reflections of mine others might find useful

Author: Mark Forstrom (page 1 of 23)

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.


[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.


[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!

I want to live in a mental hospital


I want to live in a mental hospital.

This past Wednesday night in youth group we discussed a Ted Talk video called “Lessons from the Mental Hospital .”   The woman shared her struggles with eating disorders, depression, and addictions.  She talked about how when she was institutionalized as a senior in high schooler she finally found a community where she could take off her masks and begin to deal with her own brokenness.

One comment that stood out to me was “in the mental hospital everyone wore their scars on the outside”.

Listen to more of the things she said.

  • there was no pretending, the jig was up.
  • we could express how we really felt
  • everyone learned how to be a good listener.
  • how to be brave enough to tell our own story while being kind enough not tell anybody else’s.
  • nobody was allowed to be left out.  everybody was worthy just because they existed.
  • there we were brave enough to take off our [masks]

It struck me that this is the kind of community we need our church and youth group to be.  We live in a world full of broken people, including ourselves.  Let’s not make people wait until they get to the mental hospital to offer them this kind of support.

Engaging your child’s heart with five simple words.


Here’s a repost of a blog I wrote nine years ago today that is even more important in today’s digital world of relational distractedness…

The other day my 14 year old Brenda and I were essentially stranded in our mini-van for an hour, fully expecting to be bored.  On a whim, I said five words that transformed our time into one of our most meaningful conversations ever!

“Let’s ask each other questions.”  

It was that simple.  What followed was a journey through our private worlds that built a bridge between us.   For a solid hour we took turns asking each other questions that we were curious about.  We both came away so excited about our conversation that we told the rest of the family what happened.  Since then, I tried it on a car ride with Lexi, my 11 year old with equal success.   Here are some samples of the kinds of questions we shared and that you could share with your kids…

“What was something fun that you did in college?”

“What’s one thing you’re not so good at?”

“What do you think of dating?”

“What’s do you think is one of Mom’s greatest character qualities?”

“What do you like most about being a pastor?”

“What is it about track that you like?”

I encourage you to try saying these 5 powerful words to your kids (or maybe your spouse!) when you have a little spare time together.  

2017 update:  

We used these five words often over the past nine years, but always in one-on-one settings.  Recently, Cindy and I tried using them with a student who is staying with us –a threesome!  We each took turns asking the other two questions for the good part of an hour.  So we discovered it also works in groups of three (presumably more as well!)  It was super fun and even Cindy and I learned things about one another we hadn’t known.  

In today’s digital age, let’s not default to social media consumption or electronic entertainment.  There’s a lot we can learn from each other through such face to face inquisitiveness!

Love Fails

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For many years I’ve been reflecting on the topic of love within marriages, families and friendships — and my profound conclusion is this:  Love Fails!

“Forstrom’s a heretic!” the Bible scholar will contend. “He’s 180 degrees off-base!  1 Corinthians 13:8 clearly instructs us that “Love never fails.”

Others will call me a pessimist. “Shouldn’t he be upholding unfailing love as the foundation on which to build healthy relationships?   What’s gotten into this guy?”

Let me explain.

Unconditional, pure, selfless love is certainly the biblical ideal — and at times it is achievable — but it’s never sustainable.

Human love always falls short. It’s unreliable. Limited. Lacking. Temporary.  Incomplete. Eventually, love always fails.

This is important to understand because if we don’t concede that others’ love will inevitably fail us, our expectations of them will be unrealistic and we will be needlessly — and perpectually —  offended.

Let me illustrate from our own lives with reference to Gary Chapman’s “Five Love Languages.

  • I am very aware that Cindy’s primary love language is “Acts of Service”, and yet here I am blogging instead of scrubbing the shower.  In fact, I’m ashamed to admit that I spend an average of about 23.5 hours a day not doing acts of service for her!
  • As for me, my primary love language is “Touch” — and you can be sure that I have made my wife Cindy very aware of that fact!  But at this moment as I write this she is not touching me.  She’s working on her “pile.”  She could be rubbing my shoulders at this very moment but she’s not — to my chagrin.  In fact Cindy spends about 15+ hours every day not touching me. (Note: I’m giving her full credit for all the time we spend sleeping–we share a “super single” sized waterbed so not touching me is not an option for those 7 or 8 hours!)

The point is this:  Cindy and I will never love and serve one another as much as we could.  There will always be one more honey-do project I could have done today.  Every backrub she thinks to gives me could have lasted 1 minute longer.  Or an hour longer.  Our love for each other always falls short of what it could have been.

Of course loving others involves much more than Touch or Acts of Service — there are multiple expressions of love.  But the reality is that the time and effort we spend intentionally and actively loving each other is quite often interrupted by other things.  Plus, we’re forgetful, we get distracted, we get overloaded, we’re unaware of needs, we lose momentum, we lose focus, we misprioritize, we run out of energy, and sometimes we get lazy.

Many people live their whole lives perpetually offended by this.

Instead of wallowing in feelings of neglect and resentment let’s put the failing love of others in perspective.  Here are seven ways:

  1. Cut them some slack.  Concede that others are simply human and prone to fall short.  Except by the grace of God, there go I.
  2. Recognize that life pulls people in many directions.  As I blogged about earlier we shouldn’t require others to do their best all the time.  Let’s not expect them to do as much for us as they could, instead let’s keep our expectations realistic.
  3.  Admit that we’re not the only recipient of someone’s love.  We have to share our loved ones with others. To not share them is to be controlling, manipulative, and selfish.  It it important to remember that we don’t need them.
  4. Recognize that our felt needs do not necessarily define what is best for us.  If Cindy gave me backrubs 16 hours a day the bills wouldn’t be paid, the house would be in disarray, etc.  If I did acts of service for Cindy around the house 16 hours a day I wouldn’t bring home a paycheck and we would no longer have a house!  My felt needs are not all that matters.
  5.  Humble yourself and admit how much you yourself also fail at loving others.  When I start to feel neglected by others an instant cure comes when I recognize how much more I’ve neglected them.  Take the log out of your own eye first, adopting the attitude of Brother Lawrence, “When I fail in my duty, I readily acknowledge it, saying, “I am used to do so; I shall never do otherwise if I am left to myself.” (The Practice of the Presence of God).
  6. Remind one another that your love is guaranteed to fail them.  Make it very clear that they can expect this from you.  Not that you’ll willfully harm them or spitefully neglect them, but that your love will ultimately fall short of all it could be.   “I promise to neglect you,” is a phrase they ought to hear you say, knowing that this will never be intentional, but that it will be inevitable.
  7. Trust in God’s unfailing love rather than man’s.  Allow the failings of human love to be useful in giving us a thirst for that love which never fails.

Guaranteed to fail you,


Zero tolerance for disrespect.

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hand-70508_1920Parents have to choose which rules and behaviors will be mandatory in the home and which will be optional.

In our home RESPECT was a non-negotiable value and it should be in yours as well!

Parents who allow their children to treat them disrespectfully are doing themselves and their kids a great disservice.

The simplest way to understand this is found in the adage, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”

It’s much more than a cliché — it’s an important principle of human relations that our kids need to learn while growing up in our homes.

And yet I see many homes where the kids treat the parents with complete disregard.  They behave as if the parents owe them things. And too often the parents seem to believe it.

Why would parents tolerate such disrespect?  Perhaps because they are trying to keep the kids calm and it’s easier to take the abuse rather than confront the behavior.  Perhaps it’s because the parents have such a low view of themselves that they somehow think they deserve to be mistreated.  Perhaps the disrespect crept in slowly and subtly and they’ve failed to recognize how inappropriate it is.

Whatever the situation, I want to make the case for having zero tolerance when it comes to disrespect in the home.

First of all, let’s see how respect for authority works in the real world…

  • If I disrespect my teacher, I’ll get a bad grade.
  • If I disrespect my principal, I could get suspended.
  • If I disrespect my youth pastor, I’ll likely get sent home from the retreat.
  • If I disrespect my boss, I can expect to get fired (I certainly won’t get a bonus).
  • If I disrespect a police officer I’ll get additional charges added to my offense.
  • If I disrespect the head of a totalitarian regime I’ll certainly be executed.

That’s the way the world works.  And yet in today’s culture if a kid disrespects a parent we often see that parent continue to shower the kid with blessings!  Why would we keep feeding someone who bites our hand?  It doesn’t make any sense!

Second, as parents, we need to recognize that our kids are completely beholden to us.  We have resources, assets, and benefits that our kids desperately want.   We — not they — own the house, the car, the computers, the TV, the internet, the food, their clothes, their bedroom, their phone, their tablet, the furniture, Netflix, their toys, their hobby and sports costs, their private lessons, their extra curricular activities, special gifts, etc.  (Legally, we are only required to give them basic food, shelter, and protection.  Anything beyond that is optional!)

Third, the earlier respect is insisted on, the easier it will be to maintain.  As soon as our toddlers could talk we implemented this three-fold rule for requesting anything from anyone.  1.) It had to contain the word “please.”  2.) It had to be in the form of a question.  3.) It had to be given in a pleasant tone of voice.  This taught them at the earliest age that to request a favor from someone required respectful treatment.

Fourth, too many parents handle disrespect by demanding respect, yelling at the kids, blaming and shaming, or treating them in other disrespectful ways.  Let’s never fight disrespect with disrespect!

Side note:   as parents we have a Biblical right to be treated respectfully.  The New Testament says, “Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.”  And the Old Testament commands children to “Honor your father and mother.”  And extreme disrespect for parents was even considered a capital crime.  

But as parents, it’s not always useful to claim our rights.  Too many parents use the Bible as a weapon to control their children, “lording it over them.”  I’ve seen this produce resentment toward parents as well as toward God.  Jesus modeled servant leadership, not authoritarian leadership, which lays aside our rights. 

In conclusion, let’s handle disrespect in a way that prepares our kids for how the real world works — by simply withholding blessings. Don’t make it an issue of asserting your authority, rather make it about reasonable human relations — one shouldn’t expect favors from those one offends.  Do this with empathy and with a clear motive of instruction — rather than threats or retribution.

If you’ve been lax on this, the first conversation might go something like this:  Johnny, I’ve noticed a pattern happening in our home that I feel we need to change.  When you speak to me [in such and such a way] I feel disrespected.  If I were to continue to shower you with blessings after such treatment it would not be teaching you the right lesson.  That is not the way the world works.  The old adage, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you” is true and it would be wrong for me to reward disrespectful treatment.  I just wanted to have this conversation to start you thinking about the disrespect that I sometimes feel from you.  I want to give you the opportunity to begin to change that behavior so that I feel respected by you.  But I also want you to know that if your disrespectful treatment continues, I’ll need to start re-evaluating the blessings I provide you to see if withholding them for a while might be a good teaching tool for you.  I want to shower you with blessings and it would make me sad if I had to suspend any of them.  Also, it’s important for me to say that I’m not asking you to do anything for me that I’m not willing to do for you.  I commit myself to treating you with respect at all times, and if sometimes you don’t feel my respect I want you to let me know that too, so I can make things right between us, ok?  I want our home to become a place where everyone feels respected and valued and I need your help to do that!

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