Lessons from a Father and His Blind Son

Some time ago, I saw a man and his young song walking along Broadway Street in downtown Nashville.   I witnessed a great lesson in parenting … leading with love, standing side-by-side, and pressing forward.

Leading in love, side-by-side, pressing forward.

The extraordinary thing about this event was that the young boy was blind.  It appeared to have been a recent condition because the father was trying to teach his son how to navigate with a walking stick.   As exhibited by this father, parenting involves the following:

  1. Leading with love is about reaching the heart of your child. Too often I get caught up in the outward behavior of my children and forget about the inward heart.  I’m learning that if I reach the heart my children, and teach them the lesson that will be forever pressed in their soul, then their “good behavior” will follow.  This father did not waste any time, energy and frustration just to get his son to walk straight and avoid objects like street signs and benches.  He was focused on his son’s challenges and building his heart and esteem to face those challenges.
  2. Standing side-by-side is right where your kids need you to be.  For this father helping his blind son to walk … there he stood right by his son’s side.  Leading him … hand to arm … arm to hand … down the street.  Then the father would let go, while continuing to walk by his side.  As parents, we need to not only stand beside our children, we need to get down on their level and talk to them eye-to-eye.  I mean this literally and figuratively.  Literally, our kids need to see our eyes when we talk to them (and particularly when we talk about life issues).  Figuratively, they need to know we understand what they are saying.  For instance, if your young man is excited about his green bean, pickle, and peanut butter “Alien Sandwich” … then so should you.
  3. Pressing forward means we must continually grow. In life, our children will be challenged to accept mediocrity, the norm, or the worldly standard of what is considered “right.”  As parents, we have to push, press, encourage and in some instances force them to reach for excellence.  Notice I did not say, perfection, but excellence. We must not get caught up in the mistakes we have made in the past.  Press forward in all things.

As I watched this father lead  his blind son along a busy street in downtown Nashville, I wondered truly about the father’s resolve and the son’s reliance.  Certainly, this man could have bullied his son to use or rely on that walking stick.  But that is not what I witnessed.  And the son, at some point in this experience, ultimately had to come to the realization that he was going to rely on his father’s leading.

Question: Are you leading your children in love, side-by-side, pressing forward?

Image: justinknol

How to Deal with Insecurities in Your Relationships?

My wife and I have an insecurity problem.  She’s insecure. I’m not. Okay, maybe that’s reversed.  Maybe it depends on the day…or the hour.

storm

One of my readers recently sent us the following praise, along with a question:

I have found your blogs to be very honest….you guys put it all out there and expose the reality that it isn’t all ribbons and rainbows! Appreciate and value the perspective you both share.

Anyway, how do you navigate the waters day to day together without losing connection and/or questioning the direction along the journey?

The questions really are about insecurity.  I am not joking when I say that the insecurities in our marriage ebb and flow with the tides.   But as long as we know that truth prior to getting into the boat, we tend to find our way through stormy waters.  Here’s how:

  1. Talk openly.  We got much of our fighting done prior to getting married.  We went through a 12-week pre-marital counseling program at our local church, where we talked about all the stormy waters of a relationship: finances, in-laws, children, expectations, sex (…can he say that?…yep!…), church, communication, work, etc.  The program created an environment where we could talk openly about these issues before they arose, since we knew they would arise sometime in our marriage.
  2. Walk humbly.  The storm will get thicker the more your focus on your own individual losses, feelings, emotions, goals, etc.  As an attorney, I can argue (or justify) my way out of any marital situation.  But that is not the best route for the relationship.  Most of the time when I think I am “right” about something, I dig my heels into my position and let her have it!  And every time I do so, I am closer to losing what I love most.  I have learned that even if I have the better side of the argument, most times I can calm the storm with two words: “I’m sorry.” If you humble yourself, you can minimize each of your insecurities.
  3. Hold tightly.  We navigate the waters without losing connection because we hold each other tightly…both literally and figuratively.  In a literal sense, no words can give my wife the security she desires more than a tight hug, arms wrapped around her tightly, and a kiss on her forehead.  Figuratively, we walk hand-in-hand through each challenge.  When your hands drop from your partner (out of selfishness, anger or laziness), you stand alone.
  4. Laugh regularly.  When you realize that you are navigating rough waters, with no oars in the boat, and you are out of food, sometimes you need to look at your spouse and say, “Good time to start a diet, sweetie! Look out Sports Illustrated: Couples Swimsuit Edition here we come!”  Courtney and have become marital comedians over the past few years because we have decided to change our outlook on situation.  It does not always take the hurt away, but a giggle or a smile will often help you weather the storm.
  5. Learn continually.  All of this may sound really good and may help you through a fight or two, but Courtney and I find success when we remember the lessons of a prior storms just as we are going through a new storm.  It won’t be a guarantee success this time, but we often know what “not” to do based upon the prior challenge.  And so will you.

Question: How do you deal with insecurities in your relationships?

Image: Kathy

What Does Patience Mean to You? Here’s A Good Definition.

We teach our kids about patience almost everyday.  Go ahead, ask them.  And if you do, you will hear them recite our family definition of patience: “Waiting for something you want without crying, complaining or getting angry.” From our oldest to the young toddler, they all know the definition.

 Patience

But what happens when mom or dad are not patient?

What happens when we cry, complain or get angry while we are waiting on something? We need to learn a lesson in patience.  As some of you recall, we had some major complications with our latest pregnancy.

Why am I saying we?  I mean, she.  If I could take away the pain from her, I would do it immediately.

But there she was, sitting up all night, wincing with each movement, mumbling and praying for an answer.  If I was awake and I actually heard her, I would roll over and place my hand on her shoulder.   I whispered, “What can I do?”

The silence told me nothing.

Exhaustion turned to frustration, which turned to anger.  I was whining, complaining and getting angry on the inside.  Every now and then it creeps out of my lips.  And I am reminded of my kids’ lesson on patience.

That sounds like good advice for a child wanting to tell you about their day the second you arrive home from work.  It can buy you a few more minutes until (or even postpone) the evening story because you are simply too tired.   Have you been there?  What can you do to find your own patience?

  1. Time out. Not in the “punishment” manner, but in the “set yourself aside” and take a break from your circumstances.  Perhaps you need the “time out” as you pull your car into the driveway after a long day of work.  Perhaps you need the “time out” as the kids are whining about how hungry they are just before the meal is placed on the table.  No matter the circumstances, take a “time out” from the circumstance.
  2. Meditate or pray. In his pain, King David was crying to the Lord with his voice?, and He answered from His holy mountain. Do you know what happened next?  David said, “I laid down and slept. I awoke, for the Lord sustains me.”  (Ps 3:4-5)  David could have had sleepless nights, but in his rebellion he slept peacefully because he prayed to the Lord, and those prayers were answered.
  3. Substitute your wait. Accept the fact that patience requires a time of waiting.  If you expect, plan and prepare for that time of waiting, you can begin to avoid the onset of complaints or anger.  For my wife during the evening, it means offering the children an alternative to whining as they wait for dinner, such as: “Sweetie, I want you think of the story you are going to share with the family during dinner time.  That will give Mommy time to finish preparing the food.”  The same goes for us.

Question: When are you most impatient? What do you do to find comfort?

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?