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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
We are in part three of this series that we have been doing where I have been talking about ten actions that all kids need from caring adults.
And that caring adult could be a parent, that’s mostly what I’m going after. But, really, grandparents, aunts, uncles, mentors, coaches, teachers – anybody who is not a hermit whose life intersects that of a young person.
What do all kids need? We have been unpacking that. Basically, what we have been saying is that to have an end game in mind. What would it look like if the kids that we were entrusted to, to parent and to care for and to mentor, had a sense of confidence and character and convictions and compassion and, ultimately, were competent people? That they could actually do something with their God-given skills.
So we have that end in mind. What do we do to build into that? And I have been given these, so far, six actions. We have talked about strong belief, ongoing affection, encouraging words, serious fun, delicate discipline, and activated responsibility.
And, actually, that moves us to the seventh action that I think all kids need from caring adults and that is: Positive memories. Healthy kids have great memories. So when it comes to our childhood, there are a flood of things that come back.
And, personally, I am thankful for more good memories than bad memories, but truth be told, no family is perfect. And you, as a parent, you are going to create some bad memories. You’re going to act like a child as an adult and do something that is going to wound your kids. You’re going to yell too much, you’re going to create shame, you’re going to get angry and use terrible words. That’s going to happen.
But how beautiful that we get this long amount of time, as parents, that we can create more positive memories than negative memories? Because in addition to my mom making my clothes, I can actually see things in my mind when I go back to when I was four or five years old, learning to ride a bike. And I can remember my dad pushing me from behind the bike and I can still remember my mom clapping, partly because her arms, bicep thing just wiggled. Both, everything clapped when my mom clapped. And I still remember the joy on her face.
I remember my dad coming home from work one time, he had taken my tennis racket to get it restrung. And instead of getting it restrung, again, my accountant dad, he brought a brand new tennis racket. And I just remember the thrill of being surprised by that.
I remember my mom was at all of my games. I could hear her cheering, which was easy because I sat on the bench. But I could still hear her. I can remember my dad coming home and shooting hoops with me in the front yard or playing catch, and he wouldn’t even take off his suit.
Some days, when he had a bad day, you could tell. It was like, “Douglas, let me go change.” But I just have that memory of my dad coming home, getting out of the car, bam, catching the football, shooting hoops in his suit.
I remember vacations, driving across the country. I remember, as a little boy, going through Mississippi and wondering where Mr. Sippi was. And my mom just laughing so hard and the dog barking and I gave the dog a Lifesaver, because his breath was bad. He choked on it and threw up on my sister. I remember that stuff.
See, our lives are this museum and memories contribute to that museum. And every memory is like a frame in a film of one’s life. And I know for some of you, your museum is a little darker. That your museum has memories of pain and hurt and abuse. And, honestly, I am so, so sorry and I don’t pretend to understand your pain. But I do know that you can be the adult to stop that cycle and not pass that on to your kids, that I know you want a brighter future for them and you can redeem that, you can redeem this whole idea of family by creating these positive memories.
See, memories make up the foundation of who we are. And I will tell you that memories are very biblical. Actually, God wants us to remember. If you were to take a scope through the entire Bible, you would see the “remember” word used a lot.
As a matter of fact, there are several memory builders. One called: The Sabbath. It’s a day to remember and to worship God, the Creator. The Sabbath.
There are the feasts, which were to remember that God is holy and He is a provider. There is communion. Why do we celebrate the Lord’s Supper? To remember what Jesus did on the cross for us. In the Old Testament, there were all these rocks and memorials to remember what God had done.
Take a look at Deuteronomy in the Old Testament, chapter 4, verse 9. It says, “Only be careful and watch yourself closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them,” grandparents. We are to create memories.
God is saying, That which is good, remember it. Not only remember it, infuse it and solidify it into your heart and your soul. So as a parent, building memories is not optional. You are building memories. The question is: Are they going to be positive memories or negative memories?
So when the frames of experience are all spliced together in one narrative, is it going to be a positive narrative or a negative narrative? Are your kids going to remember a mom who was a nag or a mom who was playful? A dad who wasn’t present or a dad who was playful? Are they going to remember their parents’ marriage as they always argued? Or are they going to remember their parents’ marriage that mom and dad were crazy about one another? Are they going to remember parents who yelled all the time or parents who laughed a lot?
See, there are going to be memories. Grandma, Grandpa, aunts, uncles. They are going to have memories of you too. Remember, your life intersects the life of other kids. Are they going to remember Grandpa the grouch? Grandma the grump? “Take your shoes off at the front door.” You’ve got plastic on all your furniture because you know they are coming over. You are more interested in Wheel of Fortune reruns than playing with them. No, you’ve got to make memories.
Let me go really practical. I put a bunch of these in your notes. The first, you just said, “Make up traditions.” If your kids are little, start now. What are the traditions in your home? What will your kids say, “Every birthday, we did this,” or, “Ever first day of school,” or, “last day of school,” or, “Sunday night was spaghetti night,” or, “Every holiday we did this. My dad would wake me up on Flag Day wearing a flag! Nothing else! Just a flag!” And it’s high potential for memory and therapy.
But traditions add to the flavor. I actually brought this to show you because this is something we do. My kids have been doing this since they were little. You go to a Chili’s or this is Outback. “You’ll go coconuts for our shrimp!” And we take these and we play mouthcatch with them. And we have contests, who can catch them. So you fling them across the table like that and the other person has to catch them in their mouth.
So it is really a simple game. You just go, “Ready? One, two, three.” And you, we don’t have that big of a table. But it’s not as easy as it sounds. We did it when we were little and you’re going, Fields, you are insane. Well, my kids did not grow up in a bland home. Okay?
My oldest is twenty-five and in a serious relationship. We were out to dinner a couple ago with her boyfriend at Outback. She’s the one who brought it up. “Dad, see how good John is.” “Okay, let’s go!” That’s what I mean by a tradition!
Then I put in your notes: “Capture memories.” Photos. Every photo has a story behind it. It is so easy now with everything, photos and videos being on your phone, that it ought to be happening all the time.
When our kids were growing up, we would have contests. I would just give them the camera and we would have photo contests at different places.
And the ones that were the most fun to them is when Cody, my son, took a picture of a guy on a beach with a Speedo. He thought that was so funny as, like, a seven-year-old. “I almost got, the guy is in a Speedo!” He had never seen a Speedo before. He’s in therapy.
But a cockroach on a hotel in Panama City Beach, Florida. People falling asleep on a train that we were on. We were taking pictures of them. That all tells the story. Capture those memories.
I put in there: “Prioritize vacations.” Because here in Orange County we think, There’s just never a good time to take a vacation. That’s true. So that’s why you’ve just got to get it on the calendar and say, “We are going.”
All family research, by the way, points back to vacations being the most, creating the most memories for kids. And it’s not where you go that they remember. It’s what you did with where you go.
Several years ago, I spent too much money taking my whole family to Maui. You know what my kids remember about going to Maui is, “Dad, remember when we bought fireworks?” Which were illegal there. “And we found that empty parking lot and we shot off fireworks? That’s what I remember!” That trip cost me thousands of dollars. I could have done that in Barstow and been an innovator. Okay? So prioritize vacations.
I put there: “Create adventures.” What are the adventures? For us, every spring break we take our kids to Mexico and work in an orphanage for those who are less privileged. Taking jackets to homeless people on Sunday nights. Going grunion hunting at midnight. If you don’t know what grunion hunting is, look it up. You can all do it at the beach.
If you have boys, anything that expresses intrigue or mystery or danger or automatic weapons. All that stuff. My son’s birthday, when he graduated high school, I had kids coming up to me going, “Mr. Fields, do you remember that time when we were at…” They all remembered me taking them…
I have some friends who live in Coto and at night we would sneak under the Coto Golf Course. And dressed in camouflage, face paint, we had a pillowcase and a flashlight. And you go golf ball hunting.
And it’s not going to make sense to you until you try it, but when you put your flashlight in a bush, all of sudden those balls just, the golf balls just light up like Easter egg hunts and we would walk out of there with hundreds of golf balls. So memorable. I think it’s illegal.
But here’s my point in all of this: Your kids would rather be in a beat up, broken Volkswagen van, headed toward adventure than a really nice Mercedes parked in the driveway. Okay? That’s my point.
How else you create memories, and start this as soon as you can, is start writing your kids letters. Write letters. Why? Because at some point, here’s what they are going to ask: “Does anybody love me? Does anybody even know I’m alive? There is tension in my life and stress and pressure and does anyone even care about me?” I just imagine them having a box full of letters from Mom or Dad or Grandma, Grandpa, aunt, uncle, coach, mentor, teacher. Here’s exhibit A. See, building memories is going to get you an A in parenting. And it is never too late to start.
I mentioned in the first message that my mom died a couple of years ago in hospice, right in the home. And as my mom was dying, she knew she was dying. She knew she had just weeks, if not days to live. What was interesting about her is that she never said during that time, as she was surrounded by her kids and her friends and just these sweet people who had invested in her life, never once said, “Hey, Doug, would you go to the attic and get me all my bowling trophies and just surround them? Could you wrap me up in all the quilts that I made? Could you bring me a Power Point presentation of my 401k and a pie chart?”
None of that. You know what? When Mom died it was photos, it was stories, it was memories. Everything summing up her life. So my point: Memories matter. And good parents make intentional memories. All kids need that.
Number eight: What all kids need in caring adults is they need consistent presence. Consistent presence. They way you spell “presence” is: T-I-M-E.
One of the major contributing factors to healthy kids, when you investigate their life, it’s present parents. That kids need your time.
And I realize it is very difficult to see tangible results when you give them time, especially when they are little. But presence is so crucial to their development. And I know there are some of you in here, you subscribe to the theory of quality time over quantity time.
And if that is you, if I could just tell you, you are wrong. Okay? You’re just wrong. You can argue with me all you want. When you get to heaven you’ll see I was right on this one. People who subscribe to quality over quantity, they either don’t understand parenting or they are just trying to ease the guilt of their own mistakes.
See, this idea of presence, it is a challenge to our priorities. It is always a challenge to our priorities, and if I’m honest, our selfishness. I have mentioned this a few times in this series, if you are a single parent, you are my hero. Okay? You are my hero. I honor you for working so hard to hold things together. I really do believe in God’s economy and His sovereignty, that He is going to bless you as a single parent and your kids are going to rise up and call you “blessed.”
But what kids won’t call “blessed” are not the parents who are working to survive, but the parents who are overworking to drive the nicer cars, to live in the better zip codes, to have all the toys to stroke their egos. And then blame the kids or the spouse. That, “I have to work so much to maintain this lifestyle.”
See, your kids would rather have your presence than your presents, with a “t.” Your money, your toys. Presence matters.
And this idea, again, of presence – this is very big to God. You guys, think about this. This whole playground that we call “earth” was brought into existence by God’s presence. Then God said, I love humanity so much and I want to restore humanity to me, God became present in the person of Jesus, the God-man.
Take a look – John 1:14. So the Word, we’re talking Jesus here, “The Word became human and made His home among us.” We can stop there. The Word became human and made His home among us.
Now, watch what happens, then. Because after Jesus rises from the dead and ascends to heaven, you read, and you move into the book of Acts. What do we have with presence? He gives us the presence of His Spirit. Absolutely. Absolutely.
Take a look at Ephesians 3, verse 16. “I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources, He will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit. Then Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust in Him.”
See, presence is big to God. And now that He has given us His unlimited resources, I, as the dad, I can become more present in my kids’ lives.