An Open Letter to Moms and Dads
Updated: Jan 17, 2020
When did parents become the bad guys?
Am I the only one who's having a hard time understanding why parenthood gets such a bad rap these days? Maybe that's why men and women are waiting until later and later to get married only to have fewer and fewer children (and sometimes none at all)?
Ironically, we honor people who play parents in film and on TV with fame, fortune, and nationally-televised red-carpet award shows, while actual parents are rewarded with...with...what? Obviously, people don't become Moms and Dads for the trophy, but shouldn't they at least get some form of recognition? Nothing grand perhaps, but something?
Like when you're driving and slow down to allow another driver to merge into your lane…they wave to acknowledge your gesture.
Or, like when you're standing in line at the store with a cart full of groceries and you allow someone with a few items to go ahead of you…they gratefully thank you for the gesture.
Simple acknowledgments for common everyday courtesies.
But what about for parenting? Isn't parenting a bigger deal than letting someone into your lane on the freeway or allowing them to go ahead of you at the checkout counter? Being a parent may be the toughest job you’ll ever love...but, day by day, year by year, the unseen sacrifices of Moms and Dads often go unnoticed and unacknowledged.
In fact, if parents are mentioned at all, it's usually as the punchline of a joke. You'd be forgiven for thinking that the nuclear family in America has been completely "Homer Simpsonized."
Sadly, it is far more common for Moms and Dads to be smacked with the sledgehammer of criticism than be acknowledged as the crucial cornerstone of a healthy society. (If that sounds overstated, read Edward Gibbon’s seminal work, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which documents the breakdown of the family unit and how that ultimately brought down Rome).
In fact, movies, television, and cable shows seem to revel in mocking the family and have even created a rather predictable template for their satire. See if this looks familiar…
…The dad (assuming he’s not a deadbeat, unemployed, abusive alcoholic who abandoned the family) is usually a bumbling doofus whose only value seems to be his paycheck.
…The mom is an accomplished professional whose frenetic ability to multi-task would make an octopus jealous.
…The children are snarky sages who effortlessly outsmart Mom and Dad and are always ten steps ahead of their bewildered parents.
It’s one thing to be able to laugh at yourself, it is quite another to make a complete mockery of something. And if that something is mocked often enough, it eventually becomes marginalized as an object of contempt.
The unfortunate truth is, we don’t usually acknowledge our parents until much later. My dad was a complete idiot…until sometime after my 25th birthday when he "transformed" into an absolute genius.
Growing up, I had a difficult relationship with him (I’ll just leave it there for now). God + experience + time helped me realize that my dad did the very best he could with what he knew. I also discovered that the problem was not with his effort, it was with what he didn’t know…and you don’t know what you don’t know.
When I was younger, hatred and resentment blinded me to the truly exemplary qualities my dad possessed, and to the wisdom he attempted to impart. Over the years, as I unpacked more of his life, I came to understand that he was truly the strongest man I had ever known. To this day, his courage in overcoming the challenges of his life leave me with a mixture of wonder and admiration.
Of course, the modern view of parenting would all be rather overwhelming (and more than a little depressing), unless there were more to the story. So, let me spare you the suspense, there is more…much MORE.
As a naturally a hype-free person, I’m just going to be really honest here…this advice will likely underwhelm you. Not because the advice is bad...it's actually quite valuable. It is just...so...simple. So, with that "exciting" introduction, here it is.
After spending more than thirty years of my life working with kids, if there is a single suggestion I wish parents would take, it is this: the key to the heart of your child is authentic integrity (underwhelmed yet?). You might think that sounds very profound, or very cliché, or maybe profoundly cliché, but please hear me out.
Thirty years of experience has taught me that kids DON'T expect perfection. They do not expect you to always know, say, or do the right thing. But the trade-off for not having to be perfect...is that they expect you to be real.
Nothing turns a child’s heart against you more deeply than pretending to be something you’re not (and they all possess a finely tuned BS meter). Just "do you" and your kids will LOVE you for it. Trust me. In fact, hypocrisy may be the only "unforgivable sin" of parenting. Reading these words should be an ice-cold-glass-of-water-on-a-hot-summer-day relief for you. Did you catch that?
Please hear me Moms and Dads: you don’t have to be parenting gurus who maintain a zen-like posture of inner peace while dropping pearls of wisdom upon your children. The uncomplicated truth is that you just have to be yourself. Remember that you are awesome...but you make a lousy someone else.
Here is where the ["but"] comes in (isn't there always a but?). BUT to truly have authentic integrity with your children, you must completely buy into the OYS System. Which means…
Own. Your. Stuff. To experience optimum success with this system, parents must (1) admit their mistakes, (2) apologize to their children, and (3) mean it. Like all true things, this system is very simple…but NOT easy.
The good news is that kids are unbelievably forgiving.
I discovered this during my first year of teaching high school history. After my class had finished their tests and were sitting quietly at their desks, I wanted to get a jump on grading, so I started looking for the answer key. I looked everywhere but couldn’t find it. Three times.
Finally, it occurred to me that one of my students must have stolen the answer key…and I was furious. For the next five minutes I lit into them about their lack of integrity and character. Then, reaching into the podium where I kept my tea (I needed to soothe my throat for the next round of scolding) I saw…underneath...my tea mug...was...the answer key.
I sheepishly looked up at my students, steeled my resolve, and spent the next five minutes profusely apologizing and begging for their forgiveness. They were incredibly gracious, and we ended up having an absolutely amazing year together.
Over the years, my students often opened up and complained to me about their other teachers. One of the saddest common denominators was that those teachers never admitted their mistakes. And in hearing those same teachers complain about these same students, I realized that my students were making them pay for their hypocrisy…every day in the classroom.
As C. S. Lewis wisely noted, "You can't go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending."
The OYS System works, and wherever you are in the parenting journey, you can start using it right now.
Please remember that you are among the courageous few who have chosen to embrace the toughest job you'll ever love…parenting. Considering the multitude of forces that daily come against you, every choice to engage with your children is an act of heroism.
Though these daily sacrifices may often go unnoticed and unappreciated, never forget that even if no one else sees what you are doing, God does…and He loves you for it.
And I truly believe, that if you lean in and listen closely enough, you will hear the applause of Heaven echoing in your heart.
You. Are. Awesome. I just thought someone ought to tell you that.