A few weeks ago I was pushing Emma on a swing in the park and I was casually eavesdropping on a few junior high girls on the swings next to us. This is how their conversation went.
Girl 1: “Oh my gosh you are such an amazing singer”
Girl 2: “Really? I was thinking I might try to get on American Idol.”
Girl 1: “You should totally do that and if that doesn’t work out you could always get on The Voice.”
Girl 2: “You could totally do that”
My first thought, I’d love to meet these girls’ parents. Admittedly, I was listening to this conversation in awe of the innocence of childhood, in remembrance of some dreams that I have left behind. However, I love that these girls have the freedom to dream. What they were saying is so ridiculous to a world of adults with nine to five jobs raising kids who are barley getting by. They are clearly shooting high.
I hope my girls have conversations like this. I hope they plot their lives out, and then realize that’s not really what they want at all. I hope they dream huge and aspire to big things. Even when they get a job that might not be their thing, I hope they never let go of their passion, imagination and ambition.
I want to be the kind of parent who encourages ridiculous dreams. I want to be the kind of parent who invests in passions that only last a week. I want to be the kind of dad that teaches his kids to trust their imagination and to really know what they want so that they will one-day chase it down. I want to be the kind of dad that teaches his girls that persistence and optimism is key to fulfilling your dreams no matter how crazy they might be.
Ever since I’ve had kids my new dream has been for them to be great. I feel like I finally have a glimpse of how God loves his children. I’ve always understood forgiveness but what I don’t think I ever understood before is the deep desire for good things for others. I just want my kids to leave a mark and change this world. I guess that makes Desiree and I, dream facilitators.
Yesterday my wife took Emma to a child development class at a local junior college. The class needed to observe kids who were under two. When they got home she told me about a little boy who would hit the other kids, he even bit a girl and made her bleed. I guess the parents would scold the boy and tell him that he was a “bad boy” and they would yell at him each time he did this. However, the kid’s behavior kept getting progressively worse.
I wonder if at an early age we begin to fall in love with the wrong things. I’m not saying that this boy had bad parents, they truly didn’t want him biting and yet they were unintentionally re-enforcing his bad behavior. Just from the short time of observation, my wife noticed that the parents only gave their son attention when he was disobeying or being rude to the other kids. So the kid acted out and his parents gave him a lot of attention.
I have been working with teenage students since I was fifteen years old. I got my first job at a teen center mainly because I didn’t disclose my age and I looked older than I really was. Since I have been working with teenagers, I have met this disobedient baby over and over again. Their central goal is to bring others to anger and they end up getting negative attention, but it is attention. These teens learned at an early age to fall in love with the wrong thing.
So there are a few things that these experiences have reinforced in me. First, what you water grows. When you give attention to negative behavior you will always get negative behavior in return. Second, I couldn’t help but wonder what we train kids to love. Kids love attention and they need security and that is how they feel love. When they don’t get it in reinforcing words, they will take it in a scolding. I guess the tough part of all of this is that I’ve seen the end result. I have worked with students through junior high and high school and eventually college who all love negative attention.
Parents, here is my plea to you. First, love your children and when they do great things recognize that. Second, correct their bad behavior but don’t just tell them that they are bad or “no,” offer them something better instead. Third, verbally tell them that you love them and back it up with action. Kids go through rough patches when they misbehave, but when they are secure in the fact that they are loved then everything changes.
Remember, what you water grows.
Today I was sitting at the kitchen table finishing my post on women in ministry while Emma was eating some lunch. I guess I was so into what I was writing I didn’t even notice Emma talking to me. A second later I noticed Emma throwing her food across the table. I started to reprimand her when my wife stopped me and said, “she’s been trying to get your attention for a while now.”
It was one of those moments when it just all clicked. I’ve worked with students for years and give me one minute with someone and I can size up their daddy issues. I’ve worked with so many teenage girls that are desperately seeking their father’s attention. Now my daughter is throwing food, just so I would pay attention to her. The crazy thing is that I shut my laptop and started to pay attention to her and she started eating her lunch again. She probably didn’t realize the significance of what she was doing but it made a huge impact on me.
If you’re a dad to girls, they are desperately seeking your attention. They want your affirmation, they crave your approval, and they want to feel loved. If you are a father to boys your absence in their life will bring anger, resentment and dis-attachment in every area in their life. Your prescience in your kids life is so much larger than you can imagine. Your presence in your kids lives even teaches them what God is like.
Sometimes kids get in trouble, sometimes they get bad grades and sometimes they appear perfectly good on the outside but are screaming internally. They don’t do this for their own good, they do this because they want your recognition. Think about it in terms of a mathematical equation, the more attention and love you give your daughter, the less she will look for it somewhere else.
My wife and I cleaned out our spare room the other day. We made it into Emma’s new room while her old room was transformed into Lucy’s new bedroom. While I was moving everything out I had this thought about life, marriage and children.
When I was a kid, life was about me. Christmas was about me, school was about my education and growing up was about me. When I fell in love and got married life was about us. It was a small transition. After the first few times of doing laundry I noticed that I could never find some of my socks and my t-shirts. It wasn’t a big deal, I used our spare room to put all of my clothes in so I could usually find what I needed.
I also started to notice that Des and I would trade cars a lot. Her stuff became my stuff and mine hers. Then Emma came along and we set a room aside for her. When she was newly born she spit up over almost every shirt I owned. I didn’t care as much because she is super cute. Then Lucy started to come along, and I no longer have my own closet. The kids are starting to invade the house and Lucy isn’t even here yet. Every now and then I will find toys where the pots and pans go. I open the glove box and I find kid socks. I take a shower and a hear, “DAAAAAAAAD!” Emma has snuck away from mom and come to say hi while I am in the shower.
I know it sounds like I am complaining, but I wouldn’t change any of this for the whole world, I love my girls. I have learned the secret to being happy in the midst of the female invasion. It’s not about me any more and I’m totally at peace with that. There is this idea that Jesus talks about. It is called dying to yourself. I’ve never had to die to my selfish desires as much as I have in the past couple of years, but since I did, I’ve never been happier.