parenting youth ministry

The Big Picture of Parenting

Original Cartoon published in Wall Street Journal (July 2008)

Thinking about this– I know I have two huge handicaps.

  1. I didn’t grow up under “ideal circumstances” but I still turned out just fine.
  2. My own kids are only ten, almost eight, and five months.

I’m not a parenting expert by any means. In fact, because I didn’t grow up with a strong relationship with my own dad (or any male whom I’d label a role model) I’m still learning how to dad.

While I might not be there yet as a parent, and while I might not have the best native skills as a dad, I still have the power of observation.

Here’s what I know from doing youth ministry and ministering to adolescents and their parents for my entire adult life: Parents who focus on the Big Picture have a higher success rate than parents who get lost in the daily battles.

They win the battle but lose the war.

What do I mean?

Parents who are highly controlling, who don’t let their adolescent children experiment and find themselves in middle and high school, tend to see their children go wild in their 20s. The mistake seems to be that they focused on managing behaviors instead of trying to parent a teenager trying to figure out who they are. (The primary task of adolescent development.)

So they freak when their 14 year old makes out with a girl at a dance. Or put them on lockdown when they try alcohol at a party at 12. Or force them to attend a church camp when they are 15 “to fix that nasty attitude.As if Repunzel-ing them were going to work.

Sidenote: Isn’t the plot of every Disney movie a struggle to find ones self against the wishes of controlling parents? Ever wondered why those stories connect so strongly with adolescents? It’s powerful to them because it’s their life! 

What’s the Big Picture?

I like to look at my children with a long lens. What are the types of things I’d like them to be as adults? And then I work backwards.

  • I want them to be strong, independent thinkers. Not yes men. –> Arguing about things will be normal. Questions like “Why?”, my authority, and fairness are annoying, but fostering that.
  • I want them to enjoy simplicity. Reject the desire of plenty for the joys of saying no. –> While we live a pretty simple life, we allow them to experience luxuries. They want things, earn them, get them. In order to reject that stuff they’ll need to discover for themselves that there is no happiness in things.
  • I want them to have happy, healthy, and simple adult relationships. –> That means I can’t freak out about everything. They are going to like who they want to like. And they may make some mistakes along the way. But I don’t want them carrying around a daddy-phobia when they think about a partner. Is dad going to approve of this person? I want them to be happy. To have a healthy marriage. And to have simple adult relationships.
  • I want them to find pleasure in what they do. –> That means we want our kids to pursue their dreams for them, not ours. Not surprisingly, my kids are into nerdy things. (I mean, I’m kind of a nerd, right?) We’ve been open to letting the kids explore what they’re into. We exposed them to soccer early, I loved soccer growing up. But they hated it. So we didn’t force them to love it for us. Well beyond childhood we want to rally behind what they want to do vocationally. Sure, I have dreams for them. But their dreams for themselves are so much cooler than my dreams for them.
What’s the Big Picture for Your Kids? Can you articulate it? And do you allow your Big Picture to overrule your cultural desires to over-parent?
Harbor Mid-City youth ministry

To the mountaintop

I’m a dreamer. I like to dream big dreams for myself. But I really like to dream big dreams for the students in our ministry. So when Kathy gave me the opportunity to paint a big picture and ask big questions as we start off this Fall in our high school ministry, I jumped at it!

When I look at the transfiguration in Mark 9, I am left asking… How do I get to the mountaintop with Jesus? I want to be there! What do I have to do to be there and see what God sees?

And what is it about God and mountaintops?

Click the link below to download my talk notes

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