Monday, September 21, 2009

Marriage Monday: Myth #4-Good Parenting Leads to Happy Children

Hey gang!

Time for another Marriage Monday and a look at myth #4 in our book study of “Parenting Is Your Highest Calling” And 8 Other Myths That Trap Us in Guilt and Worry. Today we debunk another myth as we continue through the book.

When I was growing through my teenage years, I had three friends that showed me true happiness at home. My friend Kevin lived with his dad and his grandmother and every time I was at his house, they were always getting along. His dad would always do stuff with us, like movies and ball games, and his grandmother was always cooking good stuff in the kitchen. Coming from a family without dad present, seeing a dad that was active in his son’s life made him cool to me. One night, we were in a bar in college and it was raided. Neither of us were drinking, but he got carded. He calls to explain this to his dad as we’re driving away, just in case the police called, but his dad was great about it. He asked us if we were having a good time and other than being scared straight into going to a restaurant, we were happy and fulfilled.

My friend Jason had the close, huggy family. They were always hugging their kids. There were times he and I even joked about his mom insane. She wasn’t crazy, she was just loving. I’ll always remember this time we had traveled two and a half hours from home to a bowling tournament and we began to notice something was wrong. We noticed that all the cars were coming at us. Sure enough, she was driving the wrong way down a one-way street. She and my mom were terrified, but we were laughing hysterically.

My friend Scott had great parents too even though he had been adopted. Ira and Wanda always made sure we were taken care of with pizzas or other delicacies before they went out for the evening. I was 17 and driving, but they took care of everything when we decided to play video games or watch movies at their house. They were asking us if we had money. We were taken care of. They allowed us to take the first trip away from home as they let us drive to Eastern Shore, Maryland in their new car. We decided not to tell them about the trip around the beltway in Washington, DC at speeds of 95-100 miles an hour until I attended his funeral this past March. His mom just looked at me and said, “I never worried much about him. I knew he was having fun and being safe with you.” Thanks for the vote of confidence, mom!

So to me, these teenage guys were always happy with their parents. They always had the best times, easiest rides and doting parents taking care of their needs first. Two decades later, I’ve learned from their stories that they weren’t always happy in what was best for them. Sometimes they got down right mad about being taken care of by good parents.

If I don’t talk about it, my mom would probably ask if she was a good parent as well. She was. She had my grandma and my great aunt helping her. But I was easy, as long as I got my way. And I did. I did pretty much anything I wanted, got anything that I wanted and pretty much rang the bell like the Addams Family did for Lerch if I needed anything, figuratively speaking.

People always perceived me as the happiest kid and when I wasn’t, it wasn’t of my mom’s doing. I was spoiled and was very selfish. So let’s begin debunking today’s myth, Good Parenting Leads to Happy Children.

Leslie Leyland Fields, the author of the book, begins the chapter by telling about the year that she took her oldest kids out of school to see the world. She tells a story of how her boys wanted to hang out in the trunk of this great car she rented in Chicago. As fun as it sounded, Leslie let wisdom prevail and told them to take their places on the inside of the car rather than the trunk.

The idea of leaving their comfort zone as teenagers was frightening and understandable, but looking at it as a 40 year-old, I thought the idea of doing a trip like this would have been super as a kid. I’ve always kept a map of how many states I’ve been in and would still like to be able to color more of it in as I get older. So as scary as the idea was to the Fields’ boys, I would love to do it too. My kids would probably see it as akin to Chevy Chase’s movie National Lampoon’s Vacation.

Leslie worried that her kids’ unhappiness was part of this being a poor parenting decision. We’ve all been there. We worry that a decision for our kids that doesn’t equal happy also doesn’t equal good.

The next section of the book talks about trying to give the kids this happy life. She mentions televisions in the kids’ rooms and the study that it causes kids to have less sleep and erodes good study habits. She also alludes to the idea of trying to produce an elevated lifestyle for our kids is a major cause of family debt.

That statement is true. How many times have I heard the following statement? “All I want for my kids is to have it better than I did.” We try to live in a better home than our parents had, have more toys than our parents had, let our kids have the cool clothes that we didn’t get to wear and the list goes on and on. We do want better for our kids, but the question then becomes is this better lifestyle really better or even healthy for us or our children.

I next want to take two statements that Leslie made back to back in this section that hit a home run with me in thought. The first is “I wonder how much of my hopes for my children’s happiness are hopes for myself.” How often do we as parents push our children in a direction that we weren’t able to attain or in a direction that we think would make us proud? First, how many boys are pushed toward baseball because their parents want them to be the next Albert Pujols or Derek Jeter? I umpired for one summer here in Illinois and I’ll tell you that parents have high expectations for their kids and if you make a call that could stall that career, you sir are a dog. Let’s be honest, only one in every 725,000 boys reach the major leagues. These odds aren’t quite as bad as the lottery, but they still aren’t good. The same can be said for girls. Every parent dreams of seeing their little angel on the cover of the Wheaties box after winning the gold in gymnastics. They want a Mary Lou Retton type performer. It takes more than a want-to to be the next great athlete or anything else for that matter. It also takes more than a pushy parent to get there.

The second statement is “If my children are happy, then my parenting life is quieter and less complicated.” I love the story that Leslie tells about the boys coming over for a party bringing their video games and their desire to just vege-out in front of the television with the boys. She tells us that she submitted to the idea and let them do that and enjoyed a quiet night of being able to work. I confess that I’ve done the same thing occasionally with my kids. They want to watch the latest Disney movie and I can go write. Sure thing. Sure, it’s 80 degrees and the kids should go outside and play with their toys and their imagination in the yard, but as parents we take the path of least resistance. I get to be lazy in the parenting of my kids and they get lazy and begin that downward slide to failing the gym exam later in junior high.

Then Leslie takes us into what God says about our kids and their happiness. She begins with the story of Job and the friend Elihu that theorizes that if we obey and serve God, then we’ll be prosperous and content in Job 36. Leslie adds the phrase “then our children will grow up happy” to the concept that Elihu gets at here. But God rejects the theory of A(Obey)+B(Serve)=AB(Contentment + Prosperity). How many televangelists need this explained to them?

She then goes into people who actually teach this theory of children and their need to be happy. Finally, Leslie shows how preposterous these ideas are by rewriting a few of our Bible stories with that concept in mind. The Israelites would’ve turned around and went back to Pharoah and been glad. God would’ve caved and let the Israelites in after a week to the Promised Land instead of 40 years and finally, the exile would never had happened because God’s heart would’ve been broken to do it. But all of those things did not happen. So happiness can’t be the center of God’s desire for us.

Think fast. What’s the first Bible song you ever learned as a child? Sing it with me, “Yes, Jesus Loves Me, Yes Jesus Loves Me, Yes, Jesus Loves Me, The Bible Tells Me So!” That’s right, ya’ll. As children, we are taught Jesus’ love before we ever learn about God’s wrath. Why is that? Well, we don’t want to scare the kids off, do we? But many adults are the same way. We have to know about His love, but we never want to hear that there is an angry, vengeful God that will discipline us if we don’t live up to his commandments. How many times have you heard, “All that wrath stuff is Old Testament. Jesus wants to love us.” While it’s true that Jesus does want to love us, if you read the letters of Paul, John, James or Peter, you know that God still has a standard. If you read Revelation, you will quickly realize that too many people bought the love package and never, ever thought that there would come judgment. God even tells us in Revelation that if we fail to tell the entire Word of God to believers or add our own opinions to it, that we will be removed from the roll call that every person wants to be on. You can miss the cut on American Idol, but if you miss the cut in Heaven, you are living eternally in a Lake of Fire.

Leslie talks about a person talking on a radio show referring to God as “like a cheerleader.” A cheerleader’s job is to encourage the players to play better and to encourage the fans to become that 12th man at the game. I loved being encouraged and so did every other guy I played alongside in any sport. However, limiting God to just encourager takes away God’s power to do anything about our holiness. God without holiness is nothing more than the genie in Aladdin.

I love Leslie’s words in one of the sentences in that same paragraph. “God’s holiness is not one attribute among many. Holiness permeates his very being.” God requires us to be holy as well in Leviticus 19:2. However, holiness isn’t the replacement for happiness. It leads us to being happier. Leslie then takes us to answer the greatest question of this chapter, “How can I move my children toward holiness and happiness in God?”

To answer that question, she takes us to a familiar story in Matthew 5. We are led in with the knowledge that Jesus healed a whole cavalcade of people in Matthew 4. Jesus moved up the mountainside and began to teach to reach the people to take them to a new level in their healing in Chapter 5. Let me give you these verses to look at.

Mat 5:3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Mat 5:4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Mat 5:5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Mat 5:6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Mat 5:7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Mat 5:8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Mat 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Mat 5:10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Mat 5:11 "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Mat 5:12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Leslie replaces blessed with happy. Happy isn’t what you think it is. If you’ve suffered, mourned,
hungered and thirst, showed mercy or any of the rest, then you are happy. It’s not always comfortable to
be happy. In fact, it’s counter culture thinking. Comedian Ralphie May once asked, “Would you rather be
right or happy? You’ll never be both.” Sometimes he’s right. Decisions are tough.

She makes a great closing comment for the section. “The most blessed among us are not those who are fully satisfied, content, and spiritually self-sustaining, but those who are broken, who want, who need, who long for what is promised.” Leslie tells us in the final section that she prays for their blessing, not their happiness, but that doesn’t always make it easier. Even if she could fulfill all her children’s wants and desires, they would still have holes for God to fill. We all do.

Leslie closes the chapter with a great story. We can’t, nor should we protect or shield our kids from the world. She tells the story of a friend that had bought a Japanese maple tree and they planted it in a “quiet, protected corner” next to their house. The tree grew beautifully that first summer, but the second summer started to sag. It finally fell next to the house. The friend related the story of what happened to a nursery owner and he explained it perfectly. “The tree is too protected. It needs the wind to strengthen its fibers. It needs the wind to make it strong.” None of us want to raise children that can’t hold their own once they are out in the world.

I think of one of my favorite Christian songs of all time. Scott Krippayne did a song called, “Sometimes He Calms the Storm,” back in the mid 90’s. The song told of the struggle that life can be when the storms come upon us. But he responds in the chorus. “Sometimes he calms the storm, sometimes he calms his child.” We have to realize that living our lives with God allow us a constant Abba Father to quiet us in the storm.

Next week, we look at and dispel another myth from the book. That one will be “If you find parenting difficult, you must not be following the right plan.” Join us next Monday for that.

Gang, I close with a request for you to share with me how you like the idea of doing book studies. There haven’t been many comments in this study, so I wonder if you are learning and not commenting or that we need to take a different direction. So throw you thoughts below.

I love you guys!

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