Power of Parenting 6: Parenting Pitfalls

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“We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” -C.S. Lewis

This series has shown how parenting takes wisdom. This means that each child and each situation is different. There isn’t a single way to do it, but as parents we must be the kind of person who is humbly seeking the best possible way for our situation and for the uniqueness of our children.

Today I will highlight four of the most common areas where our parenting relationship breaks down not despite our best efforts, but because of them.

  1. Time

Every child desperately needs time with his or her parents. This isn’t a riff about “quality” time versus “quantity” either. This is about each parent, setting their agenda specifically to join into their child’s life. This sounds easy, but it actually requires a heart of sacrifice or it never truly happens.

In our culture, newborns are raised by corporations so parents can give their time to their career. As the children age, parents give their kids to the State for their social engineering programming which is sold to us as education. Then between the parents work, the child’s school, and then any other activities, parents actually have very few hours in a day to “BE” present, and thus the time is never given. If there are multiple siblings, multiple households, blended families, or other family drama, the parents literally give no time to their children. This is considered normal, but there is always a choice where we give our time.

Some children require more “face” time. They need to talk and express and learn from your talking and expressing. Some children require what I call “shoulder” time, where there is little talk, but both are facing the same direction side by side. Windshield time is great shoulder time. Time is always spent “on the child’s level” whether they are an infant, toddler, or teen. A parent’s failure to enter “their world” and gain their perspective is known as parenting from the inside out, not outside in. Time is about seeing the world through their eyes, and using the environment to teach them about the world and life. Everything in life is a metaphor and an object lesson.

Parents know when they are connecting and when the signal is lost. If you have less than one bar on your connection to your child, the solution begins with the parent making a sacrifice so they can invest more time in their kids. If our children learn relationships are secondary to one’s time, the sooner they determine they do not want time with their parents. What used to occur in late teens, is happening in middle and primary school now. I have never met a child seeking freedom from their parents who did not learn that “ETHOS” from the parent who first sought freedom from the child.

2. Tech

Technology is everywhere. It is a huge temptation for parents before it is ever a huge problem for the relationship. Tech begins for infants. Children’s digital content is highly entertaining and can be very educational, even helpful. The temptation is for a parent to use tech to “entertain” the child so they can have a “reprieve” from parenting. Without realizing it, a parent chooses to give that time away to tech, and this becomes a pernicious trade which seems innocent and understandable.

Parents all realize what is happening and most know deep down the underlying threat, but some are addicted to tech themselves. How do parents limit screen time when they plug into the TV all the time themselves. How does a parent who is a gamer prevent a child from gaming?

This goes back to the first pitfall of time. Parents say they have no time with their kids, but somehow have time for tech. While movies and tech products can be a form of family entertainment, they need not be the sole basis for entertainment or connection.

Tech functions like a deity or an idol in our homes. We bow to it, we spend inordinate amounts of money to create a shrine to it, we sacrifice our time to it, we adopt the values and propaganda that it speaks to us, and our relationships become secondary to it, because tech is telling us who we are and we believe it.

Take this test. If you took away all screen time and tech from the family, would everyone struggle to find something to do? Would people fight or argue? Would everyone be bored and start picking at each other? If the fear of missing out would create social or relational stress, then tech is your family’s god. Our family ditched cable when our kids were young and we’ve never regretted that decision. Once you turn off the tech, the true condition of your family will emerge and parents, you are responsible for what you see.

3. Rigidity/ Control/ Fear

Parents are often not aware of how much fear governs their parenting style. It’s easy to see how this creeps into our parenting choices. Infants are extremely vulnerable to self harm and we begin as parents in a state of fear. Newborns can stop breathing for no reason, there are a billion things that can harm our toddlers, the dangers beyond the front door are endless. Navigating this can be exhausting and it take true diligence and wisdom to provide safety but also opportunities for discovery.

‘”Helicopter” parenting is becoming more and more the norm. This is not all bad. In fact, given the “Pathos” of our world, I would prefer it to just letting a child “figure it out” on their own. This pitfall goes back to the post in this series on “Authority and Influence.” Parents must be losing authority every day and replacing it with influence so that that the voice of the parent can be heard among all the “voices” in the child’s life as he or she grows up.

When a parent becomes too controlling, it means they are unwilling to turn loose of their authority. This may be because they have never really gained influence by any other means. When a parent has lost the battle with tech, and has chosen to give their time elsewhere, it is really common for them to grasp hold of their illusion of “authority” in order to control behavior or outcomes. Once a parent uses any kind of threat to control behavior, they have already proven the foundation for relationship has never been formed or is crumbling. Have you ever seen a mother threatening a “time out” to a toddler by counting? “At the count of three, you are going to a time out….” Then when they get to three, they start counting again. It’s the same drama with the parent who grounds their teen or takes their iPad or Xbox away.

It is right for parents to fear some outcomes. We’ve all seen the horror stories and we don’t want them happening to our kids. Nonetheless, it is the job of the parent, not to prevent a child from risk of harm, but to prepare them (give them wisdom) about the harm which is possible. Our job is to help them see for themselves the risks and the consequences. The street had the potential for danger to my kids as they jumped their bikes on the ramp out front, but it was also the best place for the ramp. Learning to play in the street prepares them more than forcing a rule about never going in the street.

The same philosophy applies to everything as they grow up. Showing them what stupid looks like and it’s consequences, gives them a thirst for avoiding stupidity. Since the world is full of stupidity which ruins lives, there is no shortage of object lessons. The message behind every commercial or TV show, the stupid ways people get into relationships, the stupid wastes of time, or stupid wastes of money. All these negative examples in our world become life tools which can help us teach our children to be self-aware, self-sufficient, and protect themselves. Just as my kids learned how to watch for cars, I gave them more leeway in their use of the street. Freedom comes only on the heels of awareness and self-control and never before.

Parents who use control beyond it’s expiration date are proving they abdicated control a long time ago and now are seeking to get it back. It’s a futile gesture. Pursue influence instead. Influence, comes through time. If you’ve lost that, then you must face the sobriety of what your parenting has produced.

4. Faith

Hopefully you can see how all of these parenting pitfalls find a home within the faith of the child. Whether a parent is purposefully trying to train a child within a religious framework or not doesn’t matter, the end result of parenting is ultimately the development of “FAITH” in our kids. This “FAITH” is the architecture of belief which will guide our children’s decisions in life until another one replaces it. Faith cannot be avoided, a persons belief system is a byproduct of all of their specific experiences within the family and the surrounding culture.

Faith is the goal of parenting because it is always the end result of parenting.

Parents who are devout in their religion or tradition will go to great lengths to instill within their kids the same devoutness or commitment. This isn’t as hard as it seems. When a parent says they fear their child is wandering away from the faith, or that they don’t “believe” as the parents do, this is usually because they have focused almost all their efforts in the external frameworks of religion or irreligion, and have not coached the child on the internal experience.

Religion offers a transaction, Fatih offers transformation.

How many kids grow up attesting to a certain religion? I’m a Christian, I’m a Jew, I’m a Muslim, I’m a Hindu, I’m an Atheist…These are all external identifiers. Even if your child was baptized, bar mitzvah’d, or took a vow, or did a ritual, this only serve the cultural, social and external “window dressing” of one’s faith, it’s only the container. Over time, these rituals can matriculate into an authentic belief, but most people are pretty clueless about their system of faith. Think of all the Christians who don’t know their bibles, the Jews who have never read the Scripture or the Muslims who have never really prayed the Quaran. There are Atheists who blindly accept the false assumption that all that exists is empirically measurable.

Behind it all is something bigger than tradition which we all share in common. Whether we are Jewish, Seike, Mormon, Amish, or Agnostic, every soul who has ever lived is on an ontological pursuit. This means we are all trying to find out “who we are.” While the search for our “True Self” is overly used and very cliche these days, it is nonetheless the greatest question any of us will ever face. This leads me to the greatest role of a parent and why faith becomes the pitfall.

If we as parents don’t know who we truly are (in our Maker), we will never be able to lead or even point our children in the right direction. As a result, we “leave it to the professionals” within our religious institutions. This creates more distraction, more pain, more threat, more fear, more questions, more anxiety, and in the end, our faith becomes an addendum to our life, held at arms length as one’s personal preference and not the very center of being from which we decode, enter, and serve the world with who we are.

Each of us comes to the world with a sense of wonder and awe. We have a curiosity about ourselves, others and everything. This is where we must return if we are to regain our ontological center, or if we are to find our soul. Our faith can and will always be grounded transparently in God our Maker, we must parent our kids in such a way that they have a sense of true being and belonging to God, the framework for that is less important but still helpful and useful.

Kids come from God and parenting is the job of returning them so that they can give themselves and piece of God back to the world.

Our world is full of jacked up faith. It creates arguments, division, war and prejudice. The goal of parenting is for each of us to realize we are a child of God, we ARE beloved, that is our ontological center. Then parenting becomes the tangible, concrete example of what this spiritual relationship looks like. We come to know our Heavenly or Spiritual Father or Mother by relating to our earthly parents. God is merciful to us. We are merciful to our kids. God gives us rules which liberate and protect us, we do so for our kids. God is pleased, we are pleased, and so it goes.

Faith is one principal that if we get right, all the parenting troubles sort themselves out in time. If we get it wrong, it seems everything piles up and potentiates the erosion of relationship. In the end, none of us will parent perfectly, because we are fallen ourselves. But if love is who we are, then love is what we give to our kids, and if they learn that is who they are too, then no matter how that comes about, our parenting will be a success.