I’d like to share a story with you. I warn you it is tragic and has no happy ending. But it is important. Sadly, I’ve seen this story play out again and again, though with different details. And admittedly, this is a compilation of multiple stories with some dramatic license taken on my part. Names have been changed to protect the innocent (and keep from shaming the guilty). You probably know these people or some like them.
They have been patiently waiting for you to come home. They can’t wait to see you. You are their Dad, their leader. They want to be like you. They want you to love them. Those first few moments through the door will mean so much. So, here are my top 5 things you can say to them when you walk through the door. Try some tonight and let us know how it works.
#1. I love you.
Does this actually need explanation? We walk through the door, tired, exhausted and we forget that our kids need this affirmation all the time. Run up to them like they are the greatest person in the world, give them a hug and say, “I love you.”
#2. I missed you today, I’m so glad to see you.
Your kids are desperately glad to see you. Let them know the feeling is mutual. Let them know they are important to you. When my kids were 2, they would all come running up to me as I walked through the door like I was the most important person in the world to them. I want them to feel that same way every time I walk through the door.
#3. What happened in your world today?
Don’t be so caught up in your own world that you forget about your kids. Ask them about their day. Then listen without judgment. Get down on their level. Sit down with them on the couch. If they are still small enough, let them sit in your lap. Look them in the eye and then listen intently. Rejoice about whatever they are rejoicing. Weep about whatever they are weeping.
#4. What can we do together tonight?
Spend some time with them. Let them know you want to spend time with them. Spend some time doing what they want. Do they want to throw the football, do it. Do they want to have a play teatime, do it. Do they want to put together a puzzle, do it. I know you may not be able to do this every night. But do it some time. Do it regularly.
#5. Do you know why I love you?
This is one of my favorite things to ask my kids. Certainly, you might answer this with reasons of your own. “I love you because you’re cute.” “…you are funny.” “…you are fun.” But, I don’t like these answers because it suggests if they ever think they aren’t cute, funny, fun or whatever that you won’t love them anymore. Instead, I tell my kids, “I love you because you’re you.” I tell my kids, “I love you because you’re Trina.” “I love you because you’re Ryan.” “I love you because you’re Ethan.” “I love you because you’re Tessa.” As long as they are who they are, I’ll love them. One of the most precious moments in my life was when two-year-old Trina said, “You know why I love you?” “Why?” “I love you cuz you Daddy.” Can’t beat that.
I know you’re tired when you get home. I know you want to slink off into your man cave. I know you want to slip away into a world of televised escape. But first, say something to your kids. Let them know how important they are to you. By the way, don’t forget you are also coming home to your wife. Click here for some things you can say to her.
Maybe I missed something you’ve found that is great to say to your kids when you get home. What do you say to your kids when you get home? You can add your input by clicking here.
I had another great reminder the other day that my initial reaction to a situation may not be the right one. I need to press a pause button before I simply lay into one of my kids with a disciplinary measure.
Marita was rightly upset with Ethan. He had been disrespectful and disobedient. I was at the office when all this took place, but if I understand it correctly, Marita was in a hurry to gather the kids together to get to a doctor’s appointment for Tessa. They had all gone to what we call “book club.” It’s a homeschool group we’re part of in which the kids of different ages get to read books together and do different learning projects based on the books. Two of our neighbors host it. Marita, Tessa, and Ethan were at one house, Ryan was at the neighbor’s house.
When it came time to go, they were leaving early, Marita sent Ethan to get Ryan from the other house. Ethan pitched a fit, acted rebelliously, caused a scene, and had various other problems. Let’s face it, I don’t care what the reason is behind this, this behavior is wrong. Discipline needs to take place. My problem is I often simply jump to the discipline without trying to figure out what is really going on. Because I don’t figure out what is really going on, the discipline doesn’t actually work. It just produces bitterness.
I guess on this day, God was doing for me what I can’t do for myself. When Marita told me what happened and asked me to deal with Ethan, instead of getting wrapped up in embarrassment that he had this scene in front of other people, I stepped back and wondered why my normally obedient son pitched this major fit. So, before disciplining I asked him, “What was that about? Why did you do that?”
The reason is he knew they were in a hurry and he had wanted to drop by our house to get a book to take with them to the doctor so he wouldn’t be bored. He thought if he took the time to go get Ryan, he wouldn’t have time to go to the house. So, he was afraid and angry. He expressed that fear and anger with a fit.
Please understand this. I’m not going all Dr. Spock on you. We don’t need to look at this situation and say, “Oh, Ethan was just expressing himself. That’s okay.” He was expressing himself incorrectly and inappropriately and that cannot be allowed to continue. However, if all I had done was say, “You’re not allowed to act like that,” and spanked or grounded him, we wouldn’t have actually dealt with the real issue. The real issue is he had some fear and some anger and he needed to learn how to express that. Even more so, he had a desire that he needed to learn how to express. If I had simply disciplined him for the improper behavior, all he would have learned is, “I don’t get to want things. I don’t get to tell people what I want or need. I’m not ever allowed to be upset about something. What’s going on inside me is wrong, bad, and unimportant.” In my experience, these are dangerous lessons to learn.
Instead, we were able to discuss the appropriate ways to talk to his mom (or me) about his needs and desires. We were able to discuss the appropriate ways to share what his fears and angers are. We have a plan in our family to deal with this event and Ethan had forgotten it. If we ever ask our children to do something and they believe they are aware of something we aren’t or they have an idea that might be different they are allowed to respectfully say, “May I please make an appeal?”
So, in this situation it would have sounded something like this:
Marita says, “It’s time to go. We’re in a hurry. Ethan, run up to the neighbor’s house and get Ryan.”
Ethan is upset because he thinks this means he won’t be able to get his book out of the house before they leave, so he’ll be bored, stuck in the doctor’s office with nothing to do. He responds, “Mom, I’d be happy to do that, but can I please make an appeal?”
“What is it, Ethan?”
“I really don’t want to be bored at the doctor so I wanted to get my book from home. Can I please run to the house and get my book and let Tessa go get Ryan?”
To which Marita would have responded, “Don’t worry, Ethan. Go get Ryan, we’re all going to stop at the house before we leave.”
Of course, Ethan is 10. The conversation wouldn’t have been perfectly like that and I don’t expect him to memorize a catechism of proper responses to his parents. But it would have been a whole lot better than slamming doors, kicking things, yelling, and making a scene.
So, I was able to spend a few minutes with Ethan talking about how to respond in that kind of situation. I was able to talk to him about how to let his wants be known by talking about them instead of expressing them through manipulative displays of frustrated emotion. We were also able to talk about the fact that sometimes things don’t work out the way we want. It’s okay to be disappointed and upset, but it is not appropriate to take that out on people by rebellion, meanness, antagonism. He might make the appeal and Marita end up saying, “No.” In those moments, he needs to learn to express his emotion in productive, not destructive, ways.
This whole situation reminded me that before I simply respond to an action with a discipline. I need to back up and find out what is really going on. Otherwise, the discipline isn’t going to do any good. I did well that day. I’ve blown it multiple times since then. Today, I plan to be on top of my game. We’ll see.
I recently read a very interesting book that provided an intriguing look at growing up, maturing (wait for it…wait for it… yes, here it is, an associate link: The Life Model: Living from the heart Jesus gave you). Their maturity progress is a mix of how we must grow just to get along in life, but also how we must grow in Jesus to be a maturing disciple. Over the next five Mondays, I want to simply share their five stages of maturity with you. I hope this will spark some great discussion about growing up and growing up in the Lord.
The biological ages provided are not saying once a person reaches that biological point they move on to the next maturity level. Rather, they simply point out the earliest point at which a person can move to the next maturity level. The fact is, someone may be 36 and still in the infant stage of maturity.
The stages are:
- Infant (0-3)
- Child (4-12)
- Adult (13-birth of first child)
- Parent (birth of first child-youngest child becomes an adult)
- Elder (beginning when youngest child becomes an adult)
The Infant Stage (0-3)
The baby stage. In fact, consider what being a baby is like and you see what this level of maturity is like. A baby cannot articulate her needs. A baby can simply scream when he needs or wants something. The parents must guess at his needs. Granted, good parents learn to guess well. They respond to the baby’s needs, nurturing it, feeding it, diapering it, holding it, comforting it.
This is exactly what an infant needs. She needs someone to provide this care-giving love. But more than that, she needs someone to provide these needs while seeing her as God sees her. That is, she needs to see joy on the faces of those who are caring for her. If he sees anger, hurt, fear, that is what he will learn to look for as he grows up. He’ll have a hard time maintaining a center of joy. He’ll have a hard time walking in and bearing the fruit of the Spirit, which is joy (Galatians 5:22).
The infant “needs to be the ‘sparkle in someone’s eye’ and to be with people that are ‘glad to be with them’ so that they live in joy and learn that joy is one’s normal state” (p. 20).
Progressing to the Next Level
Before progressing to the next level of maturity, the infant must accomplish 5 maturity tasks.
- Live in joy, expanding the capacity for joy and learn that joy is the normal state.
- Develop trust.
- Learn how to receive.
- Begin to organize self into a person through relationships.
- Learn how to return to joy from every unpleasant emotion.
These steps are accomplished as the family and community accomplishes the following 5 tasks respectively.
- Parents delight in the infant’s wonderful and unique existence.
- Parents build strong, loving, bonds with the infant–bonds of unconditional love.
- Give care that matches the infants needs, without the infant asking.
- Discover the true characteristics of the infant’s unique identity, through attention to the child’s behavior and character
- Provide enough safety and companionship during difficulties, so the infant can return to joy from any other emotion (p. 29).
Getting Stuck as a Baby
Have you ever seen someone you might call a big baby? That may be a very accurate description. The problem may really be that they never did progress beyond the infant stage of maturity.
If an infant is not provided the unconditional love, care, and nurturing, he will be wounded. He will get stuck in the infant stage. If he learns that he can’t trust others, he’ll always live in fear and distrust, wanting someone to take care of him but certain no one ever will. Do you think that might hinder his ability to rely on God?
If the parents and/or community around the child has not reached the parental stage of maturity, the child is going to be in trouble. The parents can’t give what they don’t have. If the parents are stuck in the infant stage or even the child stage, they will be seeking their own needs themselves and leaving the infant child to fend for herself. The parent, seeking his or her own needs, may “parentify” the infant, seeking their own happiness and comfort through the child. The roles become reversed and neither is fulfilled. It is the parents that are to provide the love and nurture to the child, not the other way around. Sadly, too many of us have kids because we are needy, not because we are prepared to care for a child.
“‘Adult infants’ who have not received in these important areas as babies, will always be needy as adults. They will not be able to take care of themselves emotionally nor will they be able to appropriately receive important things from others. Adult infants will not ask for what they need because they believe if others really cared for them, they would figure out what they needed. Adult infants cannot handle criticism even if it is valid and constructive, because they see any negative feedback as a personal attack. They are often possessive of relationships, territory, power and possessions. Unfortunately for all involved, they also use fear bonding to ensure others will stay bonded to them [Fear bonding is getting others to stay in a relationship by using negative pressures, making them fear something negative if they act as themselves or if they leave the relationship-ELC]. And while ‘high functioning’ adult infants can appear responsible in many areas, like handling personal finances, and being punctual and reliable, emotionally they are severely crippled making it difficult for them to have successful and enduring relationships” (pp. 20-21).
The Spiritual Application
Do you think new converts might be in a similar stage as a newborn infant? They are extremely needy, but they don’t even yet know how to express their needs. They need to be in a family with mature Christians who can anticipate their needs and provide them without them even asking. They need spiritual parents who will care for them, nurturing them, teaching them they can trust the brethren and they can trust God. I can’t begin to suggest for how many years this stage is normal.
However, I can suggest that perhaps more Christians need more mature brethren to demonstrate that the newborn in the faith are the sparkle of our eyes, that we are overjoyed to have them in our presence. What might smiles, hugs, and listening ears accomplish for these new Christians? New Christians need more mature Christians who build strong bonds of unconditional love (emphasize unconditional love–not love until they have a relapse into their favorite pre-baptism sin). Infants in Christ need more mature Christians who discover the babe’s unique identity and strengths. These things might go a longer way to producing spiritual maturity than simply dropping them in a New Converts class and attempting to fill their heads with all the right answers to all the right questions. Babes in Christ need relationships. They will develop their relationship with God as they develop their relationship with other Christians.
Of course, we can’t give what we don’t have. If the congregation has no one at a parent or elder level maturity, there is going to be a problem. The church will then be filled only with people seeking others to care for them or who can only take care of themselves. That is a hurting place to be.
Ephesians 4:13 says we need to develop to mature manhood. If we are stuck in the infant stage, we need to do some work. We need to find some “parents” who can help us get unstuck and move past our wounds and hurts. Be honest with yourself. If you see yourself in that “adult infant” paragraph, seek some mature person out to help you grow.
I hope we can start a discussion here. How do we get beyond infanthood if we are stuck there?
I’m finally able to hop on the computer at home. Our internet has been fixed after being down nearly a week. I have a power cord for my laptop so I can actually turn it on. I had thought it was too late to worry about getting a Springboard for Your Family up, but I wanted to check my e-mail now that I had the chance. My good friend Clay Gentry forwarded a link to this video and I simply had to share it immediately.
I don’t have anything to say about it. Just check it out. Grab your tissues first.
I once heard a story about a Bible class. The teacher asked, “Jimmy, what is furry, has a bushy tail, collects nuts and lives in trees?” Jimmy thought to himself, “Well, that sounds like a squirrel, but this is Bible class…” Out loud he replied, “Jesus.”
How often do people, especially children, not share what they really think, but rather give us the answer they think we want to hear. This happened to me on Sunday. You may have read yesterday’s post about foul language. On the way home from preaching that lesson, I asked Tessa (my 11 year old daughter) if she had any questions.
I pushed a little more, “Do you have any questions about any of the words I suggested were bad?”
“No, why would I have questions?”
That tipped me off. “Hmmm, I thought. Are there really no questions or is she wanting me to believe she just has no questions because she wants me to think she always agrees with me or is afraid I’ll think badly of her.”
I pushed a little harder, “Well, I just know in the past you’ve had questions about certain words and I was hoping this lesson might have helped you think about them. Are you saying you don’t have any questions because you don’t or because you think that’s what I want to hear?”
“Well, I was wondering about…”
Then a great conversation followed about what kind of language we could use. We talked about some words she just shouldn’t ever say based on clear principles from the Bible, some words she isn’t allowed to say while living under my roof because even though I can’t absolutely prove they violate a principle I feel pretty strongly that they do, some words that we need to be careful about around others because we know they have conscience about them and some words I said I would leave up to her to say even now.
No, we didn’t solve any world problems but we did have a great conversation and I think I really helped her think about her language. I certainly helped her think about it way more than had I just said, “Don’t say this, it’s bad,” and then shut down any questions she had about it. Further, I think she is much more likely to live within the bounds of our family rules having heard my honest reasons for them–even if she disagrees with them.
I get some great pointers about parenting from this:
- Don’t just accept it when your kids go along with you. Push and make sure that is really what they are feeling and thinking.
- Ask your kids questions to help see what is really on their heart.
- Let your kids know you still love them even if they disagree with you.
- Be honest. Too many parents bluster and bluff when they make a point but don’t really have any solid footing for their opinion. Kids can see through this (or will when they think logically). When they do, they won’t just discount this one issue, but most of what you ever said.
- Let your kids ask questions and then answer them. Certainly, there is a time for “Because I said so,” but if you want to make a lasting impression on them, carry on the honest dialogue.
- Don’t feel like the conversation has to end with your child agreeing with you. Sure, there is a place for the child to behave in line with your opinion even if they disagree with it. However, I do not have to verbally beat my child into agreeing with me to have a positive successful conversation.
- Let your child know you appreciate him/her being honest with you. This will encourage more of the same in the future.