Investments That Are Worthwhile

Investments That Are Worthwhile

On May 25 my middle son turned 13. Now I have two teens in the house and a third one closing in (he will turn 12 in June). We try to make birthdays special in our home. Not by focusing on gifts, which we do give, but by reaffirming how uniquely and purposefully God made them.

Here’s one way we did that for Cademon on his birthday. I asked each one in the family to tell something they appreciate about Cademon and why they are glad he was born. It had to be something that related to Cademon’s personality or character (his ability to ice skate well is great, but not as important as his way of being a loyal friend).

Getting gifts is awesome and receiving them from friends and family does insinuate that you are loved. But, the luster of material things eventually fades, tears up, or loses its attraction. Just like other “gift-giving” holidays such as Christmas, Easter, or Valentine’s Day, we tend to focus on material gifts rather than gifts that are INVESTMENTS. Investing in gifts that develop the heart and character of who they are is  more likely to yield worthwhile results.  As a matter of fact Webster defines investment as an act of devoting time, effort, or energy to a particular undertaking with the expectation of a worthwhile result.  That sounds a lot like the journey of parenting to me.

Two things that stood out to me about this particular definition of “investment” were the words expectation and worthwhile. Let’s look at the first…expectation. Most of us think in financial terms when we hear the word investment. And just as those in the arena of finance must consider, or better yet, speculate, the “who, what, when, and where’s” before investing, we as dads should consider likewise in relating to our sons. Financial advisers/planners will utilize all the resources, tools, and information at their disposal to make the best choice for the best result…BUT…they only do so with the expectation of a positive result…there is no guarantee! They understand the outcome is out of their control. They must rely on their due diligence and hope their decision was the right one.

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Investing in relationships is much the same. We as fathers give and give and…well, give some more. We sacrifice and labor in love. Our time, effort, and energy compile into countless hours of fatherly duties. But we only do so with an expectation…not a guarantee…that our investments will yield the “fruit” we desire in our sons.

One of the most challenging things to accept in the process of parenting is surrendering the “right” that our children turn out OK, or safe, or comfortable, or even Godly. Yep, that’s a tough statement to swallow. I didn’t say it’s wrong to want these things for your children; but if these expectations cause us to falsely think they are “rights” then we are setting ourselves up for a potentially dangerous let down.

Finally, I noticed the word worthwhile. I love this unassuming word because it invokes a sense of caution. Carefully considering how and where we should give ourselves will make the biggest difference in the life of our sons. I’ve heard many times that having purpose is paramount to accomplishing our goals in life. I would clarify that by saying it’s not enough to have purpose. You must have the right purpose. It’s like the guy who worked so hard to make it to the top of the ladder only to realize he leaned against the wrong wall.

Every day so many things vie for our attention, our energy, and our gifts. Most of those things don’t deserve them. Only those things that yield worthwhile results are worthy of our devotion.

So, what’s worthwhile? I think our sons are a good place to invest!

One Of The Greatest Gifts To Our Sons

On April 22 my wife and I celebrated our 18th Anniversary. It’s natural to reflect on the many adventures we’ve shared during those years. As with all marriages, we’ve had our share of challenges. We’ve fought through financial setbacks, weathered thirteen moves, and experienced three different career paths. But the most rewarding aspect of these 18 years has been our three boys. For most of those years, fifteen to be exact, a son has been listening to and observing us together. You could say they have been the source of much of our happiness and delight. They’ve been the source of some of those challenges as well. Nevertheless, they bring an added sense of purpose and meaning to our family. And for that reason I am thankful for the woman that God has given me as a wife and mother.

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When I consider the purpose and responsibility of a family, it’s imperative that I acknowledge how my sons observe the way my wife and I treat each other. How we speak to one another, support one another, and handle conflict are all paramount in raising our boys. Obviously, we aren’t perfect. We have made countless mistakes. Many times our boys have observed our messiness. Unfortunately, they’ve expressed those mistakes and failures in their own life at times.

Therefore, I want to share with you one of the greatest gifts you can give your son(s). For some of you this may seem obvious. To others, it might be unassuming. Either way, do not take for granted how important this is in raising your boys.

Gifts To Our Sons
One of the greatest gifts you can give your boys is the example of loving, honoring, and esteeming your wife. I understand there is more to unpack here than I have time for in a blog post. But here are some questions (and some added comments) that might open the way for reflection. I find myself pondering these often. Ask God to help you be real, honest and humble. By the way, it’s not easy to be real, but the reward is always underestimated.

How does your son feel about girls/women in general? Does he view them as inferior or second-class?

(Your son is learning, whether or not you’re aware, so you be the one to teach him. Is he being taught a clear understanding of how God intends for men and women to relate to each other: work related, friendship, dating, marriage, etc?)

How does he hear you talk about your wife when she is not around?

(This tends to be most telling when you and your wife are experiencing conflict. What does he learn about humility, honor, esteeming another person, responsibility, blaming, courage, and selflessness?)

Is the physical more important than the other aspects of her being?

(Women love to hear that they’re beautiful, but include the inside as well as the outside. Boys need to see the beauty of Christ is multi-faceted as it’s expressed in all of us. This includes a woman’s intellect, emotions, creativity, gifts, talents, and aspirations)

Do you find ways to serve her in front of your son?

(I say in front of your son not to show off or to be a fake, but genuinely offering yourself in a way that honors and esteems her as a woman of God. The small things go a long way. If you don’t know how or what that is, then ask her. This is the beginning step to teaching your son about having a servant’s heart)

Do you participate in discussions, often with other guys, where it casts women in a demeaning or slanderous light?

(Our boys are growing up in a generation where TV, media, and entertainment cast women as objects and men as bozos. Teaching them to treat girls with respect, tenderness, and selflessness begins with being a leader in the marriage)

Do you ask for her opinion or insight when making decisions? Does she feel she is in partnership with you or just a bystander reaping the consequences of what you decide?

(Are you always right? Is it your way or the highway? Teaching our sons to be inclusive to others in problem solving is not only honoring to them, but also helps teach selflessness and tolerance)

Do you compliment and praise her? Her looks, her accomplishments, her attention to the home, the kids, the meals, YOU!

(The best way to ensure your son learns gratitude is to express your gratefulness to your wife. Show it, say it, and share it…make it a habit)

How does she know you are leading her? What are the ways she would say you are leading in the home?

(This takes humility, so be prepared for her honesty. Having a date night speaks volumes about relationship to your son. He will notice much of what has been discussed above: esteeming her, showing her value, being selfless, and making the people we love a priority)

By no means are these questions meant to be exhaustive, or to “guilt” you into a performance-based way of relationships. Rather, I hope they spark some self-evaluation as you consider the messages your son might be getting as he observes you and your wife together. What a responsibility AND opportunity we have as fathers. We have a direct influence on the next generation of leaders…our sons. We also have an empowering influence on the next generation of husbands and fathers. I would argue there is nothing more important to a man’s success in life.

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Whose Problem Is This?

Every week my wife and I face situations where we must help our boys learn the responsibility of the choices they make. Believe me, there are plenty of opportunities with three boys around. The challenge is allowing them the freedom to make decisions and walking them through the consequences. Some of the choices they make are good and beneficial, while others are not and create messes. When this happens, our job as parents is to help our boys “own their messes.” This was especially difficult when they were younger because we didn’t like to see them fail, feel pain, or lose out. Sometimes it was just as easy to solve it myself and move on.

Either way, we came to realize that our approach was not working for two reasons. One, our boys’ messes eventually became our messes, even if we had nothing to do with it. Two, it became apparent that our boys weren’t learning for themselves how God designed them to grow into maturity. The day my wife and I figured this out and implemented a different plan with our boys, a surprising transformation took place in our home. We breathed a little easier, the arguing diminished, and the communication of what was expected of them became much clearer.

Here’s an example. Each of our boys has chores around the house. Each of them knows what is expected regarding when and how the chores are to be done. Recently, the chore of taking out the trash went “unattended.” It was overflowing and was smelling something awful. Now, how did I used to handle this? Yell, fuss, belabor the point of how it needs to be done without me always having to give reminders…interject some threats of punishment, and then send him away.

How do we solve this issue in our home now? I calmly called for my son, asked for his cell phone, told him the trash was not taken out by the time we both agreed upon, and informed him he would get the phone back at a later time. No yelling, threatening, or arguing. I know it seems too cut and dry, almost too easy. Rest assured, it doesn’t always go smoothly; but it does create the results we want for our boys.

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Below are a few things we did that laid the groundwork for this kind of environment in our home. I also added, in italics, how these points applied to the “taking out the trash” situation above. Know that it will take time, diligence, and even courage to establish this kind of environment, so be patient and graceful. Remember the goal…heart connection.

1)    Make the expectations clear for both of you. Mutually agree upon who is responsible in each situation, especially when something doesn’t go right. (My son understands that the trash cannot get to a point of overflowing AND/OR be constantly reminded to do something he already knows to do)

2)    Offer them “real” choices. Not just a choice between what you want them to do and don’t want them to do. That’s a set up for failure. Offer two options where either one will work for you. Help them understand the benefits and consequences of not choosing either of the options. (If I don’t allow my son to have some control in how he decides to do his chore, then he might feel like he has no ownership—choosing the day, time, or way empowers him with responsibility. Having a cell phone is a privilege that requires responsibility in other areas of his life.)

3)    If they choose “poorly” (kids who push the envelope will do this) be prepared with a plan of what YOU will do to still make it their problem. What I mean is this: consequences breed ownership, ownership breeds responsibility. (On occasion I get push back– you know, a little attitude. I respond to this by saying some of the greatest words a parent will ever learn: “I’m sorry you feel that way, but that’s not my problem.” This keeps the problem where it should be…on its creator. If I get more attitude I encourage them by saying, “I understand this is hard for you, but I think you’re fully capable of figuring this out. If you need help with that, let me know.”)

4)    Guard your heart! It’s easy and tempting to become frustrated, desperate, or even angry. Keeping our emotions in check prevents the situation from escalating any further. Just as God is long-suffering with us when we are figuring out life, we need to be the same with our kids.

Teaching our kids (especially boys) to create solutions for their problems without us deciding for them is one of the best gifts we can give to them while they’re in our home. Doing this with sanity and patience can only come from the Holy Spirit’s power working through us. If this is a challenge to you or you have questions about this topic, I invite you to share them with me.

http://chadssmith.com/

Freedom & Choices

One of the toughest jobs we face as parents can be balancing giving our children freedom and then setting parameters/boundaries. It can be especially challenging as they grow older into adolescence. Whether naturally or by force, responsibility is an inevitable fact of growing up. As the old saying goes, “With freedom comes responsibility.” So, how do I walk this line of knowing when and where and how much at the right level?

Let’s begin with a simple fact…God created mankind to be free (Gen. 1-2). Think back to Adam and Eve in the Garden: what made that environment free? To begin with, there had to be a choice. Thus, God set a limit on what they were allowed to have by introducing the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil into the Garden. Without the option of making a poor choice there could not have been absolute freedom. Furthermore, the purpose in God doing this was to express His unconditional love for them. God did not want robots—“do as you’re told”—He wanted authentic relationship that reflected the relationship found in the Triune God, one that was not based in fear or control. This is crucial in understanding our relationship with our loved ones, namely, our children. When considering this type of relationship some might question why God did such a thing to Adam and Eve. Did He set them up for failure? Why not place the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil right next to the Tree of Life to make the better choice more obvious…or place it far away, out of sight, so that it’s much more difficult to find? If I really cared about my beloved creation and wanted to prevent anything bad happening to them, that’s what I would have done, wouldn’t you?

This logical way of thinking determines much of how we parent as well. As parents we have a tendency to train our children in “serious” limitations so they will not sin. Sound familiar? I can think of the many ways in which I’ve parented out of fear of my boys making mistakes. Quite honestly, I think it’s a little tougher raising boys because they seem to push those limits earlier and more aggressively.

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With 3 boys in our home, God presents me with plenty of opportunities to practice this idea of giving choices and helping them with responsibility. My wife and I are constantly navigating the murky waters of protecting them, respecting their privacy, allowing consequences to their choices, and granting freedom for the sake of maturity. Having a 15 year old makes it even more challenging.

As I reflect on how God dealt with the possibility of Adam and Eve failing—and they failed…BIG TIME!—I realize a lesson for me in parenting my sons. If I’m afraid of sin, failure, mistakes, or poor choices in my sons, then I am prone to parent out of fear rather than love. I will tend to develop an expectation that they live a mistake-free life. In reality, the goal of this way of parenting is compliance and obedience without love and heart connection. It’s interesting to think how hard I work to eliminate poor choices in my sons’ lives, yet God actually introduced one in the Garden. What does this say about how I should view freedom, choice, and consequences in my daily life as a parent?

God had a plan for the failure of Adam and Eve—Jesus (Gen. 3:15). He brings peace and purpose to all situations, good or bad, clean or messy, success or failure. God uses our freedom to invoke trust, to take the ups and downs of life and cultivate a life of dependence on Him. His attitude towards our sin and failure is, “Yeah, you messed up…not good…and there’s a consequence. But, I love you, I’m here for you, and I need you to trust Me.” In his book Loving Our Kids On Purpose, Danny Silk says, “…at the heart of godly parenting is the conviction that the mistakes and failures of our children are not the enemy. The real enemy is bondage, and if we don’t teach our children how to walk in and handle freedom, they won’t know what to do with it.”

So, how are you handling the challenges of freedom, responsibility, choices, and consequences? Are you afraid of where your child might sin, fail, or make a poor decision? Where might you be too restrictive or controlling? Is it tough for you to allow your child to fail…in a safe and loving environment? Ask God to give you wisdom in the way you trust Him, so that you might guide your children in trusting you.

 

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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