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)

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?

Why You Need to Train Your Kids to Chuck in the Bucket

My wife would kill me if she knew that I was telling you this. (…Please don’t say anything…she doesn’t read this stuff and won’t find out unless you say something…) That’s right, I am going to share with you a story about training and discipline and vomit.

Sick Bucket
About two weeks ago, my joyful Addy was not feeling well. She had already gotten sick once in the car, had a shower, and spent the evening on the couch. Although we probably surmised that more food might make her sick, she ate dinner nonetheless. Wasn’t that bad … oatmeal. How hard can that ol’ quaker dude be on your stomach anyway?

Fast forward two hours. Cough. Cough. Scream. Cough. Gurgle. Gurgle.

I ran into Addy’s room. She was crying … but not talking. She had her hands cupped around her mouth. I ran to her bed and saw that she was gagging. She did not want to get sick in her bed.

I scooped her up in my arms and cradled her to the bathroom. She could have let go. But she did not. Her small, cupping hands held tight to her mouth. As I sat her down on the ground near the toilet, she aimed …. and released. Good girl.

You may find this disgusting, but I was one proud pop. Did you see that? She held tight until she was in the clear. She did not want to get sick in her bed. She did not want to get sick on her daddy. She waited until she could get sick where sick belonged.

We (… I mean my wife … ) wiped her brow, cleaned her mouth, bathed her, and set her back into bed. Although we had already prayed once, I would later return to Addy’s room for an extra prayer. Can’t have too many, right?

As I walked out into the dark hallway, I looked over my shoulder to the motionless body. That’s what I call disciplined. To us, discipline is everything you put into children that influences how they will fare in the real world. Perhaps out of cleanliness … perhaps out of laziness … perhaps out of leadership … but we have always trained our children (no matter what age) to hold their sickness until they can get to a bathroom. Addy, in her moment of sickness and nausea, could have reacted so many different ways. But she chose to hold on and get sick where sick belonged.

Is that disgusting? Maybe. Are we mean parents? Probably. Is there a lesson in all this talk? Yes. If an evening of child sickness can show me that training really does make a difference, then perhaps you can reach a similar conclusion in your journey.  As the often-quoted proverb says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

How are you training your children?  What lessons can you share?

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

Quality versus Quantity: How to Balance Work and Family

Whoever said that “quality is more important than quantity” when spending time with your family probably had more kids than me.  If you don’t know, we are blessed with seven wonderful children ranging from age 15 years to 16 months.

I don’t know about you, but I think the amount of time you spend with your kids is just as important as what you do when you are with them.   So the real question becomes:  How can you juggle the demands of a busy career, community or church involvement, and your family obligations?

While I don’t have all the answers, here is what I have learned over the past few years:

  • Your family should be a top priority.  Throughout my career as a lawyer, I have struggled with finding the right balance between work and family.  It always seemed to be a competition between which of the two got my attention at any given point in time.  It took a long time for me to realize that my family is critical to my success as a lawyer.   (Even now, it continues to be a daily struggle … but I am getting better!)  Once you realize how important your family is to your overall well-being, you can better plan your days.
  • Your work will (or should) appreciate your priorities.  I have worked at three separate law firms throughout my career, and I can say, without hesitation, that every one of my employers valued the importance of a healthy family unit for their employees.  As an business owner, I expect my assistants and staff to have the same balance and mindset.  While not all employers share this ideal, I think it is important that you set proper boundaries going into any new employment so that you can love your job, at the same time as you care for your family. (Again, this continues to be a commitment that I have to remind myself daily!)
  • Your family needs both quality and quantity time. There is no secret or magic formula to finding the right balance, as each family has a different make-up.  For my wife, who homeschools our children, it means that she still needs to take time to spend with each child separately, even though she spends most of the day …  every day … with them.  For me, it means that my kids need to see me every day,  even though there may be times when I leave to work before they awake and I come home from work long after they have gone to bed.  (… Tell me how to figure that one out?…)  For example, at least one day a week I try to spend breakfast with the family and go into work late.  Late Friday nights and early Saturday mornings are also a must! When I have an errand to run, I’ll take one or two smiling faces with me on what we call “an excursion of a lifetime” … even if it is to Home Depot. Whether or not you have kids, you also have to take the time to invest in your marriage.  (This is where I have the most room for growth.)
  • You have to meet your kids at the playground.  I mean this both literally and figuratively.  Kids love the playground and even the 1/2 hour quick stop to the playground will meet your children’s expectations.  This also means that you need to get down to their level …  and I mean their eye level …  so that they feel you are connecting with them.  For example, just this morning as I hopped in the shower to prepare for the day, Jackson knocked on the shower door and asked if he could take a shower too.  While I could have said no, because I had to get to work, I opened the door, sat down in the shower with him, and we played with buckets of water for ten minutes. The giggles from my three-year old were the perfect assurance that I had made the right decision for this ten-minute interruption to my morning ritual.

If your life is like mine, there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done. However,  you need to make sure to plan for both quality and quantity time with your family.  It’s crucial to your success.

Question: Do you have any tips and suggestions for this juggling father?

Image: Earls37a

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?

Words, Tones and Looks Are Game Changers

It’s no secret that the words you use with your spouse or children have a tremendous impact on your relationship with them.  But did you know that the tones you use or the looks you cast have the same meaningful impact?

As I was hanging an over-sized dry erase board this evening, I gathered all the right tools to make it a quick install: the stud-finder, the large level, the tape measure, the drill, and a handful of screws with washers.  I was marking the wall with the stud-finder, a nifty little grown-up toy that caught Dylan’s attention.  As I got the first few screws in place, Dylan broke the silence.

“Dad?”

“Yeeeeeesssss, Dylan?” I snarled back, eye brows pitched and eyes rolling.

“Um … Nevermind.”

I looked down at him and saw that I had changed his entire thought process with two small words, stated angrily, coupled with a facial expression that crushed his enthusiasm.  I had to act quickly.  I jumped down from the step stool, dropped the drill and got in his face with a smile: “What do you want, son?”

“Nevermind, Dad.”

Was I too late? Did I truly steal his question from him?

“Dylan, I am sorry.  This project is not more important than you.  Your question matters to me.  You matter to me.  What did you want to ask me?”

“It’s no big deal. I just wanted to know how that thing finds wood behind the wall.  That’s all.”

“That is a big deal … and a great question!  I am sorry I tried to steal that question from you.”

We spent the next 15 minutes laughing and giggling about the stud-finder.  It was close, but I almost put another wedge between me and another kid in my family.  I’m good at that … are you?   As you think about your words, tones and looks, remember these tips:

  1. Words are alive.  When I think about the negative words I use with my spouse or kids, my mind often flashes to my dad and his father, who chastised dad every time he spilled his milk as a child.  It became a prophecy of milk-spilling because my dad had heard those words so many times.  Those words from granddad were alive…they pierced my dad’s young mind and heart…and they grew inside him like a tumor.
  2. Tones and looks change the words.  You can say the same word, “Yes”, with 20 different tones and have 20 different meanings.  You can roll your eyes with sarcasm or gaze softly, each sending a distinct message.  People easily pick up on your tone and if they think you are unapproachable, they will stop approaching you.
  3. All of them are game-changers.  Negative words are discouraging and positive words are encouraging.  When you realize that your words, tones and looks can tear down your spouse or children, as well as build them up, there is not much of a choice to make.  Proverbs 17:22 says that a “joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.

Which do you want?  You can make a difference.  You really can be that parent who runs up and down the soccer field screaming “Go! Go! Go!”  You really can be the spouse who says, “Great job with the kids today. I know it’s hard, but great job.”  To be joyful is to be ready to spread encouragement, enthusiasm and positive words to others.  Are you game?