Thursday, July 5, 2012

Cheerleader or Professional Mourner?

4 "Fathers,[a] do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." (NIV)
 "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (NASB)
Or as the parallel verse in Colossians admonishes,
3:21 "Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged."

I was listening to Focus on the Family on my commute home last week as Jay Payleitner discussed excerpts from his book, 52 Things Kids Need from their Dad. Jay described the time he had come home after winning his first match at a wrestling competition as a Junior in high school on the JV team. He was thrilled to have finally won a match, but his father's reaction, "great, maybe next year you'll make the Varsity team," quickly deflated his enthusiasm. His father didn't mean to crush his son - he hoped to spur him on to greater achievement in the future. But instead, the boy heard that all his hard work was still not good enough to please his dad.

Jay made the point that we should practice Romans 12:15 with our children and "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn." He suggested that we must recognize the feelings our child displays and join them where they are at. 

If Johnny is bummed out that he came in second, commiserate and then encourage them. "I know - it's awful! You were so close. But you're getting better each time! Next time, I bet you'll take first place!" 

On the other hand, if second place is a new record for Johnny and he's  thrilled, celebrate like it's the state championship victory! Leave the exhortation for another time and simply enjoy the achievement today.

If Susie has been tops in her class for three years and her 99 on that Chem Exam just cost her Valedictorian, cry with her, crack open the Blue Bell and begin the chick flick film festival. But if she runs in screaming with delight because she finally earned a C, pat her on the back and say, "Good job! I'm proud of you." 

Of course, most of us want better than 'average' for our kids. We expect more! 

We know they are capable of more, after all, they are OUR kids. They're bound to be exceptional.

I have to confess, as an over-achiever, people-pleaser myself, it is incredibly difficult for me to rejoice when my children achieve anything less than a gold medal, five star performance. I'm terribly competitive, as anyone who has played cards or volleyball with me knows...what I lack in skill, I make up for in competitive spirit and trash-talking.

I'm a firm believer that kids will live up (or down) to your expectations. Some of the worst train-wrecks I've seen regarding teens gone wild have been in families where the parents joked about the kids making terrible life choices from the time they were little. It was as if they had written a blueprint for their children to follow. 

The point is, set high expectations, but also recognize the reality of where your child is now.

What I heard Jay saying, and consequently recognized in my own life, is that when I fail to join my child where they are at, it can frustrate them, exasperate them, and ultimately leave them bitter toward me. It breeds resentment of me as someone who 'doesn't understand them'. Suddenly I find myself with a child whose mood is defiant and disrespectful and wonder, "What is their problem?" 

If we rejoice when they rejoice and mourn when they mourn; if we celebrate when they think it's worth celebrating and commiserate when they need someone to agree that the world just isn't fair, we will find a new bond being built. It's built on understanding who my child is and where they are regarding their self-image. It's not an easy, one-size-fits-all answer. I have to know my child well enough to see whether the result is one that they are proud of and want to celebrate, or one that feels like defeat. 

Then you'll know whether you need to break out the pom-poms or the tissues!