“Here’s where I messed up. . ."
Whenever I say those words during my parenting workshops, you can hear a pin drop. Parents are on the edges of their seats.
“And here’s what I’d do differently next time. . ."
That’s when every pen in the room begins writing furiously.
Let’s face it. Hindsight is 20/20.
If you ever find yourself saying "I wish I had a do-over. . ." You're not alone! Join author and youth culture expert, Jonathan McKee, as he shares from his own personal parenting experiences of raising three kids, while making purposeful, effective tweaks along the way. Delivered with a refreshing blend of humor and vulnerability, the author's candid style and real-world application will equip you with solid, helpful practices you can actually use in your own home. With chapters like "Let It Go," "Press Pause," and "Tip the Scales," McKee provides the honest answers you're seeking as you parent your kids.
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About the Author
Jonathan McKee is an expert on youth culture and the author of more than twenty books, including The Bullying Breakthrough, The Teen's Guide to Social Media. . .and Mobile Devices, and The Guy’s Guide to God, Girls, and the Phone in Your Pocket. He has over twenty years of youth-ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide. For more from Jonathan, go to TheSource4Parents.com or follow him on Twitter.com/InJonathansHead.
Read an Excerpt
If I Had a Parenting Do-Over
7 Vital changes I'd Make
By Jonathan McKee
Barbour Publishing, IncCopyright © 2017 Jonathan McKee
All rights reserved.
TIP THE SCALES
"My seventeen-year-old daughter won't even talk with me."
The middle-aged mom had wandered into my Get Your Teenager Talking workshop looking for answers. She dabbed at her eyes with a tissue, being careful not to smear her mascara. "I don't know what to do."
"Tell me about your conversations," I asked.
After a little digging, I listened as she recalled her last few conversations with her daughter. I use the word conversation loosely. More like interrogation.
"Did you finish your homework?"
"Did you clean your bathroom?"
"What time did you get home last night?"
"Were you with that boy Chris? I knew I shouldn't have let you hang out with that boy!"
As she unveiled what dialogue looked like in her home, the answer quickly became clear. Her daughter didn't want to talk with her mom because in her mind, her mom was acting like a parole officer searching for malfeasance.
Think about it. Would you want to answer this mom's questions? Probably not. You'd be scared your answers would get you in trouble.
That's why most of the dialogue in this home would be more accurately described as monologue. Mom talked. Daughter didn't.
As this woman shared her story, I immediately recognized her dilemma because I had made the same mistake with my oldest. My focus on boundaries had hindered bonding.
Bonding and Boundaries
At times these two important parenting practices seem almost at odds with each other.
Bonding is playing with your kid, going out for french fries, getting slaughtered by your son in the newest Madden game, laughing and talking together on a comfy couch in the corner of your daughter's favorite coffeehouse.
Boundaries is when we tell our kids it's time for bed, charge their phones on the kitchen counter while they're asleep, or tell them, "No, sorry, you can't stay out that late on Friday ... especially with that boy Chris!"
Both are essential, and most parents tend to gravitate toward one or the other.
Ask yourself, Which do I lean toward? Which would my kids say I lean toward?
Now ask yourself another question: Which of these two parenting practices do I think most parents look back at later and wish they had done more?
Since you read the opening chapter to this book, you probably can guess the answer. In fact, the number one parenting practice moms and dads shared with me where they experienced the most regret was in the area of bonding.
"I wish I would have spent more time with my kids."
It's the number one area where parents wish they could have a do-over. They wish they had connected with their kids more and just "hung out." In contrast, only a small handful of parents (less than 2 percent polled) said they wished they had applied more boundaries.
Let that sink in for a moment. Most parents enter into this parenting thing favoring either bonding or boundaries. Rarely is someone perfectly balanced. And after most parents finish raising their kids, the vast majority of them wish they would have tipped the scales toward bonding.
I know I wish I would have.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not in any way trying to convince you to let your kids do whatever they want. Not even close. Reread what I've written in the previous pages if you must. Both bonding and boundaries are equally important. What I'm trying to communicate is simply this: Don't skimp on bonding! Most parents look back and feel like they missed out on opportunities to bond and connect with their kids.
As I look back at how I parented my oldest, I definitely put too much weight on boundaries. When I walked into the room, I almost felt it my duty to be a drill sergeant, barking orders.
"Alec, shoes off the couch!"
"Put your glass on a coaster!"
Then I'd use the opportunity to question him, checking up on him.
"Did you finish your homework? Room clean? Trash taken out?"
As Alec grew into his teen years, I noticed something. When I'd walk in the room, he'd get nervous. He'd immediately start thinking, What am I doing wrong? I'm always doing something wrong.
Why did he think this?
Because that had become my job. To correct my kids.
My motives were pure. I wanted to teach my kids discipline and responsibility. Sadly, I believe my laser focus on boundaries hurt our relationship.
If our kids see us as drill sergeants, bonding will be hindered. Who wants to hang out with the parent who is making their life miserable?
Take this a step further. Who are they going to go to when they mess up or are facing a moral dilemma? Surely they won't go to the person who seems ready to pounce on them every time they do wrong.
If I share with Dad, I know he'll freak out!
If I ask Mom about this, she won't help me — she'll just bust me!
Here's where the parenting strategy becomes a little counterintuitive. We think strict boundaries will help teach our kids values. But if we put too much weight on boundaries and neglect bonding, then our kids won't feel safe to open up to us and we'll miss key opportunities to walk through life with them and teach them discernment. In other words, when Mom or Dad doesn't have a relationship with their kids, their kids tend to glean values and behaviors from other sources.
The parent who bonds with their kids has more opportunities to dialogue about real life. The closer the bond, the more they'll absorb.
Bonding opens the doorway to applying boundaries.
So do parents still need to provide boundaries?
Absolutely. Just not like a tyrant. Parents don't need to jump into inspection mode every time they see their kids.
So what does this actually look like day to day? How can we tip the scales toward bonding?
The best way to tip the scales is by seeking out settings I like to call connection venues. This has become increasingly difficult in a world where people connect with screens more than they connect with human beings. And I'm not just talking about kids. The overwhelming majority of American moms and dads actually spend more time staring at a screen than talking with their spouse or kids. And now that most of us have access to mobile devices, our screen time is increasing, and good ol'-fashioned face-to-face time is decreasing.
What's the result?
Sadly, it's exactly what I shared at the beginning of this book. A huge number of parents are looking back in hindsight and wishing they had devoted more time to simply hanging out with their kids. "I would have worked less and played with them more!"
Have you ever spent time with someone lying on his or her deathbed? Those final moments often bring clarity to what we truly hold dear. Rarely do you see someone asking for their laptop so they can check their work e-mail. The typical request is to be surrounded by family and friends. Sometimes lifelong grudges are forgiven and forgotten in those final moments.
I've never heard someone say, "I wish I would have spent more time at the office!"
I've never heard someone say, "I wish I would have streamed more Netflix!"
People value connection with the people they care about. And we don't need to wait until our deathbed to initiate this kind of connection. We should be searching for any opportunity to connect while our kids are still young and in the home.
Think about the last time you engaged in a meaningful conversation with your kids. Where were you? What initiated that conversation? Is that something you can duplicate and try again?
Note: I didn't ask when you last "exchanged words with your kids." I want you to think about the last time you sat down and truly talked, laughed together, or cried together. What was it about this venue that kindled that kind of conversation?
When I ask parents where this kind of meaningful dialogue occurs in their home, the setting I hear more than any other is the family dinner. In fact, in my survey of what parents would do over, I kept hearing moms and dads say, "More family dinners."
The family dinner is one of those staple connection points for families. Most people use their hands to eat, so that typically means setting the phone or tablet aside ... for a few minutes, at least.
Our family even declared family dinners tech free. We called it "No Tech at the Table." Funny ... more conversation happened at our family dinners than in almost any other setting. Think about that for a second. In this particular situation, our boundary of "No Tech at the Table" opened the doorway to bonding moments. As you can see, boundaries can help create an atmosphere where bonding takes place.
We need to be on the lookout for places where meaningful communication occurs in our homes and be proactive to seek out these venues.
Where are these connection venues in your home?
In a world so full of distractions, parents are beginning to take notice of these venues where their kids almost naturally open up. Another one of these settings is bedtime. An empty-nester parent shared with me:
I wish I had cherished bedtime more than I did. I used to pray with my kids and tuck them in when they were young, but the routine eventually faded. However, every once in a while when I'd take the time to tuck them in, it usually resulted in a pleasant conversation. Something about them being tucked neatly in their bedsheets. It's like the sleepiness made them chattier than normal.
It's interesting to observe which of these connection venues work with your own kids. Different young people will respond to different venues. I became so fascinated by these kinds of settings I wrote an entire book on the subject, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid, providing dozens of ideas for connecting with today's kids who typically won't pry their eyes from their mobile devices.
Ask yourself: Where do my kids tend to open up more and engage in meaningful conversation? How can I create more of these opportunities in our typical weekly schedule?
I'll be honest with you. Bonding takes time. That's why you shouldn't overthink it. If you see an opportunity ...
JUST SAY YES
Just say yes to any opportunity to bond, no matter how inconvenient. I call this the "yes factor." I tried this with my younger two kids, and the results were revolutionary.
No joke — this morning, as I write this — my eighteen-year-old daughter, Ashley, came up to me and asked, "Dad, do you want to go on a bike ride?"
Allow me to put this into perspective. This is an eighteen-year-old asking her parent to do something together. This isn't a four-year-old. When my kids were four, they asked me to do something with them every ten minutes.
"Daddy, will you play Barbies with me?"
"Daddy, will you watch Aladdin with me?"
"Daddy, will you play Velociraptor with me?"
When our kids become teenagers, everything changes. Many parents can count on one hand how many times their teen asked them to hang out in any given month ... or year.
Ashley is pretty social, and we hang out quite a bit. So when she asked me to ride bikes this morning, I hesitated. Not because I didn't want to ride bikes and not because I didn't want to hang out with Ashley, but probably for the same reason many of you would have hesitated. My schedule is jam-packed right now! And when life's to-do list is stacked to the ceiling, "hanging out" seems to get shoved to the back burner.
I easily thought of twenty plausible reasons why I should say no: I've been gone the last three weekends in a row speaking, I have two book deadlines in the next forty-five days, I have two articles due in the next four days, I've got a stack of administrative tasks in my inbox, and work aside, my backyard is a mess, I promised my wife I'd help her shop for a present for my other daughter, Alyssa, today ... the list goes on. My guess is you have a list that rivals mine.
Every ounce of wisdom in my body was saying, "Jonathan, it's completely reasonable for you to say no. She'll understand."
So I gave her my answer.
"Yes. I'd love to."
So we ventured on a one-hour bike ride on a trail that parallels the American River not twelve minutes from my house. And it was one of the most rewarding times I've had with Ashley in months.
Maybe it's because I actually listened to my own advice from my previous book about connecting with the smartphone generation. One of the ways to connect with today's overconnected kids is seeking out settings where kids naturally break free from their devices to enjoy their immediate surroundings. Bike rides are a nobrainer. It's hard to text while riding a bike.
That's probably why Ashley and I literally talked for an hour without a single interruption (well ... besides the squirrel I almost hit as it darted across the bike path). We talked about movies, music, college, friendships, conflict, and personality types. We even talked about parenting. It was probably one of the deeper talks we've had in a while.
All because I simply said yes.
I didn't always say yes.
Sadly, this experience with Ashley only happened because I learned the hard way that saying no is a mistake. My parenting repertoire is filled with stories of feeling too busy, too overwhelmed, burning the candle at both ends; you probably know the feeling. It's these times I answer with the most logical response when a person doesn't have any time. Like the time my son Alec asked me if I wanted to play video games with him. I can remember the moment like it was yesterday.
He was in his late teens, working almost every day after school, and had an internship at church. It was an extremely busy time in his life. My schedule was very comparable. I worked full-time writing and speaking, was attending graduate school, volunteered at the church, was raising three kids — not a lot of free time.
Alec poked his head into my office one Friday and simply asked, "Dad, do you wanna play Xbox?"
I was finishing some last-minute prep for a parenting workshop I was teaching that weekend. The next morning I was going to leave the house at 3:30 a.m. on the first flight out. With time in airports, two planes, and a rental car, I'd travel over ten hours across the country (the problem with living in California and frequently speaking on the East Coast) then teach a two-hour workshop Saturday night, preach the morning services at a church Sunday morning, then teach a parenting workshop that afternoon. I had about seven items to finish on my to-do list, and playing video games just didn't seem wise, if even possible.
I can't remember my exact words, but they were something like, "Sorry, Alec, but I've got to finish my workshop helping other moms and dads be good parents."
Yes, the word irony comes to mind.
He wasn't brokenhearted. He was actually very kind about it. I can still see the expression on his face. "That's okay, Dad. I understand. I know you'll do a good job."
Fast-forward two days later when in the middle of my parenting workshop I gave the parents a "self-quiz" that helped them look introspectively at how well they knew their kids. As they sat in their seats, pens and pencils busily scratching out answers, I read through the questions myself while standing onstage waiting. As a joke, I played the famous '70s folk song "Cat's in the Cradle," in which a dad expresses his parenting regrets. I jested that they shouldn't feel guilty if they did poorly on the quiz.
That's when it happened.
I began reading my own quiz questions and my eyes rested on question number 13: "When is the last time you played with your kid?"
The lyrics to "Cat's in the Cradle" resounded in my ears: a kid asking his dad to throw a ball and the dad saying, "Not today."
I started full-on weeping.
I turned my back to the audience in hopes they wouldn't notice. I had forty-five seconds to pull it together. But first things first. I whipped my phone out of my pocket and texted my son:
Alec, I'm a turd! You asked me to play Xbox with you and I let my work interfere. I'll totally play Xbox with you when I get home tomorrow! You got time?
Not ten seconds later I got a text back: Sure. We'll blow away zombies!
The next day I got up bright and early and flew home (another ten-hour journey with a layover), and when my son walked in the door I was sitting on the couch with the controller in my hand. "You ready to show me how to play this thing?" And we played for almost two hours until he finally had to go to work.
Let me be very clear. Say yes to any opportunity to connect with your teenager.
I have countless friends who are either raising their kids by themselves or shipping kids back and forth to a different parent because of a divorce or separation. These friends always ask me, "Jonathan, how does this work in a split home?"
I have good news for these parents. Everything I say about bonding in this book is 100 percent applicable to kids in split homes. Bonding is potent. The connection between parent and child is powerful. And single parents will want to strive to make these connections just like any other parent. So the first four vital changes we walk through in this book apply to all parents regardless of their family's makeup.
Excerpted from If I Had a Parenting Do-Over by Jonathan McKee. Copyright © 2017 Jonathan McKee. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Where I Messed Up,
Change 1: Tip the Scales,
Change 2: Let It Go,
Change 3: Notice,
Change 4: Press Pause,
Change 5: Segue,
Change 6: Add a Question Mark,
Change 7: Walk With,
What Now? 25 Ways to Apply What You've Just Read,