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reflections of mine others might find useful

Why this room never made our “Majors” list

This is an actual photo of one of our children’s bedrooms.  I won’t mention which child it was to protect Lexi’s identity.

In my previous post, I talked about how parents need to determine which household expectations are essential and which are optional.   In this post I’m going to share two of our “Minors” that may surprise you.  But before I do, please note that I’m not suggesting that our “Minors” should be yours.  Every set of parents needs to determine what they can live with and what is necessary for the well-being of the family and sanity of the parents.   That said, here are two of our “Minors”…

BEDROOM TIDINESS.   We chose to make bedroom tidiness a “Minor” in our home.  We opted to never have a battle over the condition of our kids’ rooms.   We gave them the privilege and the responsibility to organize and manage the stuff in their rooms however they wanted.  The only stipulations were that there could be no dirty dishes or food crumbs left in the room, and any dirty clothes they wished to be laundered had to be put in the hamper in our bedroom.  Other than that, they had complete creative control over the condition of their rooms.  And our girls were creative!

[It’s important to note that this rule –or lack thereof — pertained only to their bedrooms.  They were still expected to keep the common areas of our house picked up and had to take care of any messes they made throughout the house.  Keeping our common living space picked up was a “Major!”]

Now I can imagine that some of you reading this might take issue with our lackadaisical bedroom policy and push-back as follows…

  • This teaches them to be sloppy people.  Perhaps, but we’d rather have sloppy kids that we enjoy being around than kids who resent us for constantly nagging them to clean their rooms.   And in our experience, the sloppiness of their rooms didn’t spill over into other areas of their lives: schoolwork, musicianship, work ethic, and doing ministry.
  • Kids like yours won’t learn how to clean and be tidy.  They were required to keep the rest of the house tidy, so they did learn cleaning and organizing skills!  But we wanted them to practice managing their own lives, organizing their rooms when it was important to them.  We found that there were two main situations that motivated them to be clean and tidy:  1.) When they were sick of their mess or frustrated by not being able to find the important things they had buried.  Failure is a good teacher!   When this happened they would sometimes go on a self-imposed cleaning binge until their rooms were immaculate!  This always gave them a peaceful and satisfying feeling!  2.)  When friends or guests were coming over and they would feel too embarrassed to have them see their messy rooms.  Positive peer pressure at its best!
  • Won’t this teach them disrespect for others?  Making bedroom clutter a “Minor” worked for us because our girls had their own rooms so their mess didn’t affect anyone else.  But because respect was a “Major” value in our home they entered college prepared to keep their dorm rooms tidy  out of respect for their roommates.  
  • How could you parents tolerate living with that mess in your house?   Honestly, sometimes we closed the door — out of sight, out of mind!  At other times we stood at the door and chuckled at the sight,  We chose to view it as entertaining rather than annoying.   Sometimes we’d ask, “How’s that working for you?”    We made it their problem, not ours.

CLOTHING CHOICES.  We also chose to never have a battle over clothing with our girls (as long as they were modest).   From a very young age (3 or so) we let them choose their own outfits and only rarely would we regulate what they wore (e.g. family pictures, holiday attire, weddings, funerals, etc.)  This meant that we sent them off to school and church wearing what they felt like wearing, which may or may not have matched the fashion etiquette of the day!   We figured it was good for them to choose their attire as a way to express their individuality.  This encouraged them that it was ok to be themselves.  As they grew older and more aware of social norms it also forced them to make decisions on how “conforming” to their peer group they wanted to be.

Let me illustrate this “Minor” with one of my favorite stories about Bren.*

It was a blizzardy, mid-winter Sunday morning and church should have been cancelled, but wasn’t.  I had gone ahead to church already, but Cindy was still at home getting herself ready with our three-year-old daughter, Bren.   Bren had chosen her church outfit for the day: a dressy plaid skirt, a red, tattered, Micky Mouse sweatshirt, and flipflops!  Making mention of the frigid temperatures and pointing out the blankets of descending snow outside, Cindy advised Bren that it might be a better choice to join her in wearing boots rather than flip-flops.  But Bren’s mind had been made up — she was determined to wear those flip-flops!

Rather than engage in a potentially lengthy and emotional battle with a strong-willed child over footwear, Cindy wisely decided to drop the issue completely, and began loading up the car and heading to church.

The trek through the snowy church parking lot to the front door provided the perfect teachable moment for Bren.  By the time they got inside Bren’s feet must have been absolutely miserable, although she tried hard not to show it.

One thing we do know, however:  never again did Bren choose to wear flip-flops in a blizzard!

So what was Cindy’s biggest challenge that cold morning?  It wasn’t Bren or her footwear choice.  It was the awareness that other moms might judge her as being a bad mom because she allowed her three-year old go to church in a blizzard in flip-flops.   Her concerns were well founded — in fact, just recently, a woman admitted to having done just that on that fateful morning.  But rather than feel guilty, Cindy knows that she did what was best that day:  avoiding a needless battle, letting Bren learn from her mistake, and arriving at church in a joyful mood!

I couldn’t agree more!

[Note: flip-flops in the winter was a “Minor” in this case because it only involved Bren having to walk across a snowy parking lot.  If she would have been walking to school or watching a parade for an hour, that would have been a different scenario.   Having to amputate frostbitten toes pushes the issue into the “Major” category!]

              * the stories and photo above are used with my kids’ permission!

Majoring on the Minors

One of the biggest mistakes we parents make is when we Major on the Minors.  It wastes energy, causes us undo consternation, and jeopardizes our relationship  with our kids.

In a previous post, I wrote about how parents have a God-given responsibility for managing their families.  It is certainly the parents’ job to decide what will and will not be allowed in the home.   In this post I want to encourage parents to carefully evaluate your current household expectations and rules to see if they may need rethinking.

Every parental expectation or rule  can be separated into two categories:  Majors and Minors.  They can be either spoken or unspoken, formal or informal, articulated or perceived.

By Majors, I mean the things that we absolutely require of our kids.  These are the firm expectations and rules for household behavior.  They are the things we are willing  to have battles with our kids over.

By Minors, I mean the things that are merely parental preferences, hopes, or dreams — but not requirements.  We may wish things were otherwise, but we are unwilling to engage in battle over these things.  A harmonious relationship with our kids is more important than getting these things that we’d prefer.

Everything must fit into one of these two categories.  There is nothing in the middle — either it’s required or it’s not!  Parents will be wise to think carefully about where they put what.

 

So what determines which of the myriad of possible expectations belong on the Majors’ side or the Minors’?   Several factors will play into this.  Here are some:

  • Religious convictions.  (e.g. rules related to church attendance, religious instruction, modesty, swearing, etc.)
  • Values (e.g. respect, responsibility, kindness, chores, keeping commitments, etc.)
  • Family traditions (e.g. eating together, holidays, relative interactions)
  • Perception of the well-being and safety needs of the family (e.g. internet accountability, porn, smoking, sarcasm, bullying, noise volume, hygiene)
  • Pet peeves and personality factors  (e.g. OCD, Autism, ADHD, and other realities that need special accommodation)
  • Special needs of family members (e.g. sleeping baby, stress, lack of sleep)
  • Learning from the example and inspiration of others

Three final thoughts…

First, consider carefully in which box your expectations should reside, because if you Major on the Minors you’re likely choosing numerous and needless battles with your kids.  It was always our goal to have the fewest number of battles with them.  Each battle builds a relational wall of separation between us.

Second, be aware that some things will need to switch back and forth from one list to the other over time.  This is because family needs change as everyone ages, our abilities and capacities can grow, and our tolerance levels can vary.

Third, make your list of Majors as small as possible.  Have as few rules as you can.  Say “yes”, every time you can.  Choose your “no”s strategically and be prepared to explain why.

This might be a better mix…

 

 

 

 

In my next post, I’ll share some of the things we considered Minors with our kids that may shock you!

 

Resolved to have NO SECRETS

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2017 will be remembered as the year when successful, famous people were suddenly taken down by the sins of their pasts being brought to light.

And when Christians fall, it’s doubly scandalous.  We all know of those who claimed to be followers of Jesus whose hidden sins were embarrassingly exposed.  Jesus himself, spoke out strongly against religious people who pretended to be Godly on the outside — while being corrupt on the inside.  “White washed tombs” he called them.

But before we get too critical of the hypocrites around, we should pause to recognize the propensity we all have for living a double life.

Being aware of my own vulnerability, I have set a life resolution — one of my 40 Life Resolutions —  as a reminder for me to continuously bring every vice of mine into the light.  I don’t ever want to be counted among those remembered as having fallen from grace.

Resolution #11:   Resolved to have absolutely no secrets of any kind in my personal life. I will fully disclose all my areas of weakness to trusted friends that they may hold me accountable — so that I may always be a man of complete authenticity and integrity.

How does this play out for me?   Four ways.

1.   When I mess up, I fess up.    I use this phrase a lot.  Secret  sins never go away –instead, they grow and fester until they eventually take you down. We sure see that happening around us today!  For my part, I want to live completely in the light.  This is why many years ago I installed Covenant Eyes on my computer and have had my reports sent to my wife AND my two daughters.  It’s amazing how those inappropriate images suddenly have very little sex appeal when indulging them would result in grievous conversations with my precious girls.  And even when the software doesn’t catch something that may pop up on my screen (which just happened when searching for the image above in this post) I have made it my personal policy to report what I see to Cindy — I figure it’s her business to know what my eyes and heart have glimpsed.

2.  Maximize, rather than minimize our sins.  Too many people — even within the church — try to minimize their sins, calling them mistakes or blunders.  They avoid taking full responsibility for their sin and make flimsy excuses instead.  This is a slippery slope which desensitizes people to the seriousness of their sin — they pretend they aren’t all that bad after all.   With me, if I’m going to err, I find it better to over-apologize, over-confess, and take more than my share of responsibility for my actions.

3. Absolute accountability.   By this I mean that I intend to be forthright in confessing not just my bad behavior, but also my sinful attitudes, thoughts, and weaknesses.   A mentor of mine once chastised me for my stated goal of confessing every sin.  He warned me that “people can’t be trusted to know everything about us.”  I respectfully disagree.  We’ll only become as holy as we become honest.  And if I’m doing things that potentially could make me unsafe around others, maybe I should stop doing those things!

4. Open Invitation.  I invite others to speak into my life about sins that I may be blind to.  That includes you!

As this new year arrives, may God’s people renew their efforts to live with integrity, that we may not see more of the casualties caused this past year by Christian hypocrisy.  It starts with us.  Join me in making such an important resolution.

Jesus sums it up in Matthew 5:16:   Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

…and I also want to live the way my dad did.

[This is a transcript of what I shared today at my dad’s funeral.]

I recently blogged about wanting to die the way my dad did.  It’s also equally true that I want to live the way he lived.  God’s fingerprints are all over that story too.

As an infant I was adopted by Jim and Corey Forstrom.  There were a million homes where I might have been placed, but God sovereignly delivered me to these extraordinary parents.  I will forever be grateful for that.

My dad’s life verses were  Proverbs 3:5-6.  Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.

“Trust in the Lord with all  your heart…”  At age 9, the Lord prompted Dad to  place his trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of his sins.  He recognized that he was a sinner, deserving of the wrath of a holy God and that it was only by God’s mercy and grace provided through the death of Jesus on his behalf that he could be made right with God.  Dad understood that God’s free gift of salvation could only be received through faith and not through doing good works.   Yet his life was characterized by good works, not as a way to earn his salvation, but out of gratitude for what God had done for him.

At age 19 — in an Iowa bean field of all places — the Lord impressed upon my dad a conviction to enter into full-time Christian service.  And oh how he followed that call!

By the time I entered the picture ten years later, my dad had finished college and seminary, and had been redirected from being a missionary in Africa to serving as a youth pastor in two different churches in Chicago and Minneapolis.  We then went to Crystal Free for four years before spending the next 22 years here in this church [First Free Rockford, Illinois].  And then my parents moved back to Minnesota for 8 years of involvement with the National Free Church missions, followed by 12 years of volunteer service  before returning here to Rockford for these past five years.

What I’d really like to share with you today is what I’ve personally gained from being Jim Forstrom’s son.

What a privilege to have had him as my dad!  As I reflect on what his life meant to me, I realize that I could speak for hours and hours about this.  But for your sakes, I will choose just a few of his qualities to focus on today.

The  first thing that comes to mind about dad is his authenticity.  What he taught, he lived.  At home he was exactly what you saw anywhere else.  He had a daily walk with Christ and he continually aligned his life with Scripture.  This is his Bible and this was the foundation of his life.  In a world where we see so many badly behaved so-called Christians who preach one thing but who live compromised personal lives, my dad stood out to me as the “real deal.”  I got a front row seat in seeing what a real Christ-follower looks like and it made me want to be one too.   If this is what being a Christian is all about, I want in!  Anyone who truly knew him would have felt the same.

His leadership in the home is the second thing that comes to mind.  Because my dad led our home using the principles of Scripture, it was a place of good relationships, love, nurture, respect, support, encouragement, and great delight.  I have only positive memories of those years.  Shannon and I had the privilege of growing up in an unusually healthy home.  Today, I find myself passionate about helping dysfunctional families become healthy, and I’m sure it stems back to the nurturing environment of my childhood home.  I personally reaped the benefits of a healthy home and I want that for others.  My future career in counseling finds its roots in my healthy home growing up.

My dad’s humility in serving others is something else that I greatly admire.  He was always content to be behind the scenes:  planning, organizing, problem-solving, equipping, training, and deploying.  He accomplished great things in life, but he didn’t need credit for them, or to be placed in the limelight, or to receive recognition.  His life was more about others than himself.  He preferred to make others shine.  I need to be more like him in this way.

His commitment to faithful hard work and finishing well have truly inspired me.  I tend to be lazy, but no one could ever accuse Jim Forstrom of laziness.  He was always on mission and enjoyed doing things that mattered.  A couple of years ago, when dementia had begun restricting his ministry opportunities, I remember him asking me for prayer that he could still find some kind of useful ministry to do during his remaining years.  It turned out that his final ministry was one of prayer, which he faithfully did right until the end.  I loved browsing through his folder of prayer letter updates, with notations from him about many of them in the margins.  They were his boys — and girls.   How he loved praying for their families and the advancement of their ministries.

D.L. Moody, the famous evangelist, once said something profound that could just as well apply to my dad:  “The world has yet to see what God can do with…the man who is fully and wholly consecrated to Him. I will try my utmost to be that man.”

On behalf of our family, I want to personally say how much your love and support has meant to us during this time of Dad’s homegoing .  Yes, we are grieving that he’s not currently with us.  But it is times like this that reveal the authenticity of our belief in what Scripture teaches.  We live based on the truth of this book and we die in the confidence of what this book teaches — that there is guaranteed for us an everlasting life with Jesus.  Dad had no fear of death, in fact in his last conversation with Mom he talked about looking forward to being  with Jesus.

Eternal life is a promise for those like Dad who have repented of sin and self-effort and who have trusted in Jesus’ death and resurrection for salvation.   Because of this confidence we don’t need to grieve like the world does.  We grieve with hope.  We know we will be reunited with Dad for eternity, enjoying the rewards that await all followers of Jesus who serve him well.  I know that Dad wanted nothing more than for all of his family and friends to one day end up with him in heaven.

Many of you listening to me [reading this] today never had the privilege to meet my dad.  Perhaps he sounds like someone you wish you could have known.  The good news is that you can meet him!  Give your life to Jesus and you can spend eternity getting acquainted with my amazing Dad!

I want to live the way my dad did because his life looks a lot like Jesus’.

Thank you for being here for our family today.

25 years ago I almost didn’t become the Youth Pastor at New Covenant.

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25 years ago today I became the Youth  Pastor at New Covenant, but it’s a miracle that I did.  The odds were against me all the way.

Very few of you know the story I’m about to tell.  But before I do, I have to show a picture of what Cindy and I looked like back in 1992.  We were 28.   We were young and in love.  Now we’re just old and in love!  And we have less hair!

Here’s the story.  For six years I had been serving as “Director of Christian Education and Youth” at a Baptist church in our hometown of Rockford, Illinois, when one day — out of the blue — I got a phone call from some guy in Iowa.  He said his name was Dave Sanders, that he was on a search committee, and that my name had been recommended to him by Jay Jentink (a former classmate of mine from Moody Bible Institute.)  They were looking for a full-time Youth Pastor!

To put this in perspective, this NEVER happens.  This was my dream job, but I hadn’t really told anyone about that dream.  I wasn’t looking to change jobs — I didn’t even have a resume!  From Dave’s description, New Covenant was a healthy, non-denominational church that made youth ministry a top priority.   It sounded like a perfect fit for me!

I didn’t even wait to tell Cindy the good news!  Instead I turned it down.

As much as I wanted to say yes to this exciting opportunity, I knew that I had to decline it.  In recent months Cindy and I had become very upset with things that were going on in our church, particularly how certain people that we loved were being mistreated (in our view) by a handful of adults.  We dreaded going to church to be around these “mean people.”  Somehow, I knew that to leave our church at that point would be running from our problems — and that we would always regret that.  I knew that God wasn’t releasing me.  So I hung up with Dave Sanders, knowing that I had just passed up a rare opportunity.

Remaining stuck with these people and losing our potential escape from them made us doubly miserable.  Recognizing our need for sympathy, we drove to Chicago to unload our woes on my best friend and mentor, Brian Carroll, and his wife Liz.  We vented for hours about the way we were surrounded by gossipy, negative, unloving, grumpy, back-stabbing people.  When we were done Brian quietly said eight words that changed our lives forever.  “It sounds like you’ve become just like them.”  Ouch.  It was a knife to our hearts, but we knew he was right.  He challenged us to give up our bitterness and instead choose joy, to love those we considered unlovely, to be Jesus to everyone.

It was like a switch in our souls was flipped.  In an instant our attitude changed from incredulity to love.  Instead of dreading church and going out of our way to avoid certain people we decided to make it our mission to gravitate toward them and treat them with kindness.  Starting that Sunday, church was suddenly a delight for us.  We stopped focusing on people’s shortfalls and started focusing on our responsibility to love them.  We saw that these were good people and that the log in our eyes was bigger than the speck in theirs.  Our attitude was completely transformed.  I was even prompted by God to personally apologize to each of the people I had harbored bitterness toward — an apology not for my actions, but for my attitude toward them.   One day — about a month later — I told God that I would be willing to work alongside them for the rest of my life.  A miracle!

That’s when Dave Sanders called back a second time.  “I know you turned us down, but for some reason your name keeps coming up in our search committee meetings.   Are you sure you won’t reconsider?”

To put this in perspective, this NEVER, NEVER happens.

Because we had resolved our bitterness with our church we knew that God had released to pursue this new opportunity.  I put together a resume and the interview process quickly confirmed that God’s had brought this about.  We left that church on good terms with everyone and consider many of them dear friends to this day.

So God brought us to Iowa!  Little did we know that my ministry here would last 25 years!  As I blogged about last year this church has meant so much to me and my family!  God has certainly been good to us!

I have nine months left as youth pastor before leaving to pursue my new career in counseling and a new chapter in my life, but I will always be thankful for our 25 years at New Covenant and how God brought it all about so long ago!

I want to die the way my dad just did…

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I told my youth group yesterday morning that today would be a good day for my dad to die.  God answered our prayers.   It’s 1:30 am.  My mom just called to say my dad just went to heaven.

He had mentally left us on the aptly named “Black Friday,” but it took nine more days for his body to concede.  He was resting comfortably under Hospice care when he took his final breath.

It’s Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to You only.”  That lyric from one of my favorite worship songs comes to mind right now.  Every breath is indeed a gift from God–none are owed.

Dad, aka Jim Forstrom, was 82.  He had suffered from vascular dementia for the past several years.  It didn’t alter his personality or physical abilities  but it did cause him to become spacially disoriented and he increasingly struggled to verbalize the thoughts that were stuck in his head.   In the past six months it was often hard to understand what he was trying to say.  He was always a good listener, but even more so as of late.

On Thanksgiving day, my parents had a group of dear friends over for dinner.  Dad enjoyed the meal as well as the after dinner conversation.  After the guests had gone and just before bedtime, my dad called Mom over to his recliner–something he hadn’t done before.  She brought a chair to his side.  With unusual clarity and articulation, he thanked her for being such a good wife to him throughout their 60 years of marriage.  He expressed his love for her and talked about his affection for Jesus.  It was truly a holy moment.  Mom prayed with him and read some scriptures from the Psalms.   There was something sacred about those shared moments together as if the Lord had given him a premonition that he was about to go to heaven.  Mom felt it too–she suspected the Lord might take him home right then and there as she hugged him in her arms.  When he didn’t, she thought that perhaps he would die in his sleep that very night.

On Black Friday, he did awaken, but his mental and physical condition were beginning to quickly deteriorate.  He was confused and couldn’t dress himself properly.  At one point in the day she found him in his recliner, but it was strangely turned around and he was staring at an empty wall.  By suppertime he had developed Parkinson’s-like symptoms and couldn’t even pick up a fork to feed himself.  After feeding him supper she had to help him shuffle his way to the bathroom, inching his way down the hallway.   (To put this in perspective, up until Wednesday he would go outside for 30-45 minute neighborhood walks by himself every day.)  Realizing she wouldn’t be able to put him to bed that night, she called 911.  An ambulance took him to the hospital.  He would never return home.  The premonition God had given them both was proving true.

We saw God’s sovereign hand in another way.  Cindy and I live in Cedar Rapids Iowa, and we were already on our way to Rockford at the very time that my dad was being admitted to the hospital. Our 35th Auburn HS class reunion was to be on Saturday night, but we had decided to come a day early.  By the time Mom called us we were almost there already.  What a blessing that Mom didn’t have to be alone on her journey!

On Saturday when we went to see Dad, he clearly wasn’t himself.  With rare exceptions he remained in a deep, deep sleep until he died nine days later.  For a few moments during those first few days he seemed to wake up enough to answer brief questions (name and birthday) and at those times he seemed to be vaguely aware of his visitors, but he mostly just slept — restlessly at first (which we observed before returning to Iowa) and calmly towards the end (according to Mom).

How blessed we are for the way God chose to take Dad home! I want to die the way my dad just did — with God’s fingerprints all over the story.    When I reflect on my own mortality I’ve often thought about how I want my life and my death to bring glory to God.  And now I can add, “just like my dad.”

I know I’ll be blogging in the future about his well-lived life!  His was definitely a life with no regrets, a life worth emulating — I want to be like him in every way.

During my week there, Mom and I were able to finalize details for my dad’s Celebration of Life service.  Always the planner, dad had planned out his funeral service in great detail so it he made it very easy for us!  Just as you’d expect!

My dad’s “Celebration of Life” service will be at First Free Rockford, on Tuesday, December 19 at 11 am, followed by a luncheon.  There will also be a visitation at the church the night before from 4-7 pm.

Influence is the Answer!

 

In my last two posts, I talked about the false security of relying on parental control as a way to keep our teenage kids safe and well behaved.

Today we’re going to consider a far more important parental pursuit:  becoming influential.   First let’s define it.

influence

[in-floo-uh ns]  verb (used with object), influenced, influencing.
1. to cause someone to change a behavior, belief, or opinion    
2. to cause something to be changed.  
While parental control needs to decrease during the teen years to prepare them for life out of the nest wise parents shift their focus toward increasing their influence during those same years.  The graph might look like this.
Four observations.
  • Influence is a powerful force, for good or for bad.
  • Influence begins the day your child is born and can last a lifetime.
  • Studies prove that parents are the primary influencers of children — by a long shot!
  • Secondary influencers will be anyone or anything that captures your child’s mind and heart.
So what can parents do to be positive influencers of their children?
I recently did some brainstorming with a group of grown children about positive ways their parents influenced them and here are Five Intensifiers of Influence we came up with.

1. Model authenticity.   Managing your own life and character well is of critical importance.  Character and values are more caught than taught.

2. Relate positively.    Fostering a mutually respectful relationship with your kids will give them reason to follow you.
3. Cultivate Trust.  Convincing them that they are important to you, that they safe around you, and that your goal is their well being is a solid foundation for influencing them.
4. Verbalize values.  Kids can’t process things we neglect to talk about.  The world will inform them about everything we don’t.  We need to get in the “first word” to give them context and perspective on what matters to us.
5. Emancipate strategically.  Typically, parents and teens battle over kids’ emerging desires for independence.  Instead, let’s work with our kids to prepare them for living on their own.  As I’ve blogged about before,  our goal is to raise adults, not kids.
 I’ll flesh out these five intensifiers of influence in future posts!

Maintaining Parental Control is not the answer.

In my last post about keeping kids safe I made reference to parental CONTROL.

Today I want to explore the topic of CONTROL more fully because the way you wield it will not only affect your lifelong relationship with your kids but also their long-term well-being.

Let’s begin by defining the word.

CONTROL

[kuh n-trohl] verb (used with object), controlling.

1. to exercise restraint or direction over; dominate; command.

As the authorities of the home parents certainly have a God-given right and responsibility to exert control over their kids.  Control is a critical component of nurturing, especially since kids are born weak, without the ability to take care of themselves or exercise sound judgement.

We’ve all seen kids who are “out of control” and wondered where their parents were!

But I want us to give some thought to the amount of control that parents should exert over their kids during the course of their kid’s childhood.  I’ve observed that many parents overextend their use of control or aren’t willing to relinquish it.

Recently in my Bridgehaven parenting class we charted out what an ideal amount of parental control ought to be for developmentally normal kids over the course of 20 years.

Here’s what we came up with…

You’ll note that for the first year or so, it seems the parent has zero control — indeed the child controls the parents!  The baby cries: the parent feeds him.  The child poops: and the parent rushes to change the diaper!  Like it or not, that’s how it works!

But before long, the parent begins to exercise a high amount of control over the kids.  In fact, the parent is now controlling almost every thing in the child’s world:  what he wears, where she goes, who and what he can play with, what she can touch, etc.  This of course is necessary because the child has no filters to make such decisions.

Now let’s fast forward–in our minds–to the day that child will leave for college.  (Keep in mind that we’re talking about developmentally normal kids.)  How much control should the parent still be asserting?  I say almost none!

Think about it –by this time in their journey our kids should be able to function almost completely apart from parental control.  When they graduate from high school they ought to be well on their way to be managing their own lives: their health, their friends, their finances, their choices, their education, their hygiene, their sleep habits, their decision making, their church involvements, their workload, etc. with little –if any–parental controls in force.

But sadly, that’s not how it works in many homes.  Out of worry and fear some parents maintain a high level of control all throughout the teen years.  Then they send their kids off to college where the kids suddenly find they are without any parental control at all.  They love it — free at last!  But those unfortunate kids are the ones who will naturally misuse their newfound freedom, running up credit card debt, partying their freshman year away, accumulating baggage, and discovering how ill-prepared they really were to manage their own lives.

They’ve had guardrails imposed on them their whole life and consequently they never learned to set their own.

Let’s not do that!  As the chart shows, our control over our kids should gradually diminish over time and they should be increasingly taking control of their own lives.  No, it won’t be as smooth a curve as I indicated on the chart above — it will zig and zag a bit, based on the responsibility that our kids show as they practice managing their own lives.

But they should be given opportunities for epic failure — better to do it in high school where the stakes are lower and the education is free (for most) and where parents are nearby to help our kids process their life management abilities.  If they don’t learn how to set their own guardrails in high school they’ll never be able to do so in college.

Our ultimate goal must be to gradually relinquish our control more and more until they are effectively running their own lives — even if we don’t necessarily like the way they’re running them.

What will this require?

  • As they grow older we have to increasingly give them responsibilities.
  • Over time we will have to willfully, intentionally, and gradually diminish the things we control.
  • We will have to let them experiment with managing their own lives.
  • We will need to process their mistakes with them.

Three things that would keep us from relinquishing control.

  1. Fear.  We have to trust God for things we can’t control.  It’s as much of a spiritual battle as it is a physical one.
  2. Discomfort.  It’s much more comfortable for us to keep them on our radar and under our control.
  3. Hard Realities.  We know the dangers that are lurking out in the world and we also know our kids’ particular weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

Fear, discomfort, and the hard realities all make us hesitate to relinquish any control–in fact, we’re tempted to increase it.  We tend to reign our teenage kids in closer and tighter so we don’t have to worry so much.

But the more control we assert over teenagers, the more likely it is that they will resent us — some for a lifetime.  Some will be counting the days until they can legally exit our home and be free of us completely.  Ironically, those kids will end up doing the very things our use of control was trying to prevent them from doing in the first place.

Discouraged?  Don’t be.  Luckily we have a powerful tool in our parenting tool belt that is even greater than control.  It’s called INFLUENCE.

We’ll discuss that in my next post

Keeping computers out of kids’ bedrooms is not the answer.

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Sometimes parents believe that as long as the computer resides in a common family area our kids are safe.   I want to tell you about a bizarre intervention I did that proved how wrong this idea is.

Over a decade ago — in the days before cell phones — an anonymous teen began “Instant Messaging” me using a fake screen name.  All I knew was that he knew me and that he was someone in our youth group.  His IMs to me continued daily and he shared about being depressed and having thoughts of despair and suicide.   I was glad to offer as much encouragement and perspective as I could.  Over the course of several weeks he unknowingly gave me enough clues that I figured out who he was, but i didn’t let on.  I’ll call him Roger.

Late one evening Roger was especially troubled and messaged that he was planning to kill himself that very night!  He even had a plan in place!  Yikes!  I knew an immediate intervention was necessary, but I was unsure of how to proceed.

I needed to talk to Roger’s parents, but didn’t want to raise any alarm which might make him either kill himself or bolt.  Calling the family phone so late at night would be too risky.  I decided the best response was to drive to his house and assess the situation from there — and hopefully find a way to talk to his parents without his awareness.

I recruited my intern to sit at my computer, to keep Roger engaged in conversation with “me!”  What a nerve-wracking assignment it was for this poor guy — keep Roger alive by pretending to be me!  Prayerfully, I drove to Roger’s house.

When I got there I prowled around the house — in pouring rain no less — peaking through various windows to get a glimpse of what was going on.  What I found shocked me.  There in the family room his parents were sitting on a couch watching — no kidding — “Leave it to Beaver.”  Not 10 feet away Roger was sitting at the family computer typing his nightmarish, suicidal plans to “me.”    Wow!

Miraculously, I was finally able to get the parents’ attention without Roger’s knowledge.  Dripping wet from the rain, I revealed to them that their son was in a depressive crisis, which they were completely unaware of.  It took me showing them the written transcript I had brought of Roger’s dire IMs to convince them.  Once they were convinced, the three of us walked out into the family room and confronted him.  He was shocked — but ultimately relieved — to have been found out.  His parents showed tremendous empathy and concern, and immediately got him treatment for his depression.  Roger was rescued!

Today, more than a decade later,  Roger is an emotionally healthy,  growing Christian husband.  I still marvel at the way God allowed me to be part of that turning point in his life.

I wanted to share this story because it proves something very important:  parents mustn’t assume that simply having the computer in public view is enough to keep them safe.  Relying on that gives a false sense of security.

But perhaps my point is moot.  With today’s proliferation of computers at school and friends’ houses–in addition to tablets, ipads, smart phones, laptops, etc.–it would be nearly impossible for parents to monitor 100% of their kids’ computer use.

And even though I am in favor of them we can’t rely solely on filters, keystroke loggers, and accountability software either.  One couple recently told me how their teenage son builds and refurbishes computers with parts he keeps in his bedroom.  He knows way more about circumventing filters and firewalls than they do!

So is there any hope for protecting our kids from online dangers?   Four thoughts.

  • We need to be reasonably attentive to what’s going on in our kid’s world.
  • We need to find out what’s going on in our kid’s heart.
  • We need to recognize that Parental Control has serious limitations.
  • We would be wise to figure out how to have strong Parental Influence.

I’ll write my thoughts about the difference between Parental Control and Parental Influence in my next blog posts.

Thanks for reading.

Do people really care what you wear?

my sunday duds (2)

I was chatting with a guy one time who told me how burdened he was with deciding what to wear to church on Sundays.  It was causing him quite a bit of anxiety.   It struck me that anxiety over this is needless.  It shouldn’t matter what one wears.

I decided to do an experiment.  I would wear the exact same outfit every Sunday until someone made a comment.  I wore the same purple shirt, argyle sweater, & dress pants each week.

I started last November and it took until just now in May –seven months later –before anyone mentioned it.

 This could mean one of three things.

  1. People don’t care what you wear.
  2. People are nice and don’t say what they’re thinking.
  3. I do so many odd things that no one notices anymore.

Regardless, this seems like a good occasion to remember these words of Jesus:

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:28-34 (NIV)

Oh, and by the way, I don’t care what you wear — as long as it’s modest!

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