Of course, I am an excellent parent. I get up, work hard every day, and tell them I love them. Surely, they realize I do all of this for them. Why would I work as hard as I do if it wasn’t for them?
Humans are masterful storytellers. We can make ourselves believe and validate nearly any rational or irrational behavior. As parents, we make excuses for providing real leadership for our children. Let’s dispel a few of those excuses now and clear the way for leadership in our families.
I go to work every day for hours on end to provide a life for my family.
This is an excuse for validating endless work that our society has happily allowed us to employ. I know many people that spend countless hours at work because it is easier than parenting or leading a family. Work becomes a convenient excuse for avoiding the significantly greater responsibility of parenting. Let’s face it. Parenting can be a grind. The whining, the crying, the constant negotiations wear on every last nerve. Beyond shelter and food, our children really just need us. Parents are the ultimate influencers, and just because they watch you leave early and come home late does not mean you are positively impacting their lives. You are teaching them that work is more important than family. Beyond the necessities, there is no real need for the stuff. The pursuit of more is a result of an internal desire rather than a pure intention. We are so good at telling stories that we convince ourselves that it is for them and not us. Children spell love, T-I-M-E.
I will show them how to live through my actions.
Very admirable and also the minimum amount required. You do the right things, and your kids get to see that, but isn’t that basic to being a decent parent? To prepare our kids to live without us, we must teach them. Imagine if our military issued bullets only at the time of war. They get the guns from day one. They know what guns do, but they don’t know how to use them. This is the same for our children when we expect them to learn the fundamentals of life only through observation. As parents, we have an opportunity to teach them and show them. This does not require a formal lesson, but it does require your intentional effort.
For example, should we teach our children about love? The answer I most often hear is, “of course.” The reality is that they know love by watching how we love our family, but what happens when they encounter their first infatuation? How do we prepare them for this overwhelming experience? We teach them that puppy love or lust is not “love” at all. It is a chemical reaction that is only temporary. I wish I had understood this ahead of my infatuations. If they are experiencing it, we are too late in our instructions. However, if we intentionally prepare them through teaching, they will say, “This is what dad was talking about.” If we prepare them for what they will experience, it can help them cope with a potentially overwhelming situation.
Another example is fear. The majority of fear experienced in our country is irrational. It is an internal manifestation that has little to do with reality. Teaching our children where fear comes from, and the difference between healthy and unhealthy fear can position them to eliminate or better manage anxiety. Helping our children learn the fundamentals can also help us live better because it requires us to learn the material or subject matter objectively.
My kids don’t listen to a word I say.
Please allow me to call BS. Have you always been a quitter? The truth is, you don’t listen either. Kids want to be led. If parents are not leading them, someone else will and that someone else may or may not have their best interest in mind. As parents, we set the expectations of demonstrating respect. If you allow them to walk all over you, they allow themselves to be walked all over later in life. In my own life, I have experienced this reciprocal behavior. My mother has allowed my stepfather to walk over her and demonstrate zero respect for her for years. In the past, I have allowed a similar behavior of compliance and not standing up for myself to occur in my life. It is still a natural tendency that I must be aware of to avoid being taken advantage of and generally disrespected. Our children should know that they don’t have to agree, but they must listen.
My experience has been that even when I think they aren’t listening, they are soaking it all in. Here are the keys to communicating with kids:
Kids love stories and can totally relate to them. Ideally, stories will be about your experiences as examples of the subject matter. If you want kids to listen, tell them a story.
Keep it short and get to the point.
Go on too long, and you will lose them, especially on difficult topics. In my experience, 3-5 minutes max to cover a topic. Do that every day, and you have thirty minutes of topic coverage each week.
Have a point.
Ideally, your point is simple to comprehend and easy to recall. Great pastors are masters at breaking down complex subjects into easy to understand and comprehendible chunks. The saying at my church last year was “Know, Grow, Go.” Know Christ. Grow in Christ. Go spread the message of Christ. Simple, and if repeated regularly, is unforgettable. As we teach our children the fundamentals of life, we want them to be able to recall the subject matter for application.
Engage them in the conversation by asking questions. What are their thoughts or understanding about what you just explained? This feedback is essential for adjusting your strategy.
They are going to push back. Mine do every time because the subject matter is often new to them. Don’t give up. Keep showing the messages in bite-sized chunks that have an intended purpose. We don’t want to beat them over the head with it, but we should never give up on sharing the lessons. They are watching you and know your weaknesses better than you, so be a student of how best to share the message.
Sure, this material can be heavy, but it doesn’t have to be dry and boring. Have fun with it, and keep it light-hearted.
As parents, it is our responsibility to teach our children about the fundamentals of life. This teaching takes place in two ways: observation and intentional instruction. They are certainly watching our every move. From how we treat our spouse, to demonstrating anger, they are soaking it in and will mimic the same behavior in their own lives unless they find it so repulsive they do the opposite. They are watching. Allowing our children to learn through observation is the bare minimum. The next level of parenting is teaching them the fundamentals of life. The best way to cover the subject matter is in daily, bite-sized lessons delivered via a story, quote, or memorable phrasing. Parents are the ultimate teachers, but most of us have outsourced intentional instruction to society. Society doesn’t have your value system and will teach according to its best interest and not your child’s. Take charge of teaching the fundamentals.