4 Things I Wish I Could Do Over as a Parent

We have three grown kids, one grandson, and one grandchild on the way. We love all of our  kids and they love us. As I reflect over my parenting years, I’d give myself a solid ‘B+’ in the parenting department. But, I would also would have parented differently in several ways. In a recent family service at our church, I shared these 4 things I wish I could do over as a parent. As you read them, ask which might apply to your parenting style.

Happy family on meadow at summer sunset

If I could re-do my parenting, this is what I would have done differently.

  1. I would have not gotten so uptight when surprises came.
    • I’m sometimes guilty of catastrophizing. That is, assuming a worse case scenario, an ‘it’s the end of the world’ mentality. Sometimes I did this when one of my kids blew it. And when I responded that way, I would turn the entire emotional tone of our family negative. It’s a phenomenon called emotional contagion. Leaders, dads, and influential people set the emotional tone of those around them, in either good or bad ways. 
  2. I would have dealt with my own insecurities.
    • I was insecure as a young dad. To bolster my self confidence I would sometimes try to control my kids behavior in an overbearing way. It was a blind spot. Back then I wish I had invited someone wiser into my life on a regular basis to help me deal with my own junk… a counselor, a coach, or a mentor.
  3. I would have been less driven to fix things and ‘doing’ and more focused on process and ‘being.’
    • I’m a problem solver and that’s a good quality. But with relationships with our kids, sometimes it’s not the best solution. Sometimes when they face difficulties they simply need our presence, for us to simply be with them. This goes against our cultural push to be human doings rather than human beings. So, when something in my kids’ lives needed fixing, I wish I had simply offered my presence rather than my solutions.
  4. I wish I had asked a lot more questions to make my kids think more for themselves.
    • This idea relates to number 3 above. Sometimes we should not fix things even though we clearly see what needs to be fixed. Sometimes the best thing a leader can do, whether in a church or a family or a business, is to ask questions so that the other person comes up with his or her solution. When that happens, the other person owns it better. As an example in parenting, let’s say your child clearly disobeyed you on an issue. Perhaps part of discovering what the consequence should be would be to ask your child, “So, if you were in my shoes what would you do? What consequence would you give if you were the parent?” Such dialogue could have helped my kids think more for themselves at an earlier age.

What kinds of things would you do over as a parent?

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4 Ways to Stop REACTING!

One of the greatest strengths a leader can posses is his (or her) ability keep his emotions in check, to stop reacting. However, when we feel rejected, hurt, or fearful, we often react, get visibly angry, or becoming defensive. Those responses can hinder God’s work in our lives and hurt our leadership. So what can we do?

Word on the button

Scripture consistently speaks against allowing anger (or any other negative emotion) to control us.

  • “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,… (Eph. 4.26)
  • Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. (Eph. 4.31)
  • But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. (Col. 3.8)
  • My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. (James 1.19-20)

But, how do we control these feelings that sometimes spring upon us without our even thinking about them? Often when we feel angry or fearful, we believe that suppressing those feelings will reduce their power. On the contrary, it does the opposite. Neuroscientists have discovered that when we try to suppress an emotion it negatively affects us in two ways.

  1. It diminishes our memory and the ability to see and remember details of an event.
  2. Most importantly, suppressing the emotion actually does the opposite. Rather than helping us control it, it actually diminishes the internal resources available for us to respond to the situation in a biblical way. Scientists are now discovering what the Bible said long ago: So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. (Gal. 5.16)

The next time one of these emotions begins to control your thinking and behavior, consider apply the steps behind the acronym CART, a simple way to control an unhealthy expression of an emotion.

  • C” stands for change the situation. If you can appropriately change or avoid your situation so that you can avoid what could cause the emotion, do so. This is the easiest way to ‘nip it in the bud’ before it becomes full blown. Recently I became very angry about what someone did. I was not able to remove myself from the situation because the act was done at a distance. So, the issue was in my head rather than in physical close proximity. I had to move to the next step.
  • A” stands for attend to a distraction. If some event prompts one of these emotions, distract yourself. Look for something else to think about or focus on. In the above situation my anger was rising to a boiling point. I then tried to distract myself by listening to an mp3 talk on neuroleadership which somewhat moderated the emotion. However, I kept tuning out the talk and tuning into my internal self-talk that kept the emotion active. I then applied the next step.
  • R” stands for reappraise the situation. After I realized that my mp3 distraction could not consistently lessen my emotion, I sat back in my chair, closed my eyes, and for a few moments thought about what I was thinking about. This is called mindfulness. I then intentionally began to look at the situation differently. I reminded myself that my love for this person should trump my anger toward her. I told myself that my anger would not change her, much less facilitate a reasonable conversation with her about her actions. As I began to mentally prioritize my relationship with her over her action, the emotion’s intensity began to complete this process of regulating this emotion.
  • T” stands for temper my visible response. At first I tried to suppress my emotion, which only increased it (as I mentioned above). However, after I admitted my anger and reappraised the situation (R), the Lord helped me avoid a potentially unhealthy and damaging reaction toward this person.

So, the next time an emotion begins to get the best of you, toss it into a CART.

What has worked for you to control your emotions in a healthy way?


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6 Tips on How Pastors can Help Others Discover their Spiritual Gifts

The more we pastors help people discover, develop, and deploy their spiritual gifts, the healthier our churches become. In this post I suggest 6 tips that can help others discover their gifts.

Smiling Girl with Gift

1. Ask, “What do I enjoy doing/what do I do well?”

A good indicator of where a person’s giftedness lies may be found in activities that give him or her joy and satisfaction and interests them. Encourage others to get in touch with spheres of service that produce a flow of inner joy, excitement and energy. Helping others find what God made them for produces great joy.

2. Ask, “If I could I would…”

If I could do ______ and time and money were no issue, what would I do?  If I knew I couldn’t fail what would I do to make a difference?  If I could I would address what concerns, area of peoples’ lives, or areas in the church to make things better or improve things?

3. Pray.

What do you sense in your heart is your gift? Where do you get a sense of peace?

4. Take a test drive.

Help others jump in and commit for 6 months in a potential ministry to discover if it is a fit.

5. Look for results.

When you exercise your gifts and you are fitted in the right place in your ministry, you will see effectiveness. God will bring about spiritual results in the lives of people because when when we use our gifts, we become a channel through which God’s Spirit flows.

6. Seek the advice of wise people.

Seek out gifted people in the area where you think your gifts may lie. Place yourself under their tutelage. The affirmation of others often can indicate giftedness.

How have you helped others discover their gifts?

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3 Morning Habits Guaranteed to Boost Brain Power

I have a passion for the brain and how applying newly discovered brain science can impact leadership and spiritual growth. I even wrote a book about it. Now into my sixth decade of life, I want to maximize my brain power as I (and everybody else) faces inevitable cognitive decline. In this post I share the bad news about what aging does to our brain (starting in the 20’s) and then share 3 morning habits you can build into your routine to boost your brain power and stay mentally sharp.

human brain with arms and legs on a running machine, 3d illustration

The bad news about aging and the brain

Unfortunately, just as we can’t avoid death and taxes, we can’t avoid how aging affects our brains. Here’s what happens to our brains as we grow older.

  • Our brains literally shrink. We lose about 5% of our brain matter per decade beginning in our 40’s. In fact, our frontal lobes, where executive functions like short-term memory, abstract thinking, and emotional control lie, reach their peak in our early 20’s.
  • Our brains slow down. Brain cells (neurons) work primarily through a chemical-to-electrical process. When the neuron ‘fires’ it sends an electrical impulse down a fiber called an axon. Like a wire with insulation, material called myelin also wraps around an axon providing insulation. As we age myelin thins which slows firing which in turn slows mental speed.
  • Our brains don’t remember as well. Over time memory fades due to loss of neurons, especially in the hippocampus, an area crucial to memory. And our ability to temporarily hold information in our minds, called working memory, degrades as well.
  • Command of our vocabulary shrinks. A typical 30-year-old has command of an average of 30,000 words whereas an 80-year-old has command of only about 10,000.
  • Peripheral vision diminishes, hearing degrades, yada, yada. Enough of the bad news.

Even with this bad news, science is now showing us ways that we can slow cognitive decline well into our later years. Everybody is not doomed to dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

3 Morning Habits that can Boost your Brain Power

  1. Brain training
    • I just added this to my morning routine. Several companies provide software for your smart phone or computer to help train your brain. Several peer-reviewed studies now show that these brain games don’t simply help you get better at playing the games. Rather, scientists are discovering a clear crossover effect beneficial to cognitive health. I use brainHQ from Posit Science. I’m now doing about 20 minutes of brain training 5-6 days a week. For brain training to work, it must tax your brain and you must keep doing it. Doing a game here and there probably won’t make much difference.
  2. Exercise
    • For years research has shown that exercise benefits our body. But recent research has discovered that it benefits our brains as well. When we exercise it causes our brains to release a protein called brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which has been called the Miracle-Gro for the brain. It encourages new neuronal growth and protects brain cells from stress. To maximize BDNF, the experts recommend that you exercise at 60-75% of your maximum heart rate for 30 minutes 3-5 times each week.
  3. Mindfulness
    • Mindfulness is a spiritual discipline akin to biblical meditation that I practice as part of my daily devotional time. It’s setting aside a time to be still before God to be in His presence in the present moment. It’s not emptying our mind, but filling our mind with thoughts of Him and His Word. It helps us disengage from automatic thoughts, feelings, memories and reactions and simply be in God’s presence. Last year over 400 studies were published that showed multiple body and brain benefits to mindfulness including increased brain volume in the memory and in the self regulatory areas and decreased volume in the brain’s fight and flight centers. I also use an app that reminds me to take short one minute mindfulness breaks throughout the day.

So, even though aging naturally diminishes brain function, a disciplined approach to brain healthy habits can keep your brain sharp for God, for others, and for you.

How do you keep your brain in shape?

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The “Measure Up Mentality” in Today’s Church

I’ve served in full-time ministry for over 35 years in churches in many places in the U.S.: the south, the southwest, the far west and the mid-west. I now serve as lead church in Ontario, Canada. I’ve noticed that a church’s expectations of a pastor varies depending on the region. And when that church, culture, or pastor gets caught up in a ‘measure up’ mentality, it can be deadly. Consider these thoughts on the ‘measure up mentality’ in ministry.

Illustration of a tape measure

The Measure Up Mentality:

When I served a large church in the central valley in California several years ago it seemed that I could easily meet the church’s expectations. Yet in another large church in another part of the U.S. I found that meeting others’ expectations was extremely challenging, especially among church members successful in business. I attribute that to both the business environment there that required you to perform at a high level and to the fact that that church was located near four well-known mega-churches with world class leaders and preachers. Comparison came with the territory.

However, here in Canada, I don’t seem to face that same mentality as I did in that region of the U.S.

Every ministry leader deals with this ‘measure up mentality’ to some extent. Although we can’t avoid it, we can choose how we respond to it.

Some unwise choices include…

  • thinking we can please everybody
  • morphing into someone we are not to get everybody’s approval
  • using “I can’t please everyone” as an excuse to be lazy, not work hard, or avoid difficult problems or people
  • obsessing over those you can’t please

I admit that at times the ‘measure up mentality’ has sucked my joy out of ministry. But I’ve applied some simple ideas below that have helped me keep my joy even when I felt I didn’t measure up in the eyes of others. Perhaps they will encourage you as well.

  • God made me who I am. I may not be a world-class leader, a ‘blow you a way’ preacher, or as creative as some, but I must appreciate, embrace, and faithfully use the gifts and competencies He has given me.
  • He has placed me where He wants me to be. I must accept that and do my best with the opportunity He’s provided.
  • I must not dismiss or cutoff those with whom I don’t measure up.
  • It’s ok to take care of my valid needs. I can’t change what other people think about me, make them like me, or force them to approve of me, but I can take care of the body, soul, and spirit God has entrusted to me. In doing so, I then become the best pastor and leader He has created me to be.

This old King James Version verse has encouraged me as I’ve faced the ‘measure up mentality.’

Psa. 62.5 My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him. 

In my third book, People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership, I deal extensively with how to manage this ‘measure up mentality’ as it relates to the temptation to people please.

How have you handled the ‘measure up mentality?’

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