Most parents want what’s best for their children, but sometimes it comes at the expense of their children. So what’s the secret to great parenting?
- When you think back to childhood, were your parents pushy, patient, or something in between? Explain.
- What are your strengths as a parent?
- Have you ever made a parenting decision you now regret? If yes, explain.
- If your child were asked, how important would they say your reputation is to you?
- As a parent, when is patience most difficult?
- What kind of relationship do you hope to have with your child or children in 10 years? Do you feel you are on track or are there changes you need to make?
NOTE: The following content is a raw transcript and has not been edited for grammar, punctuation, or word usage.
So here’s something to help launch us into today’s topic, I want you to think about this. Your parents behavior, think about this. Your parents’ behavior, your parents’ behavior, not their advice, not their advice, determined whether or not you would want to be like them, or even with them when you were old enough to choose for yourself. Think about that. It was your parents’ behavior, not their advice, not even their parenting skills that determine or not you want to be like them or with them. It was how they behaved towards you. It was how they behave toward each other, it was what they did. It wasn’t what they required, again, it was their behavior, not their parenting skills that determine the trajectory of your relationship with your parents, so… And this should give us a moment to pause, chances are your behavior, not your advice will determine whether or not your children will want to be like you, or whether or not they even like you.
Your behavior will determine whether or not your children will want to be you or even be with you when they’re old enough to decide for themselves. I mean… That’s a little scary, isn’t it? Similarly, in a similar way, your parents’ behavior, think about this. Your parents’ behavior determined how much respect you had or have for your parents, and respect… This is important. Respect creates influence. If there’s no respect, there’s no influence. And odds are, the same will be true with you and your children. If you want influence with your children later, and trust me, you will, you must maintain their respect now. And the way you maintain their respect is how you behave more on that in just a bit.
We are in this series entitled Parenting in the 21st Century. If you are a parent, if you’re about to be a parent, you hope to be a parent, maybe you’re helping another parent parent or you’re watching your own kids parents, this is for you. It’s actually for anybody who feels the weight and the responsibility of equipping an infant, a child, a teenager or a student for life. And those of us who are engaged really at any level in helping another human being grow up, recognize pretty quickly that just because we had a parent, it doesn’t mean we know anything about being one, and just because we were a kid once doesn’t mean we know anything about raising one any more than having had a surgery once prepares you for surgery, right.
Now, if we’re talking about parenting, and if you’ve read much of the Bible, you know that when it comes to good examples of family, and when it comes to good examples of parenting, there are virtually none to be found in the Bible. In fact, when it comes to examples of real life family dysfunction, the Bible is actually your go-to source. It is full of family dysfunction. In fact, apparently, even Jesus didn’t get along with his own siblings. They thought he was crazy. They thought he was crazy until after the resurrection, and then there was like a collective, “Oh, well, that explains things.” But in terms of learning anything about parenting, even from the story of Jesus, the story of Jesus isn’t even helpful, but Jesus and the authors of the New Testament pointed the way forward for all of us, and specifically, I think, pointed the way forward for parents.
And while Jesus never talked about parenting directly, he laid the foundation for New Testament parenting when he laid the foundation for New Testament behavior. Did I mention that your behavior will determine whether or not your children will want to be like you, with you, or even like you? Anyway, so Jesus laid the foundation for his followers’ behavior when he issued his new covenant command. We talk about this all the time. He called it his new command. “A new command I give you,” he said. Not to be added to the existing commands. His new command was designed to replace all the existing commands. As we’ve discussed before, the apostle Paul referred to this all-encompassing new command as The Law of Christ. The law of Christ, which is to love others as Jesus loved us.
Now, one of the things that we’re fond of saying around here is that following Jesus will make your life better and will make you better at life. And to the point of this series, following Jesus will make you a better parent, because at the core of being a Jesus follower is an ethic of others first, an ethic of selflessness, and nothing… Let’s face it. Nothing surfaces our self-centeredness and our selfishness quicker and fiercer than raising another human being, a human being that comes into the world with one agenda, the same agenda that we came into the world with, and it’s this, “What’s in it for me! And I want my way! And if I can’t get my way, I’m gonna get in your way and I’m gonna make your life miserable.” Think about it.
From day one. From day one, the stage is set for a clash of wills of epic proportion, a clash of wills that has the potential to bring out the worst in us, the fear in us, the insecurity in us, the anger in us, let’s be honest, the ugly in us. In fact, the most shame I’ve ever felt as an adult is related to my self-centered “where did that come from” responses to my own kids. Here’s the thing. It is in the eventual conflict of wills associated with parenting that the core ethic and value system of Jesus, it actually becomes more relevant than ever because, insecurity and anger and fear. What are those? Those are all manifestations of self-preservation and reputation preservation on our part, both of which fuel the very behaviors that drive a wedge between us and our children, behaviors that cause us to lose influence once they’re old enough for us to have lost control.
In fact, in fact, one of the reasons it is so much easier to know how other people should raise their kids is that their kid’s behavior doesn’t reflect poorly on us. Our kid’s behavior points directly back to us, and our response, this is so important, our response says a great deal about who and what we are most concerned about. And when we get it right, when we are able to keep our ego and our pride in check, when we’re able to respond out of concern for our kids, rather than in response to how our kid’s behavior reflects on us, our response has the potential to create not only teachable moments, but defining moments. And I’ll give you an example.
When I was in the eighth grade… And let me put this in embarrassing context. When I was in the eighth grade, which was 48 years ago… Let that sink in for a moment. 48 years ago, I had a conversation with my dad that I still remember to this day. Now, I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was a defining moment in terms of my understanding as a kid of where I stood in relationship to my father’s desire to protect his reputation. Now, this is important. We should all protect our reputation. My dad was concerned about his reputation, as I am, as you are. Our reputations are important, but our children are important as well, right. These are both values. These are both things that we value. And in life, we’re constantly prioritizing our values, and our children are watching and they are experiencing how we prioritize our values and how we prioritize them.
And one misguided response or one misguided remark has the power to undo a lot, a lot of affirmation. Anyway, so my dad is a pastor. And at the time, our church was located downtown Atlanta on Peachtree Street, one block north of the famous Fox Theater, but more importantly to this story, our church was located about three blocks east of the Varsity restaurant. Now, for those of you who have never been to Atlanta, the Varsity restaurant is the largest drive-in restaurant in the world, but not only did it have slots for cars back in the day, it had what I will call eating rooms. I don’t wanna say dining rooms. There wasn’t a lot of dining going on at the Varsity. These eating rooms were basically full of plastic chairs all in a row attached to plastic little tables, think fifth grader desk, and they’re all facing in the same direction, toward a television hanging from the ceiling.
Now, the Varsity was within walking distance of our church. So right after Sunday School, my best friend, Louie Giglio and I would slip out the back, head out to the Varsity, order some food, find an empty eating room because most of them were empty on Sunday mornings, and then one of us would risk our lives standing up on the table attached to the chair to manually change the channel of the television to our church worship service, which was broadcast live on Channel Five. And then, we would sit and talk and eat and pay just enough attention to the sermon to be able to comment on it intelligently on the ride home with our parents. We wouldn’t lie, exactly. We just deceived. Anyway, we would have enough information to give them the impression that we were actually in church listening to my dad preach, and that brings me to this most memorable moment with my father.
We were driving home from church. It was just the two of us and I was sitting directly behind him in our green Grand Safari station wagon. You may remember those. The third seat faced backwards. Anyway, I’m sitting right behind him so there’s no eye contact. And at some point in the conversation, he said, “Andy, Evelyn told me that someone told her that they saw you and Louie leaving church and leaving the church property right after Sunday School.” And then he paused. Now, Evelyn was my dad’s secretary. We had secretaries in those days. When he said that, I didn’t say anything. I assumed I knew what was coming next, and I assumed it would not be pleasant. And then, after what seemed like an eternity, he said something I would never forget, but when he said it, he had no idea I would never forget it. And that 48 years later, I would still remember it. Here’s what he said. He said, “And Andy, do you know what I told her?” I said, “No, sir.” He said, “I told her, ‘You tell your friend to raise her kids and I’ll raise mine.'”
Silence. That was it. He didn’t follow up with, “but if you and Louie ever skip… ” None of that. He just dropped it. And he never brought it up again. And in that moment, I felt drawn in rather than pushed away. I felt important. I felt like my dad sided with me rather than against me. Now, I didn’t have words for it then, but at a level that I probably couldn’t even have understood as an eighth grader, on that day, I knew I was more important to my dad than his public reputation. His ego was in check. He put me first and I felt it, and honestly, I still feel it. That was some really good parenting. And here’s the interesting thing, and this won’t surprise you. The next Sunday, Louie and I were on the second row.
Now, here’s the thing, a defining moment… A defining moment is better than a teachable moment. We love teachable moments as parents, but I’m telling you, a defining moment is better than a teachable moment, but they are so easy to miss when our ego is not in check. When our reputation’s on the line, what we do and how we respond, how we behave when our ego was on the line, it leaves a mark for good or for bad.
Now, before I get back to what Jesus had to say, one more little ancillary lesson that’s related to this particular story. I mentioned that my dad in that moment, he put me first, first as in ahead of his reputation. But one thing he and my mom never did, they never put me in the center. My parents never allowed me or my sister to control the family dynamic by placing us in the center. And this is really important, and this is something a lot of parents miss, especially first-time parents. One of the best pieces of advice… One of the best pieces of advice Sandra and I received early on was this, and again, when we heard this, we didn’t even have kids. They said, you were already a family before you had children. You were already a family before you had children. Your children are simply a welcome addition to something that already exists. This is so important because let’s face it, the gravitational pull is for the child or for our children to become the center of a family, and that is a mistake. They are welcome additions. Don’t make them the main act. So back to where we started.
As it turns out, the ruby-red slippers of parenting, the secret of parenting is actually embedded in Jesus’ new covenant command. A command fueled by a value system of check your ego at the door. Just like Jesus did, in fact, on that note, this is so interesting. The Apostle Paul says that Jesus, who was in very nature God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped or to be leveraged for his own benefit, so if he didn’t, we shouldn’t either. Clearly, Jesus kept his ego in check and he had every excuse not to. He was God, but anyway, his is a value, a system of others first, sacrificial love, tough love. “If you hate me, so be it” love. I will not do anything for you if it’s not good for you, because I love you. But the challenge, as I’ve pointed out, is that when Jesus issued his new covenant command, he wasn’t talking specifically to parents, but fortunately, the Apostle Paul comes along a few years later, and he gives us some handles… Some specific application.
Basically, his message was this. Here’s what the Jesus brand of love looks like in the real world, in real relationships. Here’s how love behaves. Here’s how love behaves under pressure. Here’s how love behaves at home. Here’s how love behaves when you’re raising your children. Paul supplies his readers, he supplies us with handles in all of his letters. In fact, all of his “one another” statements that you’ll find scattered around his letters, “Forgive one another”, “Encourage one another”, “Carry one another’s burdens”. “Submit to one another”, these are all simply applications of Jesus’ new covenant command, but his most famous explanation of what the Jesus brand of love looks like and how it behaves is also, I think, his most instructive for parents. His most detailed description of what the Jesus brand of love looks like and acts like is found in his first letter to Christians living in Corinth, which is located in Greece.
For the remainder of our time today, we’re gonna focus our attention on just three words from 1 Corinthians. Three words that summarize one facet of how love behaves and how love should behave at home. Here it is, you’re familiar with this. Paul writes, Love is… Love is, and again, this is not just any kind of love, this is the Jesus brand of love. This is the brand of love demonstrated by Jesus and the brand of love that Jesus’ followers are commanded to follow, even his parent followers, even his step-parent followers. After all, you love your son, right. You love your daughter. Paul says, “Love is patient.” Patient.
Why did he have to start there. Right? And how did he know? I mean, one of my worst habits when our kids were young was I would say something like this to Sandra, I would say, “So you’re gonna be gone in the morning, so you’re gonna need me to babysit. Right?” She’d say, “No, you don’t babysit. You parent. You’re the parent.” And I’d be like, “Oh yeah, but it kind of feels like babysitting because it feels like an interruption.” I had to stop, I had to slow down. I had to move at someone else’s pace. That’s what love required of me as a parent, because love isn’t pushy. It’s patient. And honestly, whenever I read this verse or think about this verse, I always think about this picture.
This is a picture of Sandra’s dad walking on the beach at Hilton Head, South Carolina with our middle child, Garrett, when he was obviously very young. Every time I look at this picture, I think two things. I think number one, grandparents are more patient than parents, and the other thing I think about is this, what happens… Think about it, what happens when we refuse to move at another person’s pace, and this is Paul’s point, love chooses to move at the other person’s pace rather than requiring that person to move at ours, and the reason this is so hard is because patience isn’t natural. Your natural pace is natural, but here’s Paul’s point, since God moved at our pace, we are to do the same for others, and we are to do the same for our children, if not… What happens? Literally what happens? Think about it, if we insist on moving at our own pace, what happens, we separate ourselves.
We separate ourselves from our children physically when we’re walking, but emotionally and relationally, when we push them beyond their capacity, we separate and we frustrate… It’s interesting to me that the only specific thing… This is amazing, the only specific thing Paul says to parents about parenting is pertain to this very dynamic, and he directs it to no surprise to fathers in a different letter, here’s what he writes, he says, “Fathers, do not exasperated, do not exasperate your children, don’t provoke them Don’t stir them up. Don’t insist on winning, don’t insist on out smarting, out talking. Don’t push too hard. Don’t move too fast.” He says, “If you do, here’s the end result. You will be separated. They will be discouraged. They’ll be discouraged, they’ll be disheartened, they eventually just lose motivation, they’ll just stop. Because they can’t keep up.” And again, the result separation. Again, how did Paul know.
And how interesting and yet maybe not surprising that he didn’t address this to moms and dads, just me… Just fathers. Love is patient. Now, I know what some of you are thinking, I understand this because I think… And I thought the very same thing you’re thinking, But Andy, okay, look Andy that’s great, I’m glad that’s in the Bible. But if we don’t push our kids, if we don’t expect more of them than they expect of themselves, if we don’t ensure they reach their maximum potential, then… Then they may not turn out to… Which I would say to you, turn out what? In fact I’ll finish the sentence for you, then they may not turn out the way you want them to turn out, they may not become what you want them to become. Let’s pause and think about this for a moment. Is that really what you want? Wouldn’t it be better to discover what they were born to do, who they were born to be and facilitate that? That’s what great parents do. I have never met a father, I have never met a father, I’m sure they’re out there somewhere, but I’ve never met a father who wished he had been harder on his children. I’ve met plenty of fathers who have little to no relationship with their adult children because they were so insistent that their kids become what they failed to become themselves, or because they felt like their kids were gonna fail to become what they had become.
So inspire your kids. Of course, motivate, of course. Push to the point of exhaustion and frustration… No. Compare and shame… No. Because parents that’s about you, that’s not about them. Let’s not kid ourselves. Besides this might help. Do you know what the number one predictor… The number one predictor of relational and professional success is the number one predictor, not just professional success, and again, as parents, sometimes we get really focused on that, but do you know what the number one predictor of both relational and professional success is, self-awareness, which is the cousin of Emotional Intelligence, which results in personal security as opposed to insecurity, and do you know what the number one contributing factor is to a person’s security? They’re EQ, their self-awareness. Their home life.
Now, one of the advantages that Sandra and I had was that my job allowed us to get to know some amazing parents, some parents who maintained really great relationships with their kids all the way through middle school and high school and beyond. And one dad in particular, his name was Don, gave me some great advice. Actually, it wasn’t advice, he just told me a story about he and his son that I took as advice, and again, you’re gonna think I’m making this up, this was long before we even had kids. Anyway, his son, also Don had just graduated from high school and was starting college, and his dad told me about a conversation he had with little Don as he was headed off to school.
Now, like most high school graduates Don, his son had no idea of what he wanted to do when he grew up. So his father was helping him make the transition, and during the transition, he said to his son, he said, “Don, look, whatever you wanna do with your life, I’ll support you and I’ll use my influence to help you any way I can. But until you know what you wanna do. Will you trust me to point you in a direction so that you go into college with some sort of direction and look, the moment you figure out what you wanna do, all bets are off, I’ll just support you in whatever you wanna do, but will you at least take my advice and let me direct you going in, point you in a direction.”
And his son Don said, “Sure.” Now, of course, the fact that his son would take that kind of advice from his dad said a lot about their relationship, anyway, they were one of the families that we paid close attention to, so he suggested that his son Don begin… Go to college and pick a business major, and he told him specifically what he thought he should focus on in business school, and he said, “You should go into business school with the goal of going to law school.” Based on Don’s aptitude and his personality, but not necessarily his interests at the time. So that’s what his son did, he went to college, he majored in business, he finished college, he got into law school, and today he’s a very successful attorney in the Atlanta area.
Now, again, this was before we even had kids, and when he told me that story, I thought, that is such a great approach: You choose, but until you choose, will you trust me to choose for you? So no lie, 20 years later, my oldest son, Andrew, is headed off to college with no idea of what he wants to do and a little idea of what he wants to major in, so I gave him Don’s speech, I said, “Andrew, will you allow me to point you in a direction until you know what you want to do?” And he said, “Sure, and I suggested he get a finance degree based on, again, his aptitude, but not necessarily his interest at the time, I just felt like that would set him up for a variety of opportunities later on, and I assured him, “Hey, if you change your mind after your freshman year or you change your mind midstream, no problem, I just want you to go in with a direction in mind.” So… That’s exactly what he did. He stuck with it, he graduated with a finance degree and right out of college, he landed a great job.
Then after about a year of working there, and some of you know this, he started going to comedy clubs at night, and before long, he was on stage doing comedy for 20 bucks and a burger, and then after a couple of years of that, we had the talk… Not that talk. We’d already had that talk. We had the talk where he said, “Dad, I really like my job, but I wanna quit my job and do stand-up comedy full-time.” And I said, Andrew, I did not pay out-of-state tuition for four years, so you could just throw it all away on some hair-brained idea that isn’t gonna pay the bills, besides what are people gonna think when they find out that my son… ” No, I didn’t do that because my responsibility as his father isn’t to decide what he does with his life, my responsibility is to put my weight behind what he decides to do with his life, it’s his life besides… That was the deal, and honestly, it was pretty easy for me and Sandra, because that’s the way we’ve been parenting all along, it’s what we saw other great parents do, but maybe more importantly than that, that was really the way that both of us were parented.
If I heard it once, I heard a thousand times from my dad, Andy all I expect from you is that you do your best, all I expect is that you do your best. And did I always do my best? No. But I do now. Love is patient, love is patient, love is not pushy. Love does not exasperate. Love doesn’t drive a wedge, love doesn’t allow ego and reputation to dictate the tone or the pace of the relationship, love picks up on someone else’s natural pace and rhythm, and adjust their pace and rhythm accordingly and love, because of patients maintains influence all along the way. Love is patient. So a couple of questions as we wrap up today’s episode. Who, who feels rushed by you, who feels unnecessary, maybe even unhealthy pressure when you walk into their room, when you walk through the front door, who are you driving away in your effort to bring out their best? And what would it look like?
You don’t have to commit to this. Just think about it, what would it look like? What would it require from you to adjust your pace to theirs, and I know for somebody watching today that scares you to death, but let me tell you what you should fear more: Losing a relationship with your child now or your child later. What would it take? What would it look like to adjust your pace to theirs, that’s what love… That’s what the Jesus brand of love requires of you. It requires us to tame our pride, it requires us to protect our children rather than always trying to protect our reputations, and then there’s this: If you live long enough, if you live long enough, you’re gonna slow down. You’re gonna need those around you to adjust their pace, to your new pace, it will require patience from those that you love the most, and those that you hope love you most, so I hope you raise patient children, children who’ve seen what it looks like to adjust their pace to the pace of those they love.