Peace in the Parenting Journey

Being a parent is overwhelming in mid-December, when everybody’s activities and pressures are multiplying. During the holidays, our expectation of family life is heightened along with our kids’ sense of entitlement and their frustrations with school. Arguments are common this time of year. Perhaps a few lumps of coal belong in some stockings. It’s a time of year when we doubt ourselves as parents.

The journey of parenting is far too long and dangerous to warrant any amount of comfort. Deep down we know that any number of things can get sideways in a hurry, and far too many of those things are beyond our control.

So, how do we know if we are on the right path? How do we know if we are making any progress?

Salesmen can gauge success with sales figures, bar graphs, and commissions. Coaches can measure success with wins, losses, statistics, and championships. But parents labor daily without any quantifiers of success.

Mom and sonSome might say that a good apple falls from a good tree, but it’s not as simple as looking at the immediate results of children. After all, we all know a few stable, loving parents who use good parenting techniques but have a child who doesn’t seem to be turning out so well. Conversely, we all know a few unstable families, and yet some of their kids seem to be flourishing. Some kids rebel, no matter what their parents do, while other kids succeed, in spite of all sorts of family dysfunction. In addition, many kids simply take more time to mature than others, in spite of all the efforts of their parents.

We cannot use the current status of a child to accurately measure the success of a parent. It’s not fair to the child or to the parent. As a middle school teacher, I have learned that you cannot judge a person on their 7th grade year. Well, pick any year, for that matter. It’s not fair to judge anyone on a short era in their history. Kids should all come with visible birthmarks that read: “Work in Progress.”

In addition, there is no other measure that satisfies the question: “Am I actually parenting really well?” Continue reading “Peace in the Parenting Journey”

The Peril of Productionism

 

Busy MomMy wife and I struggle with what I call productionism. It is a variation of perfectionism. It is the belief that a man’s value comes from his ability to accomplish or produce something, or that a woman’s worth is found in the amount that she can get done in a day. In other words, a good man is productive every day, while a lazy man is a lousy man. A good day for a good woman is measured in the amount of to do’s accomplished before her head hits the pillow at night.

Productionism is a little different than perfectionism because things don’t have to be done perfectly, they just need to be done efficiently. A productionist is practical and efficient, always trying to accomplish a lot in a little time.

In stressful, busy situations, productionists follow these mantras:

  • When the going gets tough, the tough gets to work.
  • If you feel overwhelmed, just do the next thing. You can do that much.
  • If you can’t do a big thing, just do a few small things. You will feel better then.

Appointments - list of day's appointments written on a spiral paProductionists brag to others about how much they accomplish. They make lists, check them off, and congratulate themselves. Some will even keep as trophies their old lists with all the crossed out tasks.

Being a productionist is not all bad, of course, but it’s a major problem when tasks overwhelm the ability to love others and enjoy life along the way. When tasks are more important than people, we are way off track. Unfortunately, the productionist will often choose the tasks over people, since there is more control and more pride in doing than in being. Continue reading “The Peril of Productionism”

Protecting Kids From the Inside Out

Unlike consumer products, parenting comes without instructions or guarantees. We all want our children to grow up happy, healthy, successful, and involved with positive-minded family and friends. However, our children live in a broken world, and it has a way of breaking young people, sooner or later, one way or another. But there is real hope because some young people do indeed grow up well. So, what’s a parent to do, in the face of the sinful human nature and a toxic popular culture, to raise a truly healthy young adult?

We tend to focus on what we can implement to protect our kids by setting appropriate boundaries, establishing positive activities, and providing safe environments in which our kids can grow. While those are all important aspects of raising “good kids,” they are not enough.

1 Samuel 16:7 says, “The Lord does not look at the things of man. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Apparently, God is more interested in the inner life than the outer life, therefore we should be concerned primarily with the inner life of our children. Unfortunately, most parents focus primarily on the behavior of their kids – the outer life. Parents often react to symptoms, rather than causes. But outward behavior is not isolated from the heart of the child. Behavior is a reflection of the inner reality. Therefore, it is not possible to fix outward behavior permanently without dealing with the problems of the heart.

There is no formula for fixing problem behaviors in children, but an inside-out approach will be more effective than behavior management.

Growing Up Too Fast

A major source of the problem is that kids are growing up too fast. Continue reading “Protecting Kids From the Inside Out”

I Wish You Failure

Once again, I offer an article from NPR’s This I Believe.  Jon Carroll started at the San Francisco Chronicle editing the crossword puzzle and writing TV listings. He has been a columnist for the paper since 1982.

Last week, my granddaughter started kindergarten, and, as is conventional, I wished her success. I was lying. What I actually wish for her is failure. I believe in the power of failure.

Success is boring. Success is proving that you can do something that you already know you can do, or doing something correctly the first time, which can often be a problematical victory. First-time success is usually a fluke. First-time failure, by contrast, is expected; it is the natural order of things.

Failure is how we learn. Continue reading “I Wish You Failure”

The Race to Nowhere

The Race to Nowhere is a film that will make you think deeply about what a good education looks like.  It will challenge your beliefs about the nature of homework, AP classes, and college preparation.  You will re-think what a “successful kid” should do in middle school, high school, and college because, in many ways, what we as a society think about that fundamental question is dead wrong.

Whether you are a parent, teacher, or administrator, this is a must-see documentary because it points out some very powerful flaws in our educational system and offers some good solutions.  Unlike other recent films about American schools, it does not demand more from students, parents, and teachers; in many ways it asks for less.  It will get you thinking and talking.

There are more screenings popping up around the country, and it will eventually be a DVD to purchase.  Check it out.

If this trailer resonates with you, and you’d like a greater sense of what this movie is all about, here is what the filmmakers suggest parents do in response to their film:

Continue reading “The Race to Nowhere”

The Value of Pain

As I walk through the halls after school, there is a barrage of faces along my path.  Some I know well; some I don’t know at all.  Some are happy; some look very frustrated.  But all of these kids have stories inside.  Some of their stories are silly — full of joy from a life yet unblemished by heartache or tragedy.  And some have stories they keep to themselves because they are not the kind that they want to tell or others want to hear.  There are some broken kids out there, some of whom will mend well, and grow up to be good and strong.

As I walk briskly by them each day, I think about what stories I know.  Not enough, unfortunately.  But I know that boy; he’s has had serious struggles with perfectionism and an eating disorder in middle school and is now very healthy, athletic, and academically successful.  I know that girl, whose mother died of cancer when she was ten; her dad remarried a woman whose spouse also died of cancer.  Their blended family is an inspiration.  I also know the story of that girl, whose little brother has Down’s Syndrome and whose parents are on the brink of divorce; she’s serious, smart, and sometimes silly.  Actually, I just know bits and pieces of their stories, but it’s enough to see the depth in their eyes.  I know that they know pain.

Continue reading “The Value of Pain”

Our Friend, Failure

I once heard a speaker named Dan Miller at an educator’s conference tell the audience about how he learned to fly an airplane.  First, you should know that he is disabled from polio as a teenager to the extent that he can only use one arm, and he walks with a serious limp.  His sickness had canceled his first flying lesson; becoming a pilot was his childhood dream.

In his autobiography, he admits that “Planes require two good hands and two good legs to work the controls, yokes, radio, and rudder pedals.  ‘Airplanes crash,’ they would say.  ‘You’ll kill yourself.’  ‘You only have one good arm.’ ‘Your legs are too weak.’  I heard a lot of dream-breaker statements… My first lesson was awful!  I had to reach across my body for the flaps, throttle, and trim.  Every time I’d reach for them, the plane would dip, tip, and do everything but fly straight and level.  I went all over the sky.  I couldn’t fly.  My lesson was a total failure.  But I could give up on my dream yet… The next try, though still not good, was better.  I tell people, ‘If it worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly at first.’

Dan eventually got his pilot’s license and has enjoyed many years of flying adventures.  He also taught himself to play golf with only one arm, and he’s good.  He scores in the mid-80’s regularly and has a hole-in-one to his credit.  Impressive.

Anything worth doing well is worth doing poorly at first.  That is wisdom for all ages.  We need to embrace failure as a friend who is honest enough to tell us that we still need to work harder, listen to others, think more clearly, and learn more information. Failure has something to teach us every time.  That’s what makes people successful — learning from mistakes and persevering slowly toward the goal.

Consider this…

Whether it’s a left-handed layup, a math problem, or a new technological skill, kids need to be encouraged to do things poorly at first, then a little better each time, until they make real progress.  Then encourage them some more.  “See! I knew you could do it! You have improved so much! I’m proud of you. Really proud.”

Try it.

Continue reading “Our Friend, Failure”

Finding Significance

I’ve had the blues for a few weeks now.  It’s not a full-blown depression.  It’s just a nagging funk that doesn’t seem to have a good reason for its existence and doesn’t seem to have an end.  I get it once or twice a year, often on the backside of winter.  Since I haven’t been able to just get over it, my wife offered a solution.  She kindly told me to get lost.

So, Saturday morning I headed out of town to get lost in the country.  I needed to get away for a few hours to a quiet place to reflect on the meaning of my life and pray about what in the world to do about it.  I headed south and ended up at this old cemetery.

Continue reading “Finding Significance”

Realistic Expectations for Life

Donald Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is quite good, but the end of chapter 29 is truly great.  In it, he refers to a recent episode of 60 Minutes, which I vividly recall seeing myself a few years ago.  It was about the happiest people in the world, and I found it tremendously thought-provoking and memorable.  Here is Don’s take on it.

A study done by a British university ranked the happiest countries, and America was far down the list, but Denmark was at the top.  Morley Safer explored why.  Ruling out financial status, physical health, and even social freedom, he landed on a single characteristic of the Danes that allowed then such contentment.  The reasons the Danes are so happy was this: they had low expectations.

I’m not making that up.  There is something in Denmark’s culture that allows them to look at life realistically.  They don’t expect products to fulfill them or relationships to end all their problems.”

From my recollection of the study, there is another important aspect of Danish culture – their involvement in their own local communities.  More than any of the other developed nations in the study, people in Denmark have a sense of equality and connectedness to each other.  In fact, their values are so community-oriented that they have a popular government program which pays for citizens to get involved in local recreational and social groups.  As a result, they are far less competitive than Americans.  They are more likely to view success as a community, not as individuals in competition with one another.  The Danes are a reasonable and communal people, which seems to make them significantly more content and happy than other people groups.

Donald Miller concludes his chapter with, “I’m trying to be a more Danish, I guess.  And the thing is, it works.  When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.  And when you stop expecting material possessions to complete you, you’d be surprised at how much pleasure you get in material possessions.  And when you stop expecting God to end all your troubles, you’d be surprised how much you like spending time with God.

Therefore, if American parents, teachers, and coaches were to adopt a more Danish approach to life, we might just be happier and more effective in helping the young people in our care.  And isn’t that what we all want?  But what would that look like?

Continue reading “Realistic Expectations for Life”

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