Today I want to shift the spotlight – about parenting, really – to my wife. She is a wonderful woman, and has been an inspiring wife for 27 years. Today, she did something that reminded me about her deep mother’s heart – and the reason I love her so much, and why I like being a dad so much.
Some background: My wife updates her Facebook page a few times a year. A Year! Really. Today, though, she posted something that made me tear up. It’s short yet very poignant…
“24 years ago today I learned several things: the depth of my parents love for me; how possible it is to let go of “self” and think of someone else first; the incredible worth of every human being; and that the God of the universe loves me more than I could ever imagine.
All this from a newborn… with much, much more to come. Happy Birthday Dakota!
I love you,
That is quite touching! Let add my own “Happy Birthday!” to our oldest child, who turned 24 today. (What a privilege to be your dad!)
And…thanks, God, for that boy – and his wonderful Mom. What a terrific journey it has been so far.
As we approach Father’s Day, some reflections about parenting lessons I learned from my own dad:
Time – My dad used to have me work alongside him in the garage or yard. That wasn’t easy, as I was lazy and not particularly interested in doing the job well. But he involved me anyway, just to spend time with me.
Advocacy – I’ll always remember the time in grade school when Dad stood up when a teacher made a hurtful comment about me in front of the class.
Laughter – Our evening meal times were frequently punctuated by a joke or humorous story. Some of my best childhood memories are of funny moments at the dinner table.
Correction – sometimes gently, other times not-so-much, my Dad was a disciplinarian. He gave me boundaries. He taught me how to live well.
Modeling – As I was growing up, my Dad lived out his convictions. He had set moral guidelines, and along with teaching those to us, he modeled them daily.
Sacrifice – My dad had some hobbies as I was growing up, but they didn’t keep him away from home a lot. In fact, his love for model trains was something that kept him at home in the basement, and we loved being down in the “train room” with him.
Those are just some of the qualities my own father has passed on, primarily through example. I dedicated my book, First Time Dad, to Thomas L. Fuller,
“for modeling in word and deed how to be a good dad.”
How about you? What lessons did your father teach you about parenting? Leave a comment here or on Facebook. I’ll randomly select one commenter to receive a copy of First Time Dad.
(By the way, I’m pleased to announce that First Time Dad is now available in audiobook form. That’d be a great instant Father’s Day gift! Just download and put it on a flashdrive or CD for a new dad.)
A common question in our home revolves around finances. With some frequency my children ask, “How can I earn some money?” The occasion prompting such a question is usually something which requires cash for entrance (like a movie, mini golf, or a theme park) or at which they’ll want to buy some treats (junk food). While my children have an allowance, they don’t always manage the monies well, and thus the question. If I were to write out an equation, it’d be (with apologies to real math people, of which I am obviously not one):
Felt Need = (Motivation To Work) + (Instant Cash)
Or something like that.
Anyway, our children have various funds to manage, to spend on clothing and frivolities, for giving, for saving. I’ll admit, though, that beyond real-world teaching opportunities like an invitation to an event that requires money which they don’t have, we’ve been a bit lax on how to practically help them in this.
All this came to mind as I read a Wall Street Journal article about how to approach kids and money. One person offered an “earn everything they get” perspective in which doing chores brings money, while another suggested giving money apart from chores to helps kids better understand finances.
The first view is described as follows:
There are two types of chores in a house: Citizen of the Household, without pay, and Work for Pay.
Citizen of the Household chores are personal things: brushing teeth, keeping your own space clean, putting your toys away, etc.
Work for Pay are all chores in a home—setting tables, doing laundry, etc. Those jobs are paid for with a salary on a weekly schedule.
Citizen of the Household chores are “good behavior,” and if not done, the punishment is behavioral, taking away a privilege, like TV. If Work for Pay jobs are not done, there is no pay.
Here’s the latter approach as expressed by one expert:
Allowances and family chores have different purposes.
Allowances help children learn to manage money and control the need for instant gratification. Family chores help children learn to develop a work ethic.
Paying for extra chores sends a healthy message: Money and hard work go together.
I guess we’re somewhere in between these two views. We’ve given the kids a certain allowance based upon their age, and independent of chores. We also pay extra for extra work – the “above and beyond” kind of help that shows initiative and responsibility. We want to give money because they are part of the family, and eventually they’ll need to take care of their own spending. We also want to reward mature choices.
How about you? How do you handle kids, chores and allowances?
Temple Grandin is one of the most well-known individuals with autism. She has a doctorate in animal science and is a professor at Colorado State University. Additionally, Dr. Grandin is a bestselling author and respected consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior.
From a radio essay on NPR a few years ago, here are some insights from Dr. Grandin about how autism affects the cognitive process:
Because I have autism, I live by concrete rules instead of abstract beliefs. And because I have autism, I think in pictures and sounds. I don’t have the ability to process abstract thought the way that you do.
Here’s how my brain works. It’s like the search engine Google for images. If you say the word love to me, I’ll surf the Internet inside my brain. Then a series of images pops into my head. What I’ll see, for example, is a picture of a mother horse with a foal, or I think of Herbie the Love Bug, scenes from the movie Love Story, or the Beatles’ song, love, love, All You Need is Love…
…I built a library of experiences that I could refer to when I was in a new situation. That way, when I confronted something unfamiliar, I could draw on the information in my homemade library and come up with an appropriate way to behave in a new and strange situation.
These are fascinating perspectives and I’d encourage you to find the full transcript and audio here. With 1 in 88 children being diagnosed with autism, sooner or later you’ll encounter an individual who has autism and thinks “in pictures and sounds” like Dr. Grandin.
As Autism Awareness Month wraps up, I’d like to offer some additional resources and starting points for understanding and embracing ASD (see previous posts for other suggestions).
One of the most helpful approaches we’ve found, widely embraced by the medical and special needs communities, is “ABA Therapy.” Pioneered by Dr. O. Ivar Lovaas, this is an especially effective treatment for autism. Here’s his site and links to a significant number of studies about ABA Therapy.
There are many organizations offering information and networking for the autism community. We’ve found Autism Society of America (a national organization with state chapters) to be especially helpful. Your awareness of autism may have been increased by the effective advocacy work of Autism Speaks. And my friend Bob West has a wonderful website – dealing with a variety of special needs and offering hope to families, Need Project.
There are many more sources for parents raising a child with autism. I’d welcome your suggestions.
Last week, in two separate packages, the delivery truck dropped off two new iPods at our home. The beautiful little (really little!) pieces of technology magic are already the pride of their new owners, two of my teen daughters. So now all three of our girls have “portable music devices” with white ear buds that will be a constant companion, a friend when they are lonely, and also a source of entertainment and distraction.
My wife isn’t the happiest about iPods and the music they hold. I understand her concerns. After all, what music is on those things, and what kinds of messages are our daughters hearing time and time again?
I’ve been a little more lax on the matter, probably because when I was about 13 I started discovering pop and rock music (I wasn’t yet a follower of Christ, so “Christian” music wasn’t part of my record collection) – and it quickly became a permanent part of my world. The teen years aren’t exactly easy. Music soothed a hurting soul, was a common denominator among friends, was even motivational and inspirational. Mostly, though, I found music gave voice to my turbulent emotions – it said things I couldn’t quite express. It still does to this day. I love how music paints pictures, moves my heart and causes me to think.
Probably because it meant so much to me all those years ago, I understand the power of music in my daughters’ lives. Dena and I are on the same page as to having some limits on what they listen to. We have general house guidelines and rules about “screen time” and music listening for our children. We try to model good consumption patterns. We talk through the impact of lyrics and lifestyles of the artists. We rely on Focus on the Family’s Plugged In media reviews for reliable information about the trends and popular groups.
The older they are, the less restrictive we are. I want my kids to “learn to discern” and offer them growing amounts of trust with regard to their choices. Helping them process the “why” behind my affirmations and objections is a pretty important part of the process. Still, I’ll admit that I’m not always on top of their playlists and “most listened to” music. So perhaps this post is more for me than for you.
With that context, then, a few questions. How do you handle your child’s media consumption? Do you allow unrestricted access to electronic devices like phones and iPods? Do you have safeguards in place to ensure your younger kids are protected from crude lyrics and content? What is the most challenging parenting problem you deal with when it comes to your kids and media?
My friend Zeke Pipher has a new book out, and I found it to be candid, engaging, challenging, and also rather convicting. Its called, Man On The Run: Helping Hyper-Hobbied Men Recognize The Best Things In Life. Here’s a quick excerpt:
I’ve lived the first thirty-nine years of my life by Irishman Laurence Sterne’s creed: “A large volume of adventures may be grasped within this little span of life, by him who interests his heart in everything.”
“Everything” might be a slight overstatement. There are a few pursuits that I haven’t thrown myself into. But then, they involve knitting needles, scrapbooks, and shopping malls, so they don’t really count anyway, right?
I’m a simple case, really. Like many men, I don’t handle inactivity well. My lowest lows—the times when I feel blue or despondent—come to me when I’m sitting on my hands wondering what to do. I keep busy in order to keep sane. On my days off, I fish, exercise, or clean the garage. In the evenings, I write, wrestle with my kids, or play basketball at the fitness center. I even started cooking because it gives me something to do during that restless hour between when I get home from work and when it’s time to sit down for dinner.
Some people enjoy large blocks of time with nothing planned. I don’t understand those people.
I need more than busyness, though. I need to be challenged. An after-dinner stroll around the neighborhood holds little appeal. But I’ll walk for hours if there’s the chance a pheasant might flush or the next swing might be the golf shot of my life. Likewise, I can’t sit for fifteen minutes and do nothing. But I can plant my rear in a tree stand from sunup till sundown, listening for the snap of a twig, the faintest indication that a deer might be walking in my direction. In order to enjoy time, I need something to do, and that something must hold the power to thrill me.
Does that description of a busy, activity-filled life resonate with you?I think most of us have far too many hobbies – many good things – distracting us from the best things.
In my own book, First Time Dad, I wrote about the need for new fathers to put away the golf clubs and instead put their free time and energy into being a good dad. It’s a radical mind-shift for some men. It was for me, as I wrote in the following admission:
About the time of our first child, I took up an extra-curricular activity. I suddenly had a hankering to attend graduate school. It occupied a lot of my time during those first couple of years after Dakota was born. In my defense, this was something my wife and I had discussed for some time, and it was in many ways a labor of love that was intended to position me for a different job. But the timing of this effort was, in hindsight, awful. With a new baby, my wife needed me home more, not less. But there I was for about two years, commuting 250 miles twice a week to work on a graduate degree. Finally, circumstances changed and I had to abandon that pursuit.
Was I actively seeking an escape from the demands of being a new dad? Really, I was not trying to get away from those new responsibilities. However, I wish someone had told me about the importance of being more involved in my child’s life, especially during those early years. Old family photos and videos reveal that I was there for Dena and Dakota – just not as much I now wish I had been.
And, lest you think setting the right priorities is an easy thing to master, despite the strains on our family from that earlier educational effort, I found myself back in grad school a few years later, pursuing that degree one more time. This time, though, we had four children. While the stress of that commitment damaged our marriage, it also took a bit of a toll on our children. I was an absent dad, in many ways. And I worked for a global family ministry!
Ouch. It is somewhat painful to revisit the wounds I caused with my pursuit of an advanced degree.But I hope it catches your attention and causes you to consider once again what is most important in your life. Does your calendar reflect your priorities?
Here’s a suggestion: As a man, you are driven. That’s not a bad thing. God wired men to seek adventure, challenges, victories. Driven men have accomplished much in this world. But as Zeke points out so well in his book, and I addressed this in mine, we have to channel that energy, passion and drive into the right things. Things that matter most. Ultimately, that means pursuing God and others more than a trophy catch, or a season championship, or a personal record. Instead, go after, with your whole heart, your family. Your wife and kids. You’re irreplaceable in their lives, and your investment in time, energy and heart to make them number one won’t be wasted.
‘Tis the season…for babies! A number of co-workers and friends are welcoming new little ones into their families.While I think most will adapt well to being new parents, some of us have not made that transition to life with a baby so easily or quickly. I’ve often said that getting married was oh-so-natural, but learning how to be a new dad was a lot of work! This was especially the case when it came to my marriage. Dena and I re-centered our lives on our new son, and in the process I found that not only did the baby need new efforts – so did my wife.
From my book, First Time Dad, here are five quick tips for men to help with the many adjustments needed when “baby makes three” (or four, or five…), especially when it comes to keeping your marriage strong:
- Stay connected with your wife. Make room in your schedule for daily talk times and weekly dates. Do things together as a family. Hang out at the park with parents who also have younger kids. Develop routines like Thursday night pizza, or Sunday afternoons. Take family hikes or bike rides.
- Remember your wife is not your enemy. She is the love of your life, and you need to treat her as the shining jewel that she is for you. So don’t get angry with her. Don’t blow up when she is exhausted and needs you to really help out. Extend lots of grace. Follow the Scriptural admonition to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” James 1:19 NIV
- Remember this child is not your enemy. You love this little baby, really, you do! So don’t for a minute think that she is an enemy to your marriage. Yes, she will demand a lot of you and she will extract a lot of your wife’s energies and attentions. But she’s your child, and you have a tremendous responsibility to raise her well. It’s your job to allow her needs to dictate a lot of your life’s choices and activities – for now. And that’ll impact your marriage.
- Share the load. Now is the time to show your wife you love her by sacrificing your pride – or your stubbornness – and really stepping up the contribution you make to her life. Clean the kitchen, or her car. Empty the trash. Change that baby’s diaper. Make dinner. Those domestic duties that you’ve let her handle need to be shared, as she is pretty tired from being a Mom. That means you have to come alongside her and help. Look around, find practical things that need to be done, and get to work. Trust me, your wife will notice, even if she doesn’t say anything right now.
- Get some sleep. Suggestion: Take turns wearing earplugs. Seriously. Buy some Mack’s Silicone Earplugs and learn to love ‘em! I didn’t want to consider these things, but Dena started using them and it became apparent that she was sleeping well – while I didn’t, because our son kept waking me up during the night. So when you are desperate for sleep, wear earplugs. Alternate turns, so at least one of you gets a good night of rest, every night.
Guys, what other tips would you offer?
“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”
The late Andy Warhol said that, but is it really true? I’ve found that time DOES change many things.
For instance, late last month the toll of time caught up with my father-in-law, who had battled serious physical declines for several years. Having lived a full life for many, many years, and nearing his 90th birthday, his body started to shut down just before Christmas.
Finally, on December 31st he passed away.
Time caught up with him, and in an instant everything changed.
Richard was a good man, a great husband and father, and loved by many for his many fine qualities. He was a man of faith, and of deeply held values. He lived out those core beliefs daily, showing decency, generosity, integrity, loyalty and love to everyone around him. He was an example to many, and we miss him dearly.
The past several years, though, left him chiefly unable to interact with others. A series of medical challenges took away his strength, mobility, and his vitality. Contrary to Mr. Warhol’s observation about changing things ourselves, Richard was unable to change that physical brokenness. I’m quite certain that if he could have, he would have done so! He would have gone golfing, fishing and hunting again. he would have gone to church, for a visit with friends, for a bite out. He could not overcome his unwilling flesh. Time, however, changed what the man couldn’t.
On that Saturday morning, the last day of 2011, Richard’s body finally gave up and his spirit left “this old world” for an eternity with God. He experienced a release from the sorrow and pain, the burdens of this life. The truth of eternity became his reality in an instant. Time released Richard from the shackles of this life, and freed him to enjoy life in heaven forevermore.
As we start a new year, many of us seek to improve. We make resolutions. We endeavor to lose weight, curtail spending, get our priorities in line, be a better employees. We try to do what Warhol suggested: change things. I’m not against personal improvement. I’ve got some parts of my life I’d like to get better at. But what if we find time changes things for us?
Psalm 139:16 says that all of our days were ordained and written in God’s book before one of those days ever came to be. God knows what this day holds, and what external forces will do to me. He is working His plan for our lives each moment, even when we don’t see His hand. We live in a world made up of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years. And I believe that God is the giver of every moment of our lives. Ultimately, He sets the dates of our birth and our death. Albert Einstein said that
To know time as gift is to know that its basic rhythms and inevitable passing are beyond our control. And to know time as gift is to recognize time as the setting within which we also receive God’s other gifts, including the fruits of nature and the companionship of one another.
Perhaps in the coming year I’ll try a little less to make changes, and try a little more to see how time makes change happen. At the start of 2012, may time be a gift to you. May it change things you cannot. And may you see every day as one ordained long ago by God…a gift from His hand.
In the spirit of the season, with everyone and his brother making “Top This” and “Top That” lists of new and notable items in the past twelve months, I humbly offer my own list. Here are the five books I didn’t read in 2011 – but wish I would have. Don’t misunderstand – I like books, have a lot of them, and seem to receive new ones almost daily from publishers and friends. I cannot read every book on my shelves, and at times feel guilty for having so many unread books. Still, there are many good books I intend to read…some day.
So, the following are the starting point for a “Top Books of 2012 – Which I Actually Read” list…which I’ll try to post in about twelve months.
- All is Grace, Brennan Manning – Memoirs of a fascinating man who found God’s grace…everywhere. I am eager to get to know Manning better.
- Prayer, Philip Yancey – Started, just need to finish this fine book. Philip has been a favorite writer since I started reading his columns in Campus Life magazine during high school. That’s quite a long time!
- The New Testament – Various (human) authors. Chuck Swindoll has challenged believers to read through the New Testament this year. I think that’s a great idea – and plan to add in the Psalms and Proverbs, as well (see this reading plan). Why not join me?
- War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy’s epic. If three of my kids have read it, why haven’t I?
- The Meaning Of Marriage, Tim Keller – We’ll be interviewing Tim and his wife Kathy for a Focus broadcast soon, and I am always glad for an opportunity to read this wise man’s perspective on life.
I’ll try to gather up the best books I’ve read this past year in a future post. Meantime, what books are on your “didn’t read – yet” list?
ADDENDUM: Just today Danny Heitman writes in the Wall Street Journal (subscribers only, sorry) about this very matter. I appreciated his perspective, which affords some comfort:
The truly cultured, (author Gabriel Zaid) says, “are capable of owning thousands of unread books without losing their composure or desire for more.”
Further, Heitman adds,
Unread books…can be noble evidence of aspirations not yet met but still worth embracing.
Somehow, such thinking gives me permission to go through those stacks of books which I have not yet cracked open, or which was started but never finished, on bookshelves both at home and at work, and dare to pick one up…and read.
Here’s to a growing collection of unread books, and to a year ahead of great reading!