Parent Leader: Somewhere Between Dictator and Welcome Mat

We just survived my birthday weekend.  I say “weekend” because I like to stretch out the festivities as much as possible…Dad’s Birthday Breakfast, Dad’s Birthday Lunch, Dad’s Birthday Afternoon Snack, Dad’s Birthday Dinner, Dad’s Birthday cake (…and cupcakes…), and even this morning, Dad’s Birthday Sleep-in-and-go-to-work-late.  My birthday was last week, though.

Mia Helping Daddy Make Cake

That joy this weekend was also littered with the regular challenges of parenthood. Bills stacked up on the counter, light bulbs out in 10 sockets, children fighting over how much of Dad’s cake they got, and my lovely wife just wanting a few moments of silent. These are the circumstances when the Daddy … a real man … has to step up to fulfill his role as Parent Leader. And that place is somewhere between dictator and welcome mat. Here is what I mean:

  • A parent leader is not a dictator. Too often, I confuse Christianity as a “well behaved” person and I think my job is to raise little “well behaved” persons. My job is to teach them to love the Lord with all their heart, mind and strength. My wife often reminds me that a good leader leads … not dictates. Understanding this concept, childhood discipline from the parent is more like a boundary that keeps the child on the right track, rather than a bouncer who strongholds the kid back into place.
  • A parent leader is not a welcome mat. On the other end of the spectrum, there are a number of parents in today’s society who simply want to “friend” their children in the FaceBook game of life. Love and devotion to your children should not be mistaken as a license to have a chummy, “BF” or pal relationship with them. You cannot let your children (or their friends) walk all over you like a welcome mat. Practically, this means: you are the parent, they are the child. Don’t blur the distinction.
  • A parent leader is somewhere in the middle. I can’t tell you exactly where that middle spot is located because we are trying to find that right balance. In our family … each family is different … I tend to be the dictator and my wife tends to be the welcome mat. Here’s the thing, we realize that we need to run to the middle. My wife prays for strength to be more rigid in what she will allow the kids to say and do during the day. I pray for strength not to crush the kids’ spirits after I walk into the house following a long, hard day.

Are you a parent leader? As you look at the sincerity of your heart, ask yourself whether you are “provoking your children to anger” or are you “bringing them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:7)

A Faith Lesson From Three (Not Two) Cinnamon Rolls

For many years now, I have met with a group of other men on an early morning weekday to bond, and to talk, and to vent, and to simply lean on each other. One time, as I was packing up the last three cinnamon rolls from breakfast, I half-heartedly joked, “These three will go to the homeless.”  I say half-heartedly because I don’t know that I had any real intention of finding someone who would want the leftovers.

Gotta love the bacon in this tasty treat.

After a morning workout at the downtown gym, I began walking to my office.  I then immediately saw that God had plans for the cinnamon rolls that sat in my car—two homeless guys.  And the excuses began flowing through my mind, “I don’t have time to walk a block to my car, get the rolls, and walk a block back.” and “There are only two people, and I have three rolls. I don’t want to start a homeless brawl.” I decided to keep walking towards my office.

As I passed those empty and lonely eyes, I was immediately convicted…but not enough to turn around. Instead, I put out a challenge to God (which, by the way, I do not suggest that you attempt this yourself). “God, if you really want these TLM’s (tasty little morsels) to feed the hungry, then put three homeless dudes closer to my car.” After all, I had three (not two) cinnamon rolls.

I walked down the alley and slowly turned the corner. I was like an excited child on Christmas morning coming down the stairwell. I looked up and saw God’s response sitting at back entrance to my garage. There were three (not two) homeless dudes. Thanks, God. I spent the next few moments talking with the three (not two) lost wanderers, who were, by the way, very thankful for a cinnamon roll.

John 14:9 says, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” You see, there’s an interesting relationship between God and man. The link between the two is Jesus—fully God and fully man. In other words, Jesus can teach you a lot about God, as he is every bit God himself. And yet Jesus can completely relate to you, because he is every bit a man. That morning, I was challenged once again to look for God and serve God in the everyday moments. And so should you.

What a Supermom of a Premature Superhero Taught Me About Living

When our fifth child was born, he had minor complications with a hole in his lung and an inability to breathe.  While my wife stayed at one hospital in recovery following the delivery, I was transported to another local hospital to be bed-side with my newborn son in the NICU.  I am sure this has happened to you in some form or another…challenged by a medical catastrophe.

Ever been to a NICU?

While at the NICU, we had the privilege of meeting Mollie and Dax, a supermom and her premature superhero.  Dax was born premature at 23 weeks.  His twin sister, Aubrie, was delivered prior to that and went to heaven when she was a day old.  Dax is now five and you can read about their heart-touching story at Wrecked,

Again, we all struggle. Our family is the same as yours.  Mollie’s family is the same as yours. Let’s learn from each other. As I have watched Mollie weather the storms over the past five years, here are three things that this supermom and her premature superhero have taught me about living:

  • Live Your Own Life. As parents, we have a tendency to over-protect our children.  In her own journey, Mollie has every reason to want to live her little man’s life for him…to talk for him…to experience for him…to protect his every move.  But Mollie has chosen to live her own life as a mother of an exceptional and challenged young boy.  Mollie has chosen to let Dax become a superhero, allowing him to venture out in the world, and fall, and get hurt, and grow!
  • Laugh at Life.  When you are challenged, you have a choice of attitudes.  Do you want to sulk?  Do you want to get angry?  Do you want to plan a resolution?  For Mollie, she has chosen to laugh at life.  Just follow her Facebook posts and you will be ROFL (…that’s rolling on the floor laughing for you non-texters…).  For example, describing that horrific time when your child screams out in a location that normally should be a quiet place, Mollie chides: “The sermon today was on the Holy Spirit. Coincidentally (or not?) my little wannabe Pentacostal child yelled out in tongues exercising his fancy new vocal cord the whole time. Made me think of the Mississippi Squirrel Revival… Happy Sunday, y’all!”  Thanks for the awesome reminder of laughter.
  • Lend Your Life.  As much as you think you have on your own plate (with work, school, family, health, debt, or whatever), you can rise above your circumstances by lending your life to others.  When Aubrie joined the other angels in heaven, Mollie made sure to form Aubrie’s Angels in an effort to ensure that every special needs child has access to toys and equipment that will allow them to thrive!  Every year, Mollie and her friends lend their lives to improving the lives of others.

Question: Do you know a supermom like Mollie?  What have you learned from them?

Four Ways to Become a Rock Star Parent to Your Kids

This weekend my wife convinced me to add a couple of new outfits to my wardrobe. When I put on this new hip set of duds on Sunday, one of my daughters stared at me with fascination…or disgust…I couldn’t really tell.

After moments of silence, she said, “Dad, those look like rock star pants.”  I beamed back with excitement, “I know. Cool, huh?”  Her response pierced my ego: “But you are not a rock star!”

RockStar

As parents, we should shine like rock stars to our kids.  I am not talking about being cool for sake of being cool.  I am not talking about being their best friend.  I am talking about planning, advertising, entertaining and inspiring throughout your relationship with your children.  Here is what I mean:

  1. Plan your concert tour.  As a busy construction attorney, this is the most difficult part of becoming a rock star parent.  I work very long days and often times I leave to and come home from the office while the kids are in bed. (Yep…I said that right…I miss them in the morning and night.)  And with seven young children, the need to plan is more important.  Just like the musician with a planned tour schedule, you need to plan the times that you will be home with the children.  Include them in making your tour schedule so that they have involvement.  Many times I have heard a little one say to me, “Dad, on our next adventure, can we ….?”
  2. Advertise each event. When you plan an event, you need to advertise and talk about it with your children.  Weekends can be crazy at my house because I have scheduled three or four different trips out with different kids.  When you talk about it during the week, you are solidifying your commitment to them, as well as building excitement for the weekend to come.
  3. Entertain their heart and mind.   Okay. I got this one down because I love to entertain.  A few pieces of advice: (i) learn to use many voices (…kids love voices…); (ii) buy tons of white paper and crayons, and sit down to draw with your children every chance you can get; and (iii) eat the green bean, peanut butter, and chip sandwiches, which means if you let your children help you make lunch, then be prepared to eat whatever they make. Role play with the chef, waitress and customer.  And when you mess up by yelling at them for spilling the milk (…I may have done that a few times…), then cure the hurt in their eyes and face by saying “sorry” and finding their tickle spot.
  4. Inspire your children towards greatness.  We entertain to get their attention; we inspire to teach them character.  Whether it is the lyrics, the overall showmanship, or the eye contact made with the lead singer, the most memorable concert likely left you inspired.  When you interact with your children, remain focused on your goal of preparing them for the real world (…hopefully not the MTV show…).  In all things, including trips to the movie, ice cream shop or park, find a way to inspire them to greatness.

Are you a rock star parent?  What can you do different this week to rock it?

You Know You Are Grumpy When … You Dream in Grumpy

Over the past few months, I have been so stressed that my wife cornered me on more than one occasion to let me know how “grumpy” I have been with the children and with her.  My first reaction … No way!  You’re the grumpy one, chica!

grumpy

I soon realized that my wife was right when I started dreaming in grumpy. Last week I woke up at about 3:00am with anger in my mind and a frown on my face.  I woke up from an insanely realistic dream where I was yelling at my children, picking apart my wife and kicking the cat.   I woke up and wanted to run away from myself.

Language studies show that if you begin to dream in a foreign language, then you are comfortable with the foreign language and may be on the verge of fluency.  So what does it mean when you dream that you are angry and “on edge” with everyone?  I think it means you are angry and “on edge” with everyone … and on the verge of hurting those you most care about.  Here is what you can do turn those dreams around?

  • If you’ve yelled at your kids, it is never too late to apologize. Even where a few days has gone by, my children truly appreciate (and understand) when I take them to the side to “say sorry” for being grumpy.  Addy Joy, do you remember when Daddy yelled at you two days ago for getting out of bed?  Well, I am sorry.  I should not have yelled at you.  It is your job to stay in bed and it is my job to teach you to obey instructions.  But it was wrong of me to yell at you.  Will you forgive me? Those words can make a huge impact on a child.
  • If you’ve been short with your wife, it is never too late to open up to her. Just because my wife is an adult, I cannot assume that she will fully appreciate the stress that consumes me during the day.  I am learning to make a concerted effort to take a few “moments of silence” after pulling into the driveway to prepare for my entrance into the home.  Again, the words are simple: Honey-babe-schmoopy-pie … I am sorry for not understanding how my stresses affect you and the kids.  It’s been tough on me for the past few days and I forget that we are on the same team.  Will you forgive me? Most of the time, she will embrace you with open arms.  And by the way, sweetie, wanna make out?
  • If are you dreaming in grumpy, it is never too late to change. Luckily for me (and for my family), I have only had one grumpy dream.  But it was a huge wake-up call (…pun intended…) that I needed to change my attitude toward my children.  I realize that my grumpiness is not going to solve the stresses that are making me grumpy.  Does that make sense?  If eating ice cream is not going to help you lose weight, then why would yelling at your kids or spouse help you with the stresses at work, or the financial strains, or the problem you may be having with a friend.  It won’t.

Are you dreaming in grumpy?  If so, how can you turn those dreams around?

Image: sokab

Why You Should Let Your Kids Play on New Asphalt

As many of you know, I am a construction lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee.  Last fall, I came home to a fresh layer of asphalt throughout our development.  Smooth. Warm. Black.  It looked great!  Then my kids … 5 out of 7 of them … pulled out the chalk and began destroying this perfect surface.

Since their daddy represents road builders, they even created lanes for travel.  I am sure they did not commission any environmental impact studies.  Nor did they properly carry out lane closures.  (…amateurs…)

My immediate reaction was to get mad … They were playing in the street! They were ruining perfectly good asphalt.  But then the quiet voice reassured me.  They are kids … and they are going to be alright.

Do you get stressed by juggling professional demands and family life?  Here are some reasons why you should let your kids plays on new asphalt:

  • Let your kids be kids.  Too often, I confuse “good behavior” with “good character.”  I think my job as a parent is to instill good character, which naturally should result in good behavior. Right?  But when my focus is on their actions, rather than their heart, I become rule-driven.  Wake up, Matt, they are kids.  Let them play!  That’s what new asphalt is for … bright colored chalk!
  • Let yourself be a kid.  My job as parent does not end with allowing my kids to play, though.  I need to play with them.  In this instance, I flopped down on the new, black street and began drawing.  The giggles of the little ones at my side, laughing at my “less than perfect” stick figure was all I needed.  This was fun.
  • Live one life.  Most of my hurdles over the past ten years have stemmed from that fact that I tried to compartmentalize every aspect of my daily life (i.e., work, health, family, friendships, etc). Each had their own little box. Until I came to the realization that there is only room for one life, there was conflict.  I suspect that you will experience the same.  That means, if you are a passionate executive, then take that passion home to your family.  If you work great with your kids, then work great with your staff and employees.

Question: Are you juggling work and family and community?  What tips can you share about finding the right balance?

The Day We Buried Sarcasm, Yelling and Bad Attitudes

Ever had a family burial ceremony?  We did last Fall.  No, it was not for the hermit crab (…he died years ago…).  No, it was not for the water frogs (…inexplicably they are still alive…).  It was for a few invited guests that we let come into our house.  They have overstayed their welcome and we were ready to kick them out.  Do they live in your home?

Sarcasm. Yelling. Bad Attitudes.

It started with a sit down family meeting.  I apologized to the kids for my sarcasm and yelling.  I told them that I did not like raising my voice to get them to listen to something.  I told them that my words had not been sincere when they asked me questions.  I told them, “I’m sorry.”  Finally, I told them I was willing to give up sarcasm and yelling.  We spent the next few minutes talking about things they were willing to give up, too.  One said, “Yelling at my sisters.” (…I guess you can “catch” behaviors…).  One said, “Bad attitude.”  One said, “Pizza!” (…We’ll give her a couple of years to catch up…).

We then drew a picture of our sacrifices on a 3×5 card and proceeded out back to the burial site.  We dug a hole and we placed our cards in the hole.  We talked to the kids about making choices in life and how can accept our bad behaviors or get rid of them.  And in the crisp, cool weather that afternoon … we buried sarcasm, yelling and bad attitudes.

When you decide that you are tired of just “getting by” with the same old attitudes, then you can do something about it.  When you are ready to “play to win,” then you can make a change.  If you are ready to make a change in your life, I suggest that you have your own burial ceremony.  Here are few things to remember:

  • It is never too late.  A habit is never too old to break.  It may be difficult, but you can decide to change your patterns of behavior whenever you want.  You also don’t need a house full of children in order to decide to change.  Your behaviors may affect a spouse or a friend.  They may affect your health or your work.  The important aspect is that you can decide to change … today.
  • It takes a plan.  Concerned about my sarcastic words, I knew that I needed to do something more than stop talking.  (…I talk for a living…).  Instead, I knew that I had to write down on paper what I was willing to set aside for my children.  I had to admit that I was wrong.  I then had to take a physical act of abandonment.   You may not need a ceremony.  Perhaps you want to reign in your spending—try freezing your credit card in a bag of water in the freezer.  Addicted to swear words?  Set up a “swear jar” and donate some Benjamins every time you cuss.  Make a plan and stick to it.
  • It may fail, but stay focused.  Finally, realize that you are human and that you are likely to fail.  In fact, just a few moments after I buried sarcasm yesterday, I found my silver tongue snapping at my wife about something she had asked me to do weeks ago.  Luckily, she was smart enough to remind me about our burial ceremony and she put me back in place.  Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “Men succeed when they realize that their failures are the preparation for their victories.”  When you realize that you are going to fail, you are free to succeed.  Henry Ford failed numerous times in business before he finally went on to build the Ford Motor Company.

Question:  What have you let in your home that needs a burial ceremony?

Sometimes Parents Need to Be Told What to Do!

You think we have it all together.  We must.  After all, no one in their right mind would have seven kids unless they were either crazy or really good parents.  In our family, it it is probably a little of both . . . but definitely insane in the brain! And not a day goes by where my children don’t teach me about parenting.

Time to relax.  A few months ago, I was hoping to catch a movie with the kids after dinner, after their showers, pillows and blankets spread across the floor. (…Admittedly, that is code for “Let Daddy lie down on the couch and rest his eyes while purportedly spending time with the kids.”….)

I put the movie in the DVD player, I fluffed my pillow, and I pressed play.  Everyone was situated for the family movie except for Faith, my #5, who was trying to squeeze her small frame into my blanket, pillow and body.

“Faith, sit down.  The movie is about to start.”  This time I said it calmly.  Next time I wouldn’t.

“Dad, I’m trying. But there is no room,” she cooed softly.

I didn’t bite. “Faith, sit on the floor.  There’s plenty of room.” Yes, this time I snapped.

“But, Dad, I just want to sit by you.”

Most people would have melted with those soft blue eyes, but not me.  I wanted everyone to sit in this spot and watch the “family” movie quietly so that I could get some rest. 

“Faith, there’s no more room next to me.”  I thought about that statement.  How can I deal with those words, yet still get my sleep?  Let me try this:  “What do you want me to do Faith?”

“Well, you could could put your arm around me.”

She smiled.  Innocence.

Sometimes parents need to be told what to do.  In a split second, my heart was pierced and my mind went racing.  She’s right.  She just wanted to spend time with me, but I had something else in mind.  And with those nine little words she solved her problem . . . and mine.

You see, as parents our world is filled with total chaos: dirty diapers, meals, spilled paint, broken glass, laundry, sibling fights, naps, naps interrupted, soccer practice, violin practice, church, more dirty diapers . . . you get the picture. 

And yet in the midst of this chaos, we have a job to do.  Unconditionally love our children.  That’s a tough job when you have your list of things you want do for yourself.  Even though we know, as parents, what our role should be, it often takes a few words from our children to remind us of our job.  For Faith, she just wanted to have her Daddy hold her.  For Dylan, he just wants to play a board game at 9:00 pm when I am tired.  For Alie, she just wants me to listen (and not talk). 

What about you?  What are your children telling you?  Slow down. Play with me.  Listen. Laugh.

That’s all they really want . . . is . . . a piece of you!

Image: jenpilot

Can You Talk to Yourself a Little Nicer? Yes and Here’s How!

The most important person you are going to listen to today is yourself.  Those are not my words—they are the words of John Maxwell on his leadership blog.

As Maxwell explains, there are a lot of voices we hear throughout the day, but the one that has the most positive upside or most negative downside is … what we say to ourselves … what Maxwell calls self-talk.

The point is 100% correct.  But what if you have been beaten down by a parent, spouse, boss or other person for so many years that you are stuck in negative self-talk?  What do you do to get unstuck and start talking/hearing positive self-talk?  Hear are a few ideas:

  • Recognize you are not alone.  There is a reason why leaders like John Maxwell and Michael Hyatt are successful.  Because they help hurting, struggling people.  And this world is full of hurting, struggling people:  You are one. I am one. Your best friend is one. Your neighbor is one. Your pastor is one.  We are not alone with our struggles and one of the best parts of the Internet is the ability to connect with others, finding a wealth of commonalities.  Look around.  When you recognize that you are not alone in your struggles, you gain the ability to walk side-by-side a negative self talker or to follow a positive self talker.
  • Realize your potential.  Mom always told me that God does not make junk.  Whatever your faith, you (and your past) are living proof that you can always do better.  Remember the first elementary school project you had?  The next one got better.  Remember the first lawn you mowed in the summer heat?  The next time you did it faster.  Remember the first song you sang in public?  The next one you sang was more melodious.  The point is that we all have talents and passions. No matter what negative things can be said about you (…by you…), there is untapped potential in you to shine.  I believe it!  Do you?
  • Re-assess your talk.  I use the word re-assess because you have to go back to the drawing board.  If you are mired down in low self esteem, you have already assessed your value (…albeit incorrectly…).  You have to re-assess, meaning DO IT AGAIN BUT THIS TIME CORRECTLY.  With a clear lens, see that you are not alone, you have great potential, and that the negative things you have been telling yourself for years is simply wrong.
  • Repeat daily.  This is perhaps the hardest part.  You may believe in yourself just a little bit more after reading these words.  You may find an ounce of passion that you once had that got lost after years of negativity.  You may ignite a spark to get unstuck out of old patterns.  But the world and your circumstances are not going to change overnight.  You have to repeat this assessment everyday you get up, you have to turn on the positive self talk, and you have to reject the negative self talk.

Question: What tips do you have to help turn the negative talk to positive talk?

Image: John Newman

Don’t Break Your Child When You Are Stressed

You may think that life in our family is great … no problems there, right?  Wrong! You probably remember my grumpy dreams about a lot of stresses in our life.  There’s a big reason why I have been unable to post recently, too.  I am simply overwhelmed.

stressed

How do you get back on track when feel that your life has been derailed? That’s a lesson for another day … as I am in the process of getting there myself.  But what is important to learn as a parent, spouse, and leader is that you should not break your loved ones as you work to get back on track.  Let me explain:

We have a certain daughter who loves animals.  Years ago, this animal lover pleaded with us to get a cat.  I said no.  Wife said yes.  We have a cat.

Fast forward a couple more years and this certain animal lover had been neglecting her litter-box-changing-duties.  And if the box is too full, the cat likes to use my closet as its own personal outhouse.  Well, I remember the night I came home to find another fresh, smelly “leftover” in my closet.

I lost it! Not the cat, but my patience!

I yelled.  I yelled loudly.

Moments later, I was crushed because I knew that I had crushed someone else’s spirit.  Yeah, you know, that animal lover who begged me for the cat was broken … by me.  I cannot described how terrible I felt.  It was like the “bad man” in You just broke your child. CongratulationsIf you have not read Dan’s post, it is well worth the read.

While I could go on, and on, and on, about what to do when your kid’s cat poops in your closet, the real lesson is … don’t break your child while working through the conflict.