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My mom died a few years ago. It wasn't easy. Cancer racked her body, and we spent most of a year watching her die. We had moved Mom home from the hospital and were trying to make her as comfortable as possible with hospice care. We moved a hospital bed into Mom and Dad's bedroom. I would often find myself sitting on their bed while she lay in her hospital bed. One day she was dozing and very weak, when all of a sudden she perked up and asked me, "Jimmy, where is your dad?" "He's watching a baseball game on TV. Do you need him, Mom?" "No, not really," she replied. Then she looked up at me and said, "You know, Jimmy, I never really liked baseball." "You never liked baseball, Mom?" I was puzzled. "Did you ever miss a Little League game of mine?" "No." "Did you miss any of my Pony League, junior high or high school games, Mom?" "I don't think so."
"Mom," I continued, "you never missed a game, and on top of that you never missed any of my three brothers' games either. Dad and you watch ball games all day long on TV. What do you mean you never liked baseball?" "Jimmy, I didn't go to the games to watch baseball. I went to the games to be with you!" I realized at that moment that this incredible woman bad such a powerful impact on my life because she was there, even when she didn't care for the activity. Her very presence in my life was cause for great inspiration and influence. She taught me the power of being there.
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Your children regard your very presence as a sign of caring and connectedness. The power of being there makes a difference in a child's life. This sounds so simple, but don't underestimate the positive message you are giving your kids by watching those games, driving them all around the county or being with them in one of the hundreds of other ways you are present in their lives. You don't have to be present with your kids 24/7, but your presence gives them a greater sense of security than almost anything else you can offer them. All studies on positive family living tell us that the meaningful times families spend together are well worth it. Soccer moms: it's worth it. Dads who leave work early to watch the game: it's worth it. Single parents: as tired as you may be, if you continue to find the time to go on special outings with your kids, you will reap the benefits now and later in your family life. Here are a few things I have learned about parenting during the past 16 years:
Parenting isn't easy. If you are having an easy go at it, then something is probably wrong. Parenting is exhausting. Just ask the mother of a newborn-or of a 2-year-old, a 10-year-old or even a 16-year-old, for that matter!
Parenting is frustrating. We still live in a make-believe world in which some of us actually expect that there is a place this side of heaven where no conflict resides. If there is such a place, it isn't in the family. Parenting is delayed gratification. Parents plant seeds in their children that will not sprout until adulthood. Parenting is partnering with God to bring His children into the world and to help them become all they were meant to be. Parenting is the highest calling on Earth. There is no doubt that one of the primary reasons God placed you on this planet was to pass on a positive, healthy legacy to your family.
The crazy thing about parenting is that there is no single method or plan that works perfectly; there is no guarantee that if what you are doing is working with kid number one, it will work with kids number two, three, four or however many kids you are brave enough to have. You can debate the various philosophies of parenting and family life. Believe me, there are hundreds-no, thousands-of parenting plans out there. Many of them actually contradict each other! However, all healthy parenting plans will tell you, in one way or another, that happy, healthy families experience the power of being there for each other. Most parents reading this book are doing a much better job than they think; and although the only evident results are long-term, their investment of time, attention and presence in the lives of their children will make a positive difference.
The Priority of Children
Your job as a parent is a calling from God. It is more important than your vocation, bank account, education or even your own happiness. Besides your relationship with God Himself, your relationship with your children is primary; your influence and impact on them will, no doubt, be your greatest legacy. Throughout the Bible, family and children are top priorities. Jesus' disagreement with His disciples, recorded in Mark 10:13-16, shows us the heart of God when it comes to children:
People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.
On another occasion, Jesus was discussing the priority of children with His disciples, but the disciples kept interrupting Him and wanted to talk about "more important" issues. However, Jesus gently kept bringing them back to lessons on children. Look at Mark 9:36-37:
He [Jesus] took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them [the disciples], "Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me."
When you welcome a child, you welcome Jesus. How's that for priority? The first time I spoke to people in Guatemala, I met one of the most radiant women I will ever meet. Halfway through the first general session, she appeared in the back of the hall. She wore a colorful Indian skirt, hand-embroidered blouse, beads and a brilliant smile. She was probably about 4 feet 11 inches by 4 feet 11 inches! I asked my interpreter, Jeffrey DeLeon, "Who is the incredible woman who came in halfway through the first presentation?" I had noticed that he had nodded to her. He answered, "Oh, she is a saint. She lives in a mountainous section of our country and may be the only person in her area within hundreds of miles who works with children and youth. She probably rode on a bus at least 12 hours-all night-to get here. She is an exceptional woman." "I want to meet her," I replied. He then told me that her 12-year-old son had died about three months earlier. I asked him, "How does she do it? How does she still manage to work with kids? I think I would be curled up in the fetal position if something like that ever happened to me." He encouraged me to go ask her. I walked up to her, and we connected even though we didn't know each other's language very well. I said, "Lo siento" (I'm sorry). She nodded as if she understood. I then asked in the most broken Spanish known to humankind, "How do you manage to still work with kids when your own son died just three months ago?" She smiled, although there was grief in her eyes, and said, "Porque los niños están más cerca al corazón de Dios" (Because children are closer to the heart of God). She was right. When Jesus said, "When you welcome a child, you welcome Me," He was clearly communicating that your role as a parent is a most important calling. We can see how close children are to the heart of God when we see Jesus get angry. One of the few times in the Bible we see Jesus' anger is in His response to the wrongful treatment of children. Look at these strong words of Jesus: "And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck" (Mark 9:42). We have a friend, Peggy, who chose to be a stay-at-home mom. She is lovely and brilliant, and she sacrificed a great deal of money by choosing to stay at home. Her husband was a professor at a prestigious university on the East Coast. Recently, she told my wife, Cathy, and me that she was always intimidated by faculty social gatherings. People would turn to her and ask, "And what is it that you do, my dear?" At first she would sheepishly say something like, "Oh, I'm just a mom." The response was usually, "Oh, that's nice." That is, until our friend Peggy came up with a new line: "I am socializing two Homo sapiens into the dominant values of the Judeo-Christian tradition in order that they might be the instruments for the transformation of the social order into the kind of eschatological utopia that God willed from the beginning of creation!" Peggy's description of parenting reminds us that whether we choose to stay at home with our children or work outside the home, our true vocation is to develop a happy, healthy family; whatever else we do is secondary.
The Blessing of Your Presence and Affection
I have the privilege to speak and listen to thousands of young people each year. What do they desire most from their parents? A relationship with them. They seek their parents' time and attention. Please never underestimate the power of being there for your children. Two key points to remember are (1) bless your kids with your presence, and (2) bless your kids with affection.
Bless Your Kids with Your Presence
You are probably already blessing your kids with your presence and doing it well. In reality, moms often do this better than dads. Dads sometimes get sidetracked. My daughter Rebecca reminded me of the power of being there when she was in third grade. One night at dinner she announced to the family that I was coming to Mrs. Saxe's third-grade class for her show-and-tell time. Rebecca hadn't asked; she simply told us. I asked her if the other daddies were being invited to come to class.
She said, "No, Dad, just you." I replied, "Don't you usually share a book or a doll or pictures?" She answered, "Usually, Dad, but not on Tuesday. I promised my teacher you would come." "What if I can't come that day?" "Then you'll need to change your schedule. I promised my teacher!" "Rebecca, do you want me to bring my résumé?" "What's a résumé?" "It lists all the important things mommies and daddies do." "No, don't bring that. I'd be embarrassed." "Do you want me to bring the book I wrote and dedicated to you?" "No, Dad. Don't bring the book. Just relax and bring yourself!" So I agreed to go to her class, without anything to impress her fellow third graders. On that Tuesday I spoke to 3,500 high school students at an assembly on drug and alcohol abuse. No problem. That's what I'm comfortable doing. But as I drove to Rebecca's class, I grew more and more nervous. Would the kids like me? I didn't want to embarrass Rebecca. What could I say to a bunch of third graders? I arrived at her school a bit early and walked to Rebecca's class. I figured I would sit in the back and get comfortable with the kids while Mrs. Saxe was teaching the class. As I opened the door, every eye turned toward me and away from Mrs. Saxe, who was teaching math. She pointed for me to go the back of the room and wait. (I had been sent to the back of the room when I was in school, but for a different reason!) While Mrs. Saxe continued teaching, Rebecca interrupted the class by standing up, walking over to me, taking my hand and saying, "Come on, Dad. It's your turn." I tried to whisper that Mrs. Saxe was not ready for me, but it didn't matter to Rebecca. She pulled me to the front of the class, pushing Mrs. Saxe out of the way. The teacher smiled and reluctantly canceled the remainder of the math lesson for the day. Rebecca introduced me to the class. "This is my dad. His name is Jim. He is a great guy and he's bald" (as if they hadn't noticed!). I spoke for five minutes and then made a beeline for the door. Mrs. Saxe stopped me and said, "Dr. Burns, perhaps some of the children have questions for you." I'm thinking, Right, third graders have questions for me? Dozens of hands shot up. I pointed to Matthew. "Do you have a question, Matt?" "Yeah, how old are you anyway? You look kind of old to be Rebecca's dad." With my self-esteem sinking, I told him my age. He just shook his head. I had never thought of myself as old until that moment! I needed encouragement, so I turned to Rebecca's good friend Mallory. "Yes, Mallory?" "Jim," she began, letting the rest of the kids know that we were on a first-name basis, "do you own a dog?" "Well, uh, Mallory, of course, you know that we, uh, do not own a dog." I was caught in a setup, and it didn't matter that I proceeded to tell the class that we had other animals. Mallory looked around the room for support and shouted back, "Rebecca wants a dog!" My self-esteem continued to sink. (Incidentally, today Rebecca has a beautiful golden retriever that I feed, walk and clean up after.) The questions continued one after another. None of the kids asked about my educational background or salary or any of the other things that we adults often place on the pedestal of importance. The kids mainly asked relational questions. When I finally finished answering the last question, again I headed for the door. This time Rebecca stood up and came toward me. I thought, Oh, no. What now? She reached her arms around me with a big hug and simply said, "Daddy, thank you for coming to class today. I am so proud of you." Rebecca and her third-grade class didn't see my tears, but I cried all the way to my car. It had dawned on me that Rebecca doesn't care about academic degrees, awards, credentials or even money (although she wants hundred-dollar Nike Airs right now); she cares about relationships. She wants my time and attention and my presence. Her security does not come from my work; it comes from my presence. Our children crave our presence, and nothing can make up for our absence. Additionally, children tell me they not only want our attention, but they also desire our affection.
Bless Your Kids with Affection
Researchers tell us that we need 8 to 10 meaningful touches a day to thrive.
Excerpted from THE 10 BUILDING BLOCKS FOR A HAPPY FAMILY by Jim Burns Copyright © 2003 by Jim Burns. Excerpted by permission.
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