This parenting thing? Don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise, it’s hard.

For several weeks we’ve been working with our Smiling Son on a particular issue (The actual issue doesn’t matter, and I don’t want to confuse the point of this post by getting into it in detail. Last night at dinner the issue arose its ugly head. We stopped and I told the above mentioned Smiling Son that we weren’t going to eat until he obeyed.

Of course this led to whining, fussing, begging, and pleading – not to mention his reactions!

All four of us became consumed with this issue. I invited him to sit on my lap and I sought to encourage him, while explaining why this was important. The food got cold, my Darling Daughter and Wonderful Wife were amazingly helpful. But we were all hungry.

Eventually I took my now not so Smiling Son into the bedroom so his Mom and Sister could eat. He and I began to work on the issue. Unfortunately, his first reaction was to go into full-blown meltdown tantrum mode. He tore the blankets off the bed, through the pillows, and pounded on the bed. I sat on the floor hoping he wouldn’t hurt himself, and praying.

Soon, his tantrum ran out of steam and he flopped into my lap and we talked. He wasn’t actually being naughty – but he was very shaken and disturbed. He absolutely did not want to do this thing. I was shaken and disturbed by his reaction, and seeing the long-term implications of this issue, I’d decided I wasn’t going to cave. I prayed more.

More tantrums, more prayer, more explanations – and amazingly, I was still calm.

I’ve long thought that there is a place for spanking, but it is rare and seldom necessary. Increasingly, I’m coming to the conclusion that I don’t want to spank my kids. I still have that tool in my box, but I’ve not used it in several years. Although, I have given a soft swat across the bottom to make my point

If last night was 50 years earlier, I certainly would have gotten a spanking and I would have obeyed. But, I don’t think it would have helped. Physical obedience is not the same as character development. My issue with my Son is his character. I need him to obey because I want him to have the tools to finish well. I want him to be a man of character and purpose, not a robot.

And so, we struggled last night. Amazingly, he stayed close to me – usually in my arms. He was frustrated, but I made it very clear that I was on his side and I wasn’t going to force him.

As we struggled, we had periods of calm and I told him stories – stories about me, stories from the Bible, and stories of success. We prayed together, we sang songs, and I held him. A couple of times we physically struggled – like Jacob and God on the banks of the Jordan River. He shed tears, I shed tears, and it was horrible and exhausting.

At one point, as I prayed for wisdom and insight, I received an epiphany. My Smiling Son was acting just like I do when God asks me to obey in certain areas. I shouldn’t ask my Son to do anything I’m not willing to do. We struggled some more. Emotionally, physically, and spiritually – we fought together.

Like Jacob fighting God, I learned something deep, but something I mostly knew. That is, God was always on Jacob’s side and Jacob’s hip was broken because God loved him so – not because of any untoward intentions. Last night, more than I’ve ever been in my life, I was on my Son’s side. I wrestled with him because my love for him was too deep to walk away.

We talked about how I helped him learn to ride his bike and how I would do anything for him. He understands this, but he was unwilling to yield. We talked about being rebellious and being willing to be changed. He wasn’t even willing to want to do this thing – he simply refused.

Finally, I lay on the bed and asked him to cuddle with me. I prayed with him and asked him to be willing to be willing. I talked to him about compromise. I talked to him about my great love for him. Then I told him how I would be willing to let us both go eat dinner (we were starving!) if he would be willing to be willing. After some thought, he agreed.

I prayed and he agreed with my prayer. Then we went to eat dinner.

The most amazing thing about this whole ordeal is that we were still close. During dinner he climbed into my lap. I wasn’t angry with him, he wasn’t angry with me. There was no shame. There was no threats or terror. Our relationship was intact – and that is something I’ve rarely witnessed. In fact, I don’t think I’ve pulled that off very well in the past. It was amazing!

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I have to admit though, I was exhausted. Emotionally and spiritually, I was spent. Indeed, i am humbled by the whole event. I realize lately how actually selfish and broken I am – and how much my personal rebellion affects my relationships with God, my family, and others. I hate it, and I’m ashamed.

As I realized last night, I can’t expect my Smiling Son to do something I won’t, can’t, and don’t. I have much to learn.

Farm Pond in NebraskaWhile casually chatting with some new friends, one looks up and glances toward the lake where our kids are exploring. He asks about a noise he heard. The other Dad listens. “That’s not a good yell!” He says – and takes off running.

I didn’t hear the commotion, but knowing my kids are about 600 yards away by the farm pond, I too took off running.

Since lunch wouldn’t be ready right away, the kids decided to go explore the farm. I didn’t think too much of it, but later when I heard they were out by the lake, a small voice urged me to go check on them. And yet, I ignored it.

Well, I didn’t actually ignore it, but I did argue with that little voice. As an older father with a long history in EMS, I tend to be a bit cautious. I want my kids to inherit my adventuresome spirit, but I’d like them to survive.

I never feared death until my kids were born. Now, I feel vulnerable to death. It would kill me to lose them, and I’d hate to abandon them through my own death. For someone who embraces adventure and dangerous activities, it’s a weird place to be.

So here I am, running through waist deep grass and weeds about 30 feet behind my friend. We still don’t know what’s going on, but we can hear panicked screams of terror from at least one child. But we can’t see them. I’m praying the whole way and preplanning resuscitation scenarios in my head. I’m also steeling myself, emotionally, to do CPR on one of my kids.

Suddenly the weeds get thick and we can’t run. The vines are wrapping around our ankles and the nettles are stinging our legs. The urgency is still there, but I feel like a turtle running through peanut butter. We’re really in deep weeds now.

I catch a sight of my Smiling Son’s white cowboy hat, and I can see he’s walking around – but he’s near the lake. I call our my Darling Daughter’s name – once, twice, and she finally answers. The screaming calms and the kids appear out of the deep weeds. Just then, I get dive bombed by bees.

As I continue to struggle through the vines and grass, I’m waving my arms trying to fend off the bees. The kids tell us that they were attacked by bees. Ah, now they tell me! 😉

I get through the weeds and away from the offended nest. I have a million grass seeds in my socks and shoes, and few stings from the nettles, but I escaped the angry bees. The kids are fine, except for a few stings, but they are all scared and relieved to see us. I, on the other hand am out of breath and filled with the adrenaline rush of fear, panic, and genuine parental concern.

I take turns holding my kids and soothing their fear.

That’s one of the hard things about being a parent. It doesn’t matter what emotions are in your own heart, your kids’ needs come first. They feared bees, I feared something more tragic and scary. They feared the physical pain of stingers, I feared losing one or both of them. Clearly, my fears trump theirs – but that is irrelevant. I held them. Their fears are real, and deep, and tragic.

At their ages, they could never understand the depth of my love for them. My Smiling Son and I have a little bedtime ritual. He tries to one-up me on how much he loves me more than I love him. I love his confidence and enthusiasm as he tries to show me how much he loves me. It’s a form of worship really. But, without crushing his spirit, I can never let him win this game.

First, he doesn’t understand, really, the depth of love we are really talking about. Second, he can never love me more. And finally, the stakes are high – our kids have to know the depth of our love for them. They have to know that our love is a nearly bottomless pit.

As we walked back to the farm-house, the kids shared their stories of the “hundreds and millions of bees” that attacked them. We two Dads, just held them, listened, and thanked God for the opportunity to still hold our kids.

Yesterday, my Smiling 5yo Son sat in my lap and told me my breath "smells like throw-up." Nonplussed, I just laughed and told him he was probably right.

45+ years ago, as I sat on my Mom’s lap, I told her she had a mustache. She was shaken, angry, and hurt. I’ve never forgotten how badly that innocent comment hurt her. Of course I wasn’t trying to hurt her. I was just a curious little boy who noticed something I’d never noticed before. But her reaction devastated me – even though she didn’t mean to.

Yesterday was a victory in stopping some of the cycles of dysfunction that we tend to pass on from generation to generation. I pray that my kids grow up not knowing the fear of shaming and the pain of dysfunction.

It is only by becoming a better man that I can become a better parent and raise better kids. My love for them is incredibly motivating!

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