It has been a joy to have my two oldest sons, Judah (21) and Anson (20 on Jan 29) home for the Holidays. I intentionally set a lot of time aside to hang out with them, one-on-one while they are home. Believe it or not ladies and gents, your young adults still need you. This was brought home to me several times with my oldest this vacation.
Over his break, My oldest and I went on a little outing to get coffee at my favorite spot in Providence, the Coffee Exchange. We left around 11:00 am, and had a nice leisurely cortado, chatting it up for well over an hour. I intentionally tried to do more listening than gabbing. We arrived back at home a little before 2:00 PM. I shut the car off and we kept on talking. Finally 20 minutes later I asked him (over three hours into our conversation), “Well you wanna head inside?” To my surprise, he said, “No, this is what I came home for!” He would go on and make a few similar comments before I put him on a plane last Friday to return to Georgia Military College.
He may never know how stunned, humbled, and befuddled I was by this. I was humbled because I totally underestimated how much he enjoyed his time with me. I was befuddled because I totally underestimated how powerful the role of fatherhood is and how much responsibility our children and God entrust us with. Suddenly Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:6 mean so much more: “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
Parenting In a Hurry and a Flurry
In the flurry of parenting, one of the first things to go is well thought out and deliberate technique. I have noticed with parents, ourselves included, that it is when we get really busy and tired that we start doing foolish things like raising our voices. It seems easier to raise the voice and appeal to our authority rather than listen thoughtfully and respond. Parents will say things like “because I said so,” or “because I’m your mother/father,” and so on. This of course goes nowhere fast, especially the older a child gets.
Discipline or Disciplinarian
I have always been a strong believer in appropriate discipline. Let me clarify what I mean by that. I believe that a parent should have the freedom, right, and also the responsibility to discipline their child. This may necessitate corporal punishment where appropriate.
Nevertheless, my views, remaining fundamentally unchanged, have still modified in application over the years. I feel that corporal punishment is far less frequently needed than I once did. This is because good parenting maintains an appropriate relationship that is built upon conversation and trust first.
A Trusted Ally
Your young person needs to know that you are a trusted ally. This is only done through conversation. But when I say “conversation” please apply the 90/10 rule. Being a trusted ally is about 90% listening and about 10% talking.
Whether you know it or not, you are your young person’s trusted resource and best friend. They want you to be that for them. She or he always wants your support, your protection, and your attention. Even when a young adult shows contempt for a parent, it is because deep down they want these things. The contempt may stem more from feeling they do no have it. This creates the push-pull, the seeming “love-hate” relationship between parent and child sometimes.
But not a Beer-Buddy or BFF
However, your kid does not want a beer-buddy or BFF (Best Friend Forever). Those are the people we get into trouble with. We all want our parents to be a resource for us. Paul Trip says in his helpful little vignette Should I Be My Child’s Best Friend? “If you need that kind of peer acceptance from your children, what will happen is you will compromise your authority all over the place. You won’t offer them the guidance, the wisdom, and the boundaries that every child needs.” Being too chummy breaks down the appropriate ethos of roles. Never underestimate the power of role!
A Resource Through Listening
Here is the important point: the way you become a “resource” is by gaining influence or relational credibility with your young person. However the way to get that is through listening and steady consistency.
When your young person comes to you with a need or question, you need to listen well. You even need to learn the art of drawing them out with good questions, especially good ones that don’t feel like you are drawing them out.
People feel safe when they are heard. When you begin speaking too soon, especially before they have unloaded their heart, they feel cut off and unheard. Men are typically “fixers” with their wife and children. That means the wife or child comes with a problem and the guy kicks into fixer mode downloading the entire hard-drive from his ancient wells of wisdom. (Please hear the satire in that!) These guys often hear things like, “my dad/husband” never listens.” Ironically they are usually entirely perplexed by this.
In regard to your kids in general, good listening can effectively discipline without “disciplining.” It is sad that “discipline” has become primarily a negative term denoting coercive action. Discipline is from the same root we get “discipleship.” It is training, and should not default to forcefulness. Good listening, what I call liste-plining can circumvent the need for any kind of force at all by reading the person holistically.
Recently, one of my teen boys was having a really rough day. He was getting sassy and talkbackative (that’s my word—I made it up). The first impulse is to apply force, to pull rank, check him against the boards, and so on.
Instead, I told him to come on into my office. I pulled up a chair for him and asked him to sit with me. I pulled out some dark chocolate and said, you gotta try this! He resisted at first, but then softened at the gesture. Soon we were laughing, having a good time, and planning the next thing we are going to do together.
I could have gone with my ego and met force with force. I could have pulled rank. But force and authority always increases pressure and friction. He was having a bad day because he was feeling rejected and isolated. Force would have increased the alienation. This is the path to teen rebellion. What I was doing was addressing his sense of alienation with connection.
The result? The rest of the day he was a model teen! The moral of the story? Don’t jump to conclusions. Learn to listen to your kid, not just the words they are saying, but their gestures, mannerisms, and so on. I have addressed many a misbehaving boy by pulling him up on my lap and holding him for a while.
The best parenting advice I can give is this: before you meet out correction, take time to evaluate what you may be failing to give your child lately. Canceling that business appointment or errand to get a frozen yogurt may be better for both of you.