Archive for May, 2009

Serving our Children

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

I was recently doing some work with a friend and in the course of our conversation he said, “I’m trying to figure out how I can best serve my son.”  That got me thinking…

I’m not sure exactly why the phrase “serve my son” caught my attention, but it did. Celia and I have been in the Nashville area for about 15 years and we have spent a lot of time with songwriters. Songwriters are always listening for their next song. Writers of country music are always on the lookout for “the hook.” That’s a phrase or idea that sticks with a listener (for any of a variety of reasons) enough to write a song around. Maybe I’m becoming a bit of a wordsmith myself or at least an attentive listener. I don’t think I’m looking for the next hook, but I’m paying attention and here’s a little more about what I heard in that interaction.

First, a little background about my friend Nick (not his real name). Nick  is a really bright guy who’s the father of a couple of elementary aged kids. He does great work and he takes the dad role very seriously. He did some work for us about 10 years ago and every year since then we probably work together an average of a day a year. There’s always great conversation and we enjoy catching up about the water that’s passed under the bridge since our previous workday together.

So about a week ago, we’re working together on a project and Nick gets a phone call from the elementary school principal. I like school principals and even call some friend, but it’s hardly ever a good thing for a parent to receive a call from the principal and this was no exception. It seems Nick’s son had been involved in a scuffle at school before the bell rang in the morning. To his son’s credit, he was defending a victim from a bully, but he could’ve made a far better choice about how he chose to get involved. His choice resulted in disciplinary action. How he chose to be involved was far enough out-of-bounds to overshadow the rightness of stepping in on behalf of a victim.

A day later Nick and I were on a phone call following up on our work and I asked about his son. Nick had learned some additional details about the incident. Nick’s son had some schoolwork that he should’ve been working on at the time of the incident. There was a specific pre-existing paren’t-child agreement about the work that was supposed to be in-progress at the time in question. Had the son been doing that work, he would not have been in the wrong place at the wrong time and the incident would’ve been avoided completely. After Nick learned about these additional details, he and his son were on an errand together. Nick left the car to pick up something on the errand. He said that the few moments away from his son gave him some time for Nick’s anger to subside and to allow him to get in a better frame of mind. Nick said that by the time he got back to the car, he had cooled off and had gotten to a place where he really wanted to figure out how to best serve his son. (He didn’t say it with any emphasis, I added the bold letters, in an effort to let you know what jumped out at me.)… how best to serve his son… to me that was a big deal!

If only Nick and I had communicated a few days earlier, I’m sure I could’ve gotten a higher grade on my own parenting performance at a particular “opportunity for discipline” (OFD–discipline is about teaching, right?) that I was presented with this past Thursday. The situation looked something like this: number 2 son (first grade) was performing in a program at school and number 1 son (third grade) did NOT want to sit (still and quietly) in the gym. Number one’s continued requests to leave met our continued parental insistance for compliance and nobody was giving an inch. Number 1 son wanted to go see a friend outside and we wanted him to support number 2 son. As Celia and I wrestled with how best to survive/parent the situation, I’m afraid that my thoughts were not on “how best to serve” my child. I think I’m generally pretty good about playing the long game where discipline is concerned. After a couple of decades of working with teenagers and watching them head off to college to make many of their own often unsupervised choices and even mistakes, I think I parent with a picture of the end in mind, but not that particular day. Our parental embarassment and frustration at the distraction our interaction created for our little section of the bleachers in the elementary school gymnamsium removed any perspective we might have had for the long game. I’m confessing that there might have even been (ouch) a hint of wanting to win this particular showdown, and it didn’t get terrbly ugly, but nobody won.

Up until now, I can’t remember approaching an OFD and asking myself how I could best “serve my child.” I do remember learning several years ago that “spare the rod, spoil the child” might be better thought of as a shepherds’ crook that guides, than as a stick intended for a backside.

Don’t get me wrong, personally I’m all about the concept of service. I’ve taken thousands of adolescents on service events. I’ve washed more feet in worship services than I care to think about, but I can’t remember ever making a connection between “serving my child” and the discipline/art/science/practice/craft of parenting. For the last couple of days, I’ve been reflecting on the connection that Nick made for me. Service… that brings into the process several things: a dose of humility, a recognition that I don’t have it all together, the recognition that we’re in this together and an appreciation that my children have incredible value just as they are (even prior to correction).

Another thing that I walked away thinking about was that Nick took some time away and was giving his response plenty of thought, I mean continuing to wrestle with it. From our limited interactions through the last decade I can tell that Nick has lots of brain power to harness and that some incredible options will come out of his time spent wrestling with it… I want to be parent with that kind of intention.

So now I have a mental picture of Jesus taking up the role of servant as he wrapped that towel around his waist in the presence of a group of disciples who likely sat with confused looks on their faces. I invite you to join Nick (and more recently me) in picking up a towel, wrapping it around your waste, maybe seeing a confused look on your children’s faces and wrestling with the question “how can I best serve my child” especially in a situation requiring discipline.

Enough about me, you talk about me… just kidding, please jump in here and talk about you.

In some twisted way, I think I’m kinda looking forward to our next showdown. Maybe I’ll handle this one a little better. I’ll keep you posted… Ron