Parental Respect

Some of the most interesting parenting moments happen in public. We say and do things in front of strangers that we would never want replayed on America’s Funniest Videos. In the process of being worried about how we look in front of strangers, we can leave an impression we never meant to leave.


I’m sure the young step-mom I encountered the other night would love to have her words back. There had been a delay in our flight and we were finally all boarded, waiting on the plane to start taxiing from the terminal. The young boy in front of us had been pretty patient by my standards; more patient than a lot of the adults around us. All of a sudden, I heard the dreaded words, “I TOLD YOU…” followed by the demand, “You WILL respect me!”


I was taken back for a minute, thinking to myself, “Really? Is that really where you want to go with this?” I immediately thought about how I should give her the benefit of the doubt and stepped on any urge to have a conversation about parenting with her. Now you realize that I made some assumptions about their situation such as how was I so sure this was a step parent? Well, I saw them later and let’s just say I don’t think she was old enough to be his mother.


Did she really say anything wrong? In this day and age, shouldn’t I be happy that a parent is trying to discipline her kids and stand up for herself instead of letting this little man walk all over her parental authority? Let me make a couple of observations.


First, wanting our child’s respect is an admirable goal. However, in this case, I think what she really wanted was his obedience. Since the child wasn’t really setting out to disobey her, I wondered if he just missed the mark by a little. Did he really think in his own mind that he was disrespecting her by failing to be patient enough in a difficult situation? I figured her words left him a little confused.


Second, respect isn’t commanded, it is earned. Respect is like a lot of other feelings; we either have them or we don’t. Once we realize we have a feeling, it’s too late to try and program a different response. For instance, once we are angry about a situation, trying to come up with a more patient response will usually require getting over our pride first. That’s when we are likely to say illogical things like, “Don’t you be angry with ME!” or this one, “You WILL respect me!” Respect may come but I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that it won’t happen during the next 5 minutes or so, in the heat of this moment.


If you have to ask for respect, you probably won’t get it. In a step parenting situation, the non-biological parent may not ever see it. Step parenting expert Ron Deal used to say that it takes about a year for every year of experience with a step parent to develop the relationship you would want to have. If your step son is 14, for instance, you’ve lost 14 years of relationship and won’t have enough time to develop the rela-tionship you would like to have in the four years that remain before college. So, respect may have to wait.


Another reality that must be considered is the resistance of a step son to a new parent. It is usually better to allow the biological parent to do the disciplining for the reasons above and more. That means if you are the biological parent, you need to step up and handle the discipline if you want to keep the harmony in your home.


I hope your children respect you. If they don’t, you might start with being respectable and make reasonable demands before you actually ask for their respect. And I really wouldn’t ever demand respect as a method of developing it. I just don’t believe that will ever work.

Dr. Matt Crain writes for the Sunday newspaper from his Connecting Fathers and Families ministry.

Reading This Summer

School is finally out and the summer camps and activities begin! Vacation Bible School will be just around the corner and before you know it, we’ll be shopping for school clothes and supplies all over again!


There is a temptation to get away from the books over the summer. Enough of school; let’s play. That would be a huge mistake. In fact, many parents stop reading to their older children when bedtime story time seems passé. Making the assumption that your kids don’t want to hear you read leaves a lot of learning and relationship on the table unclaimed.


The truth is, there are ways to change up the routine and keep the kids learning and growing. Setting a goal of the number of pages to read each day helps them see the big picture. Choosing a time other than bedtime changes the impact. One parent reads while the kids eat breakfast. It’s better than staring at a phone or trying to keep the video game going.


Try asking your kids to read out loud to you! Especially if you start when they are younger, turning the tables increases the fun. Choose a different book to meet your own interests to introduce variety into their vocabulary. A few pages of listening and you can switch who reads and the book chosen. It could double the amount of reading time.


One dad admits that he sneaks in an academic journal to read to his nine-month old. He reports no difference in interest. Imagine the child prodigy that could come from that experience!


Teachers will appreciate the reading you foster over the summer. Instead of spending several weeks re-engaging the students in books and learning, your child will be ready to start on the first day.


The real magic of reading together is the bond you form by sharing that content and affection together. Giving your relationship a common experience, diving into their world by reading things that interest them and sitting together to stir your emotions together for a while deepens the relationship between you and your child. It gives you things to refer back to when you are trying to explain something to your child. And it communicates that you love them enough to spend time reading together!


What’s on your bookshelf?

Dr. Matt Crain writes weekly for the Sunday newspaper from his Connecting Fathers and Families ministry.

Father’s Day Gifts

My email feed blew up this week with articles about what to buy dad for Father’s Day. With only 22 shopping days until Father’s Day, I decided it wasn’t too early for this dreaded decision.

Not that buying something for dad should be dreaded. Finding something that he would actually need or value is the dreaded part. After all, he’s been around for how long without this particular item? For those of us blessed enough to have a dad in his 80’s or 90’s, there really aren’t many things he hasn’t seen or owned at some point in his life. If you ask him, he’ll tell you he doesn’t need anything.


This dread leads to procrastination which limits the choices and time available to shop. Plus, if you are a dad yourself, there is some built in awkwardness to the whole idea of shopping for Father’s Day. I don’t think I’m even going to try and explain that.


The common theme among the “Top Ten Gifts for Father’s Day” or “25 Things Your Dad Actually Wants” articles is something to contain something else he has. Can’t think of anything? Right.

Suggestions ranged from a leather box to keep his pocket change and watch in while he sleeps to a passport cover. The all-important leather shaving kit container for his razor and shave cream when he travels comes in a variety of styles. Most of these were monogramed, which we all know is important to dads.


Hobby supplies like a dozen golf balls, fishing lures, or ice cube forms and etched shot glasses seemed to be popular. I list drinking among the hobbies for no particular reason; these items just seemed to make all the lists.


Picture frames for his favorite selfie of you or the Crayola art from one of the grandkids seemed to be a hit. Again, these seemed to need to be monogrammed or at least have laser art that uses the word, “Dad” on them somewhere. These items are the main reason you’ll need to plan this far ahead. You aren’t going to be able to hit Walgreens on the Saturday night before Father’s Day and find one. Besides, who has extra selfies or art with crayons laying around?


It seems that none of the lists included the most important item your dad wants for Father’s Day. This will be more difficult for some than others but without a doubt, dad would treasure some of your time for Father’s Day more than any of the ties or shave kits or golf balls you could purchase. Carve out several minutes for a long distance phone call if he lives in a different area code. Take a few minutes to have breakfast or lunch or brunch with him. Attend church with him and sit with him while he worships.


You are the most valuable thing that your dad ever created. A piece of your life will make this Father’s Day something really special. You can even throw in a hug while you are at it.

Dr. Matt Crain writes weekly for the Sunday newspaper from his Connecting Fathers and Families ministry.

Thanks Mom!

           Carrying me, feeding me, changing me, singing to me, walking with me, taking me, encouraging me, teaching me, correcting me, following me, blessing me…loving me. You have done so much to make me everything I am. How can I thank you for your considerable kindness and dedication and faithfulness? I could always watch you and know how to do things. I could always listen to you and avoid all kinds of harm and heartache. I could always trust you to have my back when I tried to do things just out of my reach. You helped me, you watched me, you made sure I knew Jesus and showed me how to trust and love Him.


            God provided every child with a mother. Some feel unprepared. Others feel as ready as they will ever be. Each child is on loan from God. The assignment is temporary and has several stages beginning with total dependency. After caring for a child for a few years, little imaginary wings sprout on the back of a child that takes it further and further away from mom until it finally launches to return much less often. Parting is natural but painful for mother and child. Eventually, in many homes a mother’s own needs call a child back to reverse the care and provide all the love that was enjoyed during another time in life.


            We celebrate mom but it is awkward. We want to have a meal together but she doesn’t need to cook. Her daughter in law could cook but she is a mother also. Going out means crowds and busyness that make it harder to visit. It won’t matter. Whatever we do won’t begin to hold a candle to the love and care she has provided all of our lives.


            Thanks, mom. I owe my life to you. I owe any success I have enjoyed to you. I have confidence because of you. I know hard work because you showed me. I appreciate tenderness because you gave it to me. You loved dad and tempered his strength with your touch. I have enjoyed the blessing of having two parents longer than most. What an honor it is to share God’s word with you the way you shared it with me through all my years.


            Happy Mother’s Day!

Dr. Matt Crain writes weekly for the Sunday newspaper from his Connecting Fathers and Families ministry.

Listen the First Time

Some parents are considering giving a gift to a teacher at this time of year. Looking for a little token of appreciation might be easier than you think. Look no further than your own parenting style. One of the best gifts you can give a teacher is a child who is willing to listen the first time.


Maybe you’ve followed someone around at Walmart who is constantly reminding their children of all the things they are supposed to be doing. It is exhausting! “Look both ways before crossing!” “Put that back!” “Stay with the shopping cart!”


Reminders prevent a child from learning to think for themselves. Why should they keep up with anything if their parents are going to keep up with it for them?


The two times during the day when reminders flourish can be handled with some training about routines. Parents are usually full of reminders when kids are getting ready to go somewhere and when they are getting ready for bed. Have you ever noticed that the more you say the slower your child moves?


Saying a lot fewer words makes the words you say more valuable. “The car leaves at 7:00 in the morning so do whatever you need to do to be ready at that time.” They really don’t need to be reminded to get up, get dressed, brush their teeth, get their backpack and go to the car. Following them around reminding them will slow their progress to a crawl.


The best training for getting ready on time may come the first time they decide to move in slow motion instead of being ready when it is time for the car to leave. That pesky car! It is leaving at 7:00 and no amount of talking in the world can make a car stop to wait on a late child. Parents are different. Parents can be trained to remind children, fix their breakfast and lunch and remind you every five minutes that it is time to leave. If the car were to leave on time with a child grabbing a bag of pre-selected clothing to put on in the back seat on the way to school, the reminders might become less important!


The same is true at bedtime. “Bedroom time is at 9:00pm.” Setting the time gives a great deal of freedom to get ready, focus their attention and have a little down time before going to sleep. There’s no need for reminders about brushing teeth or all the other tasks that need to be done. Make a list if you are concerned that they need itl


Our words must be dependable for a child to learn to listen the first time. When we delay or hedge on something we have said we will do or allow, children learn to watch us rather than listen to us.


Teachers know which children have been taught to listen the first time. They look at the teacher instead of involving themselves in some distracting activity. They consider the words of the teacher and they move to act when asked to do something. They need no reminders. Their grades are higher. Their parents are calmer.

Dr. Matt Crain writes weekly for the Sunday newspaper from his Connecting Fathers and Families ministry.

Does Your Child Feel Safe?

We’ve seen a lot from school-age children about feelings of fear on campus. I read this week that over 4 million children report that they feel unsafe at home according to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Children in states with larger cities report being fearful at home at almost five time the rate of states with smaller cities. Children of color report fear at two and three times the rate of white children.


What is going on with our children? They may be getting their cues from their parents, according to parenting expert Dr. Charles Fay from Love and Logic, Inc. Dr. Fay told of parents who discovered that their child’s fears about life – including fear of the wind and going outside—were being fed by their own anxiety about his fears.


Parents who rush to the side of a fearful child to focus on comforting and reassuring them may be sending the wrong message. Looking under the bed for monsters helps a child believe there actually might be monsters under the bed, for instance. Getting on your knees and stroking the forehead of your child in an effort to reassure them may also feed their fears.


This is not to say that ignoring your child’s fears will make them go away either. When a child expresses fear, the last thing you want to do is dismiss it without comment.


Dr. Fay suggests reacting like an adult rather than a fearful peer. Don’t reflect their fear in your own reaction. Being calm yourself sends a better message than loads of attention and reassurance. Being more business-like in your reactions communicates calm better than stopping everything and fretting with your child. I think of parents who run around the house scared to death of storms and wonder how their children will learn to simply listen to weather reports or look at the radar with calm confidence. Getting information and taking appropriate action is the adult way to respond to severe weather threats.


Dr. Fay encourages parents to help their children face their fears rather than give in to them. The child who feared the wind was taken to the park to sip on hot chocolate – in the wind—with his parents. Fear doesn’t go away when we allow our children to avoid the things they fear. Keeping him home from school because there might be bullies at school teaches your son that bullies can’t be overcome, they can only be avoided.


Refusing to give in to fear involves reflecting your confidence in their abilities. When you believe your child has what it takes to meet the challenges of life, he might just begin believing it too. I liked Dr. Fay’s one-liner for meeting the fears of a child head on. When a child says, “I can’t,” to a task they fear, try saying, “Aren’t you glad I don’t believe that?” Walk through the fear with your child. Don’t accept or avoid it.

Dr. Matt Crain writes weekly for the Sunday newspaper from his Connecting Fathers and Families ministry.

Spoiling Our Chiildren

Parental guilt creeps into the heart of every well-intentioned parent. We feel guilty when we are angry with our children because they are just being childish. We feel guilty if we don’t have an answer to a problem; we feel guilty if we put them in a position where they are vulnerable. I heard a parent say this past week, “I just don’t know if I have what it takes to be a parent.” If that disqualifies you to be a parent, the world would end in childlessness.


From the time our children are infants, we worry about spoiling them. One of my tasks with every group of young fathers is to assure them that children under the age of 1 cannot be spoiled. They need our constant attention and reassurance. Letting them cry themselves to sleep every night creates insecure adults who mistrust the world because no one has ever taken care of their needs. Our jails are full of such children. Parents of infants need to respond to every cry and seek to find an answer. Are they wet? Are they hungry? Is it gas or are they just exhausted? Reassure them and meet their physical needs. That’s a parent’s job.


After their first birthday, every parent was awakened by the reality that their innocent little child has just played them. The crying stopped on a dime when there was someone at the door. They turned the tears on and they turned them off just as quickly. Now we have reached the time when our child can be spoiled. It’s time to learn to play smarter as a parent!


Keeping our child happy and comfortable is NOT a parent’s job! That’s called spoiling our children! Our job is to raise healthy, capable, responsible adults who can care for themselves in life. Finding a toy to distract them every time they are a bit restless creates attention starved children who simply do not know how to occupy themselves without an outside influence. A child needs to learn quickly in life that the worst thing they can say to a parent is, “I’m bored.” Find them something to do like a dreaded chore or an endless task such as picking up the dog poop in the yard. The next time that feeling comes upon them, they will find something constructive to do!


Electronic devices have become the baby-sitter of choice. Magazines and even televisions in doctor’s offices are useless and unused. Each person has their own electronic device. Conversations in the car are impossible because everyone has their face in a device and maybe even a set of headphones to tune everyone else out. No wonder we cannot communicate or coordinate schedules anymore. It’s a different kind of spoiling but we are spoiling our children with electronics, nonetheless.


The next time your child looks to you for a solution to their boredom, the use of their time or some activity they want you to provide for their enjoyment, ask them, “Are you having trouble finding something to do? Would you like to hear what some other kids have tried?” Then give them a couple of options that they will most surely find boring. Suggest they count their Lincoln Logs or Lego blocks. Give them an idea so lame that they will most surely be able to do better than that on their own! In doing so, you are teaching your child to occupy himself. That’s taking responsibility.


I say all of this on the assumption that you spend time as a parent with each child, one on one. On that foundation, your child can learn that some times are for sharing and other times are for occupying oneself. Model the same thing. Be available to your children but don’t be afraid to be occupied or too busy this time. That’s the way life works.


In all things, balance. That’s your real job as a parent.

Dr. Matt Crain writes weekly for the Sunday newspaper from his Connecting Fathers and Families ministry.

Love Them Right Now

Your teenager rolls her eyes for the umpteenth time today and walks out of the room while you are talking in mid-sentence. Your son has enough toys all over the living room floor to prevent you from finding a path to the door—which you realize after you hear the doorbell ringing. That last report card just about sent everyone to their corner as the school year gets closer and closer to the end. Events like this cause your heart to hurt. You love your children but on some days, it is really hard.


Every parent loves a cooperative child. The times when your son smiles at you make time stand still. The help in the kitchen that comes even without asking makes the work seem smaller. Bedtime can be a precious time as their little hearts open like a flower to spill their innermost thoughts and dreams. That’s the stuff great parenting moments are made of but those moments can seem few and far between when eyes roll or toys crunch underfoot.


I was with Dr. Charles Fay of Love and Logic during a one-day conference for parents and teachers when I wrote down one of the most significant statements I ever heard him make. The subject was grades. He spoke of our need to focus on our child’s strengths. “Love him for who he is right now; not just for who he will become,” Dr. Fay said. Wow. I just hoped I could remember each word long enough to get it written in my notes.


My worst days as a parent were recalled. That was exactly my problem. I wanted my child to be something different than the behavior I was seeing on that particular day. My eyes were on the future that I imagined rather than on the child that was actually in the room. I was dreaming of what I hoped for instead of dealing with the reality I was experiencing. Those were not good days.


Part of our problem might be the way we define love. If love can only be sweet and gentle and never firm or having expectations, our options are limited indeed. If a grade card can only bring smiles and compliments to a loving parent’s face we might have a problem. Our hearts rarely think smiles when they hurt the way they can hurt. If allowing the consequences that might bring pain to our child’s life is a sign that we don’t love them, we might have an issue.


Love is patient and kind. It is also tied to reality. Our children need intelligence and skills in order to make it in the world. It is not loving or kind to do all their chores so that they can watch more television or keep playing their video game. Love can still expect cooperation and obedience.


But love can also be truly unconditional. I love them even when I cannot love their bad grades. I love them even when their face is angry and defiant. If I can overcome the feeling of threat long enough to smile and use the one-liner, “No problem,” I can hold onto that love. I don’t have to react and have my own adult temper tantrum. I can move on and let the consequence do the teaching. Doing extra work today that my son refuses to do might just drain my energy this weekend to the point that I don’t feel like cooking or doing laundry at all. He might not have clean clothes to wear as a result.


I used to think the one-liner, “I love you too much to argue,” was cheesy. But it’s true. I choose not to argue with a child who is defiant but not in control. I control this household and defiance won’t derail its function or my love for my child. I expect a certain amount of resistance when chores are unpleasant. It’s part of life.


Love them for who they are right now. Right now is the best moment for our focus anyway.

Dr. Matt Crain writes weekly for the Sunday newspaper from his Connecting Fathers and Families ministry.

Too Much Empathy

Understanding what your child is feeling is a wonderful parenting skill. Your empathy can open the heart of a resistant child by assuring her that you care. Showing empathy makes consequences palatable to your kids because it removes any hint of revenge or pleasure over their pain.


There might be a time when too much empathy is in play, however. Feeling a child’s pain helps bond your hearts together. If you feel the pain to the point of agreeing with their faulty logic, you might be exercising too much of a good thing. You can have too much empathy.


Imagine entering the room to a child who is sulking on the floor. “I’m bored,” she says with frustration in her voice. “Oh, honey; let me help you find something interesting to do,” you say. Ouch. Your daughter just transferred her problem directly to your shoulders. Boredom wasn’t your problem until you showed too much empathy. Now if you can’t find something to catch your daughter’s imagination quickly, her boredom will become YOUR fault.


Or consider how you feel drawn into your son’s pain as he relates being bullied at school. You remember that feeling and it goes all over you to think that someone mistreated your son. You search the story for more details and commit to getting to the bottom of this problem for him. After calling another child’s parent and the school a few times, you are convinced that the incident won’t happen again tomorrow. But did you go too far? How will your son learn how to deal with someone who wants to treat him with disrespect?


Many dads feel drawn to fix the problems they hear their children express. It’s what we do. We fix things. If something drops, we reach to pick it up. When we are concerned about the sadness in our child’s eyes, we want to know what is wrong. If there is anything we can do to change a negative situation or put a smile back on our son’s face, we jump at the chance to act. It’s admirable but sometimes it’s too much.


Children need to learn how to find their own interesting solutions to boredom. Boredom is your child’s problem, not yours. It may make you sad or even frustrated but you cannot fix their boredom. How other people treat your child is your child’s problem. You want to prevent mistreatment with every fiber of your being but it will happen when you aren’t looking. Your child needs to learn how to handle his own problems.


Resist the urge to be drawn in to fix every problem you see. Empower your child to fix every problem they can. Their confidence will grow as they overcome their own challenges. Their friendships will increase as they learn to handle mistreatment. Their academic progress will increase as they find books and puzzles and other interesting things to engage.


Try asking what they plan to do about a problem. Listen to their solutions and ask more questions about how their solution might succeed. Ask how a situation made them feel. Nod with understanding but resist the temptation to join them in their emotions. Remember the difference between your problems and their problems.


It’s great that you understand. Your empathy is a blessing. Use it wisely.

Dr. Matt Crain writes weekly for the Sunday newspaper from his Connecting Fathers and Families miniostry.

Love Lasts

With the singing of the birds and the explosion of beautiful buds and leaves on the flowers and trees, we see the power of another spring announcing the glory of another Easter Sunday. As I watched the seemingly dead places where flowers stood last year produce green shoots that will soon bring those flowers back for another year, I marvel at the design of our Creator.


He could have made a plain, functional setting for us to live and work and have families. Instead, He provides all the colors of spring and all the activity of the plants and animals as a backdrop for our lives. It is a testimony to love that we have so much to enjoy during our time on this earth.


Like the return of spring each year, love returns to bless our lives again and again. Our relationships provide warmth and nurture through multiple interactions and hugs each day. Good friends smile to see us each time we have the pleasure of a little time together. Loving parents consistently get up and go to work and school, providing care to one another and to the children blessed to enjoy their provision. Love lasts.


When times are tough, love returns to renew and even reconcile our relationships. It is love that calls us to return to one another, express our commitment anew and repair any damage done by carelessness or circumstances. Love lasts.


The Good News of Easter announces the returning presence of a Lord who could not be contained by a rock tomb. As His life burst forth to return again to His friends and family, the power of His resurrection reminds us again that love lasts.


The Apostle Paul tells us near the end of his great chapter on love that all the religious manifestations we know will cease. Love never fails. Love will accompany us into eternity.


Hug your family and worship together this Easter Sunday. Celebrate the love that returns again and again into your life to bless you, nurture you and redeem you. Sharing loving thoughts, actions and habits keeps love alive throughout your family, your workplace, your school and your neighborhood.


Love lasts.

Dr. Matt Crain writes weekly for the Sunday newspaper from his Connecting Fathers and Families ministry.