter? Help me know how to discipline my child. It’s not working.” Would you be a little bit more specific, maybe even play out some scenarios about, “I get a tantrum when I take the phone away or limit screen time with a preteen.” “I have a teenager who basically slams the door, ‘I don’t love you, it’s my phone, it’s my life.’”
DOUG: I think it’s a super hot topic and in the series I think I joked that we tried everything. We tried spanking, we tried not spanking, we tried allowing the kids to spank us. You know? Everybody is on this journey of what it looks like. But I think a couple practical principles is you have to be clear about the consequences ahead of time. So, I call this discipline by choice.
DOUG: So, an example would be if you, if you don’t get your homework done, you don’t have any screen time. And that’s just, we’d agree to that ahead of time and the child says, “Okay, I get it. I understand. You own the screens anyway. I can live with that rule.” Now, we’re not expecting our kids to do back flips and thank us for those rules with excitement, but they at least agree upon that. Then when he or she doesn’t do their homework, and they are on the screen, then it’s my job to enforce the consequence.
But here’s the great thing about clarity ahead of time is that now we teach kids responsibility in decision-making, which ties into really kind of their self-confidence and their own esteem and value. Like, hey, when I make decisions, there can be good consequences that I’m not a victim, of of this world. And so, what I think parents do, Chip, that is difficult for kids, because they don’t have the emotional maturity to deal with this, is that we get mad and we posture up, we yell back at them, and then we pull consequences out of the air.
DOUG: So, we say things, “Okay, you are grounded from your phone for a month.” And the kid is in shock because that was never talked about ahead of time. And we are just so mad in the moment. And I think one of the things I encourage parents to do when it comes to discipline, and now, everything is age appropriate. Your discipline has to change as your kids change. Like, you can’t discipline a teenager the way you discipline the toddler. They changed; you also have to change. But clear, ahead of time boundaries. And then you have to, you have to enforce it.
CHIP: And I would encourage them, just having lived this same world with you, is when my kids got to be teenagers, and they are developing. And there is going to be pushback. And there were certain things where no matter how much you talked, it’s not like there are fifty different things that you have challenges with your kids, right? I mean, there are three or four. Sometimes it’s homework, sometimes it’s sibling rivalry, sometimes it’s an attitude or something.
And I remember just getting to where, sitting down with my teenage sons and thinking, “Hey, guys, you know, we have such good times. I am not going to – I’m done with all this frustration.” So, we just listed, “Here are the three behaviors.” And they were twins so, “When you beat up your brother,” not literally, but pretty close. Or, “When you completely blow off your homework,” or when, whatever. And we just listed those and then I asked them, “You know, I know you guys want to do what is right, but so far, it’s not working. Why don’t you write down, right now, for me, let’s make a contract of what would you help you obey?”
And it was crazy. I watched what they wrote and we both signed it and everything. And it was way harder than I would have been. And I still remember my one son made the starting team. And then he made a major bad decision and his consequence, because he decided, was grounded three days. Well, he’s going to miss practice. And, but it was like, “Oh man, I played basketball in high school and college, son, I know how hard, I feel so bad for you.” Because his first line was, “You can’t do that to me.” And I remember leaning back and kind of smiling and going, “I would never do that to you.”
CHIP: “Remember? This is what you decided.”
CHIP: And I just want to emphasize, but that can be true of an eight-year-old with whether they, you know, went to a friend’s house or what they logged on or didn’t log on or when they use the phone or don’t use the phone. I think it’s this picture that I watched you play out for parents to say, “You be calm, but you have to be,” a good word, “intentional, and set these things up in advance.” And then I think the challenge is then when you are really tired and don’t feel like enforcing them, doing it.
DOUG: Yes. And you gave a perfect illustration with your boys. And so, if people are listening and they’re like, “Okay, that can work for preteens, because they have the emotional maturity and the intellect to follow through and to see that it was their choice. What about with toddlers? Well, I think with toddlers is that you have to still enforce, because if they learn from mom or dad that you’re not going to deliver on your promise, they will milk that for, into their teenage years. So, for example, the counting game that we have all heard like, “Don’t let me get to three! One, two, three…oh, didn’t you hear me?” And then we yell and, “Let me count again,” and now it’s four and then we move it to five. No. You need to remove the child, calmly, from that situation; deliver, deliver the consequence. And sometimes we don’t do consequences, Chip, because it’s just hard for us. Like,
DOUG: “I didn’t want to leave the party early,” or, “We just got to the amusement park and now it’s going to cost.” Well, yeah. That’s, like I said, quick fix parenting is a lot easier than intentional parenting. But it is, it is, it’s clear, it’s concise, it’s quick, it’s calm. There you go, gosh, that almost, I’ve got a sermon there. Quick, I’ll need to play that back so I know what that is. But we are not, as parents, we are not police officers. So, we don’t have to give out the ticket right away. And I encourage parents to put yourself in timeout. And sometimes, when I would say to my son or daughters, I would say, “Your mom and I are going to talk and we are going to meet in an hour.” Well, that hour by themselves was more painful than maybe what the consequence was. Then it gives us time to take a deep breath and regroup and think through, you know, you’re not trying to ruin your kids’ life. You’re trying to guide them with love. And so, when I calm down, I can then be much more empathetic and loving and grace-filled in my consequence. But there’s still going to be, “Hey, you’re going to miss practice. I’m sorry, bud. You knew that ahead of time and that’s how life works.”
CHIP: Talk a little bit about parents being on the same page when it comes to the discipline, because our most, let’s just call them intense conversations as a couple, and I think there are some, I don’t think it’s just the Chip and Theresa show, but ya know, being on the same page when one enforces the consequences and the other doesn’t. Or one has consequences that are just a bit over the top and there’s no room for any mercy uh… maybe something to at least touch on, because when the kids discover there’s a crack in the armor between the two, we all know kind of what happens.
DOUG: Yeah, no, that’s a super good point. See, you’re so good. That’s why you’re on the radio for so many years. You just take it right to where we live. I do know that one of the great difficulties in marriage and parenting is being on the same page. Cathy, my wife, and I, we are the same way in that I was a little more strict and Cathy’s personality, she sees both sides to everything. So, when I would want her to be in, like, I think, I think they need whatever, let’s, I think he needs to miss three days of practice. And I wanted her to say, “You know, Doug, you are obviously filled with God’s Spirit and so wise and discerning right now.” She could see it from the child’s side and it was – we had some good conversations and tensions related to that. And here’s where we came to. It’s kind of like when we try to make a choice to go out to eat. Like, “Oh, I’m fifty-fifty. It’s your turn.” And she would, she always chooses the nicer place than I was going to choose. But it was her turn. And I think are times where we have said, like, “Okay, it’s, let’s, we are going to have to agree to disagree and we are going to go with my consequence this time. But we are going to go united. We are going to go united.
DOUG: Because I have heard my kids say, like, they’ll run into the family room and say, “Dad! Mom is so mad. She was yelling at me.” And I actually was in the kitchen and I heard them talking in the kitchen. And she wasn’t yelling. She just wasn’t, she wasn’t peppy. You know? And so, my kid translated that into yelling, but I was right there with her. So, I was able to defend that and say, “Sweetheart, that was your mom being frustrated. But there was, she definitely was not yelling.” And so, anytime we can be on the same page, we are just going to be more effective.
CHIP: And I think that is really important. And ours were, you’re maybe similar, my wife is very merciful, very compassionate, and kind of, “Oh, that’s, you know, I feel so bad for them.” And then we would get things from my kids like, “You know, all the other leaders in the church, their kids don’t have to do what, you know…” And so, “And I know these people and they love God and their kids get to do A, B, C, and D.” And this is a line I give to parents that you might want to use sometime. I would real calmly say, after learning over the years, “Well, I just love you more than they love their kids.
DOUG: That’s right. That’s great.
CHIP: I say, “I love you so much that, ten years, my dream is that ten years from now, you’ll be way happier than you are not happy today, because of what we are doing.”
DOUG: Every parent looks better from a distance. Your kid will always point out what other families are doing and how that is not fair that – and you just can’t, you honestly can’t believe that, because it’s just not true. When – I remember my daughter saying, “I’m the only one in eighth grade who doesn’t have a phone.” And she went, seventh and eighth grade she went to a Christian school. And I spoke at their chapel one time and I said, “Hey, I’m just curious. If you’re an eighth grader and you don’t have a phone, will you stand up? And I just want to see how many mean parents are out there.” And it wasn’t my only, there were several kids that were standing up and it was my godly, sweet eighth grader who is now a missionary in Kenya who thought she was the only one.
So, your kids are going to compare you to other families, you’re going to compare yourself to other parents and other kids. And all I can say about comparison is that everybody looks better from a distance and you’re comparing what you know about yourself, which is everything – I mean, I know all my faults and my failures and my fears – to what I don’t know about the other person.
CHIP: What I hear you doing is laying the railroad tracks and having parents say, “Our kids being responsible and honest and learning consequences and making decisions,” you know, at the end of the day, whether they got to go to the party or whether they got the neatest, coolest toy or got a phone as early as other people, those things will pale as your kids grow up.
And, yeah, we are living in a day, at least in my little section of the world, boy, I’ve got a lot of parents whose kids, they took them to church and dropped them off, maybe even sent them to a Christian school, and maybe this kind of gets back to the very last thing I want to talk about. They wanted their external morality and their academic success to be sort of shining, and they tried somehow to sort of outsource that in some ways. And what the kids didn’t pick up, and they would say this now as their twenty-five-year-old or twenty-seven-year-old, or the one back from college who really has no interest in their parents’ faith, who doesn’t buy into their morality, and they are heartbroken and saying to me, “Chip, you know, I – wow – I don’t think they caught my faith, because we went to church, but they didn’t see a passionate follower of Christ in me.
Could you talk about maybe just the role of modeling and what do you do if you’re that person going, “I almost wish I hadn’t turned onto this broadcast or this podcast because what these guys are talking about, I just, I am shamed over. I have blown it.” Is there still hope? And if so, what do you, what do you model and how do you do it now?
DOUG: Yeah, you brought up so many good things there. Well, I think if you want your kid to, at the end of that six thousand five hundred and seventy days to be walking with Jesus, then in today’s culture, you have to walk with Jesus. That it is not, you can’t drop them off to the youth ministry and say, “We have them baptized, sanctified, and dry cleaned, and I’ll pick them up with they are eighteen. Like, they are watching you, mom and dad, 24/7. Your life is under total surveillance, so they’re not just watching do we spend an hour at church? They are watching: How do you respond to the homeless person on the side of the road when you are driving? Do you make comments about them, like, “Oh, they should just get a job.” Do you show comp – you know, they are watching everything. So, they are not just saying, “Hey, Jesus is Lord and He died on the cross as a payment for my sin so I can have eternal life.” That’s fabulous, but now they are saying, “Has that made any difference in you?”
CHIP: Mm Hmm.
DOUG: And not, you don’t have to be a perfect Christian, because I think a perfect Christian, or the appearance of a perfect Christian, it just creates intimidation to kids. They can’t live up to that standard. But one who is, you know, “Son, I am doing my best to try to follow the person and the teachings of Jesus. And I yelled at you when I shouldn’t have yelled at you. And I just want to say, as I deal with God’s forgiveness in my life, I want to ask for your forgiveness.”
And so, you don’t, I mean, if you are reading devotions with them every night before they go to bed, that’s fabulous. If you, you know, I’m just saying you don’t have to be the perfect Christian parent. You just have to be real, you have to be transparent. You have to be living out your faith that, “I am a follower of Jesus and I am trying to keep my eyes on Him. And, son, I have this one doubt and I want to share it.” You know, whatever is age appropriate. Like, you take them on your journey with you. And make it about Jesus.
DOUG: Focus on Jesus and not on the word “Christian” because I think Christians mean so many different things today. As soon as you say you’re a Christian, people all of a sudden put you in a camp of, wow, what you’re going to believe or what you’re going to do. But parents, talk to your kids about Jesus. Tell them how much you love Jesus and you’re trying to follow Jesus.
And then at the end of the day, you did the best you could do. Like, that’s what I want to do. I just want to, you were very gracious in your introduction about books and things like that. My kids, I’m not even sure they have read one of my books. And I don’t want to be remembered by that. What I want to be remembered by is that for eighteen years, and now, with their children, Doug and Cathy Fields, we were parents and we tried our best. And at the same time, we tried our best to love them and also to follow Jesus.
CHIP: Great words of wisdom, Doug. I would add to that, you know, we always have to remember that we can create an environment and we can model imperfectly following Christ, but all of our kids had little choosers, and they get to own their choices and so, part of I think what a lot what you talk about in terms of consequences, boy, if we don’t start early and do that, then pretty soon, they don’t think that their choosing makes a big difference and they can dig pretty painful holes that are very challenging to get out of. And, yeah, there is hope! There’s great hope. And God still does miraculous things and can begin wherever we are at, which is – I’m always encouraged by guys like Moses that really, really didn’t get in the game in a good way until he was eighty years old, so.
DOUG: Well, and think about that for the parents who are listening who are like, “Hey, it’s too late for me. My kids are already out of the house.” No, it’s not too late for you. Now is the time to be affectionate, to be honoring with your words, to create memories with them, to apologize. Like, you know, this is the hard part of parenting, I’m looking at my own kids. My kids, they don’t remember years like one through ten, it seems like. They have, they have some memories, but I know when they are talking about my memorial, at my memorial service, they are really going to be talking about the last decade of my life, because that’s what is in their memory. So, hey, if you think it’s too late, it’s not too late. Pour it on, parents. Pour it on.
CHIP: Great word. Lord, as Doug and I close with those listening to us who you are speaking to about being the kind of mom or the kind of dad, would You give them the grace to accept your forgiveness? Lord, would You bring thoughts to their mind right now about what they need to do if they have little ones or teens or pre-teens? Or about what are the boundaries that they need to agree on and, Lord, I think of those whose kids are already grown. God, whether it’s an apology or a lunch or just an investment. I have met so many men, successful men, in their forties and fifties who are still waiting for their dad to say, “I’m really proud of you. I really love you.” To actually verbalize it. Lord, You know. You are speaking to people. Would You help them today, not tomorrow, but intentionally today to take some step toward being more the parent that You want them to be? And Doug and I ask You to do that, in Jesus’ name, amen.