Posts Tagged ‘parents’

Tomorrow Sherrylee and I are driving about seven hours to Searcy, Arkansas, because her father Max Johnson and his wife Opal are being presented with a Christian Service Award from Harding University during their lectureship.

The presentation will probably last a total of five minutes, but good time management is not really a relevant issue here. Sharing special moments with those you love—at any cost—especially your parents—is what it is all about!

Have you ever noticed in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) that “honor your father and your mother” is the first commandment which is about something other than the uniqueness and holiness of God?  Commentators often see a shift of direction in the fifth commandment, moving from God-centered commands to neighbor-centered .

Jesus probably saw it this way too as you can tell from his summary of the ten commands: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and, love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12).

I like to think about this fifth commandment as being the bridge between the two groupings.  After all, your parents are not really neighbors and they haven’t been divine since you were about ten years old.

Yet, in some ways they still have their feet on both of these banks. My mother is 88 years old and lives about five miles from Sherrylee and me—and so she is my neighbor.  And you can’t call God Father without thinking about your own father, can you?

So what does God mean when He commands us to honor our fathers and mothers?  And what does that look like for me when I’m thirty? Forty?  Fifty?  Sixty?  Or older?  (My mom just lost a friend of hers who was 107. She was being cared for by her 80-year-old daughter—or maybe it was her almost 60-year-old granddaughter—Mom wasn’t sure!).

Mom would laugh if I told her that the core meaning of the word God wrote on the table of stones is weighty. She is definitely not weighty! But the way the word is used has to do with something that is weighty with value. My mental image is of those balance scales that are still used in many countries to determine the value of something. The heavier the scales register, the more valuable the commodity.

The fifth commandment says that parents are to be considered precious, of extraordinary value, like a pair of huge diamonds that always drop their side of the scales to the bottom.

The Ten Commandments were not given to children; Jesus accused the Pharisees and teachers of the law of breaking the command of God to honor father and mother (Matthew 15:3ff).  We never outgrow the command to honor father and mother!

Jesus reprimanded the Pharisees for not using their money to take care of their parents.  I know a good man who was a corporate executive for a multinational firm for many years, who retired financially secured, but who spent all of his retirement taking care first of his wife’s parents, who lived into their nineties, and then his own until their deaths.  He honored his parents and hers at great personal cost—because they were weighty—precious jewels.

Jesus also quotes the command not to curse father or mother to the Pharisees, so I wonder if they were doing that too?   Could your parents frustrate you so much with their insecurities, with their lack of comprehension, with their lack of inhibition, with their legalism, with their insistence on their own way, could they make you want to curse??  Maybe the Pharisees and their parents weren’t so different from us after all???

Honoring father and mother has everything to do with honoring God!  To paraphrase the Apostle John, if we can’t honor our earthly father and mother, how can we truly honor our heavenly Father? (1 John 4:20)

And so we drive a total of 14 hours for a five-minute ceremony to honor Max and Opal—but we do it because they are precious to God and to us.  If our little trip were put in the balance scale on one side, it wouldn’t even register compared to the weighty people on the other side.



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Your parents spanked you when you needed it. Her parents thought spanking was child abuse. Your parents were strict about bed times. His parents let him stay up until he fell asleep on the floor!  Your parents never left the kids overnight with grandparents until they were at least three years old. He wants to leave the six-month old for one night with your parents.  What do you do?

Challenging? Challenging is hardly the right word because the parenting scripts that we inherit from our parents are so deeply embedded that we sometimes don’t even know they are there until suddenly, you say to yourself, “Oh my! Did that just come out of my mouth? I sounded just like my mother!”  Even more threatening though could be the reaction: “Oh no! He just sounded like his dad!”

Most couples are challenged quite early in their marriage to begin the task of working with their own parental scripts and figuring out what parts to keep, what parts to change, and what parts to discard.  Here are just a few simple observations from our own experience.

1.  Talk to each other—a lot—about how it was in your homes! My mother was strict with us but did not raise her voice. Sherry’s mom raised her voice to discipline the kids. So Sherry would raise her voice, and the kids would be fine—but it would drive me crazy!  Knowing that it was just part of her inherited script rather than “seriously irrational behavior” made it easier for me to understand and her to evaluate.

2. Don’t be afraid to defend your own script, but don’t fall into the trap of defending your parents! If you had wonderful parents, it is natural to want to imitate them—and rightly so. Just make sure that what worked for them is still appropriate thirty years later in a completely new family. And if your spouse feels the same way about a different script from his parents, keep the conversation about your children, not about your parents—or his parents!

3.  Don’t let your discussions become either YOUR way or MY way! Try to frame the result that you want as “what God wants US to do for our children.” The ownership of our own scripts can cause us to stubbornly, proudly, selfishly, insist on winning—even to the detriment of our children. It’s not about YOU. It’s about them!

4.  Remember the temporary nature of your decisions. Our kids, at least, went through ups and downs in their development that were mildly unpredictable.  Just about the time we would pat ourselves on the back for discovering the right parenting posture—because the kids were responding so well—they would change and our approach would seem all wrong now.

I know this is where many parents get frustrated. It’s like good parenting is always a moving target.  All the more reason to stay close to the kids, be around, listen to how they are today, and don’t hold on to previously effective parenting modes out of principle. Do so only if you both still feel they are appropriate with your children as they are today.

5.  Sometimes you adopt, sometimes you blend, and sometimes you concoct! We adopted Sherrylee’s grandparents’ admonition for our teenagers: “If it is not a sin, let them do it!” We blended most areas because our parents actually gave us similar scripts so it wasn’t too hard. But to deal with our children and what to do with them in cross-cultural situations, for instance, we had to create because we didn’t have any script from either set of parents for those situations.  Don’t get stuck in Either/Or thinking. Your kids are special enough to deserve your exploring creative options as well.

The Best Advice We Ever Received

Perhaps the best piece of advice that Sherrylee and I ever received was from an older missionary who told us that if the kids know that Mom really loves Dad and Dad really loves Mom, then the kids will turn out OK.  I know that’s a pretty simple script and won’t fit every single case, but in general, we believe it to be true, so my last piece of advice for blending your parenting scripts is

Love each other. Treat each other with respect, with honor preferring one another.

Does that sound familiar?


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I grew up with two sisters and two brothers. I was the oldest child, so I was old enough to inherit a script from my parents for raising both boys and girls.

The scripts we get from our parents are two-edged swords, cutting both ways: as young parents probably our first or most immediate tendencies are to simply replay that script and do exactly what our parents did. Wisdom in parenting may often be, however, seeing opportunities to improve that script, sometimes even completely re-writing it.

Then when we marry, we introduce another parenting script into the house. Blending those scripts is one of the first challenges new parents have—and an ongoing project as long as they are actively parenting children.

First , let’s talk about dealing with your parenting scripts from your own parents:

1.            If you had wonderful, loving parents, then you know that they would want you to be an even better parent than they were, so don’t feel guilty about improving the script. It is not in any way an attack or insult to your parents.

2.            Recognize that you are not raising your children in the same environment or context that your parents did, so the new situation may require new approaches. Recently our two second-grade grandchildren each needed to interview their Grandad for school, and one of the questions each of them asked was how is it different today than it was when I was in second grade.  I hardly knew where to begin. My parents didn’t have to deal with drugs in schools, sex on TV—we only had three channels!—internet access, even premier kids’ sport leagues and serious competition in the second grade!

3.            Your family configuration is probably different from your parents’, introducing a different dynamic than what you grew up with. My dad worked six days a week and was gone from 7 until evening every day except Thursday, when he got a half-day off. We only had one car and four kids under 8 years old. Does that sound like your family? It’s not like any of our children’s families, so they, of course, need to approach parenting differently.

4.            Your children are unique, and not like your parent’s children, so their parenting needs are different. Sherrylee and I are pretty convinced that kids come into the world with their own personalities and gifts given from God. The uniqueness of each child would argue for a uniquely appropriate parenting styles.  Our three children all required very different parenting approaches. One required structured discipline, one required lots of supportive encouragement, and the other required bribery!! (And I’m not saying which was which J!)

God has given YOU the spiritual gifts you need for the children He has given you! Be confident that even a bad script is something that God has allowed for a reason. You are a parent because He made you one. You are a parent because He wants you to raise those children.

Those kids you have in your house are HIS kids! And He has given them to you for His purposes. So have confidence that He has and will give you all the experience, all the history, all the scripts, and all the tools you need to be a parent just like He wants you to be.

Be strong and courageous—and don’t be afraid!

Next, we’ll talk about the challenge of blending parenting scripts.


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