Read an Excerpt
The Key That Unlocks Parenting
1:00 A.M. I am very asleep. Until the phone next to our bed rings. It's a good thing the phone is on my wife's side of the bed, or I would probably dismiss the ring as a bad dream. My powers of denial are incredible after midnight. My wife, Karen, must be part angel. She can answer at 1:00 A.M. as pleasantly as if it were 1:00 P.M. As Karen answers cheerfully, I mutter one word in my pillow, 'Lisa.' Sure enough, the call is from our daughter. She is phoning from college, where there is no night or day. No, it isn't an emergency, Lisa just really comes to life late at night. At that hour, she usually has a choice between talking to the mommy or the mummy.
Actually, Lisa has always been a night person, winding up as I'm winding down. And if ever I should complain about that, my wife Karen gently reminds me, 'It's your fault.'
I guess she's right. When Lisa was a baby, I was a youth worker on the south side of Chicago. Since our clubs met at night, and almost every night, it was usually about 10:30 when I would finally get home. Karen had made a mother's choice---either put Lisa to bed early without seeing her daddy, or let her stay up and know who her daddy was.
So I would come home with adrenaline still pumping from the night's activities, and I would be greeted by a wide-eyed, wide-awake, ready-to-play baby girl. She was the 'dessert' of my day. I would crawl after her, swing her in the air, and dance her on my stomach. She would shriek with delight, giggle up a storm, and communicate with every sound she knew. I wound her up late at night, and she was wound for life!
Which brings us to 1:00 A.M. calls from college. I was reaping then what I had sown twenty years before.
I've watched that 'reaping thing' over and over through twenty-five years of parenting and thirty years of youth and family work. Day after day, for better or worse, a parent is sowing responses, reactions, and relationships. You and your child will reap for the rest of your lives the harvest of your eighteen years of programming their personalities.
Nobody told me that the day I carried that wiggling yellow blanket into our apartment for the first time. When I brought Lisa home from the hospital, no instruction book was attached. At work, Karen and I both had job descriptions that spelled out what we were supposed to do to succeed. Now, with a life to shape, there was no job description. And yet, in many ways, what we built into her was what she would be. Then God trusted us with two boys to 'sow,' too.
As Lisa grew, we would jokingly refer to her as our 'camera' because she seemed to be recording everything. Actually, every child is a video camera, quietly storing experiences, conversations, expectations. They will be playing those back in their actions for the rest of their lives. And their cameras never miss a day!
Eric was starting to feel some of that. He was my neighbor on a recent plane flight. For most of the trip, he was talking excitedly about the booming computer business he had started and the response he was getting all over the world. After listening most of the trip, I just asked a simple question: 'How does your wife feel about how much you have to travel?'
My neighbor was suddenly down-to-earth even though we were still airborne. He said, 'It's been all right with her, but now we've got a brand-new son.' Then, with his business exuberance changing to fatherly concern, Eric reflected, 'Now having a son, that's a trip. I'm really scared. I don't know what it's going to mean to be a father.'
Like all normal parents, the responsibility of it all was hitting him. Whether you are shaping the life of a baby, a child, a pre-teen, or a teenager, you want to do it right. Because most of what they will be, they will learn from you.
The responsibility of being a parent has always been there for you, for your parents, for their parents before them. What has changed is the risks.
Before this generation, children grew up in a world where most people agreed on what was right and what was wrong. Today their world does not even believe there is a right or wrong. When kids used to hear the word aides, they knew it referred to the people who helped out on the playground. Now kids know AIDS is a killer disease.
Until recently, everyone knew that safe sex meant you had a wedding ring. But today it means you just have a condom. Children used to be able to be innocent for the first eleven or twelve years of their life. Today the media makes it almost impossible to enter kindergarten innocent! Today's parent is fighting what psychologist Neil Postman calls 'the disappearance of childhood.'
Alcohol and drug experimentation has moved from high school back through junior high school---and now into elementary school. It was tragic enough when suicide began to claim thousands of teenagers, but now kids are beginning to choose death before they even get to their teenage years.
Like a flood breaking through a Mississippi River levee, a torrent of darkness has breached the family walls that used to protect children. As a parent, you feel a deep-in-your-soul fear about the world your son or daughter must live in.
So the responsibility of shaping our children is compounded exponentially by the new risks we are preparing them to face. Depression, violence, racism, 'alternative lifestyles,' Satan set to music, the 'normality' of immorality, the power of friends, the bombardment of media lies about life---it's enough to make your parent's heart very afraid.
Or very ready for some hope and some help.