reflections of mine others might find useful

Who’s in charge here?

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family-40370_1280Many of you know that for several years I’ve taught a weekly parenting class at Bridgehaven.  I love exploring effective parenting principles and techniques with these delightful moms and dads, many of whom are first-time parents!

This past Monday we talked about two of the most foundational questions pertaining to family life — Who’s in charge of the home? and How is leadership expressed?

Note: this post is long because it represents an hour-long classroom discussion.  But I post it here because it sets a paradigm for good parental leadership…

There are essentially three ways to lead families.  Let’s consider the realities, the problems, and the long-term outcomes of each, for parents as well as kids.


The Authoritarian style of parenting is where the parents act as dictators, controlling everything in the family.  Its mantras are “Because I said so!” and “It’s my way or the high way.”  It uses the Bible verse: “Children obey your parents” as a club.

The Problem.  These parents have abused their God-given responsibility for leading their household.  Although the parents are being decisive and fully engaged, this style of parenting represents an abuse of power.  It devalues the rest of the family and makes them subservient — the will of the parents is all that matters.  Children have no voice and are made to comply with whatever the parents say must happen.  Kids are never allowed to weigh in regarding the reasonableness of rules, their ideas are never heard, nor are they asked about how decisions might affect them.  They’re not allowed to think or feel — they are simply told what they must do.  There is no negotiating whatsoever.  To the children, it feels as if they are treated like property or cattle to be herded.

The Outcome.  This style of parenting produces a variety of problems in kids.  Compliant children develop a low sense of self-worth because they were never allowed to share an opinion or have any input in the family decisions.  They don’t learn how to think or make decisions because they are never allowed to.  They feel unimportant and unworthy of having a say in things.  This sets them up for a potential life of mistreatment by other power abusers.  For others, it evokes resentment and a lack of respect and trust.  I talked to a teen recently who was so resentful toward her authoritarian parent that she was literally counting the days until she could leave home.  For strong-willed children, it results in kids who constantly battle with parents, who hate authority, and who rebel.

Sadly, this parenting style creates children who will likely abandon the home at the first opportunity and then avoid their parents for the rest of their lives.  Nobody wins.


The Permissive style of parenting is the exact opposite of the Authoritarian style.  This style represents passive and disengaged household leadership.  To a large degree the children are allowed to do as they please.  The kids primarily determine the climate of the home in terms of attitude, language, rules, and decisions.  They normally get their way — usurping any parental rules or expectations — by using whatever tactics they can:  manipulation, guilt trips, explosive anger, or simply wearing down the parents.

The Problem.  These parents have abdicated their God-given responsibility for leading their households.  They are more concerned about keeping their kids happy or off their backs than they are about their well-being.  By making the kids’ wishes preeminent, they put the will of the kids ahead of the will of God — and their own better judgment.  It is parental negligence.

The Outcome.  The absence of rules and restrictions sets these kids up to make reckless, foolish, impulsive choices which often bring damaging results.  These kids also develop an attitude of entitlement and a disregard for authority.  Though they may enjoy being in charge of their lives, they lack the feelings of security, protection and care that comes from parents who set limits.  When the kids eventually come to regret the baggage gained during their youthful excesses they will recognize how much of this pain was caused by their parents’ neglect.  Kids with permissive parents lose their respect for them. In fact they see their parents as weak, unable to stand up even to a kid.

Sadly, this parenting style creates entitled children who will likely treat their parents as pushovers for the rest of their lives, and in some cases it even leads to parental abuse.  Nobody wins.

SERVANT LEADERSHIP PARENTING  (i.e. leading like Jesus).

This final style of parenting avoids the pitfalls of the other two.  It maintains the authority of parents, but not in a way that dehumanizes or abuses the children.  It also allows the kids to have a voice and to participate in the decision-making, but in a way that neither idolizes them nor cowers to their demands.

The Solution.  These parents have embraced their God-given responsibility for leading their households.  It’s a concept that our former pastor Ray Barrett taught me years ago — Servant Leadership.  It means to lead like Jesus.   I’ll never forget the animated way that Ray would share about the conversation Jesus had with His disciples as recorded in Mark 10:42-45…

42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”   

Though Jesus wasn’t specifically talking about parenting in the passage above, the principles apply to leadership at all levels, including the home!  And these servant leader principles are found throughout scripture.  Consider these two examples:  Ephesians 5 tells each husband to “Love your wife as Christ loved the church…with a willingness to lay down your life for her.”  Ephesians 6 tells fathers to “Not exasperate your children.”   Biblical leadership in the home is neither a dictatorship nor a relinquishment of responsibility.

The Outcome. The Servant Leadership that Jesus taught is one that serves all the members of the family.  Everyone feels valued and cared for and listened to and consulted.  Problems are identified and discussed as a family.  Solutions worked out together.  Feelings are heard and validated.  There is a spirit of transparency and togetherness.  It’s the parents who make the final decisions, but this is done based on their assessment of what is for the good of all, and based on everyone’s input.  These parents understand that they will answer to God for how they love their families and run their home. The kids may not agree with all the rules or decisions, but they understand that rules and decisions have been set in place by a servant leader, not by a dictator or pushover.  And the kids know that their parents care how they feel about things.  The parents are always interested in receiving respectfully-delivered feedback and are willing to reconsider decisions and negotiate changes.

Happily, this parenting style creates children who will likely treat their parents and themselves and their world with lifelong respect and servanthood.

An Apology…

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An apology, if genuine, is one of the most powerful forces on earth.  It can mend fractured relationships, can instantly heal decades-old wounds, can re-unite families, can stop wars, can keep a teen from running away.  We need more of them.

An apology is rarely made these days.  People dig in their heels and won’t admit they were wrong.  Look at our political climate recently.  So much abusive mudslinging and devaluing of people, yet I can’t recall a single heartfelt apology.  They were owed, but never given.  So much pain inflicted.

An apology requires humility.

An apology is always a good idea.  When you sense tension in a relationship, apologize for whatever you may have done to contribute to it.  Even if you think the other person was mostly to blame and you had little culpability, take the first step and apologize for your part anyways.    When in doubt, apologize.  This principle will serve you well.

An apology must take full responsibility for one’s actions.  Avoid flimsy, fake, vague apologies such as, “I’m sorry you were offended by my words.”  Or, “I didn’t communicate as well as I might have.”  A good apology bares one’s soul and exposes the real offense with no sugar-coating.  “When I slammed the door in your face I was treating you with complete disrespect.  That was wrong of me.  You deserve better than that and I am ashamed of how this must have made you feel.  I am truly sorry, will you forgive me?”

An apology removes bricks from the relational walls that separate us.  And builds bridges instead.

An apology coming from an authority (parent, government leader, etc) is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength.  The impact of such an apology will actually garner respect and your children or constituents will follow you with more loyalty than if you tried to cover-up your obvious misdeeds.  Children whose parents are in the habit of apologizing for their errors will grow up taking responsibility for their own blunders.

An apology is meaningless if done out of obligation.

An apology should be freely given, but never demanded.  To tell someone, “You owe me an apology” doesn’t fix anything.  It simply puts the other person under obligation.  The apology that may follow will be forced, with no certainty that it was genuine.  It’s fair to let the other person know how their actions hurt  you.  Then it’s up to them to apologize, or not apologize.  But if you tell them how they hurt you be sure you’re doing it for their benefit, not as an attack.  Otherwise you are being manipulative.

An apology that’s not given doesn’t give you permission to mistreat that person back.  It is possible to forgive someone who won’t apologize, in fact you must.  Forgiveness is you cancelling their debt, even if they don’t deserve it.  Just like what God did for you. You’ll live in freedom if you practice forgiveness towards those who don’t deserve it.  You’ll live in bondage if you live in unforgiveness, waiting for an apology that might never be given. As the adage says, “Unforgiveness is the poison we drink hoping the other person will die.”

An apology should not be forced upon children, as in “You owe your brother an apology.”  Parents’ response to injustice should be justice not empty words.

An apology should be made in public if the offense was made in public.  This kind of apology is especially powerful.  I saw a vivid example of this on a youth event once.  Both parties apologized publicly for disrespect they had each publicly shown the other.  It was a profound moment and the tension in the room melted immediately into harmony.  I will never forget that moment.

An apology must be followed up with changes in how you treat the person.  If your subsequent actions negate your words then your words will mean nothing.  When someone can’t believe the words that proceed from your mouth then you have little left.

An apology should be done as soon as you realize you’ve wounded someone.  “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.”  God’s advice is prudent — you’ll both sleep better.

An apology ought to be made as frequently as you mess up — daily or even more than once a day.  I suspect living a life of quick apologies will ultimately result in having less need to apologize.

An apology, if genuine, is one of the most powerful forces on earth.  It can mend fractured relationships, can instantly heal decades-old wounds, can re-unite families, can stop wars, can keep a teen from running away.  We need more of them.

These Life Skills might save your child’s life someday.



I believe effective parenting involves giving our kids high levels of responsibility!

We want to prepare them to become adults who take care of themselves and pitch in to help others in their community.  Responsibility certainly involves them doing their share of chores, which I believe should be assigned from toddlerhood on.

And it certainly involves us teaching them life skills so that they will be fully prepared for life on their own.

The link at the end of this post contains a comprehensive list of life skills that other parents and I have collected over the years in my parenting classes.  I doubt you’ll find many we missed!

How to use the Life Skills List:

  • Use it as a checklist with each of your kids to see what skills may need to be taught year-by-year until they’re ready for college.
  • Use it as a list of fun things to do on a daddy date or during time with mom.
  • When they master a skill reward them for learning it and celebrate together this new step towards their independence!

Two quick stories before you click the link:

  1.  When our kids were in elementary school and we would go on airplane trips, we would put them in charge of finding the gate, baggage claim, ground transportation, etc. It was like a scavenger hunt for them, and it taught them to recognize signage, read an airport map, pay attention, navigate confidently in the world of adults, notice when they took a wrong turn (yes, we let them!), redirect themselves, be a leader, etc.   (I met a grown woman this week who never flies because she dreads getting lost in airports.  In contrast, my girls could fly anywhere in the world with confidence!)


  1.  Mastering these life skills could actually save their lives. When our oldest was working at a summer camp in upstate New York she posted this on my wall:

“Dad, remember that list of life skills you gave us?…um…prolly should have practiced ‘changing a flat tire’”. 

  • My heart sank!  She got a flat on a deserted road and she had absolutely no clue what to do.  My lack of teaching her this essential life skill might have put her life in jeopardy!  She was vulnerable and therefore at the mercy of whomever might drive along that road.  Fortunately, a nice elderly man came by and installed her spare tire, but this was a wake up call to me about the importance of properly preparing our kids before sending them off into the world!


Here’s the Life Skills List!   http://tinyurl.com/LifeSkillsForKids

If you see any we missed, be sure to let me know!


Letting go of our kids (on becoming “empty nesters”)


Today Cindy and I find ourselves childless, quite literally.  Our kids have gone “off the grid.”

Our oldest lives in Mexico with her husband — preparing to spend the next 20+ years (potentially) in Africa.  Lexi, our youngest is currently in Cuba with UNI’s jazz band, doing workshops, playing jazz clubs, even touring a cigar factory.  Her final text to us said,  “Just about to leave Atlanta! Goin off the grid”

We can feel their absence.  More palpably than ever before.

Which is why I’m reflecting today on being “empty nesters.”

I’ve observed a lot of parents enter this stage of life over the years.  Some look forward to it.  Others endure it.  And many dread it.  I want to share some reflections that may help you embrace it as Cindy and I did.

  • Parents can make idols out of their own children, excessively serving them and waiting on them hand and foot and giving our undivided attention.  This creates entitled kids.  This is one reason why I believe kids should do their fair share of chores.
  • Our goal should be to raise adults, not to raise children.  While we hope to always have a position of influence in their lives, we must recognize that their dependency on mommy and daddy must come to an end.
  • The goal of parenting, ironically, is to work ourselves out of a job!  Let’s teach them all the life skills they’ll need to succeed in life without our help.
  • Parents would do well to view parenting as a “temp job” rather than a career.  God gives us 18-20 years to instill in our kids the nurturing, values and life skills that will benefit them.
  • It’s time for them to live their lives.  We watch them succeed. We let them fail. We pray.  We worry.  We pray some more.  If we’re fortunate, they’ll ask for our input.  But mostly we watch.  And pray.
  • Only about half of our adult lives involves active parenting.  That leaves the final half to be empty nesters.  We can’t live in the past, we must move forward to embrace what God has for this new chapter of life.
  • Undoubtedly there is grief to be experienced when our kids move out and on their own.  Grieve, but then move forward towards the new opportunities God brings your way.  Even if it involves them getting married.
  • Rather than dread this new season, Cindy and I choose to look forward to it.  We have enjoyed the many benefits of empty nesterhood:  more time together, less running around, simplicity, quiet, clutterfree living, more free nights on the calendar, lower food bills, and on and on….
  • Our encouraging of them to move on into life showed our confidence in their ability to make it on their own.
  • We can’t need to be parents.  Some parents have no identity of their own and no life and no interests apart from parenting.  This is not healthy!  And it’s a sure setup for devastation when those little ones go off to college and you’re left with nothing but an empty house.
  • It’s no surprise that divorces often occur soon after the kids leave home.  Why?  Because the couple’s lives revolved around the kids’ activities and they never developed a healthy marriage.

Finally, your primary identity should not be as a parent, but rather as a child of God yourself.  As I blogged recently, adopt a mindset that you don’t need anyone but God himself.  That will help you immensely as your nest empties out!

Enforceable Statements vs. Issuing Commands.


Today I taught my parenting class at Bridgehaven a tool that might very well be my favorite parenting strategy of all time:  Enforceable Statements!

I’ve blogged about them before, but today I’m motivated to update that important post.

Invariably there will be a gap between the behavior that we would like from our kids and their actual behavior.  The parental response to such “bad behavior” is often commanding, nagging, scolding, threatening, or yelling.  The result is tension in the home at best, resentment most likely, and at worst, hatred.

Telling our kids what they must do is what we call, in English, the “imperative mood”.

Here are some examples of this imperative approach:  “Sit still”. “Be quiet.”  “Keep your hands to yourself.”  “Eat your peas.” “Clean your room right now.”  “Stop that screaming.”  “Do your homework.”  “Take out the trash.”  “Do the dishes.” “Get out there and mow the yard!!”

While I do believe that parents have the God-given right and authority to command their children, I have found that it’s more useful to set this “right” aside as often as possible because of how it affects the relationship with their kids.

The problem with a commanding approach is four-fold.  

  1. People universally resent being told what to do — our kids are no different. It feels demeaning and disrespectful and authoritarian.
  2. It forces you and your kids into a “battle of the wills” in which everyone ends up losing.  This is especially true for kids who are strong-willed, oppositional, or passive aggressive.
  3. Commands that are resisted are nearly impossible to enforce.  If a child has a mind to ignore commands the subsequent battle will be just about impossible for the adult to win — without resorting to brute force.
  4. Regardless of who wins the battle, ongoing resentment wins the war.

Introducing another way to address bad behavior:  Enforceable Statements!

Enforceable Statements are declarations of realities that are entirely within the control of parents.  Instead of focusing on what the KID must do, you inform them of what YOU are going to do.

Here’s an example,  “At 9 pm, I will be putting all of the toys that are not put away into ‘Toy Jail’, where you may bail them out later if you want.”   Do you see the difference?  Rather than telling the child what to do, the parent is informing the child what the parent will do.  There is nothing to argue about or push back against.

Here’s an example from our home.  We had a family rule that said, “We allow in our home any pet that you completely pay for and take care of.”  (Notice that this rule is also an Enforceable Statement”.)  Lexi, our youngest daughter owned a cat.  The only part of cat ownership she disliked was changing the kitty litter, so you can imagine the potential this had to turn into weekly household battles!  We used the following Enforceable Statement whenever the smell exceeded our acceptable level:  “Lexi, guess what?  Today is kitty litter changing day! If you haven’t changed it by midnight tonight one of us will will be happy to change it for you and reimburse ourselves $3 (for our inconvenience) from your next allowance.”  It worked–she normally got right on it without hesitation.  There were only a few times that she forgot and ended up “hiring” us.  Thankfully, in the 10 years Lexi owned that cat we never had a single battle or a raised voice over cat poop!

A few points about Enforceable Statements.

1. Make them very measurable and clear. “I pay $1 a bag for leaves put in yard bags if done to my satisfaction.”

2. Only give options you’re willing to live with. Don’t say, “I’ll feed you tomorrow if you finish your supper.”

3. Don’t word them as threats, but rather as positive statements and/or rewards.  “I read bedtime stories to kids who treat me with kindness during the day.  Compare the tone of that to “I’m not reading to you because you were so rude to me earlier.”

4. Be gutsy.  The parent must be willing (and courageous enough) to actually enforce what he or she declares.  If a parent says, “I drive kids to soccer practice after school if I felt treated respectfully that morning” then the parent must be willing for the kid to miss practice.  Think long-term:  consistency in your enforcement will make them think twice before behaving badly the next time.

5.  No empty threats. If you make an empty threat that you don’t intend to enforce, the child will quickly figure that out — and leave you helpless forever!  Most of us have seen a parent say to their child in the middle of the mall, “Come over here right now or I’m going to leave without you!”  This is a statement the parent has no intention of enforcing.  Not only does this undermine the parent’s authority, it would undermine a young child’s basic trust and security.

Here are a bunch of examples of Enforceable Statements that I brainstormed for different ages of kids to give you some ideas of how these work in day to day life.  Consider how approaching bad behavior in this way might reduce commanding, scolding and nagging in the home.

Early Childhood

  • I’ll serve your food as soon as you are buckled in your booster seat.
  • I allow children to be at the table as long as they’re not throwing food on the floor.
  • I respond to requests from those who 1. put it in the form of a question, 2. use the word, “Please” and 3. use a pleasant tone of voice.
  • I provide “big girl pants” to children who are potty trained.
  • I close the door when children scream.  I open it when they are quiet.
  • My ears are special — they don’t recognize the sound of whining, so if it seems like I’m not responding to you sometimes, that must be why.
  • The car is leaving in 10 minutes.  You may walk or I can carry you.  You may be dressed or you can go to school in your jammies.
  • I make disappear all toys that are thrown.
  • I give treats to children who share their toys with others.
  • I read TWO stories at bedtime to children who have shown extra kindness to others during the day.
  • Elementary
  • I will pay the babysitter a tip — an “inconvenience fee” — from the allowances of disrespectful children.
  • I charge two dollars a minute to listen to fighting in the car.  You may pay me with cash, confiscated toys, or extra chores.”
  • I will serve supper until 7 pm.  After that you’ll have to wait until breakfast to eat or eat PB&J.
  • I’ll provide you with a meal of my choosing, which you must eat without complaining — if you don’t like what I serve feel free to eat leftovers .  When you cook, I’ll promise not to complain and if I don’t like what you serve I’ll eat leftovers.
  • I don’t allow pets to be mistreated.  If I feel they are being neglected or abused I will find a new home for them.
  • (depending on the kind of pet) I’m giving you complete responsibility for your pets. If you neglect them and they die, it will be your problem and on your conscience.
  • I provide doors to kids who don’t slam them.
  • I provide desserts and sweets to kids who brushed the sugar off of their teeth last night.
  • I’ll be happy to take you shopping as soon as your chores are done to my satisfaction.
  • I’ll wash any clothes that are put in the hamper.
  • I’ll consider any dishes that aren’t rinsed and in the dishwasher to be considered by you to be reusable, so that’s what I’ll use in serving your next meal or beverage.
  • I lend money to those who have collateral.
  • I will match you dollar for dollar for birthday presents you purchase for your friends.
  • We allow kids to have electronic devices as long as they check them in with us each night before bed. We’ll return them in the morning as long as there are no problems.
  • I drive to practice those who behave pleasantly in the car.
  • I made an adjustment to my car.  The gas pedal now only works when there’s LOVE in the car!  I’ll be happy to pull over and read my book if I’m not feeling love.
  • I’ll provide the power cord for the wifi router whenever chores are done to my satisfaction.
  • I’ll pay for sports for those who show good sportsmanship on and off the field.
  • I charge 50 cents a mile for extra driving caused by your negligence.
  • I’ll pay for music lessons for those who practice in between time.
  • I’m going to mow the lawn at 7 pm.  Any toys that are in the yard at that time will either be mowed or sent to “Toy Jail” at my discretion.
  • I’ll enter the parental control password to the cable tv when you’ve finished all your homework.
  • Pre-teens / Teens
  • I’ll listen as soon as your voice is as calm as mine.
  • I’ll be glad to discuss this when I feel I’m being treated respectfully.
  • I pay show choir expenses for those who treat me like a celebrity.
  • I pay sports team expenses for those who treat me like a superstar.
  • I’ll pay for lessons for one thing at a time (sports, music, etc.)
  • I don’t call in excused absences for procrastination.
  • I write school notes that are truthful.  “Lexi is arriving late to school today because apparently she needs more than 4 alarm clocks.”
  • I impound possessions of those who owe me money until the amount is paid. If need be I will sell those items on ebay or at a pawn shop to repay myself what you owe me.
  • I’ll pay you $10 per hour for time you spend diligently working through the Smart Prep (ACT preparation) course.
  • I’ll pay $6 per book report you get done in June, $3.50 for ones done in July; or $2.00 for ones done in August (to combat procrastination)
  • I’ll pay 75% of all your church trip expenses; 50% of all school expenses.
  • I’m happy to help you with homework until 10 pm, after which time I’m going to bed.
  • I provide internet for those who use it responsibly, have accountability software installed, and who provide all passwords.
  • I’ll pay for a phone for you after you’ve first paid for replacement insurance.
  • I’ll allow you to have a smart phone, as long as you report to me any apps you’ve installed, given me a “tour” of them, and provided their passwords to me.
  • I will make random inspections of your apps to verify your trustworthiness, but I promise not to snoop through your private messages unless you give me reason to doubt your truthfulness or your judgment.
  • I’ll install pornography protection software on my own computer and designate your mother to receive reports of my internet use just like I will expect from you.
  • I provide electricity to the rooms of those whose music doesn’t disturb other family members.
  • I provide 10 minutes worth of free hot water.  After that I charge $1 a minute, deducted from your allowance.
  • I allow kids to go out at night who come home when they say they will.
  • I will be comfortable letting you go on solo dates when you’ve convinced me I don’t have to worry about you giving in to physical temptations.
  • I will be comfortable letting you go to school parties when I am convinced you are responsible enough to avoid substance use temptations.
  • I will be comfortable letting you go to a stranger’s house party when their parents have convinced me there won’t be drugs or alcohol present.
  • I will provide dishes to those who properly rinse them and put them in the dishwasher.  Others may purchase their own paper plates, or eat off the tabletop (which will need cleaning afterwards).
  • I’ll let you drive my car by yourself as soon as you’ve paid me a deposit in the amount of our insurance deductible.
  • I’ll be happy to let you use the car as long as you convince me that I don’t have to worry about you using alcohol.
  • I’ll be willing to let you stay out late on a school night as long as I’m convinced it won’t be detrimental to your school performance.
  • I’ll make exceptions to the normal “curfew” when you’ve convinced me there’s a good reason for it and that I don’t have to worry about what you’re doing.
  • Young Adults
  • I’ll help pay for college for those who don’t smoke pot (as determined by random drug testing).
  • I’ll match you dollar for dollar for paying college expenses.
  • I’ll let you live here during your college breaks as long as you abide by my house rules without complaining, which involve keeping me informed of your whereabouts, being respectful, bringing no alcohol onto my property, asking my permission before having friends over, and doing chores or paying rent.
  • Spouse – yes they work with spouses and everyone actually!
  • I consider projects finished only when all the tools and mess are put away. At that time I will demonstrate my thanks to you! xoxoxo
  • I’ll purchase grocery items that are written on the list on the refrigerator.
  • I’ll wash any clothes that are put in the hamper.
  • I’ll iron any shirts that are hung in the laundry room by 8 pm.
  • I’m always happy to kiss lips that aren’t covered up with lipstick.
  • I’m always happy to kiss faces that aren’t prickly.
  • I’m happy to wash dishes that are rinsed and placed in the right hand sink.

I need to credit Love and Logic for introducing me to this concept years ago.

How to make your wife and kids feel unneeded.

child-1160862_640It’s quite simple, really–hardly worth even blogging about.  You pull them aside and you just say these four words, “I don’t need you.”

But feel free to be more creative if you like.

Personally, I prefer using the phrase, “I have no need of you.” Somehow it sounds a little more theatric, yet it accomplishes the same thing.  I’ve used that phrase often with my family over the past 23 years.

If you don’t believe me go ahead and ask them yourself.

Now before you call DHS, indicting me for shattering my girls’ fragile self-esteems, let me explain why we should be telling our family members that we don’t need them.

Here are five reasons why we shouldn’t tell them we need them.

  1. It’s secondary.  It’s much more important to tell them we want them.  I am always clear to communicate “I want you,” “I cherish you,” “I delight in you,” “I enjoy you.” “I like being with you,” etc. — even while using my epic line “I have no need of you.”  These are powerful phrases that communicate that they are desirable, lovable, interesting, and treasured.  They don’t need to be needed, but they do need to be valued.
  2. It’s bad for them.  Making them feel needed, can create an unhealthy sense of co-dependency, where their identity is wrapped up in meeting the expectations of others.  I know many older adults whose entire adult lives were consumed with having to please others to their own detriment.
  3. It’s bad for us.  Viewing a loved one as a “need” of ours might put us in the position of consumer with them being our provider.  It can create high expectations, where our happiness depends on their performance.  This could lead to us using or manipulating others.  Such a “you owe me” attitude is a setup for serious marriage and family conflicts.
  4. It’s a deviation from what is true.  I believe that God is truly our only real need. Everything else is a want.  This truth is the subject of the first of my 40 “Life Resolutions” — everything else that is important rests upon it.  I disagree with Maslow,   If God is truly the giver and sustainer of life and love for this life–as well as for eternity–then we don’t technically need anything else. Period.
  5. It’s a setup for our devastation. When we view our loved ones as “needs”, it sets us up for deep despair and bitterness should we lose them to death, disability, deficiency, or desertion.   Let me expound on each.
  • Death.  We have no guarantees.  Life is fragile.  We live in a fallen, precarious world.  Our family members are mortal.  It’s conceivable that the God who gave us our loved ones could choose to take them away. How would we handle that?  I’ve seen two responses.  Those who see their family members as a “need” that they’ve been robbed of invariably shake their fists at God and descend into a dark tunnel of bitterness.  One dad who lost a son became so bitter that his other sons lost their dad emotionally for the next 10 years.  On the other hand, I’ve seen families lose a child yet praise God for the precious time they had together.  Although they grieved their terrible loss, they were eventually able to press forward knowing that their child’s earthly presence wasn’t something they “needed” in order to be joyful.  In my daily prayers for my family I tell God, “Help me to treasure my family more and more, yet hold them looser and looser.”
  • Disability.  We can probably all think of marriages that dissolved after one spouse became disabled.  A Christ-centered marriage shouldn’t depend on our spouse’s physical prowess or functionality.  “He (or She) didn’t meet my needs” should never be an excuse for splitting up.  That’s not what Christlike, unconditional love is.  “In sickness and in health, till death do us part” is the commitment that was made.  Thankfully, our spiritual disabilities don’t keep Jesus from loving us.
  • Deficiency.  Parents often “need” their children to be star athletes, musicians, performers, scholars, etc.  This then becomes a point of contention when kids don’t live up to their potential.  Parents sometimes derive their own esteem from their kids’ performance or try to live out their own unreached dreams through their kids.  This pressure adds stress to kids’ lives and often builds walls between parents and kids.  If parents stopped “needing” their kids to be something they want, perhaps they could help their kids explore who God made them to be.
  • Desertion.  Kids who abandon the beliefs, values, or lifestyles of their parents can cause devastation for parents who “needed” their kids to stay true to the faith.  These parents often try to scold, nag, or pressure their kids to come back to the fold, which ironically has the opposite effect.  On the other hand, parents whose joy doesn’t depend on their kids’ choices are free to live their own lives.  Though they will certainly remain concerned about their child’s choices and well-being, they don’t lose their own ability to worship, serve God, and take care of themselves.  Ironically their ability to worship God and love others amidst disappointment may be the very thing that influences their kids to come back to the fold.

[Please note that in this article I’m using the word, “need,” in a technical or literal sense.  I recognize that “need” is also commonly used in a more figurative or pragmatic sense, such as, “We need to work together as a team,” or “I need help making supper.”   I take no issue with such “needs”!  Yet I have found it helpful to limit my use of the word “need,” substituting “want” or “would like” whenever possible as a way to ensure I don’t fall into any of the pitfalls listed above.]

Rethinking the proper dating age

At what age should your kids be allowed to date?  It’s a question many parents wonder about.  Here are some of my reflections.

  1. The forbidding of “dating” until a certain age might actually miss the most important issue.  In a world of “hooking up,” “friends with benefits,” and sexting kids might be sexually active without dating.   They might be technically complying with your “no dating” rule, but in reality might be living a reckless lifestyle that jeopardizes their future and misses God’s best for their lives.
  2. Setting a rule about a specific dating age doesn’t mean it will be followed.  I know of several kids who secretly dated behind their parents’ backs — some for years.  These parents had a false sense of security, thinking that they were immune from dating concerns.
  3. Ask yourself: are your rules set for your own peace of mind or your kids’ best interest?
  4. What is it about reaching a particular age that makes kids automatically behave responsibly?  Are they unable to behave responsibly at 15 years 11 months, but instantly become wise and self-controlled on their sixteenth birthday?  Not likely.
  5. Does it communicate: “I won’t trust you at all when you’re 15, but I’ll trust you completely when you’re 16”?  Should that be so?
  6. Do all kids mature at the same rate?   If you’re going to make dating-age rules, shouldn’t they be customized according to the maturity, weaknesses, capabilities, and vulnerabilities of your kids?
  7. Laying down a rule is easy — it allows us to detach ourselves from the more difficult task of engaging our kids’ hearts.
  8. Rather than focus on rules about dating, might it not be better to have conversations with your kids about their feelings about their own sexuality, feelings toward the opposite sex, and their possible desire to date?
  9. One such conversation with them might be to talk about whether teenage dating is even a good idea.  Those of you who know me, know that I’ve blogged extensively about my concerns with teenage dating.  Whether they agree or not, my thoughts on “Friendationship”  might make a good conversation starter.
  10. Might such heart-to-heart conversations between parent and child do more to influence the child’s values and sexual choices than a seemingly arbitrary rule that he or she might find unreasonable?
  11. If you’re going to have a “rule” about dating, how about this one:  I’ll be happy to give you my blessing to date as soon as our conversations convince me why I don’t need to worry about your ability to resist temptation and make wise sexual choices.


Why I don’t want your kids doing their best in school!

girl bookSchool begins today for most students so let me take this occasion to say that I don’t want your son or daughter doing their best this year.

I’m not joking.  I mean exactly that.  I want your student to be doing less than his or her best.

Too often parents push their kids to always do their very, very  best.  The reasons for this range from good (“I want my kids to be successful”) to bad (“My kid is a reflection of my good parenting”) to worse (“My child is going to meet my unfulfilled childhood dreams”).

The effect on these kids will likely be stress and resentment toward their parents as they feel constantly prodded onto the performance treadmill.

This expectation for them to always do their very, very best is unrealistic — and here’s the rub:  it’s a standard to which we can’t even hold ourselves!

Here’s why — it’s unrealistic.   No one can simultaneously do their best all the time in every area of their life.  We are complex, multi-dimensional creatures with varying roles and responsibilities.  I can’t be the best possible youth pastor at the same time as being the best possible husband, at the same time as being the best possible dad, at the same time as being the best possible neighbor, friend, church member, citizen, gardener, trumpet player, runner, volunteer, disciple of Jesus, etc.  Something’s gotta give!  Perfection in one area only occurs at the expense of all the others.

Think about it:  if we nag, push, and prod our kid to be the best possible student he could be, he’s going to end up being a negligent friend, an inattentive neighbor, a distracted employee, an absent youth group member, and a prayerless, Bibleless Christian.  Is that really what we want our kids to be?  I say, no.

I can anticipate the push back, “But Mark, we’re called to excellence!  We can’t allow our kids to get away with doing shoddy work.”  I’m not advocating laziness or sloppiness.  I’m all for excellence, but the reality is that it can’t be maintained in all fields simultaneously.  These areas compete for our time and will always be in tension with one another.  We must seek balance.

To insist they always do their best will lead to anxiety or burnout and will deprive them of having the margin in their life needed to enjoy their childhood.

So what’s the answer?   Stop demanding your kids to do their best.  Instead, just expect them to do the things that are reasonable (given all their roles, responsibilities and capabilities). Ultimately the question is, “Given your present circumstances, how is God nudging you to reasonably divvy up your limited amounts of time and energy?”

This standard of doing what’s reasonable instead of doing what’s best lifts us right off the performance treadmill.  Here are some examples:

  • Let’s say my daughter got a D- on the pop quiz because she was up late encouraging her suicidal friend instead of reading the assigned chapter.  Wasn’t it reasonable for her to get a D- considering the way she followed God’s prompting to serve.  Yes!  In fact I’ll applaud her for choosing a D- over an A.   After all, what matters more, the teacher’s report card or God’s?
  • Your son senses God prompting him to skip two weeks of school to go on a missions trip.  It means he’ll be kicked out of show choir and drop a letter grade in every class, forfeiting his valedictorian status.   Commend him for choosing what is a reasonable sacrifice for the Lord.
  • Your daughter’s teachers piled on 6 hours of homework the same night that she had committed to serve a meal at a homeless shelter.  She chooses to keep her commitment, leaving her only 2 of the 6 study hours.  She subsequently flunks a test the next day.   Did she do her best at school?  No.  Did she do what was reasonable?  Absolutely!

Bottom line:  never insist your kids do their best.  You — and they — will find much freedom by expecting them — and yourself — to do no more than what is reasonable.

The surprising lesson I learned from Lexi’s trip to Italy.

Lexi in ItalyOver Spring Break Lexi went to Northern Italy with the UNI Wind Symphony.   She had a wonderful time playing the saxophone which she loves, getting to know her bandmates, and enjoying a new part of the world she’d never seen.

Her social role within the band quickly became that of a cheerleader.  Whenever enthusiasm would wane or boredom would creep in Lexi would pipe up, “Guys, guess what!  WE’RE in ITALY!  Aren’t you EXCITED!!” and that would return everyone’s focus to the amazing reality of their situation.

Lexi was simply reminding her friends of a truth that they already knew but had lost sight of.  Any instances of boredom or lackluster attitudes were merely the result of forgetting what an awesome place they were in.  Her animated reminders brought them back to reality and quickly helped them regain their excitement.

I think we need a similar reminder when it comes to our relationship to God.  It’s easy for our devotional life to become mundane and boring.  Why?  Because just like Lexi’s bandmates we’ve forgotten the amazing reality of our situation and we need to be reminded of what’s true.


I’ve been contemplating this ever since Lexi shared about her trip and it has surprisingly transformed my approach to God.

What if I actually started living out what I know to be true?  What if I started to view spending time with God in the same way I would if I was being invited to have breakfast with a celebrity?  Would I hit the snooze button five more times if a head of state was waiting for me at my breakfast table?  Wouldn’t I go to bed early the night before if I had a breakfast appointment with a famous person, and if I were to wake up in the night wouldn’t I be counting the hours?  Wouldn’t I be excited when my alarm went off, no matter how early it was?  Wouldn’t sluggishness and boredom be unthinkable?  Wouldn’t I view my time with this celebrity as a humbling privilege rather than a chore?

By reflecting on such questions over the past months I can honestly say that I have enjoyed my early morning times with God more than ever before.  There have been many mornings when I have bounded out of bed to spend some quality time getting to know God deeper through His Word and prayer.

But it’s easy to forget what’s true.

And so just as Lexi’s enthusiasm reminded her bandmates of what they knew to be true, may this blog post remind you and me of what a privilege it is to be invited to meet each day with the Creator of the universe.

Lexi italy



Why I want your kids to fail.

woman-1006100_640I want your kids to fail.

I want them to lose their library book.

I want them to forget their lunch.

I want your kids to oversleep and miss their first two classes.

I want them to get their bike stolen because they didn’t lock it.

I want them to miss the bus and be in a dilemma.

I want them to spill their hot chocolate all over the carpet.

I want them to fall asleep in class because they wasted their evening and went to bed too late.

I want your kids’ pet fish to die because they didn’t feed it.

I want them to feel sick because they ate too much candy.

I want them to forget to do their chores and have to repay whoever did them.

I want your kids to get an embarrassing grade on the history project into which they put little effort.

I want them to waste their allowance money on junk so they can’t buy something really valuable.

I hope they lock all three sets of keys inside their car so they have to call AAA for help.

I want kids to wear smelly clothes because they didn’t put them in the laundry basket in time.

I want them to be ticked off — at themselves.

I want us to have no cups on the spring retreat because the seniors forgot to pack them.

I want the junior class to incur $100.18 in late fees because they were two days late in returning their Star Wars costumes.

I want them to fail because I love them.  And you should too.


Parents spend far too much effort and emotion trying to keep their kids from failing.  I’m the opposite.  I actually hope for my kids to fail!

Remember, our goal as parents is to for our kids to learn to manage their own lives and make wise decisions — without our intervention.  After all, the goal of parenting is to raise adults, not children.  They become more like adults the more we treat them like adults.


Give them high levels of responsibility.

  • As our kids age we need to give them increased responsibilities and control over their lives. They’ll need to be responsible for their time, sleep, leisure activities, finances, clothes, sports and music practice and performance, academic achievements, grades, entertainment, friends, and food choices.  I’m not saying we can’t set acceptable parameters in some of these areas — that is our parental prerogative while they’re living with us — but we need to remember that unless they’ve learned to manage these areas completely by themselves, they are ill prepared for life.  We shouldn’t even think about sending them off to college if we’re the ones still managing those areas of their lives.
  • I favor giving kids high levels of responsibility.  See my post on chores  for example.  It honors them to be deemed worthy of great responsibility.


Let them fail miserably.

  • When they are freely allowed to fail in their responsibilities they learn important things about their own weakness, vulnerabilities, and needs.  From the natural consequences of their failures they learn what they ought to do differently in the future.  They learn how to avoid the same pitfalls the next time around.  They learn how to fix what they break. They learn they are capable of cleaning up their own messes.  They gain self-confidence as they discover that they are able to repair the damage they caused.  Failure is a key way for them to learn who they are and how best to manage their own lives.
  • If they are allowed to fail early, when the stakes are small, they will have learned to manage themselves well and avoid failure in the future when the stakes will be very high.
  • (Obviously there are some failures we can’t in good conscience allow them to make due to safety or moral concerns, but these should few in number.)


What to do when they fail.

  • Don’t make their problem yours.  Let them fix it or deal with it themselves.  Be a consultant if needed, but let them make things right.
  • Relax and enjoy that they are learning hard, but valuable lessons as they fix their problems.  But just don’t let your enjoyment show!
  • Don’t moralize or say “I told you so.”  Let the consequences of their own failure be their teacher.  Let them be mad at themselves only, not you.
  • Show empathy, and offer your confidence in their ability to fix it.
  • Neither rescue them, nor berate them for failing.  Either would rob them of dignity and cause resentment between you.


A story.

I’ll close with a story from our home.  At one point when one of our daughters was in high school getting up in the morning was a problem for her. It may have had something to do with her tendency to waste time in the evening, procrastinate her homework, get to bed ridiculously late, and then have trouble hearing her alarm clock in the morning.  Cindy and I decided that it was in everyone’s best interest to make getting up her responsibility instead of ours.  From now on she would need to get herself up in the morning and get herself off to school on her own.

When her alarm went off that next morning, Cindy and I laid in our bed and did nothing.  It was hard to do, but we resisted the temptation to rescue her.  Lexi was late to school that day.  And that wasn’t the only day she would oversleep!

But we decided that this was Lexi’s problem.  If it caused her embarrassment to walk in late — that would be her social problem.  If being late would jeopardize her grades it would be her academic problem — she’d have to work that out with the school.  Well it didn’t take her too many weeks to figure out how to adjust her lifestyle and alarm clock placement so as to get herself to school on time, which she did for the rest of her high school career. The way she learned to overcome her failure gave us all great confidence that for the rest of her life she’ll be able to get herself where she needs to be on time!  And she has!

That’s why I want your kids to fail.

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