Five Minute Sherpa

an espresso shot of thoughtful guidance

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Making Room in Your Family

Earlier this fall I was asked to share some practices and habits our family does that help to make room for relationships. So much of family life is dictated by events and schedules that we often miss out on relationship building with our spouse or kids. Here are a few of the ideas I shared. Disclaimer: by no means does my family have it figured out, rather we are figuring it out as we go. Our kids are all under 12, so I expect these ideas to expand/evolve as our kids grow up.

We think of making room in our family in two sections: Work/school week, and weekend.

During the school week we attempt to eat together as a family as often as possible. We don’t allow technology or other distractions (books, TV, toys, iPods, phones, etc) to be at the table and we try to have conversations about our day. It usually begins with discussing our high and lows. It almost always includes at least one of our four kids trying to sabotage our efforts. I did the same thing as a kid, so I can’t blame them. Conversations are “boring,” as my kids put it.

We, my wife and I, limit our personal technology use. We try not to use technology (tv, phones, etc) while the kids are awake during the “school nights.” It’s really easy to want to come home, turn on the TV and check-out. The “screen” has become the biggest influencers of relationships.

For the kids, there is no tv, no video games, or other technology use on school nights. This helps the kids to focus on the homework but also allows for us as parents to play or relate to them in whatever it is they have going on.

On the weekend:

We don’t police tech use on Saturday. It’s the day to play video games, watch a cartoon in the morning, and let the kids be kids in this modern day and age. Surprisingly, whenever we ask the kids to turn their iPods off on the weekend, they rarely complain. They intuitively know that too much technology is not a good thing.

We have made Sunday until Noon our time of rest. We generally stay in bed and have all the kids with us after they wake up until breakfast. We lounge around together in our pj’s, reading, playing board games, legos, or something else that is open for everyone (Our kids range from 3-11 with one girl and 3 boys).

Sunday mornings are the few hours of the week that Stephanie and I feel the most present and available with our kids. It’s my favorite time of our week because there are no agendas, the kids know we’re not doing anything outside of being together as a family.

Lastly, one of our favorite practices together is sitting by a fire. We have the benefit of a big backyard that allows us to build a great campfire. Usually 2-3 times a month during the spring and fall we are outside sitting around the fire together. It is probably the single most influential relational time that we have together as a family. The fire sparks so many conversations and openness between all of us. The fire is one of those things that unites people. I’m not entirely sure why that’s the case, but it slows us all down.

The main idea we have come up with for our family is the limiting of technology. There are very few places we humans can go where technology is not surrounding us. If you as a parent don’t do anything else with you kids but eat dinner together, and limit their technology use, you’ll be in rare company.

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Parenting as a Vehicle

Parenting. Hordes of books dominate the shelves of bookstores, teaching you the love languages of kids, the brain rules, and even how kids raise parents (which is my most suggested book for current and aspiring parents). There are classes, techniques, and even some really stringent cult-like ideas that all hope to help parents master the art of parenting.

I enjoy referring to parenting in football defensive references. If a family has two kids, it’s “man coverage,” with 3 kids they are in zone coverage, and with four or more, the all important (and most anxiety producing for a football fan) Prevent defense. It’s clever, I know.

The truth is, no metaphor, book, technique, or principal can help to prepare someone to be a parent. And yet, we all need help to shepherd us along the way.

It’s really hard work, and mostly exhausting to deal with free-willed little people who refuse to be your robot.

Go to bed. Unload your dishes. Be nice to your sister. Pick up your clothes. Turn off the lights.

If you’re a parent, you get it. Most of the time parents are directing, pointing, teaching, yelling, and ending the day praying the kids turn out ok. It’s the ultimate journey of faith, trust, and powerlessness.

Parenting is the vehicle that gets our kids onto or nearby the launching pad for their lives. Each kid has their own unique launching pad. Sometimes parents don’t see that different kids have different needs, which produce different lifestyles, goals, and vision for their lives. If we take all our kids to the same destination, the same launching pad, only one is going to pleased.

This vehicle is the container that provides safe travel while the journey is still in the confines of childhood. Slowly, methodically, and gradually the kids will begin to branch out and become curious about their world. More often than not, a kids curiosity will trigger a parents fear of losing control. This fear, left undressed or unexplored, leads straight to the command center of the kids’ launching pad.

As a fearful parent, I want to be in the command center. I want to be in the control room that has the correct flight plan, path, and coordinates for my kids rocket. I want to know what is going to happen, where they are going, and that they will be ok. In reality, I just want to be ok. My kids are an extension of me (they’re still in the early journey of curiosity), and if they hurt, so do I.

It’s easy for parents to be in the mindset of putting the kids in an auto-piloted vehicle, and retire to the control room where they can push the buttons, speak commands, and remain aloof from the reality of the kids who are in the vehicle. This is the safest form of parenting, but it’s not really parenting. It’s more like a warden, a boss, or an autocrat.

James Masterson, a therapist and author, says that the role of the therapist is to be the guardian of the true, real self. Not surprisingly, this is a lot like the role of a parent. Our role is to guard our kids from buying into the lie that posturing, faking it, or performing is what works. It’s our job to show our kids that money doesn’t buy happiness, nor does money solve the real challenges of life.

The ultimate challenge of parenting is to cultivate a relationship, the vehicle, that allows for safe return from misplaced curiosity, foolish choices, or damaging actions.

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Project Parenting

What is your goal for parenting? Is it to just “survive” the process? Or perhaps might it be to “make sure I don’t screw them up too bad?” I often joke with friends that I don’t have a college savings fund for my kids, I have a therapy savings fund. My kids will probably need twice the therapy to work through their dad being a therapist. Bless them.
 
“What is your goal?” is an important question that I don’t think about a lot, but whatever my stated or unstated goal is, it drives my attitude and actions towards my kids. There are many days that I get home from work and don’t want my kids to be kids. I love them dearly, but goodness they can make a mess of things. Kids force me to see that life doesn’t work by my rules, nor does the world revolve around me (despite my best efforts to make it so). This is a big reason why I (and you, if you’re honest) both love and dislike my kids: They alert me to my self-centeredness. 
 
Poor parenting happens when my goal for life as an individual, a selfish person, is different than my stated goals for my kids. When I don’t pick up my shoes and socks on the living room floor, but get onto my kids for not picking theirs up, I’m not being a good parent. Living life with different standards will teach kids that duplicity is an acceptable way of living. 
 
Becoming a parent is a two-fold challenge (and there’s probably more folds than this). First and foremost, we have to learn how to raise the kid inside all of us. We have to be kind, respectful, loving and at the same time tough, hold boundaries, and be willing to say no to that part of us that wants instant gratification. We cannot be helpful parents until we have first learned to parent ourselves. 
 
The second challenge is to raise our kids as unique individuals with similar and different challenges in life than what we ourselves face. Parenting our kids as though they wrestle with the exact struggles as we do is myopic and not helpful guardianship. 
 
My goal as a parent is to be a guardian of my kids’ true selves. Said more simply: I want to help my kids find out who they really are … not just what they love to do, but to believe in and be able to express the uniqueness of their own voice. 
 
Most days, I get caught up in training my kids to be good performers. Showing them what is good and bad from a perspective of human doing. The days when am content with them are when I’ve not tried to control or train them like I would an animal, rather that I’ve allowed them to speak their own creative ways. 
 
One final thought. Err on the side of being in relationship (not a friendship) with your kids, that’s the only way you’ll thrive together once they are no longer under your care and protection. 

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Book Review: Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters

371fe__51vm4spIX8LDad’s beware: Reading this book will likely provoke anger, shock, shame, guilt, and fear. There are stats and eye-opening realities that the author presents suggesting the current and future perils our daughters will face in the world. For this reason alone, dad’s need to read what Meg Meeker has written. Yes, it’s a shock to the system, but that is sorely needed. While this is a book catered to dad’s with daughters, I think it’s a book that all parents need to read.

Some of material Dr. Meeker talks through is in regard to relationships, not only between dad’s and daughters, but also between daughters and boyfriends. Parents of all boys would be wise to read this because of the unique insights into the needs of young women. It takes a village to raise a child, and by engaging with our boys we will be setting up the girls to be treated respectfully and decently.

One thing I did notice about the book that seemed a bit heavy handed was the sole emphasis on the role of the dad in the daughters life as the most important parental relationship. While this may have been done intentionally to get through the “thick heads” of many men, it does leave a gap as to the importance of mom in the parental relationship. I don’t think Dr. Meeker would say that the mom isn’t important, but it’s omission was notable. This will undoubtably be offensive to some, but does not discredit the overall merit of the book.

I appreciate Dr. Meeker’s call to action, specifically to make dad’s aware of the overwhelming need of their presence in their daughter’s lives. Being engaged with their daughter is likely something already overwhelming for dad’s (at times, I feel this way with my daughter), which is why this point is made over and over again throughout the book. I agree with the reality that daughters need their dad’s to be present and to show up with them. Too often I hear of grown women lament their dad’s absence as a key factor in their lack of self-esteem, self-worth, and self-image.

This is a must read for all dad’s with daughters, regardless of their age. The stories she shares really help to bring home the heart of her writings, which was extremely helpful as a reader to put flesh on the ideas she presents.

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Growing Up in Marriage

Author and speaker David Erickson recently said, “There is a child in me always seeking to destroy the man that I am.” As I sat with Josh and Katy a couple of weeks ago, I remembered what David said because it fit Josh and Katy perfectly. They had only been married a little over a year, but by the way they were treating each other one would have thought they were mortal enemies.

Just before their current argument escalated to war-like proportions in my office, I stopped them and spoke David’s words to them.”Josh and Katy,” I said. “There is a child inside both of you that is destroying this marriage.”

It’s easy to shame someone, especially when speaking about another’s immaturity or childishness, but my words to them were not about shame, they were about truth. Josh and Katy were both acting like four-year-olds who didn’t get a candy bar at the grocery store.

They were blaming each other for their unhappiness, and both were sounding like a whiny kid. They agreed with my observation and then chose to behave as adults for the remainder of the session. It was productive only because of this choice.

I recently wrote about approaching your marriage as though it is the first child. Taking this approach requires nurturing, patience, and tenderness. I want to piggyback on this idea and speak to the challenging side of seeing your marriage as a child. Children need to be taught, grown up, and loved well so that they don’t get their way. Dan Allender says that children are always asking two questions: “Am I loved, and can I get my own way?” Love means we sometimes say no, that we do what’s hard, not what’s easy. Ultimately, love will result in the greatest opportunity for growth. This is the challenge for marriages: To love the boy/girl inside each other so that the man/woman can be grown up and flourish.

Josh and Katy’s relationship is alarming to me because they are a microcosm of a larger problem for the newly married. The overarching theme I continually see in my work as a marriage counselor is couples’ inability, or outright refusal, to empathically view their spouses problems, hurts, and desires. In simple terms, this inability or refusal is childlike behavior. Adults do what is hard, children do what is easy.

I recently heard a comedian talk about the current generation of teenagers only knowing relationships through Facebook, texting, and twitter. He said, and I tend to agree, that these digital methods of relationship building are preventing empathy from being developed because there is no human face to engage. When we hurt someone, their face and body tell us before their words do. This creates challenging feelings for the person who offended their friend. These challenging feelings are what birth empathy.

Children are too consumed with their own wellbeing to want to spend much of their own energy on others. Just ask a 3 year old to share his toys with a friend … it’s not going to happen. That same 3 year old resides in each of us as adults. We are continually faced with the decision to let that inner 3 year old go on a rampage in our lives. When we do, the results are disastrous.

Our spouses need us to be adults, just as much as we need them to be adults. When we behave like children we cheat, lie, steal, call each other names, and ultimately live life for ourselves. This is the reason so many marriages are failing today. We fail to grow up and be mature adults. I want you, the reader, to consider what needs to be matured in your life. What is the child inside you doing that is threatening the marriage you want to build?

– See more at: http://www.startmarriageright.com/2013/11/growing-up-in-marriage/#sthash.E0FGnsqE.dpuf

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Marriage as the First Child

There is no doubt; having a child is one of the greatest and most terrifying moments in life. It is one of the most electrifying times that produces crazy amounts of anxiety, adrenaline, and joy. And that’s just from the guy’s perspective. Despite this reality with a baby, when the first child arrives it is a couples’ second offspring. Let me explain.

In college, two of my best friends, who were also my roommates, got married within a week of each other. I had the honor of being the best man for both of them, which might help to explain some of my surprise (and hurt) that they essentially disappeared from life after the wedding. It was as if they’d moved to a different state altogether. I’d expected them to be less social after they got married, but nothing to the extent that I experienced.

Fast forward a little over a year later, I’d been married for a few months, and I realized why my good friends disappeared after they got married: They had created something new, fragile, and precious. They weren’t parents, but in tying the knot, together as husband and wife they created a new relationship that was bigger than their individual lives could hold alone. I saw this in my marriage as well. Here was a union that Stephanie, my wife, and I had created that now required our attention and care.

When a marriage is born, much like a baby, it takes a similar level of attention, commitment, and care. If we treat our young marriage as though it is one that’s been around for 20 years, we’re likely going to fail in many ways.

Love is a choice, as is commitment, and both are a process. This process happens over time as we hold tightly to someone or something that we care deeply about. The infancy stage of love is motivated primarily by underdeveloped fear. If I don’t hold on tight enough, something terrible might happen. Now as a dad of four, I can safely say that I have some ideas about what it takes to care for an infant child. It took me struggling through the first two to get to this stage, and only through this struggle did I gain confidence about how to be a dad.

Similarly, I am confident as a husband because I have struggled mightily through the early stages of our marriage relationship. Just as parents understand the frailty of their children, I understand the frailty of a relationship. One look at an infant and it’s easy to see that they would not fare well on their own.

Marriages are no different. It’s an easy trap to fall into, but many marriages do. The trap is to believe that once a commitment is made, the relationship will coast into glory. Nothing could be further from the truth. Much like a baby needs an adult mother and father, so too do marriages need an adult husband and wife. This adulthood, maturity, can take shape in a couple of different ways.

For one, couples are wise to search out mentors to walk through life together. These mentors need to be a couple that has been through a couple of rounds of hardships together and can be far enough down the road so as to provide wisdom and perspective. These are couples who will be available to meet with you late at night when that time comes. These are not friends, they are guides, sherpas. An older couple might be the difference between a successful and failed marriage.

Another way this concept plays out is that the husband and wife take care of the marriage together. Viewing the relationship as it’s own entity creates unity and togetherness that can offer a unique experience. When the relationship is faltering, viewing it as a co-created entity allows for the responsibility of care to be had by both parties. The opposite way of doing this creates a fertile ground for the blame-game: Finding the “bad guy” who is responsible for the screw up.

Marriages are in danger for a variety of reasons. Viewing your marriage as your first child will create opportunities for your relationship to thrive. Furthermore, it will also provide a context for parenting together if and when that day comes.

(Article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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A Father’s Redemption

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I was invited to be a guest speaker at Fourth Avenue Church of Christ this past Sunday on Father’s Day. I’ve spoken in many venues before, but it was a first for me to give the sermon in a church. I’m grateful for the opportunity and blessing of being able to share from my experience as a son and a dad to help cast a vision for father’s as they navigate the difficult waters of fatherhood.

There is a relational disconnect between a father and his children. For various reasons, this disconnect creates disharmony and obstacles as the children grow up to become adults. There are three roles that we as dad’s can play in our kids’ lives to not only raise them into adulthood, but also to ease the relational disconnect that exists. You can listen to the message here:

Click Here to Listen (35 minutes in length)

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Beyond the Seen

We’re all trying to make it in a grown up world. We’re all Tom Hanks’ character in the movie “Big.” Nothing more than a boy stuck inside a 30, 40, or 50 year olds body.

It’s time to grow up. It’s time to stop living life as though it’s going to work, to fulfill you, or bring a constant smile. It’s a grown up world, and a lot of us are acting like that three-year-old in the grocery store pitching a fit because we’re not able to get Lucky Charms.

Stop spending more money than you make. Stop being late for lunch with a friend, and stop taking advantage of your spouse because “we both understand how busy we are.” Personal responsibility is lacking, and this just isn’t going to work.

The physical is where we miss each other. We see the body, the facial hair, the curved body, the jewelry, cars, and houses, but fail to recognize that these are statuses kids can attain. Kids get married, have kids, get jobs, and make lots of money. Kids do things that make them appear to be adults, but inside they’re not. Adults don’t stay in abusive relationships. Adults don’t have affairs. Kids are who buy BMW’s because it makes them feel good inside.

Adults know and value time, forgiveness, compassion, and grace. They know these things because they’ve been given these by others. They’ve been given these things by an adult. Not a child. But an adult. Virtues drive adults, not statuses.

Wisdom coaches adults, not knowledge. The turtle is admired, the hare hated. Kids don’t grow up trying to be the slowest, they want to be the fastest. The fastest wins the race, but loses the journey.

Early on, kids learn the pain of telling the truth. Maturity is about being honest, especially when it’s the hardest to do so. Not only about what we stole, or lied about, but what we fear, hope for, and desire.

This American Life recently had a 25 minute story about a politician and his friend who both lost their careers (and one went to prison) because they spent 3-4 years covering up a mistake made over a postcard during a campaign. They cheated, and had they told the truth at the time, it would have been a slap on the wrist. This is the penultimate example of choosing to believe the justification or lies over the truth. I’ve done it, and so have you. “What the heart wants, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.” – Thomas Cranmer

What if we stopped giving people so much credit? What if we looked beyond the titles, power suits, big homes, nice cars, fancy vacations, and latest fashion? What would we see?

You’d see someone just like you. Someone who doubts themselves, questions God, fears vulnerability, and knows from experience to trust no one. You’d see the kid inside trying, screaming, clawing, and begging for someone to hold them and tell them it’s ok. You’d see a 40 year old man who still gets afraid of the dark, a 30 year old woman who still worries about being alone, or a 60 year old man wondering why life has been so empty.

We’ve trained ourselves and each other to judge by the seen, not the content. Because covers can be made beautiful, attractive, sexy, and appealing. There’s no such thing as Photoshop for the soul. Often the content doesn’t ever get read because we’re too transfixed by the cover. We want to believe that some have it together, because then there is hope for me. If no one has it together, where do I go? What do I live for?

Ever wondered why social media is so popular, or why there are so many so called “reality” shows on television? It’s because we want someone else’s life. We don’t want our own. You may not admit it, but your life has not been what you wanted it to be. If you don’t learn your own content, what makes you you, then you’ll be looking to live out someone else’s.

Looking beyond the seen is difficult, and takes effort, time, and being intentional. You must first look beyond the seen in your own life. Examine your own reflection, and learn to tell the story of your content, of your life.

 

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The Importance of Parenting, and Childhood


 (image via despair.com)

Ask any parent, and they’ll agree: Parenting is hard. Despite the humor in the above picture, it really is difficult. As my 4 year old was running away from me the other night, screaming at me as he ran, I realized why this relationship is so hard: My desire to be safe is threatened by my kids.

I’ve invited and brought these little humans into the world. I’ve fed them, hugged them, disciplined them, and have done my best to love them. Ultimately, though, what I have given them is a part of me. They walk and run around this world with my heart draped over their shoulder.

The reality of being unsafe with them comes alive in moments of panic. When my 9-month old is choking on something he’s found under the dining room table, I become aware that his life is the container of a part of me that I’ll never have back. If he goes away, so does his portion of my heart. It’s why a child’s scream of terror or pain makes me move with the speed of a superhuman. When my son falls off the bed at night, I’m in his room quicker than his tears.

My heart is with them, and I am not safe. They will do as they please. They have the same free-will as I do, and I really don’t like them for that. In fact, I often resent them for being human. Sometimes, I wish they were robots, doing as I say, playing nice, and behaving on behalf of what’s right. I want them to be safe, so I can be safe.

But really, safety is just an illusion. Our cars have air bags, but at 75 mph on an interstate, compressed air isn’t going to keep me safe. An airplane has seat belts, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m in a rocket with wings going 500 miles per hour 30,000 feet above the ground. I lock my house at night, but a deadbolt is not going to keep a tornado at bay, nor the rising waters of a flood.

Much of life is building and creating supports that give us the illusion of feeling safe. Kids don’t factor into that illusion. This is only a realization understood by parents. Kids are humans, and they’re going to do what they think is best, or whatever pleases them. There’s nothing I can do to be in control of them. This reality coupled with the gift of my heart to them creates a mess. If I want to be safe, I must control them; if I am okay not being safe, I must find a way to cope with the inevitable pain. This is a sobering thought as a parent.

It’s sobering, because I know that I often try to control them. I try to get them to stop smacking their food, stop eating pizza on the couch, and stop fighting as they brush their teeth. When I realize that I can’t control them, I get jealous (Hey, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, right?). I’m jealous that they get to be the kids and I have to be the grown-up.

I think life as an adult is lived in the infamous 80-20 rule: Eighty percent is doing things we have to do, and 20 percent is what we want to do. That equation is the opposite for kids. To be an adult, we cannot play 80 percent of the time. And this is the problem for most of us adults. We don’t want to do the 80% of work that life requires. We want easy, and 80% work is not easy. The result … numbed-out adults

Kids aren’t numb (depressed), rather they feel and express. Kids expression in life challenges adult depression. When I want to sleep, don’t wake me. Adults want to go to sleep, figuratively, and when a kid wakes them, they wake the rage of being roused from the comfy sleepy world of depression. Getting angry at a kid for being curious is like getting mad at water for being wet.

This is why parenting is so hard: As a parent, I can’t keep kids from being kids … and, they invite us to see the world through untamed eyes. It’s both wonderful and frightful. Parenting is about helping kids become adults tomorrow while holding onto hope, wonder, curiosity, and awe they live with today.


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First Half Reading

One of my goals this year is to read more books. Of the dozen-plus books I’ve read so far, here are four that I suggest everyone read:

Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction

A dad reflects on his son’s addiction to drugs (meth). As a parent, this is a terrifying read as I consider what is out there for my kids to face. But it’s a good kind of terrifying. It has forced me to face this possibility and begin conversations with my kids about addictions. Conversations won’t keep kids off of drugs, but my hope is that our relationships will give them what they need through the tumultuous years of adolescence and young adulthood.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

I’m sure you’ve heard of this book, or story, and rightfully so. It’s one of the best stories that I’ve ever read. It’s a story of survival, pain, suffering, tragedy, and the will of the human spirit. All stories have loss, and all stories have redemption. The story of Zamperini has loss and redemption over and over again. Read this book and ask yourself: “Where is the parallel in my story?”

The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict

Written in a conversational format, characters discuss the nature of how war and peace interact, where does peace come from, and how do we engage it with the people around us. It’s got some powerful illustrations that help to bring the read to see that we often focus on what’s wrong with other people, but ignore the majority of what they do right. Furthermore, we often treat others more so as objects than as people and that we expect them to fully trust us even if we don’t fully trust them. This is a great book for anyone who is in any form of leadership (parents, business, marriage, church volunteers, etc — essentially anyone who deals with people in any organized fashion).

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles

Probably my favorite book so far of 2012. The first half of this book, if you let it, will call you out and challenge every part of your fear. Resistance is the main culprit to our boredom and lack of pursuit to what we want to create in life. It carries a number of little nuggets that can apply to anyone. This is a book that I will read again, and again.