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reflections of mine others might find useful

You don’t have to like it to eat it.

I am perhaps one of the most qualified people to write this post.

I know some people who are very particular about what they eat.  They immediately spit out whatever they find the least bit distasteful.  That’s not me.

For some unknown reason, I’m oftentimes more interested in experiencing a new taste sensation than I am about needing to be pleased by it.  I’ve said many times, “This thing that I’m eating is very unpleasant–but oh, how interesting!  It tastes awful, but it will sure make a great story!”  I’m also known for accepting food challenges, like chugging a bottle of Tabasco, or winning the Blazing Challenge at BWW.

Anyone who knows me knows that I always strive for “the full experience.”  Adventure matters more to me than pleasurable tastes in my mouth.   I like surprises and trying new things.  So at restaurants, I generally look for the most interesting thing on the menu —  the more unfamiliar or extreme the better!  Or I’ll randomly order “lunch #7” just to see what the waiter brings me.

When Cindy and I took our trip around the world last year to visit friends in Europe, Africa, and Asia, one of my side goals was to sample each country’s most exotic foods.  Ever had African cow udders on a stick?  How about Chinese pigeon heads (including the skull!)?  Or Myanmar’s stinky fruit ice cream?  Or fresh silkworms from the Chinese market?  What about steamed pig fallopian tubes?  Or Togolese goat head stew, including the snout, eyes, and brain?

I’ve eaten all those things and more, and the picture at the top of this post documents some of it! And with only a few exceptions I always choose to finish whatever I start to eat, regardless of how much I may or may not enjoy it.

So why am I telling you all this?

Not merely to merely entertain you, although I hope I made you smile!  Not merely to make you feel better about your own less-miserable life!  Not because I’m suggesting that you join me in my culinary escapades (I know you’re relieved to hear that!).

I share this because my peculiar attitude toward eating might actually provide somewhat of a metaphor for abundant living:  we mustn’t let the tastebuds of our lives filter out everything we find unpleasant.   Too often we allow our personal preferences to be the gatekeeper for what we allow in our lives.

Too often, we allow our personal preferences to be the gatekeeper for what we allow into our lives.

We’d better not parent that way!  Obviously, the early stages of parenting require us to give up our preferences.  Like it or not, new parents’ lives revolve around their helpless infants and, of necessity, these parents give up their own preferences–after all, who really desires to change that poopy diaper!  Yet as the kids grow older, parents may be tempted to reclaim their preference fulfillment, demanding that their kids accommodate their parental wants.  Wise parents know which preferences are worth battling over and which are not.

We’d better not live that way in marriage!  Cindy and I were having a discussion about marriage the other day with a young couple.  As we shared about components of a strong marriage, we reflected on the importance of each spouse letting go of their preferences for the sake of unity.  (You can imagine how much Cindy does that with me all the time!)   In a good marriage, there is a determination that I will remain committed to you even when you don’t do all the things I would prefer.  There’s also an attitude that says, “ I don’t need you to fulfill all my wants and preferences.”

We’d better not practice self-care that way!  How ironic it is when we allow our preference for comfort-in-the-present to sabotage our future well-being.   Immediate gratification keeps us from the growth and development that only comes through hard-earned exercise, healthy eating, soul care, etc.

We’d better not select a church that way!  When choosing a church, shouldn’t we look for a church that challenges us, awakens us, and confronts us where we need it?  If we choose one primarily because we are comfortable with everything (location, music, preaching, facilities, decor, etc.) might we unwittingly be limiting our own spiritual development?

We’d better not determine our calling that way!  I get inspired by people who sacrificially give up their personal preferences on a daily basis to serve a higher calling.  Teachers, social workers, medical practitioners, military personnel, volunteers, and others, challenge me to focus on the needs of others rather than focusing so much on my own wants.  Think what kind of world we would have if no one was willing to give up their preferences to do such things for the sake of others!

We’d better not recast Christianity as a feel-good religion.  The prosperity gospel portrays Christianity as if God is most interested in our comfort and pleasure.  That is quite the opposite of what Jesus modeled and taught, in fact, he guaranteed persecution and suffering for his true followers.  Ours ought to be the religion of sacrificial love, not self-love.  I am impacted by contemporary stories of persecuted Christians around the world who are standing firm even while suffering for their faith.  I admire missionaries who so readily set aside western comforts and conveniences in order to be ambassadors for God in faraway places.  The Christian life was never designed to be easy or comfortable — at least on this side of heaven.  Doing hard things is part of the package, just as it was for Jesus Himself.

I’m not saying that it’s wrong to have preferences or that we should seek out the way of suffering all the time.   Pleasure can be a very good thing–indeed, God has designed us with natural desires, cravings, and sensations that must have been made for our delight.  The very existence of beauty itself is an evidence of God’s creative goodness and love.  Apparently, He delights in bringing us delight.  The joys of life are little tastes of heaven and it seems right that we should embrace them when they come.

What I am saying is simply this:  we mustn’t let our preferences have too much sway as we decide what to embrace and what to reject in life.  In other words, “You don’t have to like it to eat it.”

 


In Togo, giant rats like this are a delicacy; this one actually cost $22, that’s more than the cost of a goat!  However, to us, it was no delicacy!  It tasted terrible;  One small bite was all we could stomach!  It’s one of the few things I couldn’t finish!

Enforceable Statements vs. Issuing Commands.

command

Scripture affirms the importance of human submission to authority in all its forms:  to God (James 4:6-7), toward church leadership (Heb 13:17), to governments (Romans 13:1-7), within marriages (Col 3:18) and toward parents (Eph 6:1).  According to God’s Word, our obedience to authority is a big deal!

Therefore, as parental authorities, it is our right and responsibility to be an authority to our kids, which often involves telling them what they can and cannot do.  [By the way, in English grammar, telling our kids what they must do is what we call using 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!!”  Notice how these are not requests, they are commands!

However, when parents use commands too often,

it causes relational problems:

  • People universally resist being told what to do all the time — and our kids are no different.  Being ordered around makes one feel small, powerless, disrespected, and at the mercy of others.  This can cause a victim mentality and subsequent resentment toward authority.
  • Each time a direct command is given it forces you and your kids into a “battle of the wills.”   The battle will be especially confrontive with kids who are strong-willed, oppositional, or passive-aggressive types.
  • Direct commands that are directly resisted by kids create very precarious situations in the home.  If a child has a mind to ignore commands the subsequent battle over compliance will create a lot of negative energy for everyone.
  • Every battle has the potential to create lingering resentment and a breakdown of the parent/child relationship.

So we have a dilemma.  On the one hand, Scripture says children need to obey their parents’ commands.  But on the other hand, those very commands can jeopardize having a good relationship with our kids.

The Two-Step Solution: 

  1. Choose your battles well–the fewer the better!  Make sure you don’t major on the minors!
  2. Replace most of your command-induced-battles with one of my favorite parenting tools of all time:  Enforceable Statements

Enforceable Statements are declarations of decisions 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.  No commanding needed!

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.  The parent is in control and asserting authority, but there is no opportunity for battle lines to form.

Here’s another 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 for weekly household battles over cat poop!  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 be happy to change it for you and reimburse ourselves $3 (for our inconvenience) from your next allowance.”  It worked–we got her to faithfully relocate her cat’s poop for a whole decade without the use of a single command!  There were only a few times that she forgot and ended up “hiring” us. Most importantly, in the 10 years that Lexi owned the cat, we never engaged in a single battle or a raised voice over cat poop!

A Few Pointers on how to Craft Good 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 by them 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 and make enforceable statements a joke,  it would also undermine a young child’s basic sense of security and trust.

Examples of Enforceable Statements

Here are a bunch of examples of Enforceable Statements that some friends and I brainstormed for different ages of kids; this will give you some ideas of how these work in day to day life.  Consider how these 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.

Majoring on the Majors — implementation!

I’ve already written two parenting blogs about the Majors and the Minors, but there is a need for one more.  The first post explained the difference between Majors and Minors.  The second post gave two illustrations of some outlandish behaviors of our girls that we declared to be Minors!

This final post will be a step-by-step guide to recalibrating your current list of Majors into one which is more useful.

Whether you are conscious of it or not, you currently govern your children by a specific list of Majors.  You likely don’t even think about the list, but it’s there.  There are certain things you choose to engage in battle over, and other things you don’t.

HOW TO IDENTIFY YOUR CURRENT LIST OF MAJORS

If I were to videotape your interactions with your kids for a whole week I could write down a pretty accurate list of your Majors.  Here’s what I would look for:

  1. Your use of commands is a dead giveaway.  When you tell them what they have to do, you’re clearly revealing things on your Majors list.
  2. Your choice of consequences is another undeniable indicator of your Majors. What things cause you either to use obvious punishments (such as groundings, taking away a phone, or sending them to their room) or to use the more subtle concealed punishments (verbal scoldings, blame-and-shame tactics, labeling, bribery, or other forms of manipulation)?
  3. Your tone of voice is a less obvious, but equally clear gauge of what you treat as a Major.  What behaviors do you raise your voice over?  Or nag about?  Or threaten regarding?  Or get sarcastic about?  These verbal cues subtly reveal your Majors.
  4. Your body language will also give it away.  Are your hands on your hips?  Are you frowning in disgust?  Does your face look cross with disapproval? Are your brows furrowed?  Are you rolling your eyes?  Is your face turning red?  Each of these wordless communications reveals that your kids have violated one of your Majors.
  5. Even how you pronounce your child’s name will reveal your list of Majors.  Do you normally speak their name sweetly? Or sharply, with a tone of disdain?  Is it said affectionately? Or does your voice’s pitch drop off at the end of their name, indicating your irritation with them?

FOUR STEPS TO RECALIBRATING YOUR MAJORS LIST

STEP ONE – Take Inventory

First, you must identify what things are on your current list of Majors.  Pay attention to the five things listed above and write down the Majors that are indicated by your own behavior toward your children.  Realize that you are naturally going to be blind to many of them because the interactions with your kids have likely become habitual.  Recruit others to help you identify what your own behavior reveals about what seems to bother you most.

STEP TWO – Eliminate 90% of Your Majors

Looking carefully at your list, ask yourself which of those issues are worth jeopardizing your relationship with your kids over.   My guess is that 90% of your current Majors are issues that don’t matter nearly as much as enjoying harmony with your kids.

Keep in mind that by Majors, we’re talking about things you absolutely requirethings that are so important that you’re willing to engage in battles with your kids over them. These are demands of yours that justify having a strained relationship with your kids.

Most of the things that you’ll be crossing off of your Majors list–i.e. the Minors–are not that important.  They may feel important to you at first, because you’ve clung to them so long, but they are really only preferences. They are certainly not important enough to justify erecting a wall over them between you and your kids.  Re-read my first blog on this topic for a refresher on what factors should determine our Majors.

Your purged list of Majors should be noticeably shorter.  In fact, you might be shocked by how small your list is!  Not many issues are actually worth battling over, in fact, this process should greatly reduce the number of battles you have with your kids!

STEP THREE – Do Some Self-Reflection

This would be a good time to look at what you crossed off and ask yourself what made those things Majors for you in the past?  Was it your own impatience?  Was it your need to control?  Was it a need to win battles with little people?  Was it fear of them failing?  Was it the embarrassment of what others might think of your parenting if your kids acted imperfectly?  By asking these questions we’ll oftentimes discover that our own personal issues, fears, and insecurities have been causing many of the unneeded battles with our kids.  Maybe we never had a “problem child” but rather a “problem ego!”

STEP FOUR- Let It Go

Just like the annoyingly memorable song from Frozen, we have to learn to let go of the things we formerly considered Majors.  We will be tempted to return to the old list, harping on things that we wish were different.  Bad habits die hard, so we will have to be aware of our tendency to glare, scold, command, frown, and punish our kids over things that, in the grand scheme of things, really don’t matter nearly as much as our kid’s hearts.  We’ll have to let our preferences go unfulfilled and some of our expectations unmet.  We’ll have to bite our tongue sometimes.  We’ll often have to hide our disappointment.  For the sake of relational closeness and harmony.

STEP FIVE – Enjoy Each Other

With the number of household battles potentially reduced by 90%, you’ll have much more time and opportunity to enjoy one another!  By not sparring with them all the time perhaps you’ll start to see them as precious people with their own unique personalities, rather than your biggest disappointment.  Perhaps you’ll discover who God made them to be, how He wired them, and what matters to them.  Conversely, by not perceiving you as their constant critic or micromanager, they might also gain an interest in getting to know you, your heart, and what matters to you.  Influence flows from relational harmony and mutual respect, and as I’ve blogged about before, influence is a much better parental strategy than control.

CONSIDERATIONS FOR COUPLES

I’ve written the above from the standpoint of a single parent, relating to a single child.  But what about couples?  What if their lists of Majors are not exactly the same?  Three thoughts.

  • Everything above still applies to married parents.  Most of your interactions with your children happen one-on-one, between one parent and a child during the course of the day.  If you improve your personal relationship with each of your kids, reducing the battles you have with them, the whole family benefits.
  • There certainly will be areas where the parents will have to agree on household rules, i.e. acceptable expectations for children no matter which parent is present.  Wise couples will have conversations about what rules are worth battling with kids over and which can be let go of.  When agreement can’t be reached, commit it to prayer and consult with others who may offer insight.  Be intentional, not hasty, when possible.
  • Sometimes a decision needs to be made without reaching parental consensus.  Keep in mind that, scripturally, the husband is ultimately held responsible in the eyes of God for the well-being of his family, and that his leadership is to flow out of his own sacrificial love for his wife and children.

FLEXIBILITY IS THE KEY

  • The list of Majors will change somewhat over time and most household rules should remain flexible.  Always be open to reasonable feedback from any household member.  Ultimately, the parents are in charge, but everyone’s input should be valued and considered.  As family dynamics change and as kids grow older the expectations should also change accordingly.
  • Adjust rules according to the current needs of the moment.  For example, when the baby isn’t sleeping, everyone can be loud.  Or when a tidy mom is on a trip, dad and the kids shouldn’t have to keep the house immaculate–until just before she returns!  Make sure the rules in force always serve a useful purpose and are not arbitrary.

“Emotionless gratitude” is an oxymoron

Cindy and I visited a church this past Sunday that I just have to blog about.

Now that I’m no longer working on Sundays, we’ve been free to experience a variety of eastern Iowa churches over the past 8 months.  We have loved seeing the vast array of Christian expressions among these faith communities–different styles of worship styles, outreach passions, ministry strengths,  and various ways of connecting people to God.

Sunday brought us to a predominantly African American church–we were two of only five Caucasians present.  We had been hoping for a unique cultural experience and it did not disappoint!

During the 2 1/4 hour service we enjoyed the passionate, biblically-sound preaching, the friendliness of the congregation (hugs included), communion, and the exuberant music.  But the thing that struck me most was the overwhelming sense of elation that permeated the room during worship.  These people were deeply grateful for God’s blessings in their lives to the point of being literally overcome with joy.  At times, some danced, some shouted, and some praised God very LOUDLY, without any pretense or self-consciousness.  At one point an older lady even did what I would describe as “one person conga line” around the sanctuary!  She simply couldn’t help but be so animated at the goodness of the Lord!

My mind raced back to Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes commercials I had seen as a kid, where the TV “Prize Patrol” would arrive at the doorsteps of unsuspecting residents to announce that they had just won a million dollars.  It was always fun to watch the family go bananas over this totally unexpected news: jumping, screaming, speechlessness, dancing, laughing, falling to their knees, etc.  Just like the people in church on Sunday.  Outlandish.  Over-the-top.  Undignified even.

Observing all of this, it occurred to me that those of us who are more reserved in our worship are actually the ones who are deficient.  What if the “Prize Patrol” came to the door and the family responded with a yawn?  It could only mean that either (1) they didn’t understand the magnitude of the gift or (2) that they didn’t believe it was really a free gift intended for them.  Because if they had any understanding at all of how this million dollar gift would transform everything about their lives, their response would have been anything but emotionless!

Seeing these exuberant worshippers on Sunday reminded me of one of the best youth group lessons I ever gave — over eleven years ago.  On that day, I called up one of the kids and proceeded to give her thousands of dollars in front of the group.  The story is worth reading.  The point of my lesson was that the magnitude of God’s personal blessings to us makes us trillionaires.  And undeserving, newly-made trillionaires should respond with nothing less than outlandish gratefulness.

Something’s wrong with me when my gratitude to God is emotionless.  And I’m thankful for how those worshippers on Sunday modeled to me something I need to work on!

How to make your wife and kids feel unneeded.

child-1160862_640[This is a revision of a post from 2016.  I consider this one of my most important topics.]

How to make your wife and kids feel unneeded…

It’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 26 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 I suggest we not tell them we need them.

  1. It’s not helpful to others.  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.”  Communicating “I want you” tells them that they are desirable, lovable, interesting, and treasured.  They don’t need to be needed, but they do need to be valued.
  2. It manipulates others.  Making them feel needed, can create an unhealthy sense of co-dependency, where their identity and worth is defined how well they meet the expectations of others.  I know people whose entire adult lives have been consumed with having to please other people.  It feels like enslavement because it is.
  3. It sets us up for interpersonal conflict.  Viewing our loved one as a “need” puts us in the position of consumer with them being our provider.  It creates high expectations, where our happiness depends on their performance.  Such expectations easily cause us to manipulate others, pressuring them to provide what we think we need.  This “you owe me” attitude is a setup for serious marriage, family, and friendship conflicts.  Some may comply with our demands for a while, but most will eventually pull away relationally, causing a wall between us.
  4. It’s a deviation from what is true.  I believe that God is truly our only real need; everything else is merely a want.  This mindset encapsulates the very first of my 40 Life Resolutions: “God is my only true need.”   Everything else pales in comparison.  I would redesign Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” with God at the top and a “Hierarchy of Wants” underneath.  If God is truly the giver and sustainer of life — both now and for eternity–then the Christian technically needs nothing else.  Period.  Not even oxygen–in fact, being deprived of that will make us more alive than ever before.
  5. It’s a setup for our own misery. We must not remove God from his rightful place as the one who satisfies us. If we do, viewing our loved ones as what we really need, this is idolatry.  It is also a setup for deep disappointment, despair, and bitterness should we lose them to death, disability, deficiency, distancing, 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.  How unnecessarily tragic!  On the other hand, I’ve seen families lose a child yet praise God for the precious years 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.”  If and when they are taken away–it’ll be ok.
  • 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.  We can’t need others to function as we wish they would.
  • 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 the parents want, perhaps these parents could help their kids explore who God wants them to be.
  • Distancing  Kids naturally pull away relationally from “needy” parents.  Unfortunately, when this occurs, these parents often resort to blame and shame, nagging and scolding as attempts to try to get them back.  Such manipulation always backfires. So many fractured families are the result of this. We also can’t need our kids to be physically close.  For example, we have to be ok if God calls our kids to move to Africa for the next 20 years.  As much as we might want our future grandkids to grow up close to us we can’t need it.   Thankfully, we can be perfectly joyful and content even when we don’t have all the things we ideally would want!  It’s a lie to think otherwise.
  • 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 abundantly.  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, the best thing a concerned parent can do to influence their wayward kids is not to attack the waywardness, but rather joyfully trust God and love others amidst heartbreak.  A genuine, unwavering, and unshakable faith may be the very thing that influences their kids to come back to the fold.

So do yourself, your wife, and your kids a favor by telling them you don’t need them!  And then tell God that He’s all you’ve ever really needed.  It’ll transform your life and theirs!

[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.]

Influence Optimizer #5: Emancipate Strategically

I once blogged about the importance of parental influence and mentioned five things that can increase it.  In the previous four posts–and this one–I  elaborate on what I call the Five Optimizers of Influence.  While nothing guarantees that our kids will make wise choices, my 31 years of youth ministry taught me that parents who become proficient in these five areas will have maximum impact on their kids.

1. Model authenticity.

2. Avoid relational walls.

3. Cultivate trust. 

4. Verbalize values.

 

5. Emancipate strategically.

At first glance, the thought of “kicking the kids out of the home” might seem antithetical to parents having a positive influence on them, but I contend that this is one of the most important components of influence.

When we strategically parent our kids with their eventual independence as our goal they will be much better equipped to manage their own lives wisely.  That, after all, is the goal of our influence.  As I say quite often, our aim should be to raise adults, not kids.  And let’s aim for well-prepared adults!

Much of what I blog about relates to this, so I’ll let those posts speak for themselves.

Strategically emancipating our kids can involve the following:

  • Decreasing parental control
  • Giving kids increasing levels of responsibility as they age, including chores, and managing their own homework, diet, and sleep
  • Teaching them to manage their own money by giving them hefty allowances
  • Making them purchase their own car
  • Making them clean up their own messes
  • Trusting their ability to  solve their own problems
  • Allowing them to fail (actually loving it when they fail!) so they learn from their failures
  • Teaching them life skills so they can thrive without us
  • Working ourselves out of a job, accepting empty nester-hood

Thank for reading these five posts on Optimizing our Influence.  I hope you found some of the concepts helpful.

 

 

Influence Optimizer #4: Verbalize Values

I once blogged about the importance of parental influence and mentioned five things that can increase it.  In the past three posts, this post, and the following post I elaborate on what I call the Five Optimizers of Influence.  While nothing guarantees that our kids will make wise choices, my 31 years of youth ministry taught me that parents who become proficient in these five areas will have maximum impact on their kids.

1. Model authenticity.

2. Avoid relational walls.

3. Cultivate trust..

 

4. Verbalize values.

Many things are more caught than taught, but some things simply need to be taught.

Scripture gives the Israelites this instruction: “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise…You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7 & 9; emphasis mine).

It is clear that God expects us to proactively provide spiritual nurturing and instruction to our children; it’s our duty as parents to pass on to our children a legacy of faith.  Transferring our faith to the next generation involves living it authentically before them (as mentioned in the first post of this series) as well as instructing them accurately.

This spiritual instruction includes not only telling them what we believe but–in light of today’s accessibility to alternate worldviews–it’s equally important to explain why we believe as we do and why we reject other views.  We must show that our faith holds up to scrutiny when compared to other belief systems; therefore, we can’t afford to espouse a blind faith that comes across as having our heads in the sand!

It warmed my heart this week to get an email from a college freshman, who had been wrestling with how to explain the Trinity to a Muslim classmate.  She ended up turning to her dad for advice on how to communicate this complex subject to her questioning friend.  His perspective on the topic was exactly what she needed.  That’s what this post is talking about!

Parents who don’t feel confident answering tough questions about spirituality have many great resources available to help supplement their spiritual instruction.  The church can certainly help with this, as can worldview training organizations, such as Summit.org.

Besides theological instruction, parents also need to thoroughly teach our kids about the culture in which we live.  This is a world that bombards our kids with a million false ideas, distorted perspectives, and flat-out lies.  Incessantly.  Aggressively.  Relentlessly.

As parents, we must take care to verbalize our beliefs and views on all sorts of topics.  If we don’t provide a running commentary on what our kids are seeing, hearing, learning, and reading our silence effectively hands over the microphone to our culture.

C.S. Lewis is quoted as saying, “The most dangerous ideas in a society are not the ones being argued, but the ones that are assumed.”  This is so true.  We need to start calling out the sins that the world normalizes rather than let these views slip by without questioning them.  

Fortunately, our culture doesn’t hide its views, giving us plenty of faulty assumptions to talk to our kids about!  If you wonder where to look, you can start with the 6 o’clock news, or Superbowl commercials, or game shows, or video games, or blockbuster movies.  All of them provide volumes of values to talk about.  Every day our kids are being taught specific views about politics, morality, definitions of family, human dignity, justice, success, suffering, etc.  Don’t you want to weigh in on those topics?  Then talk about them!  Kids can’t consider our point of view on things if we don’t discuss them.  (As a bonus, by viewing our culture mindfully, we may discover how some of our culture’s assumptions have subtly tainted our own thinking!)

But we can’t just be “reactive” to our culture.  In some cases, we need to get in the “first word” so the world’s distorted views are seen in proper context from the get-go.  For example, it was important to me to be that I be the one to inform our daughters about human sexuality and reproduction–in the context of these subjects being beautiful designs of God which are to be enjoyed only within marriage.  I didn’t want their first awareness of these important topics to come from the mouth of a “values-free” 5th-grade health teacher.

To be sure, some conversations will come earlier than we would have wished, and some will be admittedly awkward.  Let that not be an excuse for you to abdicate your parental responsibility of truth-telling.

Finally, it must be said that as much as we may wish to determine our kids’ values this is beyond our control.  Our goal is influence, not coercion. Ultimately, our kids will need to decide for themselves what they will believe about God, themselves, and the world they live in.  Our parental job is to expose them to truth, teach them what we have come to believe and why, etc, but we’ll be wise not to try to force them to believe any of it.  Faith must be chosen, just as love must.  We must be careful to avoid pressure or manipulation.  To prevent this, let’s allow them space to grapple with truth, wrestle with doubts, and ask us hard questions whenever they want.

Here’s an account of a values-laden conversation I had with my daughters ten years ago.  It gives some examples of how I used the current culture to discuss truth with them.

Hopefully, this post has encouraged you to have serious conversations with your kids about the things that really matter.  If you don’t, someone else will!

Tomorrow I will elaborate on the final Influence Optimizer!

Influence Optimizer #3: Cultivate Trust

I once blogged about the importance of parental influence and mentioned five things that can increase it.  In the past two posts, this post, and the following two posts I elaborate on what I call the Five Optimizers of Influence.  While nothing guarantees that our kids will make wise choices, my 31 years of youth ministry taught me that parents who become proficient in these five areas will have maximum impact on their kids.

1. Model authenticity.

2. Avoid relational walls.

3. Cultivate trust.

Picture two little boys at the doctor’s office getting their shots, not understanding why their parents would allow the nurse to inflict such pain.   Boy #1 sees himself as a victim; his parents have betrayed him and he acts out in rage against them, madder than a hornet!   Boy #2 sees things differently.  He is confused about why his parents have allowed him to experience such pain, but he has learned that they care for him deeply and would want only the very best for him.  He knows that they would never willfully harm him.  He is sad, but not mad.

Trust makes all the difference.

Convincing our kids that we are for them and not against them helps us influence them positively.  The old adage is universally true: “Until they know that you care they won’t care what you know.”  Whatever wisdom we may wish to impart will likely be rejected if they see themselves as victims.  They must feel safe and secure with us.

You may be realizing that today’s post is essentially the inverse of yesterday’s.

  • Yesterday I mentioned several things not to do [which build relational walls], creating feelings of victimization.
  • Today let’s look at several things we can do [which build relational bridges], cultivating trust.

Love.  Convince them that you love them, truly love them.  It may help to figure out what their primary love languages are.  It’s easy to think we’re delivering a hefty dose of love, but it may be on our terms and sometimes we may miss it completely.   If we give them Gifts when their love language is Time they may come away feeling unloved and abandoned.  Or if we give them Acts of Service when their love language is Words of Affirmation we may have left them feeling unloved and unrecognized.  Smothering a child with hugs who doesn’t have the love language of Touch may make them feel you’ve violated their personal space.  As I like to say, “Be a student of your student” and find out what makes them feel love from you.

Safety.  Make them feel safe and secure around you, and convince them that your goal is their well being.  Be careful about sarcasm, silly labels, nicknames, and joking around as these may affect their developing self-concept.  Be their protector and provider.  Be consistent.

Empathy.  When they hurt we should hurt with them.  This may sometimes require us to set aside our adult perspective and enter the world of our children in order to feel their pain.  We may even have to suspend our rational judgments for the greater good of connecting to their hearts.  Instead of “I told you that if you didn’t feed that guinea pig he would die” we should say, “It’s so sad that you can’t play with Patches anymore.  It hurts to lose buddy like that doesn’t it?  I care that you’re hurting right now.”

Availability.   You must be present to win!  Too many parents are so busy “adulting” that time with their kids gets pushed out of the way.   I remember hearing Dr. Dobson years ago say that “Quality time is an accident that happens during Quantity time.”  Those words proved true in my own parenting.  Wise parents make their kids a priority in their schedules.  Family vacations, “daddy dates,” family game nights, sleeping in a tent in the backyard, etc. are all examples of ways to show your kids that being with them is important to you.  And in the process, you just might learn what’s important to them.  Be fully present with them by having these be times where everyone turns off their phones.

Respect.  I’ve blogged a lot over the years about the importance of respect, so I won’t elaborate much here.  People feel disrespected when they are being commanded a lot.  They feel voiceless when they aren’t allowed to express frustration.   They feel manipulated when they are pressured to be at their best all the time.   Respecting parents are prone to believe their kids and believe in them as well.

Fairness.  Parents are wise if they only set rules that are necessary, majoring on the majors.  When rules are broken, they are careful to implement natural consequences which promote learning rather than using arbitrary punishments to simply inflict pain or get even.  They avoid making hasty decisions that might seem impulsive and unfair.

Each of these components will make kids feel valued, likely resulting in greater parental influence in their lives.

Tomorrow I will elaborate on the fourth Optimizer of Influence!

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Influence Optimizer #2: Avoid Relational Walls

I once blogged about the importance of parental influence and mentioned five things that can increase it.  In my previous post, this post, and the following three posts, I elaborate on what I call the Five Optimizers of Influence.  While nothing guarantees that our kids will make wise choices, my 31 years of youth ministry taught me that parents who become proficient in these five areas will have maximum impact on their kids.

1. Model authenticity.

2. Avoid relational walls.

Adversarial relationships between our kids and us will only cause them to resent us which will influence them in the exact opposite direction that we intend for them.  Exasperating our children is not only unbiblical (Ephesians 6:4), but it also creates bitterness in them, diminishing any positive influence we might have had.  It makes them feel like victims.

Here are ten things that will make your kids feel like victims, ensuring that you have little–if any–positive influence on them:

  • Major on the minors.  Harp on things that really don’t matter and ignore those that really do.
  • Be unfair, inconsistent, and unreasonable in what you require of them.
  • Make decisions that will affect kids without soliciting their input or explaining why the decision was made.  Say “Because I said so!” a lot.
  • If you ask them questions at all, make sure they feel interrogated, and begin all your questions with the word, “Why.”
  • Be sure you let them know how they are such a disappointment to you.  Use creative labels for them like “stupid,” “lazy,” “brat,” and “worthless.”
  • Treat children like property instead of people, making them feel unworthy, unheard, and unwanted.  Don’t let them make their own decisions.
  • Never admit you might be wrong.  Never show weakness.  Never apologize.
  • Be easily offended, quick-tempered, unpredictable, and volatile.  Don’t let them see you smile.   Make them fear you.
  • Make discipline decisions impulsively, in the heat of the moment, when you’re not thinking objectively.  Be as punitive as possible.  Show no mercy.
  • Let the busyness of life keep you from quality family time.  Work excessively.  Don’t plan family fun.  Don’t go on dates with your kids.  Don’t read to them.  Let them put themselves to bed.  Be sure not to spend any one on one time with them.

Foolish parents will do the things on this list without giving thought to the relational walls they are building between them and their kids.  How much better it is to build relational bridges by doing exactly the opposite of each thing on that list!

As mentioned previously, there are no guarantees.  Some kids will resent their parents no matter what we do; they also can create walls of relational separation.  Even so, let’s make it our goal that any walls that exist are caused by their sin, not ours.  And let’s pour our energy into taking down walls and building bridges to their hearts whenever possible.  That will maximize our influence on them.

Tomorrow I will elaborate on the third Influence Optimizer!

Influence Optimizer #1: Model Authenticity

I once blogged about the importance of parental influence and mentioned five things that can increase it.  In this–and the following four posts–I will elaborate on what I call the Five Optimizers of Influence.  While nothing guarantees that our kids will make wise choices, my 31 years of youth ministry taught me that parents who become proficient in these five areas will have maximum impact on their kids.

1. Model authenticity.

Since character and values are more caught than taught, careful management of your own life and character is of critical importance.

  • Want them to have high moral character?  Live it.  How can we expect them to be honest if we’re cheating on our taxes?  How will they be truthful if they see us calling in sick on the way to the golf course? How can we expect them to be respectful when we mock those of different political persuasions?  How will they learn patience and forgiveness if we don’t work on our road rage?  How will they be humble if they never see us apologize?
  • Want them to learn?  Show that you don’t know everything and that you have a teachable spirit.  Model a desire to seek truth wherever it may be found.  Show interest in learning from them;  they will likely want to learn from you in return.
  • Want them to open up to you?  Open up to them, speaking about things that really matter.  Be transparent and vulnerable about how you are growing and what your personal goals and dreams are–physically, relationally, spiritually, financially, etc.  Authenticity breeds authenticity just as superficiality breeds superficiality.  Such conversations may help you discover the unique person that they are.
  • Want them to be spiritually strong?   Devote yourself to the spiritual disciplines (prayer, Word, solitude, etc).  Spend less time monitoring their spiritual walks and more time focusing on your own spiritual development.  Let them see you carving out time to get alone with God.   Let them see your open, underlined Bible.  Let them see how developing intimacy with God is a priority in your life–not just lip service–and that it is changing you for the better.  Show joyful obedience, generous giving,  and eagerness to do ministry — all flowing from a heart of thankfulness, never obligation.
  • Want them to be careful about their internet use?  Show them your own commitment to internet accountability by giving your social media passwords to your spouse and not shying away from random checks on your computer use.  Show how you proactively guard yourself against porn and other online temptations.
  • Want their dating life to be God-honoring?  If you’re married, model a God-honoring marriage.   Let them see you reading books to strengthen your marriage and see your eagerness to attend marriage conferences.  Let them see two imperfect people who are committed to relational growth.  Be a team.  Regularly show forgiveness, love, and respect toward one another as well as much displayed affection.  Talk about the importance of exclusivity in your relationship.   If you’re single, explain your beliefs about marriage and expose your kids to healthy marriages.
  • Want them to be plugged into a faith community?  Don’t allow Sunday sports leagues to interfere with church attendance–think what that teaches them about your priorities!  If you make church involvement important to you it likely will become important to them for the rest of their lives.
  • Want them to take care of themselves?  Show how you are taking care of yourself.  Attend to your personal growth needs and show self-respect. Parents who are so busy meeting the demands of their children become doormats, unintentionally teaching that parents are push-overs and that kids can be entitled.

Tomorrow I will elaborate on the next Influence Optimizer!

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