Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Father Factor Part 2 (with less apologies to Bill O'Reilly)

5. Emphasize character formation (internal), not just cultural fads (external). As you’re having lots of conversations, use that platform to drive home your deep values (character traits, not just physical attributes). While the Bible is your best source for proactive conversations, fodder for reactive conversations can be found in the media. Why? It’s simple – it’s the one outlet that will be most opposed to what you’re trying to emphasize. Face it – the radio, TV, Internet, movie screen (and more!) will scream at your kids for years with both subliminal and open messages that are predominantly based on externals. It’s all very surfacy! You can run from it if you want, but that’s not the best way to equip them to deal with it for the rest of their life. Instead, challenge the media when you can from a biblical point of view. Talk about what you all have just heard, seen, or read and ask questions. Little by little you’ll instill in them what matters most – that God sees the heart first!

6. Refuse to criticize; reject negativity. Our words and attitudes are powerful elements when it comes to being a factor in the atmosphere of our home, so do all you can to keep criticism away from your address. Be positive! I’m not advocating a giddiness about society; there is a realism we need to grapple with. But I do wholeheartedly encourage all men to run towards a positive outlook and to say “No” to pessimism. Our faith in God means we can look up, have hope, and keep smiling!

7. Write it down and pass it on. We all think our kids will remember our words of wisdom. Guess what? They probably won’t. Don’t get me wrong – they might try, but they simply won’t. Generally, they’ll remember very little of what you say, but they will read most of what you write down. But writing and keeping our family legacies and memories isn’t high on most men’s to do list. Guess what? I’m suggesting it move up in priority on yours, especially if you want to factor in when you leave the scene. How? Sure, you can take the official approach of wills and testaments. I prefer the unofficial approach of writing letters, sending notes, leaving cards, and giving symbols. If the Old Testament families knew that keeping a spiritual legacy intact meant writing it down, and they found a way to pass it on with stones and tablets, how much better should we be able to accomplish that goal with all the extra technological add-ons we enjoy?!

The Father Factor Part 1 (with apologies to Bill O'Reilly)

For those who listened to my message, “The Father Factor,” and are checking out these hints as a result, thanks for stopping by. If you haven’t heard the message and are curious what this post is all about, consider it a collection of pointers on how to be a major “factor” in the life of your family. That’ll suffice as an intro (if only I could speak that quickly, eh?)

1. Model what you expect and include them when you can. Nothing carries greater weight than a walking, living example. So if you want to be a factor in their physical development, then keep your weight off, and even try and exercise with them as they get older. If you want them to spend wisely and save weekly, do it yourself first. If you want them to learn self control, then you respond calmly to your spouse. If you want to pass on a lifelong skill that has helped you, then you show them how, in addition to telling them how. As parents age, we tend to become “armchair” moms and dads, using our voice more than our lives. Stay committed to walking with them, not just speaking at them.

2. Adjust to the seasons of the journey. Family life is all about seasons of life, and you can be a major factor if you approach it in that way. For instance, when your kids are little, parenting just takes a lot of time. And I mean a lot! So adjust your work and hobbies accordingly. As they age, however, you’ll have more discretionary time (but less money probably!). When that starts occurring, adjust again. You get the point, right? I’ve discovered that often men want to live with a 2-year old like they have a son or daughter who is a 12-year old. Or a 22-year old. The result? Frustration! If we don’t adjust to the season we’re in, our expectations are never in line with reality, and that can lead to major problems.

3. Learn the “Pace Principle.” In a nutshell, the Pace Principle is all about being quickest when they’re youngest. I wrote about this in an earlier blog, but let me expand here a bit and say that, as kids mature and age, you don’t have to be quite as quick. This is no big surprise – As kids become more self-sufficient and less dependent, you, in turn, can become more trustworthy and less intrusive. Ideally, that’s a good thing! In fact, as your children enter the years where they are thinking more abstractly, you want to be more choosy with your actions and words. This doesn’t mean you’re slow, but you do have a little more time on the shot clock to work with (to use a basketball analogy).

4. Ask lots of questions…and listen to the answers. Questions breed conversation, and few things help you get to know your child/spouse like conversations. It’s the stuff relationships are made of! And it’s how we can be a significant factor. Of course, parents have long been labeled with the “you-never-listen-to-me” stigma, so once you ask, listen. And listen all the way to the end. Then ask more questions! Odd as it may sound, most kids provide their own answers – and yours! – if you ask enough questions. Keep in mind this doesn’t mean you agree; it simply means you’re polite. And when it is your turn to talk, you’ll be glad you modeled what courtesy looks like.

[Click here for Part 2]

Monday, April 20, 2009

Home Run? No Way...I'm Pooped!

Few messages have generated as much feedback from men as the one I delivered to our church family this past Sunday. And no wonder – whenever you ask men to stay engaged at home – to stay connected and involved after work – you’ll get plenty of responses.

I’m glad they felt they could respond! Truth is, 99% of the men who either emailed me, called me, or spoke with me face to face were wanting to do exactly that – stay engaged! “We want to, but how?” they’d ask.

So here’s a couple of suggestions from one who is in the trenches with you. One who struggles like you do to be “dad and hubby” after a long day. One who knows my kids want my best but I feel like all I have left sometimes is my worst. Yeah, that’s me more than I want to admit. Here’s what I do to stay engaged at home (most of the time):

Firstly, win one battle at a time. Sometimes if I look at the whole evening at one time, I can get a little overwhelmed. But if I just take the evening one question at a time – “Dad, wanna play soccer?” “Hey dad, let’s go bike riding!” “Honey, can you set the table?” “Dad, I need $20 for a team dinner tomorrow.” “Dad, can I get a ride to my friend’s?” “I need help with my homework, dad.” – I do much better. Face it, that many questions can be intimidating. But if I just simply address the one question asked of me at that moment, then try and resolve it honestly, I’ve stayed engaged, helped my family, and avoided red-lining due to our version of the Inquisition.

Secondly, stay in shape. You probably don’t want to hear this, but one of the reasons some men tire easily is because they are out of shape, overweight, and wrongly nourished. For instance, getting a sugar high at work may make you feel revved for an intense meeting, but at some point – usually later that night at home – you’re left dry. It’s what I call the “High and Dry Syndrome” – we get high for work and end up dry for our family. Why? One reason could be bad eating habits.

Another reason could be a lack of motion/exercise. Before you click out of this screen, bear with me a little longer. When you are out of shape and in less-than-desirable cardio condition, you will run out of energy faster because your body has to work harder. But when men are in decent shape, they can stay engaged and involved longer (like at home after work!); their bodies last past 5:00! Personally, I didn’t think it would happen, but I watched my energy level increase when I started getting up early and exercising. Odd, ain’t it? I started expending energy and felt better! An added benefit is that you are emotionally better fit as well, as exercising releases endorphins, God’s natural chemicals that help you feel relaxed and stress-free.

Remember -- energy isn’t created or destroyed; it is only changed, transferred or utilized. In the world of exercise, think about like this: when you start moving, it helps you keep moving. Why? Because you have accessed your stored energy and utilized it, which, in turn, releases endorphins and makes you feel better. And when you feel better, you usually want to engage. Stay connected. Believe it or not, getting in shape will help you find renewed energy for the ones who matter most.

Now drop and crank out 50 pushups…your wife and kids will thank you later.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Simple Parenting: Pick Up the Pace!

Simple parenting has a good deal to do with pace. So much so that I have come to believe this basic principle about mommyhood and daddyhood in the early years: When kids are young, parents have to be quick-footed and fast-fingered. In four words? Pick up the pace!

Perhaps some illustrations might shed some more light on what I mean by this phrase.

Say you’re preparing supper, and your 1.5 year old, who has been walking a few months now, decides to check out the stovetop – which has two eyes “on” – about the time you are setting the dishes on to the table. Are you going to take the time, hands full of plates and silverware, to explain yourself, hoping he or she will listen? Probably not. Your best bet is to get to the stove quick; that becomes the immediate priority. Your curious child needs a fast-paced parent who will take charge and make a decision that is in the best interest of everybody. Pick up the pace.

You’re at the mall with your newly potty-trained toddler, when suddenly he or she says, “I gotta go potty.” You can scold him or her for no bladder control for the next half hour, maybe beg him or her to hold it, perhaps even try and bargain your way to a few more minutes in the shoe aisle. But your best bet is to move quickly and find a bathroom. No excuses; just locate a toilet quick. ‘Cause no matter what you do or say, kids that age need a fast-paced parent who will take charge and make a decision that is in the best interest of everybody. Pick up the pace.

You’re visiting a friend, and your young child explores the kitchen drawers, finding the good, sharp scissors. You notice his continued curiosity from the table, but instead of acting quickly, you assume he’ll know they sharp. Or that he’ll know what you’re thinking – “Don’t play with the scissors.” Or that he’ll be polite and put them back promptly. Yeah, right. And though a simple “No” should suffice, the risk of sharp scissors is too great to assume a verbal suggestion will work. It needs to be accompanied by quick feet. Speak and move with haste! ‘Cause no matter what you do or say, kids that age need a fast-paced parent who will take charge and make a decision that is in the best interest of everybody. Pick up the pace.

There’s just no way around it – small children need fast-paced parents. If you’re into long dialogue and explanations with 2 year olds, you’ll probably struggle. (strike the word “probably” … you will struggle.) What little kids need is action. So pick up the pace. Frankly, less explanation and more action would do many small kids a world of good. In my simple opinion, there’s just too many words floating around in the parenting world, and not near enough solid action. We’ve got way too much reasoning going on and not enough responding. No wonder we have a world full of tired and worn out parents; we’ve talked ourselves to death!

Remember, however, you can still be quickly responsive while relaxed; don’t confuse the two. Likewise, don’t think that being fast with action is the same s being rash or hasty. Not at all! You can move quickly to rescue a little toddler from self-destruction, settle a situation between siblings, or resolve a crisis before it erupts and still do it in the right attitude. Quick and calm can go together. Try it – it works amazingly well!

And I’m not saying you should never talk. Just know when to talk. With small children, talking is best before or after. “During” rarely works when they’re little. That’s when your feet and hands need to do the talking. So swing into action, then explain later. Truth us, when parents show a lack of speed to step in, it usually indicates a lack of authority. You’ll hear some parents say, “I’m just patient.” I think that’s code for “I’m afraid.”

Say what you will, I firmly believe in simple parenting. And one of the simplest tips that has helped me the most is this: Pick up the pace!

Gotta run….little Johnny just stuck his hand in my pet piranha tank. No time to talk!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Why I Feel Like the Town Sheriff

I'm about to begin a new teaching series at our church called "Home Run: Rounding the Bases of Your Most Important Relationships" (Psalm 128), and I feel somewhat like the town sheriff -- people will either love me or hate me.

Okay, I'm being a little hyperbolic, but let me explain. The lowdown on family-type series is that they “leave me out" ‘cause someone is either single, an empty nester, divorced, etc. It's like a default response to the notion that all series on relationships have to be cemented within the marriage parameter. But why not a series where home and family, and the relationships that stem from that home and family, are the focus. After all, we're all part of a family; we're still in a home even if we're not still at home.

Think about it like this...Everyone is either a father, mother, son or daughter. No exceptions! You are part of a family. Your physical location to that family may have changed, but your genetic connection is still intact. In other words, your role may have changed, but your relation hasn’t!

For instance, I’ll always be a son to two people – Roger and Betty Stiles! Has my role changed? Sure! But has my relation changed? No – I am still a son and always will be! Sure, I am other things as well, and while adding a role may change a previous one, it doesn’t cancel it! That's my goal -- to help us hit a home run in our core relationships, no matter what role they have taken.

So I'm looking forward to this new series. And I want listeners to give it an honest hearing. Because it’s not all about your present role, but also your timeless relation. And what I’ll be asking from all of us over the next several weeks is this: Be the father/mother/son/daughter you are – hit a “home run” when it comes to that core identity! As you swing away for that fence, you'll discover new joy in the relationships that matter most on this earth – those that constitute your physical family.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Baseball and the Beave

I really like baseball season! Opening day, an afternoon game at Principal Park, the playoffs…gotta love spring’s sport.

I also like Jerry Mathers (Uhm, FYI - that’s Wally’s brother, the Beave on “Leave it to Beaver.”) Has there ever been a better show about family? Granted – the exclusive dinner jacket on Ward and the exquisite dishwashing pearls on June are far from realistic, but then again, when has TV ever been realistic. (Like Jack Bauer is anymore “real” than Beaver Cleaver?)

So what’s the connection? I’ve been prepping for my upcoming series on the family – “Home Run!” -- and baseball and the Beav keep coming to mind. They keep reminding me that there is no better place to swing for the fences – hit a homerun! -- than with my family. (Yeah, I know, lame connection, but it works in my small mind!) So many times we give our best “swing” to everyone else, when home is really where we ought to be hitting our best!

Seriously, what a perfect time of the year to start thinking about the most important place on earth: your home. Your dug out. Your family’s locker room. The place where you take off your cleats and hang up your jersey each night, all smelly and dirty…and everyone understands. The best place to swing away with a 3-0 count, ‘cuz missing doesn’t mean you’re cut from the team. The one field where you can boot a ground ball and still come out next inning. Where the fans are all related, and the cheers are loud and long. Where team dinners are the best part of game day, practice ends with a tuck in, and coach is called mom. Or dad.

Ah, baseball and the Beave. Sort of makes you think differently about “home” field advantage.