Imperfect Progress For this last post, I want to give you the mindset we used during the first 12 years because I always think the Why of doing something is so much more important than the How.
Everyday we hear great ideas, read great books, get inspired by a speaker or sermon and we get determined to start implementing positive changes in our lives. But then reality usually sets in within a day or two and most of us simply go back to our old ways, forgetting the life changing message that we heard a few days earlier.
In order to make real, lasting changes in our parenting, we first needed a long-term strategy. We decided what we wanted to accomplish as parents was not to raise "good kids" meaning kids who were polite, obedient and who were successful in school and sports. This was more of the secular worlds definition of "good kids." We wanted to raise kids who grew up to be strong, moral adults with a faith in Christ.
We’ve witnessed many parents, of all ages and social-economic backgrounds, simply jump into the parenting river and start swimming, sometimes upstream without a plan or strategy. Sooner or later they bob up and down gasping for breath, usually during the teenage years, and ultimately their parenting "strategy" is one of simply surviving and making it to the empty nest stage.
We wanted to Thrive, not just survive parenting and equip our children for the real challenges they will face in today's demanding world. Our long term strategy was designed to focus on Authentic Faith, Character Traits, Grace and Empathy and Emotional Intelligence. The reason behind choosing these areas was that if we taught and honed these traits into our children, all the other secular areas (Grades, Sports) would fall into place behind them and the research we read backed this idea up.
**I drafted this post last week and last night found an interesting new book called "How Children Succeed" by Paul Tough - I have not read it but it seems to back up our beliefs. Here is a NY Times review of the book.**
The second concept we decided on was a consistent but fluid parenting philosophy. Meaning a daily, easy to implement parenting foundation that could be tweaked and modified slightly to each individual child and designed to evolve as our children aged. This is where Grace Based Parenting came into play. GBP has one simple rule, parent our children the same way God parents us – with Grace and Truth. This meant maintaining firm boundaries in the areas listed above but being flexible with other areas because honestly they were not that important to us in the grand scheme of life. Our philosophy was that a little junk food, loud music or wild hair styles were not that big of a deal and not worth starting a war with our kids over at the cost of our relationships with them. My wife's 20+ years of work in Early Child Education and Behavioral Health gave evidence to our concepts.
While I wholeheartedly endorse and stand by GBP, I have had to explain this concept many, many times to both Christian and Secular parents because it is not easy for some parents to understand. Many Christian parents believe in sheltering their children from the world, rather than raising their children to live and be lights in the world. I have had heated debates with many parents, usually mothers, who have a hard time with parenting in Grace. They see this concept in a black and white, all or nothing context rather than a moderate, holistic approach to raising children who can relate to the world and reach the lost. It's walking a fine line between being in the world but not of the world and many parents find this approach uncomfortable.
Rather than parenting out of fear of the world, Grace Based Parenting teaches parents to put our trust and faith in Christ. It teaches us to parent our children according to the Bible and God's Standards rather than our fears or the worlds standards. If we claim to be Christians and God is on our side, what do we have to fear?
My wife and I's goal was not to raise "nice kids" who represented us well at Church, we wanted to raise authentic Christian disciples who had a passionate love for Christ expressed in a love and empathy for the lost and the ability to relate, reach and lead them to Christ. Many of my non-believing friends complaints about Christians is that we just cannot relate to non-Christians or we give off judgmental or hypocritical attitudes. We cannot influence the lost if we cannot relate to them or we focus on repentance before relationship.
The third concept, which is probably the most important of all, is a sense of daily consistency. We wanted to adhere to our parenting philosophy every single day, not just when it was convenient for us. How many diets, reading programs, and self help plans have we started and ultimately stopped? I look at parenting similar to leadership, it’s a 24/7 -365 day job. I have to be on my "A Game" every single day as a parent and when I’m not feeling that way, I have to put my feelings and emotions aside and sacrificially lead to do what is best for my children. Some days I have to drag them to the mall, or volunteer for a field trip or help them design a Powerpoint presentation – whether I want to or not. Parenting is not a task that can be outsourced or minimized when I’m not feeling up to it. The key to being a successful parent is what you do when life is messy. When the kids are screaming or embarrassing you in public. When grapefruit juice just stained the new carpet or ivory sofa. After a long day of work, stressful hours in traffic and then you come home to a kid that spends every single second getting on your last nerve. It is what you do in these moments that makes all the difference.
This leads to the final concept Imperfect Progress. Imperfect Progress is simply moving forward with Grace regardless of how messy the details are. Life, your situation, nor parenting is ever going to be perfect. The conditions will always be messy and mistakes will be made. Talk openly and honestly about life decisions and mistakes with your children at all ages. Move forward regardless and own up to mistakes. One of the biggest signs of maturity in a leader or a parent is the ability to admit to subordinates, or children in this case, that you made a mistake and you don’t always have all the answers. One, it shows that you are human too, prone to failure and need God and His grace. Two, it tells your children that it’s okay to makes mistakes and when you do, you own up to them rather than trying to hide them. As adults, we spend a lot of time, energy and money trying to hide our imperfections rather than seeing them as gifts from God, embracing them and holding them out as battle scars. The popular song “The Fighter” by Gym Class Heroes uses the metaphor of a fighter to reflect the fact that life is messy and those with “scars” show a sign of being in the fight, not hiding and playing it safe. When people see your scars they say, there goes a fighter. There is no doubt that you are in the fight and not hiding or shirking your responsibility.
Speaking of shirking responsibility, a recent study shows that unpaid child support costs the US taxpayers some $53 Billion in social assistance programs. While this is slightly off this topic, I wanted to highlight this fact because the American Family is the core of this nation. Here at Legacy Dad, the more parents (traditional, divorced, blended, single, mixed) we can empower to become active, relevant parents; the better this is for our children, our communities, our economy and ultimately our country. The more parents that decide to focus on Significance rather than success, Grace and Empathy rather than judgement and condemnation, on raising authentic followers of Christ rather than "nice Christian kids" the more we can change our culture and a nation. One Parent, One Child at a time, This is our movement.
-Esse Quam Videri-