About 4 years ago, I was asked a question that stopped me in my tracks and immediately changed forever the lens through which I view myself as a father.
The question was simply:
“Do your kids see you as a “plus” OR “minus” in their lives?”
It was posed a second way:
“When you walk into the house, do your kids see a “+” OR a “-” on your forehead?”
As I pondered that question, my honest, and very painful answer was that I was a “-“ in the lives my kids (AND my wife). Not that everything I did was negative, but taken as a body of work, I was a “subtractor.” That day was a turning point for me. I solemnly vowed to myself that I would turn this ship around…I would become a BIG “+” in the lives of my people. And, by the grace of God, that has happened.
Dad, how would you answer those questions for yourself?
The reality is that in ALL of our relationships we are either perceived as a “+” or a “-“…a “giver” or a “taker” by the people in our lives.
In Part 1 of this series (click here), I addressed a major issue in our culture: ANGRY KIDS…primarily boys. (Note: Isn’t it ironic that the majority of the rioters and looters from this past week are…you guessed it…angry young men.) And sadly, “intense father involvement” has been a major CAUSE of this anger. But we further discovered that a major SOLUTION for this anger epidemic is also “intense father involvement.”
We dissected 2 biblical passages that specifically warn dads about their propensity to create angry and discouraged kids:
- “Fathers, DO NOT provoke your children to anger…”
- “Fathers, DO NOT aggravate your children, lest they become discouraged…”
In Part 2, I want to answer a question: We have discovered what we are NOT TO DO.
What, then, are we TO DO with our kids? How do we become a “+” in our kids’ lives?
Before I offer 9 ways that we can prevent this anger and discouragement in our kids, I want to describe the CONTEXT in which we will prevent it.
The passage continues: “Fathers…instead (of provoking and aggravating)…bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” (If you are not a person of faith, hang in there with me. There is helpful instruction for any dad).
Dad, right from the outset it needs to be noted that the leadership and oversight of “bringing up” our kids is addressed to FATHERS…not to moms, not to your kid’s school, not to the church, not to the government, not to your kids, and certainly not left to chance.
It is so easy to pawn this responsibility off onto someone or something else, but it rests squarely on your shoulders, Dad (even though mom will likely do a lion’s share of the work). This is on you, brother!
Now, let’s see what our marching orders are.
The phrase “bring them up” is actually one Greek compound word, “ektrepho.”
- “ek” carries the meaning “to exit out of; to separate from a close connection.”
- “trepho” means “to promote and encourage further development.”
- Together, “ektrepho”…”bring them up” means literally: “to promote and encourage further development so that a child separates from the close connection of the home”…
Visualize…the seemingly harsh action of the adult eagles nudging the protesting eaglet off the edge of the nest, forcing it to spread its wings and fly…to grow up.
Dad, our job is to get the kids ready to “leave the nest” as strong, mature young adults who can stand on their own two feet, ready and eager to add value to the world. This is a major part of our life work…and our kids are depending on us to do it. It is uncomfortable for them, and they will protest, but this work must be done. If it isn’t, we will release into the world weak, ill-prepared, fearful and insecure adults who will struggle mightily.
So…how do we do this? We “train” and we “admonish” …and in this order.
Let me explain.
As parents, part of OUR growth and development is learning how to parent our kids through the various stages of THEIR growth and development. Here’s a simple paradigm for the 4 stages/roles of parenting.
Role of Parent:
0-2 years old
3-11 years old
12-18 years old
18+ years old
This is vital to understand, for our parenting must morph and adapt at each stage. If it doesn’t, guess what we create? Yup…frustrated, angry and discouraged kids.
The Greek word for “train” is “paideia” and has a 2-pronged meaning:
- Prong #1: “holistic training…involving the cultivation of the body, mind and character…instruction which aims at increasing virtue, correcting mistakes and curbing passions.”
I love the word “cultivation”–“to improve and refine by labor, care or study.” Dad, we are “cultivators,” responsible for “improving and refining” the hearts, minds and bodies of our children. We study them, care for them, and labor over them. Sounds like sweat!
- Prong #2: “holistic training & cultivation…using commands and/or physical chastisement, as needed.
In the earlier years of our parenting, roughly from when our children are ages 3-12, we move from Caregiver to the role of Commander. We “command” our homes. We are Cultivating Commanders or Commanding Cultivators…take your pick.
What might “cultivating” and “commanding” look like practically?
I love the early story of Teddy Roosevelt, arguably one of our greatest presidents and American men. The man was bloody tough, known for his no-nonsense policy of “talk softly and carry a big stick.” But he didn’t start out tough.
Teddy was a sickly child, hacking and coughing with asthma (which was often fatal at the time), squinting through a fog of nearsightedness…and was generally a wall-flower of weakness. But his father was a student of his son, and refused to let Teddy languish as a weakling. He took Teddy aside one day and said:
“Theodore you have the mind but you have not the body, and without the help of the body, the mind cannot go as far as it should.
I am giving you the tools, but it is up to you to make your body.”
They immediately went to work. Teddy and his father built a gym in the house where he would box and lift weights. From this moment on, Roosevelt became a tireless champion of what he called the “strenuous life.” He became a strapping and hearty young man, taking up competitive boxing and rowing as a student at Harvard…and the rest is history.
What do we learn?
Teddy’s dad stood firmly in his role as Commander of the family without blinking or backing down. As “Cultivator”, he saw an area of weakness that would hamstring his son, and gave a directive for Teddy to address the issue of his frail body, and then helped him to make it happen. His instruction was not optional. He gave a command and his support. Teddy complied and cooperated, and it changed the course of his life forever.
Dad, being the Commander is not comfortable. It requires courage and inner strength. It requires observation, initiative, and energy. In the earlier years particularly, you are not having a lot of “chats” with your kids when it comes to their options. You are not primarily appealing to their reason or giving them pallets of choices. You are giving directives. You are “cultivating and “commanding” your family…lovingly, gently, wisely…but firmly, and with no apologies.
If the directive is blown off, you put on the hat of disciplinarian, and your appeal may very well shift to the “bottom”…where learning comes largely through the gluteus maximus, pain inflicted by you.
So, we “train”…but we also “admonish.”
The Greek word for “admonish” is “nouthesia” and means “teaching and training the mind through discourse and explanation.”
As our children move closer to legal adulthood, and their brains are developing, we move from Commander to Coach (13-18). Our approach changes. We shift from primarily giving directives, to teaching, discourse and explanation. Commanding from the front transitions to largely coaching from the side.
This is where I fumbled the ball badly. I did not transition from Commander to Coach. I wasn’t aware of this transition. I parented as best I could, but it wasn’t from knowledge or wisdom. My kids entered their teen years and I continued to command, to tell, to order. And when they didn’t respond well, I reacted with anger. (Any other hands up on this one?) The result? Angry and discouraged kids. I become a massive “-“ to them.
As we transition from Commander to Coach, out TOOLS become:
- Questions & Curiosity
- Listening skills
- Challenges to take bold steps
- Encouragement when they fail
- Willingness to (gently and graciously) speak hard truth
- Clear boundaries that allow them to make decisions and then enjoy the benefits or suffer the consequences of those decisions.
Our goal is to help our kids to:
- Learn to think and reason
- Think long-term vs. short-term
- Make wise decisions
- Distinguish between right & wrong
- Take responsibility for their actions
- Adjust, make changes and try again
…and we give them more freedom and latitude to succeed or fail at these things.
2 final observations:
#1 If you are feeling a bit overwhelmed at this point, it is completely understandable. This is a big responsibility…certainly more than just “bringing home the bacon.”
Brother, this requires that we grow, that we develop ourselves and become students of fatherhood. We can’t go into cruise control as a dad and think all of this will just magically happen. We must step boldly and wisely into our role as dad.
#2 If you will embrace “bringing up” your children…if you will engage in “training” and “admonishing” them, you will almost certainly see the “+” on your forehead grow. Your kids may screech and protest as you nudge them towards the edge of the nest, but they will greatly appreciate your courage and effort when they spread their wings and discover that they can fly. There will be no anger or discouragement at that point. Only gratitude.
Dad, I am cheering for you. You’re the man for this job!
P.S. If you are struggling with any of this, know that you are not alone. Many of us are right there with you. I would encourage you to read through my free resource “6 Actions of Men Who Are Winning At Home.” I think you will find it helpful.
What are some of the things your parents did right when they were “bringing you up”? Feel free to share your thoughts on this in the comments below. I love to hear your insights.