Dads Helping Dads Figure Out Being a Dad

‘Jesus/G-d sees you’ as a corrective with kids.

As a theologian, I find it highly disturbing when I see parents say things like ‘Jesus sees you’ or ‘Jesus will punish you’ as a corrective.  There are both pragmatic and theological reasons for this.

First, the pragmatic… I have seen many people who grew up with this type of corrective rebel as they got older.  Introducing this kind of external motivation not to do things that the parent doesn’t like can feel oppressive and overwhelming.  This can be particularly damaging in strict households that don’t allow ‘questionable’ activities such as reading Harry Potter, as G-d becomes seen as a cosmic killjoy.  This is certainly not the way most of us want our kids  to see G-d.

This brings us to the theological.  What do we believe about G-d?  I will be speaking here from the Christian tradition.  Some people see the G-d of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), and the New Testament as different — almost incompatible.  Certainly our Jewish friends believe this!  The Hebrew Bible focuses on fallen nature of mankind — the expectations of G-d and on mankind’s inability to meet those expectations.  The New Testament focuses on G-d’s method of redemption — the solution to the problem set up in the Hebrew Bible.

The Hebrew Bible offers grace in the form of sacrifice — but even this was too difficult for mankind.  The New Testament provides an easier form of grace that mankind is more capable of accomplishing.  Some might ask why G-d would wait so long to offer this easier grace.  The answer is simple — free will and pragmatism!  Free will demands that people are allowed to do what they will.  Pragmatism suggests that, if a solution were to be offered, it would need to be able to be spread as quickly as possible.  In the ancient near east at the time of Christ, there was an explosion in terms of exchange of ideas, much like today with the internet.  The expansion of the Roman Empire and the road system that they built encouraged trade, and this combined with the movements of the Roman army helped to move ideas from region to region.  The result is that the new form of grace had a chance to spread.

So, how does this apply to our understanding of G-d and how we discipline children?  First, G-d is a G-d of grace.  Second, he is interested in a relationship with mankind (something that can only be accomplished with free will).  Third, he is a G-d of justice.

Some object to the notion of G-d due to the concept of hell.  Perhaps we have failed to properly present the reason and need for hell.  It is not about punishment, per se.  It is about G-d’s respect of mankind’s wishes.  In other words, if an individual decides to be separate from G-d, why would G-d then demand that they spend eternity with him?  This would be a denial of mankind’s free will.  Instead, G-d provides a place for people to be separate from him.  The result is that this is a place absent of good, and is therefore not pleasant.

Back to kids, G-d should be presented as someone who wants to know the kids, and someone who they want to know.  Now, if some pervert was watching you in the bathroom, spying on you all of the time, and constantly looking to punish you, would that be someone who you would want to know?  Absolutely not… and it is not consistent with what we know of G-d.

Focus instead on instructing the kids to do good things — helping that old lady across the street would make G-d happy.  Worry less about the bad things that kids do, and certainly do not lay punishment at G-d’s feet.  Instead, use the traditional analogy of G-d as father.  The kid knows that their father loves them, and that their father also punishes them.  They also know that this does not mean that their father loves them any less, or that he wants evil to come upon them.  The subconscious mind will make the connection on its own as you talk about G-d as the father, without the perception being that G-d is a cosmic killjoy.


Parenting: Straighten Up and Fly Right!

And now, behind Door Number 1 …

Really now, as men, we were probably not as interested in what was behind Door Number 1 as we were interested in the model. Right?

Well, this post is about models, but not THAT kind. I want to go two directions with this, so be a little patient. Jesus said that when a student is fully taught, he will be like his teacher (Luke 6:40).

I was blessed to have a few significant parenting models apart from my own parents. Now don’t get me wrong, I guess that my parents did a pretty good job in raising us 5 kids. My dad was a service station owner and my mom did not work outside of the home (a common situation, right up until LBJ came up with the “Great Society” and fired up the inflation that made it necessary for so many moms to work for a paycheck!). From them I learned about commitment and hard work. I learned about truthfulness and integrity. I learned about public service from their work in the Lion’s Club.

But my parenting skills needed strengthening.  While I felt that my parents had done an OK job of parenting me, I came to believe that there were areas where my parenting skills might be better than what I had learned from them.

I first noticed this about the time I was 18 and I perceived that my girlfriend’s family had dynamics that were missing in my own and I decided to watch and learn. I thought I would marry that girl, but I did not. Nevertheless, Bob and Doris W. and their family had a profound impact on my life, not the least of which was the faith I developed in Christ – a faith which has shaped my life from that point forward.

A few years later, I got to know several “older” couples in the church where I settled and later served. One stands out, though lessons were learned from many others. But it was Willis and Ethel K. who became close friends and it was Willis who later became Jeremy’s “adopted” grandfather after my dad and my wife’s dad died.  I imagine that some of my future posts will reflect some of the conversations that I had with these dear couples – and reflect some of the observations that I made about their parenting and their families.

The point is, if you think hard about it and wonder if your upbringing may have left some holes in your experiential parenting education, look around and find some families you admire – and then figure out why.

Now the other direction … How are you as a teacher? If your child turns out just like you, would that make you happy? Would that make you proud? Or are you of the “do as I say and not as I do” mindset? Fair warning: Your kids likely WILL turn out like you. If you cheat on your taxes, they will probably lack integrity. If you cheat on your wife, they will probably have commitment issues. If you drink to excess, expect to visit them at the drunk tank after their prom. Do you get the picture?

As a new parent, now is the time to straighten up and fly right! Your kids will idolize you and try hard to be like you. If that will not make you happy, now is the time to fix it.

When the student is fully taught, he will be like his teacher. Be the model you want your children to be like!

Faith and child rearing

“That’s not fair!”

How often do we hear children scream that little gem?  As parents, we try to teach our kids that there is justice.  We may speak in terms of karma or heaven and hell, but we try to communicate that fairness does exist.

At the same time, we tell them that life isn’t fair.  This can create some significant cognitive dissonance.  As adults, we deal with this belief that the world should be fair and that it isn’t fair because we understand that we strive for fairness, but fall short.  The legal system is a perfect example of this.  However, children do not have the ability to cognitively deal with the discrepancy between the goal and the outcome.

Faith is a convenient tool to use to deal with the discrepancy.  This world is not fair, but fairness will ultimately win.  Now, I don’t intend to say that faith is only a convenient way of dealing with those types of issues, rather that it is a good tool in addition to its other benefits.

I also used this as an example as to why faith is such an important tool for raising a child.  Children have complete unadulterated faith.  When you tell them something, they believe it, absolutely.  They will leap off of something into your arms because they have faith that you will catch them.  They lack the cynicism that plagues so many of us.  Children understand faith, not conceptually, but in practice.

When considering morality, there are a number of philosophical systems that can be utilized to develop a moral system.  However, few of them are internally consistent.  For example, one might argue that the correct moral choice is that which provides the greatest good for the greatest number of people (this is one of the most popular philosophical systems in use today).  However, under this philosophical system, it is never possible to be completely confident in any moral decision.  You can never determine the long-term impact (the good) for every person in the world.  Even if we could determine the impact on every person in the world, we could not be sure that there are not other people (aliens?) who would be impacted either positively or negatively.  Many religious moral systems maintain a strong internal morality.  There is plenty of controversy and disagreement over those systems, but they provide the tools to make decisions.

For example, if a child is trained to analyze decisions through a religious lens, they can consider whether they should steal a bag of candy.  Under the ‘greatest good’ philosophy, they could decide that the greatest good (candy) for the greatest number (them and their friends) means that they should steal the candy.  In contrast, a religious based morality simply states ‘don’t steal.’  This simple, clear and consistent moral absolute provides the kind of religious instruction that we seek for our children.

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