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INTENTIONAL PARENTINGAutopilot is for planes
By SISSY GOFF DAVID THOMAS MELISSA TREVATHAN
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2013 Sissy Goff, David Thomas, and Melissa Trevathan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBeing an Intentional Parent with David
YEARS AGO I (DAVID) HAD A CONVERSATION WITH a young man I'd known for several years. I had seen him for the first time as a junior in high school, and then throughout his senior year. He went away to college, and midway through the first semester, he called home to ask his mom if he could set up an appointment when home on break. She agreed, wondering what might be going on with him, but called to set up a time to meet.
It was good to reconnect with this young man, to talk about the transition from high school to college, and discuss living on his own for the first time. He was dealing with the normal challenges of being a college freshman at a big school and adjusting to this new stage of life.
Somewhere along the way, we ended up talking about his memory of being dropped off and saying good-bye to his parents. I asked him what he remembered about that moment (a significant moment for every college student); he paused and stared ahead as he was chasing down that memory.
"David, my dad cried harder that day than I've ever seen him cry in my life." This young man's face gave me so much information about that moment with his dad. It was obvious that, months later, he was still feeling the impact of that exchange. He went on to say, "My dad could barely speak ... He just kept saying, 'I love you, over and over. He just kept saying 'I love you so much.'"
I let him sit with his dad's words for some time, and then I asked, "How was your mom in that time?" His face changed; he chuckled and shifted. "She kept saying things like, 'Don't forget the milk I put in your mini-fridge. It will spoil in a week or so.'"
He continued while mimicking her voice. "'And you'll need to keep track of your meal plan account online. You will run out of money, and then you'll be in the cafeteria and won't be able to purchase a thing to eat.'"
We laughed together briefl, and then he finished. "The time finally came for my parents to say a last good-bye. My dad pulled the car around back and he was still crying. He hugged me one last time, and then my mom hugged me. They both got in the car, but before they drove away, my mom rolled down her window and yelled, 'Don't drink. It is so dangerous!'"
With those final words, his parents pulled away. He started laughing again, which gave me permission to join him.
I know this young man's mother. She is a kind, thoughtful, well-intentioned mother. She responded in that moment the way we are all vulnerable to respondingout of fear.
You may be reading this book and thinking back to your own moment of dropping a child off for college. Or maybe you are about to do that for the first time. Maybe you are the parent of a two-year-old and the idea of that moment seems so far away that you can barely wrap your mind and heart around it. Wherever you are in the journey of parenting, you can likely identify with this mom in some way. You can remember a moment in your parenting where you parented more out of fear than anything else.
When the three of us speak across the country to groups of parents, Melissa speaks beautifully to parenting out of fear instead of parenting out of love. When we parent out of fear, our kids never get the best of us, the most of us, or even what they really need from us. Parenting out of fear is a reactive form of parenting.
We'd love to invite you into more proactive parentingthoughtful, intentional, strategic, and wise parenting. Or more active parentingresponsive, engaged, invested, connected parenting. It's difficult to parent out of love when we are simply reacting to everything going on around us. We are postured to react rather than respond.
I believe this college-aged boy's father was a beautiful picture of responding rather than reacting. He was responding to how much he loved this boy. He was responding to how much he is going to miss him. He was responding to the reality that he was closing a chapter on parenting this young man. He was responding to the emotions he felt when he looked at him and when he thought about the years he spent holding him and teaching him to catch a ball, ride a bike, memorize multiplication facts, shave, drive a car, tie a necktie, and ask a girl to dance. He was responding in love, and in turn parenting out of love.
We always have options. Sometimes we choose fear over love. Sometimes we choose love over fear. You will continue to hear us invite you to extend grace to yourself in the journey of parenting. You are going to make mistakes. God can redeem the mistakes we make in parenting. He extends grace to us so that we can then extend grace and mercy to our children. Receive the grace and mercy that is available to you. And then do that thing we teach our kids to do when they fall off their bikes while learning to ride: get back up, dust yourself off, and try again.
Being an intentional parent means I get back on the bike and learn from the mistake I made last time around. Maybe I rode too close to the curb; maybe I didn't brake soon enough or didn't have a firm grip on the handlebars. Try doing it a little different next time around. If you need to take a break for a while, that's Okay. We all need breaks. A chance to stop, breathe, gain some perspective, and then we're more ready to try again.
Reconsider the Purpose
In Ezekiel 20:22 God spoke about the Israelites, saying, "I seriously considered dumping my anger on them, right there in the desert. But I thought better of it and acted out of who I was, not by what I felt, so that I might be honored and not blasphemed by the nations who had seen me bring them out" (MSG, emphasis added).
Those words resonate with me. I can't keep track of how many moments I've seriously considered dumping my anger. Or worse yet, the times I've gone ahead and just done it. I've walked in at the end of a long day to find the kitchen sink is still full of dinner's dirty dishes, no one let the dog out, wet towels line the bathroom floor, sports equipment and cleats are scattered throughout the house, and everyone's acting like the chore chart on the fridge is a recommendation more than a requirement.
Or there is arguing from the backseat of the car or the upstairs of the house, and my kids are acting more as if they are opposing teammates than members of the same family. The normal, daily moments of parenting take us to the ends of ourselves, and we respond less out of who we are and more out of what we feel. Being an intentional parent simply means I'm growing toward responding more out of who I am, who God made me to be, than out of how I feel.
Why did you decide to become a parent?
I enjoy asking parents this question. I mostly enjoy watching people's faces in response to the question. Most often they just stare at me as if maybe I'd asked something like, "Why did you decide to buy a car?" or "Why do you go to the grocery each week?" I hear a range of responses like:
"I never really thought about the why."
"It seemed like the next natural step."
"I always knew that I wanted to be a mom."
"I saw myself as a parent. It just felt like the right thing to do."
"I can't really describe it, I just knew it was time."
I then give permission to not have an answer to the question. I don't think it's one most of us gave much consideration to. I was twenty-three when I asked my wife to marry me, and we married the following year. Most developmental theorists agree that adolescence ends for males around twenty-three to twenty-four. So I was still finishing adolescence when we married, and I was certainly not thinking about the next decisions in life with a lot of maturity or wisdom. I, like many dads, stumbled into parenting because it was just what you did next. I never really considered the purpose.
I certainly never considered what parenting would do to me, in me, and through me. Decades later, I am just beginning to wrap my mind around that. I suspect I'll still be figuring that out until I'm done. I only know this much so far: As I reread the Genesis narrative, I see important insight into the parenting journey. As we trace back through the Creation story, we understand God created man and woman in His image, charged them to multiply and be fruitful, and blessed the first birth. Genesis 4 is all about parenting. It begins with Adam and Eve giving birth to a son, then another son, one killing the other, and then giving birth to a third son, Seth. The story of parenting evolves into the next generation as Seth and his wife give birth to a son named Enosh.
The fourth chapter of Genesis closes with these last words, which I believe speak to all of us about the purpose of parenting. They are, "At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord" (Gen. 4:26 NIV).
We are reminded within those words that parenting will take us to the end of ourselves. It will drive us to a place of dependence, of crying out for help, of leaning into God for wisdom and strength. We aren't designed to do this on our own. We need God.
Prepare for disruption
The words of Genesis speak not only to dependence but also to disruption. Without much difficulty, we can identify with some of the emotions Adam and Eve experienced in stepping into the journey of parenting for the first time. Can you think back to the first time you saw the face of your son or daughter? Perhaps that introduction happened in a hospital room as a doctor or nurse placed this new life into your arms for the first time. Or maybe you were thousands of miles away from home, in an orphanage, and caretakers entered the room, carrying a child you had only seen in photographs up to that moment. Do you remember how something shifted in you? Do you remember how you felt something stir in you that you had never experienced before?
A transformation was taking place. You entered the room one person and you left the room a different one. Something shifted in you. A deeper place was carved out in youthe capacity for something more.
I can still remember seeing my firstborn for the first time. Watching my wife struggle in childbirth, life coming from her, seeing this beautiful little girl and being overtaken with emotion. It wrecked me. I could not contain what was inside of me. I had just witnessed creation. I had just participated in creation. It was a holy experience and it overwhelmed me.
I remember holding my daughter and weeping uncontrollably. In my heart, I was pledging to love her, to protect her, to care for her. I was undone by the burden, responsibility, and magnitude of it all as I held what had been entrusted to me. I was wearing all the joy and the overwhelming, heartbreaking, sacred beauty of the birthing experience. I was as full of emotion as I had been at any moment in my life, and it showed on my face.
I stood in amazement at what David surely meant when he said, "I am certain that I will see the lord's goodness in the land of the living" (Ps. 27:13 HCSB). I couldn't know all that would unfold in the life of that little girl. I couldn't know what I would feel to see her walk and talk for the first time. I could have never known what would stir in me when she said my name for the first time, what I would feel when I gave the last running push and took my hand off the back of her bicycle and watched her pedal away independently, or how my heart would break in kissing her small cheek and watching her muster the courage to walk into an unknown kindergarten classroom for the first time.
There was no way of knowing on that day of celebrating her birth in the hallway with friends and family, that months later we'd be in Vanderbilt Children's hospital with her tiny body connected to monitors and tubes, monitoring her little heartbeat, lying next to her, praying, begging God, and thinking I couldn't breathe or live if something happened to this person I had known for only a matter of weeks.
Like the parents I question in class, I had no idea what I had surrendered myself to. I had never really considered why I signed on for this and what I had agreed to. I had absolutely no idea what it would require of me, how it would transform me, and how disruptive the process would be. Dan Allender, PhD, author of How Children Raise Parents, spoke well to this:
There is no relationship on earth in which we are called to be more noble and to sacrifice more deeply than with our children....
No other arena in life holds us more hostage to hope, more afraid to dream, more defensive about our decisions, and more open to receive helpall simultaneously. The intensity and passion of parenting bring the potential not only for our worst, but also for our very best as human beings.
I've seen evidence of good in me that I didn't know existed. I've never been more willing to sacrifice or capable of things I didn't know were humanly possiblestaying awake for three consecutive days, giving repeated injections to my own children, or even just waking at 2:00 a.m., out of a dead sleep, and cleaning up vomit! I can still remember waking in the middle of the night with that same sweet girl I held in the hospital room. She woke with the stomach virus and had thrown up all over her little bed, in her long hair, and soaked her pj's. I remember drawing a warm bath and washing that night's regurgitated dinner out of her damp hair while my wife changed the sheets on her bed, only to repeat the whole process three more times before 5:00 a.m. (You know you really love someone when you clean up her vomit repeatedly throughout the night.)
Just as I've never been more willing to sacrifice, I've never felt more selfish. I have tapped into darker parts of me than I knew existed. I'm talking thoughts that shook me to the core. In describing her own journey in parenting, Anne Lamott once said, "I thought such awful thoughts that I cannot even say them out loud because they would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish." Mine were worse; I promise you. I've never felt more angry, entitled, hateful, spiteful, and ashamed than I have as a parent. Parenting really does ignite our capacity for the worst and the best, for good and for harm.
Identify three different moments when you felt helpless as a parent.
What did you take away from those experiences?
What may God have wanted to show you in those moments?
How has parenting changed you as a person?
Become a Student
So where do we go with all this? If we are willing to consider that God designed parenting more for our own sanctification and transformation than to shape our children's lives, we open ourselves up to movement, growth, and maturity. If we consider that God designed parenting as a place where men and women could come to ask hard questions, engage deep heartache, and find renewed hopea place where people can grow in the range and richness of new possibility in their livesthen there is much room for maturity of heart.
Become a student of your own maturity (or lack thereof). One of the more courageous things we can do as parents is to first identify three individuals in our lives who know us. Not people we have surface relationships with, but with whom we share history. These should be people who have seen some of the best and worst of who we are as peopleour parents, our spouses, other family members, good friends, trusted coworkersindividuals who aren't afraid to tell us the truth about ourselves. Ask three individuals who fit the above criteria to answer some questions about you, and invite them to give you some honest feedback.
What have you observed about me as a parent?
What are the strengths I bring to parenting?
What are the struggles I bring to parenting?
What do you enjoy about being in relationship with me?
What are the challenges about being in relationship with me?
We all need feedback. We are all incapable of seeing how other people experience us. We live in our own skin; therefore we don't understand what it's like to be in relationship with ourselves. That's why we need input and perspective.
We often invite individuals we work with at Daystar to take a personality inventory called the Enneagram. After answering a series of questions, individuals are assigned a number (19) that identifies a profile or personality. It's a fascinating study that reveals strengths and challenges that come with each number. For example, I'm a One on the Enneagram. For those unfamiliar with this inventory, a One is akin to the "type A" personality. I'm driven, focused, task-oriented. As a parent, when I'm at my best as a One, I bring leadership and mission to our family. When I'm at my worst, I plow over the other members of my family, I don't consider them, and I get more focused on my agenda than on people. I need to live with some kind of awareness that both exist in methe strengths and the challenges. The less aware I am of both, the more likely I am to operate more (or only) out of one side.
Excerpted from INTENTIONAL PARENTING by SISSY GOFF DAVID THOMAS MELISSA TREVATHAN Copyright © 2013 by Sissy Goff, David Thomas, and Melissa Trevathan. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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