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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.

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!

The kids couldn’t ride with me in the truck because I couldn’t figure out how to disable the passenger-side airbag. So I got had to drive cross country by myself. I know each of the kids would have enjoyed some time in the truck, and my Wonderful Wife would have appreciated a bit of a break. I, on the other hand, really enjoy my time alone on the road. It always gives me time to process.

(this is the missing piece from last week’s post found here)

After dealing with the ordeals of liquidation, packing, moving, and leaving our Oregon life behind, I had two huge fears. First was the fear of mechanical failure in the truck and van. The other was my fear of traffic, motor vehicle crashes, and the loss of my family.

The truck was overloaded. In fact, we left several nice items behind based purely on weight (I kept thinking about all the covered wagons on the Oregon Trail that tossed out prized possessions along the journey). The radiator leaked, I wasn’t too sure about the engine – with over  250+k miles, and the rear tires don’t have much tread left on them. I was actually “OK” with a breakdown, though the prospect of unexpected financial costs were somewhat daunting. It was the fear of a catastrophic accident that frightened me – and leaving my family fatherless.

I read recently that “all emergency responders are wounded.” The PTSD is cumulative. We, paramedics, firefighters, EMTs, and police officers, see things no sane person should see – and few of us remain sane after seeing all of this. Whenever I see loved ones get into a car, a twinge of fear goes through my heart. This is the fear I had for my family driving cross country. Despite my own paranoia, driving does remain on of the most dangerous activities any of us will participate in. I never feared death until I had a family – now, I fear their deaths, and my own.

After realizing the fear and sorrow of this whole ordeal, confessing and admitting it, I was better able to hit the road – but the above fears continued to haunt me. But a few days into the journey, I experienced a breakthrough.

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Several years ago, I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Larry Crabb speak at a conference in Denver. I was impressed with his views on community and God’s love. I bought a couple of his books and MP3 audio presentations, but due to our hectic life over the past six years, I never really took the opportunity to explore his material – until last week. After two days of driving, I pulled up the audio version of his book, Finding God.

I love the synchronicity of perfect timing. I’m sure I would have enjoyed the book before, and I’m certain it would have spoken to me, but the healing power of this book was made more powerful after the perfect storm of fear I experienced during our exodus from Oregon.

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