Five Nuggets From a Dad of Seven

Carolyn and I have been married for 23 years. We have four biological children and are fostering to adopt three more. God has been very gracious to us over the years, and we are so thankful for the men and women that our biological children are becoming. Each of them has a relationship with Jesus Christ, and all four have been great students and citizens. We probably would have been smart to quit while we were ahead, but we have always felt a desire to adopt.

We explored foreign adoption, but found it cost prohibitive, and the agency we were working with didn’t like my answer to, “Why do you want to adopt?” I thought I had a good response: “Because we feel we can provide a good home for a child in need.” WRONG! Evidently, I was supposed to say, “Because we want more children.” Honestly, we already had four young children, and my heart was more “willing” than “desiring.” We also fostered three children 11 years ago until we found them a permanent home. In the process, we learned some valuable lessons that have prepared us for the foster and adoption process we’re in today.

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Here are five nuggets that I’ve discovered:

Avoid “Alpha Dog Syndrome

Whether fostering or adopting, I have found that it is wise for the children to be younger than your biological children to avoid the “Alpha Dog Syndrome.” When you have a pack of children, much like when you have a pack of dogs, there will be a fight for supremacy. If the children you are fostering or adopting are the same age as or older than your biological children, there will be ongoing and unexpected challenges to establish control of the pack. These challenges disrupt the overall family dynamics and can contribute to an unhealthy living environment.

They all come with baggage

Even young children, like the boys we are fostering, come with baggage. They have experienced abuse and abandonment like most of us have never known, and it has affected them. They are incredibly sweet and loving one moment, and the next are on a destructive tear—ripping up books, writing on carpet, squirting diaper rash cream everywhere, even stabbing their siblings with pencils. Don’t be fooled by their sweet little faces. Evil is real, and its effects are insidious.

They may be small, but they are determined

Even if you outweigh them by 200 pounds, their will can be stronger than yours. This isn’t limited to foster or adoptive children, but I have been reminded of this lately with our 3½-year-old. For some reason, he doesn’t like to go to sleep at night. We rock him, read to him, rub his back, pray over him, and lay with him until he appears to be asleep, but the moment we get up to leave the room, his eyelids spring open, his vocal cords engage, and his body goes in motion. Before you know it, he is out of bed, exploring new ways to defy you and disrupting the sleeping patterns of his siblings and, of course, his parents. At times like these, you regret ever praying for patience, because God has just enlisted you in the patience boot camp.

Bribery works

While we would never tolerate bribery in business and government, we succumb to it when it comes to influencing the behavior of our children. We may refer to it as an “incentive” rather than bribery, but the bottom line is that a Skittle or M&M is more appealing to a child at times than pleasing his parent. We must walk a fine line here, but, in the end, giving a child a piece of candy to behave in the car or go poo-poo on the potty is a price I’m willing to pay.

Love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8)

We all fall short as parents, but telling your children you love them and demonstrating your love to them daily will compensate for those momentary failures. Children need to know they are loved, not because of what they do, but simply because of who they are and whose they are. Creating a loving environment for your children will help produce the godly attributes you desire in the end.

Raising children, especially foster or adoptive children, can be like mining for gold. It involves long, tiresome days, understanding the lay of the land, and digging deep to uncover some small, glimmering nugget, but the reward of one redeemed child is priceless.

Obedience Vs. Relationship

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We’re a hockey family. And a school yard-style, neighborhood version of the Stanley Cup happens in front of my house on a daily basis.  The other day my middle son came storming into the house, whimpering, sniffling, and plopping on the sofa with a huffin’ and puffin’ sound. He was MAD. Someone had done something to him he thought was not right and he was ready to explode.

I used to handle this several different ways…none of them really having any fruitful, meaningful, or lasting effect. Yelling, ignoring, playing judge & jury, overprotecting, or punishing everyone involved were epic fails.

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I’ve learned that my reaction will do far more in setting the tone of what will follow than simply trying to get my son to behave in the way I want him to behave.  It’s taken many years, but here are a few things I’ve learned:

Learn to ASK  questions rather than make STATEMENTS—We parents are really good at “telling” our kids what we want them to do, how we want them to behave, and how we think they should react in conflict situations. But where’s the learning in that method for the child himself? When we ask questions, we are giving our children freedom to think, process, and consider the situation. By allowing them to have some of the control in the situation, we open the opportunity for them to  develop self-control. A more important reason is that when we ask questions we are bestowing respect to our children. We are connecting with their hearts. Our engagement with them says, “You have value, you matter, you are unique, and I’m interested in hearing what you have to say.” Above all else, we want them to consider the ramifications of their choices. Think about it: if we never allow our children the freedom to make some choices and then guide them through the consequences of those choices, why should we be shocked or disappointed when they’re older and they turn belligerent, rebellious, or incompetent in correct Biblical thinking?

As far as questions go…

Get in the habit of asking your child, “How does that make you feel?” It’s taken me a long time to discover the power in this question. We make choices based on how we’re feeling . Our feelings  and emotions come from what we’re thinking and believing. If I can understand how you’re feeling I have insight into what you’re thinking. Therefore, if you’re believing a lie it will affect your emotions, which will result in unhealthy behavior. Most parents begin with trying to correct or control behavior. This method might work sometimes, but it doesn’t address the heart of the matter. Right living (behavior) is a result of right thinking (beliefs). The Enemy seeks to attack us in our thinking. It is in our mind where the battle rages (Romans 12:2). As parents, our job is to nurture our children in right believing. Notice I said “nurture”, not order, control, manipulate, or punish them into obedience. I should know- I’ve ventured down these paths many times to no avail.

What about you? What’s your M.O.? Have you, like me, had occasions where you’ve gotten what you wanted from your child—obedience–but felt no heart connection? What is gained when we win the individual “battles” but lose the war? Next time your child finds himself in conflict ask the Holy Spirit to give you insight to ask and listen; to focus on how they’re feeling, not necessarily how they’re behaving; and to guide them through the choices and consequences that are available to them. Remember the goal–heart connection!

Chad Smith

 

Balancing Hard Work and Talent

“You know, I really don’t like it when they use the word ‘prodigy,'” my 15-year-old said, just out of the blue, one afternoon.

He had been watching a news story about a young boy who had uncanny technical skills. “People were calling him a genius and trying to bring him to America to study,” he explained, “but I think there was as much hard work as there was ‘native genius.’ I think we make too much of ‘giftedness’ sometimes.”

I thought he had a good point. There’s no question that God gives certain gifts and talents to people, from the spiritual gifts of 1 Corinthians 12, to the ability to make wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18). I have a son with a natural musical ability; another who is able to handle animals; one who has a scholarly bent. The Bible says that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father …” (James 1:17), and we can (and should) rejoice in the generosity of the Lord who gives His gifts to men.

But while we might enjoy  God’s gifts to us, the Bible warns us to keep these things in perspective. A strong man may rejoice to run his race (Psalm 19:5), and that’s okay – he’s delighting in God’s gift to him–but he’s not allowed to boast about it.

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise [man] glory in his wisdom, Let not the mighty [man] glory in his might, Nor let the rich [man] glory in his riches; But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, that I [am] the LORD … ” (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

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That’s a problem we need to face: too often, we receive these gifts from God, then imagine that we somehow created them ourselves. Or we think we’ve identified the seeds of greatness in our children, and secretly whisper, “He got that from me.”

And that’s what my son was pointing out. On the one hand, a person with a real giftedness is simply enjoying the generosity and providence of God. “For who makes you differ [from another]?” Paul asked the Corinthians. “And what do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor 12:7). A true gift is not earned or deserved, so there’s no room to boast. All the glory is due to the person who gave the gift, not the one who received it!

On the other hand, too much focus on “genius” and “gifting” of this sort can also be an excuse for our own laziness. Maybe we look at an athlete’s form and say, “I could never be strong and graceful like him, because he has a natural athletic gift”-both of which may be true statements, by the way-and then we continue in our hearts to say, “and since I’m not a natural athlete, it’s no big deal that I’d rather sit on the couch than exercise my own non-gifted body.”

Or we look at the class leader and say, “He has an intuitive grasp of this subject; in short, he’s a genius. And since I’m no genius, I don’t need to feel uneasy that my failure to do the homework and my lack of study might have something to say about my disappointing grades.”

For that matter, the truly gifted person may be weak in crucial areas. I was proud as could be when I received an academic scholarship for the college I had chosen. Although I thought it was challenging at the time, looking back I realize I was able to breeze through many of my high school classes because I liked to read, I had a good memory, and I could write reasonably well. What I didn’t have were good study habits, or the self-discipline I would need to really excel in college. Oh, I was able to make it through the university with decent grades, but I realized before I left that some of my friends who weren’t as “brilliant” as I had once imagined I was were learning more-and scoring higher-because they took the talents they had and built on them, rather than relaxing in the head start they’d been given.

They knew how to work, and they knew it better than I did. Instead of the prodigy I had hoped I might be, I ended up feeling more like the prodigal who wasted many opportunities that had come to his hands.

So that’s the tricky balance I want to teach my sons: to rejoice in the gifts which God has given, to praise Him for His generosity rather than puffing themselves up with unrighteous pride. But while accepting the honest truth that they are good in one skill or another, I want them to see whatever gift God sent as their call to work just as hard as the next guy-or even harder–for God’s glory.

An Event You Don’t Want to Miss: Stepping Up Super Saturday

In between picking up the chips + dip, making the hot wings, and repositioning the big screen for optimum Superbowl viewing pleasure, we have an event we’d like to put on your radar.  Next Saturday, February 2, the day before, men will be participating in an event called Stepping Up Super Saturday.  The goal of this event is to help men “tackle head-on the call to godly courageous manhood.”  Sound like something worth taking a time-out for?

Stepping Up Super Saturday

Stepping Up Super Saturday is a one-day event held in churches and homes all around the country. Men will gather together to pursue what it means to be courageous leaders in their marriages, churches, and communities through DVD-based teachings by Christian leaders like Dennis Rainey, James MacDonald, Voddie Baucham, Mark Driscoll, and others.

Want to find out more?  Click here to head to their video library for some incredible interviews, stories, and more.

A few ways you could participate in this great event:

  1. Find out if your church’s men’s group is participating. If not, set the wheels in motion! Talk to your pastor, small group leader, or run the play yourself, and try to bring this event into your church or your home.
  2. Spread the word. If you blog, write a post. If you tweet, mention @MenSteppingUp. Post about it on Facebook. Tell your friends and family.
  3. Pray. Pray that God would move among His men, specifically on February 2, to raise up courageous leaders who will not shrink back from responsibility and challenge.

No Fear in Failure: A Lesson from Armadillos and Spiders

I have lived in Little Rock for a couple of years now. The wildlife is a bit different than when I lived in Montana. Rumor has it that we have some animals here that you just don’t see up in the Northwest, like tarantulas and armadillos. I say rumor, because I have yet to see any live ones yet. I have seen a few armadillos dead in the road, but either there is some big conspiracy to stage dead armadillos on the road, or there really must be some live ones (I can’t say for sure if there are any dead tarantulas on the road. They would have to be pretty big to catch my attention).

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My guess is there are lots of live animals that no one sees, roaming around just out of eyesight, all the time. What it would be like to be able to see through all the brush, leaves, dirt, rocks, etc. and just see all the wildlife that I normally cannot see?

This made me think about God. He can see all of the animals, even the ones we can’t. The God who created the universe knows how many hairs are on my head. He knows how many tarantulas are hiding in my neighborhood. He knows how many armadillos are just waiting for their chance to bravely cross a busy street.

Yet this same God, who knows everything about everything down to the smallest detail, knows my faults. He knows all the bad things I have done, even the ones I had a fleeting thought about, yet he loves and forgives me of them all. If you are anything like me, you have a bunch of things you are not proud of either.

Sometimes, the knowledge of my faults and the fear of failing again keep me from leading my family in the ways of God. Sure, I know I should and will get around to it sometime, but why not risk failure tomorrow instead of doing it right now? You know, things like leading my wife in daily prayer, sharing a short devotional time over dinner with my kids, loading the washing machine. But rest assured, God is more interested in our attempts than in our successes.

How can a God who knows everything about me love and cheer me on?  I wish I truly understood how, but for now I will just rest in knowing He does. Do you feel a tug from God? An urging to lead your family? I know you do. And my encouragement … “Go for it!”

And if you were wondering, I am still waiting to see that live armadillo. Until then, I reserve the right to declare that live armadillos are the Bigfoot of Arkansas. No confirmed sightings yet.

Disclaimer: I am not an Arkansas native, and I am sure others have seen this mysterious armored animal. And for the record, I am not a big fan of spiders, so the Arkansas tarantula can stay hidden and I will be just fine.

Prayer Day

It’s time again for our monthly Prayer Day. We want to consistently offer the opportunity to bear each other’s burdens, because everyone needs a safe space to come and ask for prayer.

Prayer Day for Boy Dads. Know any dads who need prayer? Point them this way!

Leave your request in the comments. Then, if you have the time, leave another comment with a written prayer for the person right above you. Let’s support each other, holding up each other’s arms in this battle to raise godly men.

Let’s pray. 

(Photo Credit)

 

I’m New Here: Exploring Seasons of Fatherhood

Hi.

I’m new here.

In many ways, I bear all the marks of father with young children- sleep deprivation, considerably more childish vernacular, and a primary-colored house.

Add to that a dazed, “what-am-I-doing-and-how-did-I-get-here” look, and you get the complete picture of a dad still learning the ropes and figuring out how this all works.

And if my guess is correct, you look the same way. Perhaps you’ve been at this a while longer than I have. Maybe your kids are grown and out of the house. Or maybe you have teenagers running rampant with all their hormones in tow. But I think, in one way, we’re all on the same playing field: our kids are continually growing; they never stay in the same phase for long; and as a result, we’re on a constant, steep learning curve.

So in that sense, we are always new dads. Constantly reprising our roles, our responsibilities, and our responses to our kids as they continue to change and develop.  What worked before is ineffectual now; what we understood about raising babies changed when the babies became toddlers, and then preschoolers, and on and on. We never arrive; when our kids enter a new stage of childhood, so we enter a new stage of fatherhood. Beginnings, over and over again, so that we are always new to this  act of parenting.

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I’m not sure about you, but that intimidates me on a few levels. First, I have to keep up with my kids; I have to keep learning and relearning my boys and their minds, so that I know how to connect with them and shepherd their hearts toward God. Second, I have to make each season count, because it only lasts for so long. Each stage gives a brief window of opportunity to impact our kids, where they are, in ways that we may not be able to do again.

How am I supposed to have the wisdom, the know-how, to lead my sons through each stage of life, when I can barely keep up with the rate at which they’re changing? How do I maintain the mental and spiritual alacrity to find the precious teachable moments, to be present in the opportunities for spending real quality time with my sons? How do I keep abreast of their ever-changing needs and ever-growing independence?

I may not be a parenting authority, but I do know this:

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17, ESV)

I meet the challenges of parenthood in the community of men that God has put around me. I’ve never parented a toddler before now, but some of you have. You’ve never had to deal with middle-school angst before, but your neighbor’s seen it twice.

We are not alone in the journey of fatherhood. And in the Body of Christ, we have the resources of a spiritual fraternity- wisdom and experience garnered by others through years of trial and error, success and heartache, triumph and defeat.

Paul exhorts us in Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Fatherhood is weighty. We bear a great deal on our shoulders for the provision and upbringing of our families. We need each other, men; we need each others’ input, advice, encouragement, and sometimes even rebuke. And we need to know that there is grace for when we fail, and new mercy from God for each new day.

Our success as fathers depends on our willingness to learn- from God, from our children, from our wives, from other fathers in the trenches beside us. And not only will we fortify ourselves and our parenting, but we will pass on an example for our sons to follow- an example that assures them that they need not go it alone; an example that demonstrates the richness and blessing available to us if we will humble ourselves enough to admit this:

I need help.

I cannot do this alone, by my strength alone, by my wisdom alone.

I lean on God, and I lean on my brothers in Christ to strengthen and encourage me to raise up sons who love and follow the Lord.

What about you? Do you have a mentor or support network of other dads standing with you in the parenting journey?

They Should Feel Pain

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Our boys need pain.

My guess is that you know this already. You sense it like you sense directions and don’t need maps (don’t run too far with that analogy within earshot of your wife).

When I address this topic with moms, I usually tame down the rhetoric a bit in order to deflect their concern over the fact that I just said, “Our boys need pain.” But with you fellow dads, I think I’m just saying something that you instinctually believe, but live in fear of saying.

It’s not difficult to spot the areas of culture where the lack of healthy pain for boys has manifested itself. Our sons are growing up in a world where the concept of working hard to achieve things is actually offensive to even mention. Because mom and dad (or just mom, in an unfortunate trend)  sheltered them from challenge, they think all of humanity exists to serve them. They don’t think they have to work hard for the chance to have a good job, a nice house, or an excellent wife.

Nonsense.

Those good things are fought for and won, not handed to you.

God told Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:28 that they would need to be fruitful and multiply (no problem there) and fill the earth and…wait for it…subdue it. That means work. Work itself is very healthy. Think about that moment of satisfaction when you worked hard to achieve something and you realize you just achieved it. As men, we rightly find a great deal of our identity in our work. How long does it take you when you meet a new fella to ask him, “So what do you do?” There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not advocating works-based salvation here; just recognizing a healthy male trait.

In a culture where everyone gets a first place ribbon in the race, we as dads must hold the line and teach our sons about reality. Reality is that there are winners and losers. Sometimes you are the winner and get the reward. Sometimes you are the loser. Yes, the loser. Their time spent in pain as the loser can teach them some of the most valuable lessons in life. They will simultaneously learn humility and rebounding. 

Working hard and experiencing pain brings growth and forward momentum. The basements of parents everywhere are filled with boy-men who always had things handed to them, like phony first place ribbons, and then balked at the first sign of challenge in the real world. Hence why many of them are on the couch in mom’s basement doing nothing but playing video games- not out of necessity, but out of pure cowardice and laziness. Video games are great. Maybe mom and dad’s basement is a safety net needed for a season. But safety nets are not permanent homes, and video games are not jobs (unless you literally have a video game job, in which case it’s pretty cool).

I have never heard of the woman who, when pressed for honesty, wanted to be married to a lazy coward. Some girls are deceived by the same culture that deceives our boys, that gives them a desirable image of a weakling who wants nothing but roses and sensitivity. Women realize this is a lie when they see that the weak, sniveling coward they married doesn’t have the you-know-whats to love them with passion and selfless dedication. We are told in Scripture to give ourselves up for our wives. As in, suffer and know pain in her place.

We must raise sons who are, to use the title of Stu Weber’s classic book, “Tender Warriors.” A warrior only becomes known as such when he has seen battle and known pain. When he has gone through an initiation into manhood that was hard and left him somewhat scarred.

So let’s teach them. Let’s show them these three principles: See battle. Know pain. Be a man.

Fist bump.

Kissing in the New Year

Hey Dad,

Happy New Year! Hope you had a great time with your family over the holiday and are ready to start the New Year. I don’t know about you, but I’m not always really thrilled to start a new year … I was just getting used to the old one.

Plus, I’m not the kind of guy who likes to make New Year’s resolutions and goals. Like Mary Poppins said so nicely, “Those are pie crust ‘resolutions,’ easily made and easily broken.”

However, I do have two minor … uh … let’s call them pseudo-resolutions. Here they are:

1) Empty the trash can under the kitchen sink.

2) Kiss my wife more.

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Photo Credit // The U.S. National Archives on Flickr Commons

I told you they were minor. Actually, they both came about because of conversations with my wife. For one, she told me that she doesn’t like constantly emptying the trash can under the sink. She even hinted that somewhere in the Bible it must say it’s the husband’s responsibility. I’ll have to check on that one. But I decided I’d like to do that for my wife … and at least it’s something small.

The kissing one is something I’m doing for my children. I was shocked the other day when my wife relayed a conversation she had with the kids in which they agreed that they hardly ever see us kiss.

I was tempted to argue the fact and point out that I hug and kiss my wife all the time … okay, some of the time. Then I decided that if that’s their perception, I’m going to change it.

I know how important it is for my kids to see us kiss and hug. It proves that what I say about loving their mom is true. When they see me kissing their mom, they feel secure in our love for each other. Even if we argue and get mad sometimes, kissing shows that our love for each other is strong and lasting.

It’s that powerful.

Now, my wife gets a little skittish about public smooching in front of the kids. She may put up a struggle … but it won’t work, because I’m ‘da dad and that’s part of my training strategy for fathering. And that’s what I’m going to do. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.

How about you, dad? Got any minor pseudo-resolutions? You might think about joining me in my quest for public wife-smooching. It’s certainly more fun than emptying the trash can under the kitchen sink.

 

You ‘da dad,

Todd

Todd “The Familyman” Wilson

www.familymanweb.com

what to expect from Boy Dads

Wondering about the posting schedule for this new Boy Dads community, and what you can expect when you subscribe?

Our goal is to have brand new content for you from our dads on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Occasionally, we’ll host reviews, giveaways, or just simple info posts on the other days of the week. We’d love to throw in some fun posts for boy dads too, but we’re learning what you like and what you don’t.

If you have any ideas for this community, or an idea of what you need as a dad to lead your family well, would you take a minute to leave a comment and tell us about it? 

boydads.com is here to help

In the meantime, don’t forget to enter to win one of two copies of Clay Clarkson’s devo for families, Our 24 Family Ways. And come back tomorrow to hear from another boy dad, and enter to win another amazing resource for your family.

Serving Together!