By Tolly P. Salz
I’ll admit it: there are some days that I feel like the lousiest parent around. Not only do I have working mom’s guilt, but also I sometimes don’t make my kids dinner from scratch and sometimes do leave dirty dishes in the sink. I’m writing this after de-lousing the house, including my own hair. It’s not pretty. And while I know that not every meal has to be homemade nor does every dish need to be put up immediately (nor does every child bring home lice), I sometimes secretly use these “must be done’s” as measures of successful parenting.
Sometimes I think that if I served better meals and kept a tidier house, it might mean that I’ve really got things under control here at home. That somehow, these deeds alone would produce better behaved children. I earnestly pray that people who come over don’t get around to looking in my pantry (yes, I have a hidden candy stash) or hall closets (yes, I have a pile of junk mail and other assorted papers from circa 1994 nicely collecting dust in there as well). But I wonder, do these “faults” really make me a bad parent?
Searching for an answer, I did what all high school students do: I “googled” it. Who knew that googling “parenting books” would yield 74, 400, 000 results? By the time I exhausted that search, my kids would be grown. And I don’t really have all that time and energy. My kids need me.
I could run to the bookshelf and pull tomes from Dr. Benjamin Spock or the famous Parenting with Love and Logic series (confession: I am a complete and utter failure—I’ve got a lot of love but come up short on the logic end). Or, I could make myself feel better (or worse, perchance?) with a quick perusal of Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.
Honestly, though, some days my kids are more wolf than tiger (though think wolf cub; we’ve got that “pack” thing going on here with three boys who sometimes prefer the “outdoor pee”—and if you want to know the truth, I’m okay with that because it means the bathroom will be much cleaner when I need to use it). And with this confession, I can hear echoes of “The Horror! The Horror!”
But my life isn’t a Conrad novel. Nor is it a Battle Hymn. It hardly even qualifies as a song. Not even a jingle. But you know what? This life is mine. And I’ve got three awesome kids to raise—and one lifetime to do it in. So how can I keep sane while raising children who, someday, will be men of character who walk proudly—with wisdom, grace, and compassion—in this world?
I may not have all the answers, but parent Brad McCoy comes closest to “getting it right,” more so than any other author I’ve read (aside from Wendy Mogel in her parenting treatise The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, which takes a close second to McCoy’s words of wisdom).
Thanks to parents Scott and Alexis Wagoner and other ABPA, HPA, and UPPA families, I had the opportunity to hear Brad McCoy—parent, teacher, and coach—speak last Wednesday evening. It was amazing: no tricks, no gimmicks, no changing who you are; just the basics of good parenting. Just a gentle reminder—as well as a much-desired “permission slip”—to be the best parent you can be, as long as you’re being intentional with your parenting.
If we are to “prepare the child for the path and not the path for the child,” we must be intentional with how we parent our children, McCoy argued in his presentation that was both humorous and wise. While I don’t want to ruin his next talk by spoiling the jokes (loved the one about the “mother’s intuition”) and side stories (Colt’s bull riding, for example), I will instead briefly highlight the main points of his talk.
- “Prepare the child for the path and not the path for the child.” McCoy emphasizes the importance of raising your kids to be prepared for anything life brings their way. We can’t orchestrate how things are going to work in the “real world,” but we can ensure that we equip our children with the strength and courage to be successful in any situation. When parents demand that their child (along with the 10 best football players) start in the football game—and that the team win all of its games—the parent is setting the child up for failure, either now or in the long run. We cannot predict the future for our children, but we can teach them how to cope with failure and disappointment.
What greater evidence than Colt McCoy’s response during and after the National Championship Game, when Texas lost in the Rose Bowl to Alabama. The McCoys had prepared their son so well for “rocks” in the path, that when he had leave the game, injured, he came back out to support his team, remained positive, and went on to play in the NFL. He and his family didn’t blame others for the setback, and nothing the McCoys could do at that time could fix his situation; they could not change the path for their child. Rather, they had to trust that all they had taught Colt over the years would help him on his path. As an avid Texas fan (and admirer of the Tide), I’d say to all of the McCoys, “Job well done.”
- “Be intentional.” Yet preparing the child for the road doesn’t happen on its own. As parents, we must be intentional about what we teach our children if we wish for them to succeed. What do we value? What do we wish to instill in our children? We must prioritize our values and set out to teach them—with intention—to our children. If we want our children to be successful on the path, we must be intentional in teaching them along the way.
- Be aware of what you are modeling. As we prioritize what we wish our kids to know, we have to take a careful inventory of ourselves. How do we spend our time? How do we spend our money? Our children are watching what we spend our time and money on, and they will follow in our footsteps. So are we setting an example of what we want for our children to become? Of what habits we hope they develop? He reminds us that the gap between more and enough never closes, and focusing our priorities solely on acquiring things can aid in fostering entitlement in our children. How we spend our time and what we teach our children, McCoy argues, says a great deal about the kind of people we are.
We must be intentional with our priorities, and that means bringing a sense of balance into play. Too many priorities are not good for anyone and can result in family members being confused and overwhelmed. However, if we are intentional with our priorities and are modeling good choices, we are showing our children what it takes to be successful on the path, regardless of obstacles in the way—obstacles that are out of our control.
- Set—and communicate—your values.Just as we should be intentional in modeling our beliefs for our children, so too should we communicate our values on a regular basis. For years, McCoy has told each of his sons on a daily basis: “Do your best and be a leader.” He never told kids to be the best; rather, he told them to DO their best and to BE a leader. For the McCoy family, being a leader has meant being intentionally selfless, recognizing the strengths of others around them. Colt knew that he wouldn’t lead the Horns to a National Title without his teammates, and his actions on the field echoed his beliefs. Our children should know what we believe not only by what we do but also by what we say to them on a daily basis. And on that day in January, Colt did his best and proved that he was a leader, standing on the sidelines, helping his teammates in the only ways he could.
- “Suck it up.” McCoy told a great story about one of his children, who, being rushed while eating a bowl of soup, responded to his dad’s “Suck it up!” with a teary, “I’m tired of sucking it up.” But there are days when parents and children do have to “suck it up.” We’ve got to suck it up as parents. While it hurts sometimes, we can’t rescue our kids—or ourselves—from everything. We must remember that there won’t be a trophy for everyone at the end of a championship game. There are times when our team loses. We have the opportunity to raise our children to be prepared for the rocks in the path. And if we are being intentional in our parenting—if we are “sucking it up” when times get tough—then our children will benefit.
Brad McCoy also encouraged parents to Know the difference between being hurt and being injured. He notes that there is a difference between hurt and injured. You can’t keep a child from hurt, but you can keep a child from injury by being proactive with intentional parenting. McCoy also stated that Good parents leave scars. We have scars from when we were being raised. Our kids have scars, too; and that’s okay. Intentional parents leave scars. McCoy assured us that someday, our kids will thank us for the times they left scars to keep us from real injury. To illustrate his point, McCoy recounted a touching story (from the Orlando Journal) about boy whose father rescued him from an alligator attack. I won’t spoil the story, but it was one that brought tears to many in the room.
What McCoy is suggesting is that there are times that we have to “suck it up” and let our kids hurt, for sometimes, the “healthy hurt” provides for growth that is necessary to prepare kids for the path. He is not advocating abuse of any sort; rather, he’s suggesting that we don’t try to jump in and solve our kids’ problems for them every step of the way. We have to trust that we’ve given them the tools—that we’ve communicated and modeled our values for them—and that they will grow in wonderful ways because of their experiences. They will be prepared for whatever life brings their way.
- Tell your kids that you love them. It’s really that simple: tell your kids you love them; get in the habit now, he argues, noting especially that dads need to tell their sons often that they love them.
He notes that parents need to work together to be intentional parents, while also drawing heavily on faith as a guide for teaching and values. His talk especially hit home when he discussed four different stages of parenting, what he calls the Four “C’s” of parenting.
- Birth-8: Caregiver stage. Children rely on us for everything during this stage: diapering, feeding, comforting, etc. They depend on us to meet their needs.
- 8-14: Coach stage. We become the “guy with the whistle” during activities. We take on a mentor role, and our kids still respect us as parents. They think we are smart; they believe (and believe in) us.
- 14-21: Cop stage. At this stage, your role as a parent is to “police” activities; you lead interrogations rather than engage in intimate talks. Your children think you’re stupid, and they resent the “stupid” rules you put in place and enforce. McCoy emphasizes that being intentional in the previous two stages helps with this stage.
- 21-on: Consultant. At this point in your child’s life, he or she has left home (we hope). As a “consultant,” your goal is to be used so that the relationship is not over. Your child will look to you for advice and guidance while remaining his or her own person, whom you’ve helped guide over the years. Again, McCoy states that if we have been intentional in the other stages, our relationship with our children is there, and they will use us as consultants.
The cycle continues, of course, as we, then, become caregivers to our parents. He asked us this question: How are we preparing our children to be our caregivers? Makes many of us pause for a moment, doesn’t it?
McCoy ended the evening by stating simply, “Life is wonderful. Have a plan and be intentional. Get involved. Prepare the child for where you want him to go.”
And that’s all we can do, really: Be involved. Be intentional. Suck it up. Love our kids. In this “me-me-me” society, in this “it’s-not-my-fault” world, we’ve got to do a better job as parents. And short of nightly home-cooking or a weekly purging of the closets, that’s just what I intend to do—lice or no lice.
See? I’m sucking it up already.