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About this series
Effective Parenting in a Defective World
How to Raise Kids Who Stand Out from the Crowd
Raising children is a tough challenge in today's world. Peers and pop culture exert a never-ending pressure on kids. Parents often feel helpless, as every godly principle they teach their children seems to be contradicted by the corrupt principles of this defective world. But the good news is, God has a plan for effectively raising your children and you can learn from it. Packed with practical advice, this series will give struggling parents a vision for their children's future and life-changing help for today.More from this series
1 Thessalonians chapter 2, he says, “But we were gentle among you” – how? “like a mother,” circle the word, mother, “caring for her little children.” He says, “This is how we treated you.”
“We loved you so much, that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God,” not just the content, not the truth, “but our own lives as well” – why? “because you had become so dear to us.”
Would you underline the words: gentle, caring, loved, share, dear to us? He is saying, “We loved you,” and this is how a child needs a mother’s love. There is a tenderness, there is a nurturing, there’s a commitment, there’s a pouring out your life that builds relationships that bond.
But kids need a father’s love. Now, both do both, but he says, “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father,” circle father. Well, how should a father deal with his child? “One who encourages, comforting and urging you” – what? Notice the target, the man in the house, “…living a life worthy of God.” The world is not about you. It’s not how many points you score, it’s not your SAT scores, it’s not that you got in an Ivy League school or Stanford.
If those things happen – great. If you happen to be a good musician, athlete – great. I want you to live a life worthy of God. That’s the target. “…who calls you into His kingdom and glory.”
I did a word study on each of these words: encouraging, comforting, and urging. And the role of the father, the mother is nurturing and caring and we get to do that as dads. But the role of a father, the first word is you’re the biggest cheerleader. There’s something about a dad on the sidelines going, “You can do it, honey! Great job here. You’ll do okay on that test. I’m for you. I’m one hundred percent.” You are their biggest cheerleader. You inspire. You praise. You encourage.
The next word is translated: comforting. But it’s also translated, this word is also translated: exhorting, admonishing. It’s the idea of you want to help your child but as you’re helping your child, sometimes the goal is, How do you help them break through a barrier?
And sometimes what they need is they fell off the balance beam or they really did bad on a test or they were in the recital and they completely froze. And they need comforted. They need you to say, “Hey, it’s okay. Life is more than a recital, this or that.” And that dad comes in, “I’m for you,” a comfort.
But sometimes the barrier is they get full of themselves. And you’ve told them, “Look, I don’t want you hanging out with those two people, we know what happens in their home, their parents aren’t home, there’s a lot of free alcohol and drugs going on, I forbid you to hang out with them and ever go in their home when their parents aren’t there.”
And then of course, somehow, I think God orchestrates this, at least He did in my life, and even with my kids, you find out stuff that you would never know how you found it out, right? And here’s what a dad does, “Son, sit down. Now, we need to have a very serious talk,” and your deep, dad voice kicks in.
“I’m not sure if there was something that wasn’t clear about what we talked about, about not hanging around with those two people or going into that house, but I’m aware you did. There may be some extenuating circumstances that I don’t know about, but let’s get this straight right now. Consequences will be severe and swift, but you’re such a great kid and I believe in you so much and I trust you so much, this is a warning.”
The next word is: urge. This is the “severe consequences” kick in. And so the dad is going, “You can do it! I’m going to help you break through a barrier!” And then finally is draw a line in the sand, “You know something? You went to that house again, we agreed, we have a written contract, you are now grounded for a week, I’m really sorry that you’ll miss the prom, your first basketball game or whatever, and your mother is crying and she will get over it. But this is the way it is.” Those were true stories.
Here’s the principle. I put a little picture on here that I think will be helpful.
In your heart of hearts, you’re making progress and you have certain values and beliefs, right? You love God, you want to be a person of integrity, you want your kid to be others-centered, you want them to be kind, you want them to learn how to be a team player, you want them to make a significant contribution to other people.
And you say to yourself, These are my values, and I want to transmit those values across this bridge of life from zero to about early twenties…and sometimes a little bit later.
And here’s what it is, is your values, not what you say, by the way, but how you actually live, your values will be transmitted across this bridge of relationship. And there are going to be a lot of ups and downs so it’s the strength of the glue of your relationship that that bridge can hold a lot of truth and a lot of disappointment and a lot of pain.
And so, it very simply goes like this. Axiom number one would be: The stronger the relationship you have with your child, the more likely they will embrace the values that you have.
Flip it over. The weaker relationship that you have with your child, the less likely they will embrace the values that you have. And finally, tension and conflict are inevitable. So they are going to cross that bridge.
There are going to be times where you’re on this page and they are on that page. And what will sustain you, over time, is all that time invested in building a glue from the heart that, when you have to say hard things and they slam the door, “I don’t love you anymore! You’re the worst mom in the whole world! I just can’t stand it. I wish you were a dad, but I wish you weren’t a Christian dad!”
I have heard all of that. And you know what? They get over it. They get over it if they know you live it, you love them, and as much as they scream and cry out because of the pressure externally, they can embrace and they see your life and every year that they get older they see the wisdom of God’s way in your life.
So let me give you eight very specific ways to build that kind of relationship. I’ll go a bit fast because these are things you can really develop. And then I want you, as I go through these, I’d like you to be asking yourself, What one of these, you can do two if you want, but, What one of these, this week, am I going to start doing, even if my kids are grown? Even if I have to figure out a way to do it long distance.
Number one is: unconditional love. This may come naturally for a lot of you. Verbalize your unconditional love. Let them know, “I love you.” Communicate verbally, “I love you.” Embrace them in ways that communicate unconditional love. Try and find opportunities when you know they have failed and they know they have failed, where you separate their bad behavior or their failure from them.
“What you did is unacceptable; who you are is always acceptable.” So multiple, multiple ways you want to communicate unconditional love. “I am for you no matter what.” Sometimes you do that verbally, sometimes you do it by your behavior.
Out of our four kids, we had one son that we went through about a four-year season of rebellion. And he did not want to be around me, he did not want to be around our family, he did not want to do anything, he said, “You know, Dad? I kind of like you as a person. I wish you weren’t a Christian dad. I don’t know if I believe in Jesus or anything, I want to stay out as late, I want to do what all my friends do.”
And sometimes unconditional love is, “You can’t have your own way, but son, every other week you and I are going to go out to breakfast and you can keep rolling your eyes and I’m still going to come to your games and I’m still going to pray for your out loud and we are still going to hang out. Because there is nothing you can do ever to make me stop loving you.” How do you do that?
See, our kids can wound us like no one else. They can hurt you like no one else. And what, if you’re not careful is, when they wound you, you start putting up walls, because when you get wounded, even with your own kids, you want to pay them back. And what we know how to do in very sophisticated ways is now to love them conditionally, and manipulate their lives.
The second is: scheduled time. Lots of ways you can do this, but can I just give you three quick ones? Have dates with your kids. And I know some of you have a lot of kids, some not too many, and maybe it’s every other week. Second, only have one calendar, especially those who work outside the home. One calendar.
For years I had my work calendar and then on the refrigerator we had the family calendar. And here’s what can happen if you’re not careful. Boy, there’s a real big meeting and this is a big thing and a big project at work and, Oh, here’s this really, really big thing. We’ve got to do that. And, Oh, yeah, well, honey. Well, we were supposed to go out to breakfast. We’ll do that next week. Or, You know, we try to eat as a family, but you have these seasons or you have these times. It has only lasted nine years, but it’s a very long season. And I’m up before the sun comes up and I get home basically after dark. But it’s quality time, right? I take you to Disneyland; I buy you lots of stuff because I feel guilty inside.
Put them all on the same calendar. And then when someone says, “Can you do this or that?” “I would love to; I have a very important commitment.” You don’t have to tell them it’s eating with your family. You don’t have to tell them it’s having breakfast or lunch with one of your kids.
I’ve got news for you. After all the deals you get done doing and all the super important stuff, you have them for a window of time, I mean, inside your house for a very limited time. And what happens in that very limited time, it will shape, I mean, you hit fifty through about eighty if you live that long, it will shape all those years. And you won’t even remember the deals.
Is there balance, are there seasons, common sense? Yeah. Schedule time with your kids. Eat together as a family. No technology on. No people taking in the plates, they heat their stuff up, you heat your stuff up. If you’re eating in minivans because you have practice on Monday, practice on Wednesday, something on Thursday, something on Friday – ask yourself, if you were from a different planet and someone stepped in and said, “Excuse me, I’m from a different planet, I’m doing analysis on what really matters to people. I noticed that you are doing this, this, this, this, and this. So the goal of all parenting is that you watch your kids play sports and you sit in stands with people you don’t know. Is this correct? Is that your long-term goal?”
And you would say, “No!” Then why are you doing it? “Because Johnny would be so disappointed if he doesn’t get to be on that team with all his friends and he might cry!” Let him cry. Let him know he is a loved son or a loved daughter. Schedule time.
The third scheduled time is dinner dates and bedtimes. Man, you’ve got to, men especially, put your kids to bed. Tell them stories, read them Bible stories, make up stories about yourself.
Third is: focused attention. Listening in an understanding way. Cornell University did a study of two-year-olds. They put a microphone on them for a couple of weeks until everyone realized that they didn’t notice them anymore. And then they had fathers come in and they discovered that the average father, except for “hi” and “bye,” – are you ready for this? was spending a whopping thirty-seven seconds per week in meaningful conversation with their kids. I mean, where you really listen.
How many of us get in the car, the kids in the car, “Yeah, honey, I’ll be right with you, be right with you. Yeah, how did your day go?” “Oh, dad, you can’t believe what happened! We were coloring monsters…” And, Yeah, I’ve got a business meeting here and, let’s see, I’ve got to order that stuff. “Yeah, yeah, honey! Good monsters? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Excuse me, I’ve got to take this. Yeah, yeah, yeah, Bobby. Yeah, yeah right, yeah, make the, yeah, tell them we can’t do that. No, hey, are you kidding me? The stock just went down. Oh yeah, honey, tell me about, what, the Munsters?” “No, no, Daddy. It was monsters.”
You know what? They get it. You’re not here. I don’t matter. I don’t matter. The paper is up; eyes are here. You have to be there.
Focused attention, and part of focused attention is eye contact. You look them in the eye. You shut off stuff. There is a powerful…the eyes are the window of the soul.
Your kids need to see you look into their eyes and almost be able to feel what is going through your mind is, I can’t believe I get to be this boy or girl’s dad or mom. They are so precious and I love them so much. That’s what they need to see when you look into their eye, because that is what you are feeling inside.
And everything else will wait and you never have to rush with your kids. So you schedule time and you make it matter.
Number five is: consistent or ongoing communication. Did we mention eating together? Oh yes.
You have to talk. And, by the way, there are some of you who are going, Oh, man. Start with two times a week. It’s a novel idea. It happened historically. Cook some food in your own house. It’s a thought. There’s a range, you’ve got some burners and stuff – rarely used – but you’ll figure it out. It’s not that hard. Get some food. Cook it! Set a table; turn the TV, computers, everything off; and sit around. It’ll be weird at first.
And then ask, “How did your day go at school?” Or, “How are you feeling today?” Or, “What made you happy?” Or, “What was your biggest challenge?” And then be prepared for, “Uh, er, nothing, okay, fine.”
And what you are is you smile and say, inside, I refuse to allow that to be our dinner table conversation! “Well, I am going to tell you what happened with me!” And, honestly, tell them some stuff. They won’t understand it all.
“I had a big meeting today and this is what happened,” and they are going, What? And you create a culture where there’s a safe place where all the world gets pushed aside.
What did Jesus do the very last night He was going to be with His disciples? They ate together. Jesus got accused of being such a terrible person because what did He do with tax collectors and sinners? He ate with them.
The very first thing that happens in heaven when it all gets wrapped up, we are going to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.
There is something about eating, there’s secular research that talks about families that eat together are healthy and they have great relationships. Ongoing communication.
Meaningful touching is critical. The largest organ you have is your skin. When your kids are small, if you’re a dad especially, wrestle with them, wrestle with them, wrestle with them. They want to be touched.
We feel affirmed and loved when we are touched. Your daughters need to have non-sexual touching to feel feminine and important and valuable and to know that men can be safe.
I remember early I would come home and it always bugged Theresa, I couldn’t figure out why. And she was in the middle of cooking dinner and I would always want to come and mess around and kiss her or something and she’s going, you know, like, Is this really the right time? And I would say, “Yes, actually, it is! I’m only wanting to model this for our children,” you know? It has nothing to do with any sexual desires or anything like that. I’m just a loving father, trying to model something for our kids!
And she would, you know, okay, she said, “Give me a hug,” and Annie would run in and get between us and we would hug. And she would go, “Oh, let’s do a peanut butter sandwich!” And you know what that little girl wanted? She wanted, when two people love each other, it’s a safe place, and she wanted to be right in the middle and feel touched and consumed and loved and important.
And some of you aren’t huggers, so I have a suggestion. It doesn’t come naturally. Do it anyway. Just do it anyway.
I watched my wife get hugged by her dad, probably for the first time, in his late sixties. I never, she never heard her father say, “I love you,” to her, until he was in his seventies.
Man, you understand the weird things we do? You understand the psychology of what happens in the soul of a human being if, down deep, you don’t feel like your mother or your father loves you? And if the most powerful way that we express that is both verbally and by touching…
See, these are the kinds of things that they bypass the brain, they go down in the soul of your kids. And when you’re in an argument later or when they want to date someone that you know is bad news and when they want to go out with some friends that you know there are drugs and alcohol and when you’re talking about this school or that school and you think, Now, yeah, now that’s a party school in the whole world, and you guys can’t get on the same page and you have to make a really hard call, it will be the strength of relationship that, when they even have to accept and you’re doing this [bumps fists together], there’s stuff down in here that has been invested in.
The final two are ones that I think they are equally important. You might think I’m crazy. But it’s: have fun together and pray together often. I see people that are like super spiritual, “Okay! Are you ready? Bobby, I want you to pray for Africa, I want you to pray for Europe. I want you to pray for…okay, you ready? Go! Heavenly Father, thou art, thine, theen, thone, [unintelligible words]. Okay! Seven point four minutes on your prayer. Here we go again. All right. Now it’s suppertime! Close your eyes! And now, holy God! God!” I change His name when I’m really…
And the kids are sitting there going, What in the world is this about? You pray when you tuck them in; you get in the car, ready to go to school, “Lord, would You help us?” You play one-on-one basketball in the driveway and you’re absolutely sweaty and wringing wet and you lay down and you’re looking up at the stars and without warning, “Oh, God, I can’t believe I get to be this kid’s dad. He just beat me for the first time and it was a blast. Thanks for just letting us be friends.”
A siren goes by and your kid is in their pre-teens and you have been spending time as a family, “Emily! Emily! Someone is really hurting right now. I’ve got to keep my eyes open. Would you pray for whoever is in that ambulance?”
And your kids just start realizing, Prayer isn’t something you do. It’s communicating with God and we do it and there’s a tragedy and everyone sits on the family room floor and you beg God for grandma or grandfather’s life.
And then you have to say “no” to some stuff because it’s a wicked world and your house is the fun place. Invest in a Ping-Pong table, invest in a foosball, invest in something that isn’t just electronic and people are staring at screens. Play board games. Make your house where it’s fun. “Well, you can’t go to that party, but here’s what we are going to do.” And be active and focused and just have a blast with your kids. Invest deeply in them.
The final one is not just a clear target, not just that you’re the teacher, not in an environment of love, but effective parenting requires constant repair and ongoing maintenance.
The Scripture says if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. Okay, here’s the deal. Your kids are going to mess up. And even if they don’t mess up, whatever you are doing right, like you have these little seasons and you’re, okay, like, they are like four or five or six. And you are trying to help teach them some responsibility – a little basic thing like make their bed or take out the trash.
And they forget and you’re frustrated and so you read in a book: put a chart up – trash, bed. And when they do it, they get a sticker. You know? And I’ll tell you, they get a sticker, they go, “Ooooh!” And then for three months they just take out the trash every day and they make their bed and it’s like, wow! And month number four, who wants stickers?
Or they are a teenager and, “We are going to make a contract and we want you to be responsible and, okay, if you do this, here are the consequences but if you do this in school and these are the consequences, if you stop treating your mother like that, here is the reward that you’re going to get.” “Wow! I’m independent! And I get the contract,” and for three, four, five months, man, it’s great! And the tension is gone. And then, all of a sudden, it’s, “You know, I don’t believe in contracts.”
Welcome to the NFL of parenting. Nothing ever stays the same. And, by the way, it’s not just that they change; you change!
When I was not consistent, I had this amazing correlation. When I wasn’t consistent with rewarding and disciplining my children, they acted up. Huh. I couldn’t figure it out.
I can’t tell you how many times I’d get the whole family together and say, “You know what? I have really not been the dad God wants me to be. Because you guys are doing this, this, and this. And we have said these would be the consequences and I just couldn’t get out of that La-Z-Boy. And I didn’t do anything about it. And so now you’re fighting with each other and you’re talking back to your mom and you’re back to not finishing your homework and you’re beating your brother up and that’s got to stop. But I could blame a lot of people, but it starts with me. I’m the dad. So I want to ask you guys to forgive me for not being the dad I am supposed to be.
“And I want you to know, we are going to end this little family meeting. Thirty seconds afterwards, Dad is back. And I am going to reward you and love you like I know God wants me to. And I will provide those consequences we agreed on.”
And then I would literally plan and look for times to try and catch them doing something right and really affirm them and then the very first time they did the thing that we had been talking about – swift and loving, of course. No, I’m serious.
And you know what? It recalibrated. Here are the five magic words, and I don’t mean that like, Magic! I mean, like, it’s amazing. “I’m sorry; please forgive me.” Okay? We are in this together. And it’s never too late. And I don’t know any families that haven’t had big struggles. And you may have a son or a daughter who is dealing with an addiction or is in a relationship that breaks your heart or a little kid who is acting out or someone who you’re thinking, Are they going to pee the bed until they are fifteen? Right?
There are all these kind of issues that we all have. And it just means you’re a regular mom or dad with a regular kid and we are on a journey. But I’ll tell you what. You set a clear target, you practice what you preach, you build relationships that bond at whatever age, and then you realize there are always going to be ongoing maintenance and constant repair. And I will tell you, and then we have to help each other, and we are going to learn how to really, then, walk through the very specific ways to help our kids.