Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Independence Run Amok

My wife and I have officially been rendered useless, according to my eldest, Caylah.

It's surprising, really. I mean, she's only two, and, contrary to her own belief, cannot, in fact, drive our SUV. Nevertheless, the terrible twos have brought along a phrase that you'd think, according to the frequency with which she uses it, is as important to her as breathing.

"No, me"

Caylah, can Daddy help you with your shoes? No, me.
Caylah, do you want Mommy to buckle you into your car seat? No, me.
Caylah, how about Daddy lifts you out of this basket of poisonous rattlesnakes? No, me.

People who know much more about child development than I do will tell you (at least they've told me) that Caylah is at that age where she's beginning to figure out her individuality. Kids at her age are realizing that they have an opinion that could be different from Mommy and Daddy and are exercising their right to choose. So even though I know that emptying the dishwasher will take her for-EEEHHH-veerrr (hello, "Sandlot"), as she has to hand me




it's supposed to be important for me and Christina not to squelch that independence, but instead to encourage her to try things on her own.

And while I get that on one level, I've noticed there's a very thin line between independence and rebellion. While there are instances where Caylah truly wants to see if she can accomplish something on her own (like the girl is really lacking in self-confidence with yours truly already wrapped around her finger!), there are numerous times where the "No, me," seems to be coming from a place of pure obstinance. She's refusing moreso because she can than anything else.

But before I get too conflicted between dealing with her stubbornness and the fact that she's absolutely adorable (which she's already learned to use to her advantage), I can't help but think that this is nothing more than a ramification of the Fall. That original rebellion that Adam and Eve had against God laid the foundation for the reality of Caylah refusing to stay in her Time Out chair. Additionally, it laid the foundation for the blatant disobedience I have toward the Lord.

Chris, how about you give Me the worry that's consuming you right now? No, me.
Chris, can I help you figure out what your next step should be from here? No, me.
Chris, why don't you let Me be the focus of your marriage? No, me.

And just like we do with Caylah when she's blatantly disobeying, I can totally see times where the Lord has put me in Time Out. He did it to the Israelites, for 40 years, in fact (hmmm...I think I'll store that little tidbit away for when Caylah gets upset with me for grounding her for a week). There are times when my disobedience can only be dealt with by giving me time to "think about what I've done." But if I'm using that time wisely, I come out with a greater intimacy with the Lord, as I've come closer to understanding how much He loves me and how my disobedience was damaging that intimacy. Unfortunately, my memory resembles my two-year-old more often than I'd like to admit, as lessons are having to be repeated by my Abba over and over (and, yes, over) again. But I know that it's always done because He loves me, and the discipline is to draw me back to Him.

 Maybe THAT'S why Caylah always gives me that cutesy smile when I go and get her from Time Out...

How do you go about affirming independence, yet keeping that rebellion in check?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Being a "Successful" Dad

A couple of days ago I posted this article that spoke to the importance of fathers engaging in the lives of their children from the very beginning. First of all, props to the University of Oxford for focusing on fathers in the first place. I hope more researchers follow their lead in order to shed more light on the importance of the role of the fathers in helping to form a healthy child.

What got me is the finding that fathers can have a negative impact even if they are physically present - I can be home every afternoon, every weekend, but if I fail to engage with my children, it's as if I'm not even there. That's one thing when we're talking about Caylah, who's just over two and is tough to miss as she's dancing around to songs from "Tangled." Those constant cups of tea from her singing teapot, though imaginary, are an irresistible invitation to join with her, regardless of what's on the television and how tough work was that day.

Three MONTHS old is a different story. When Caden is has been crying for the past 30 minutes, I'm completely clueless as to how to fix it. He doesn't engage, so how can I? The boy eats, sleeps, and poops, and while I can be an expert diaper-changer, it's tough to feel as if I'm making much of a difference. And it's challenging for us as men to make an investment in something if we don't get that immediate feedback. Not a chance an eight-week old is going to thank me and give me props for the slick way I got that clean diaper on him before he had a chance to spray me.

And let's not even get into the different dynamics of a marriage when a baby enters the picture. While the wife (especially if she nurses) is often the main care-giver, the husband can easily feel like he's been reduced to the role of spectator, both as a father AND a husband. And I don't know many guys who appreciate being a spectator, unless it's along the first base or 50-yard line.

All of this puts us guys in a difficult...conundrum. The time that is most crucial for us dads to engage with our kids is the toughest time for us to feel as if we can, at least successfully.

You know, God's funny sometimes - the timing He uses. Two nights ago, as I'm in the middle of writing this very post, my wife asked me to hold Caden so he could fall asleep (this story fits, I promise). So I walked him around until he was solidly in dreamland...at least I thought he was. As soon as I put him down to sleep, his eyes got all wide as if the two-second catnap suited him just fine, and now it was time to be awake again. I can't even tell you how many other methods I tried to get him down, and it was just not working. Eventually, my wife took him back again to feed him. Extremely frustrated, I handed my one-month old son to her, commenting, "Well, THAT was a waste of time." The way I saw it, I had failed at my task, which was to get him to fall asleep. I had been given a job to do and I didn't/couldn't do it. I had just spent 45 minutes doing, in my eyes, absolutely nothing, and was so aggravated.

What my wife reminded me, however, was that I had just spent 45 minutes holding my son. For the better part of the previous hour, I had just engaged with my newborn. What to me was a very unsuccessful, failed task, was, in fact, what that article is begging fathers to do. I was successful after all.

So I wonder if we dads need to redefine what we mean by success. When our kids are that young, the times when we'll know for sure if we're doing it "right" are few and far between. Engage anyway. Hold them anyway. Even if we don't know why they're crying, or fidgety, or don't seem to be growing or changing. The idea of "measurables" is not something we can, or even should, put on our infant children, as tempting as that might be. I have to choose to trust that what I'm doing is making a difference in the life of my child. To trust that I will be able to reap the benefits at some point. That my effort is not in vain.

But, just this once, can't he fall asleep anyway?

What does being "successful" with your kids look like in your context?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Article on Investing Early

Don't know if you guys have read this, but I came across this article over the weekend (it was also highlighted on "The Today Show" last week. Don't judge...my wife told me about it) that speaks to the importance of fathers interacting with their kids during the first THREE MONTHS of life. The effects of this last much longer than I ever expected. I'll have more to say about this later on this week, but I wanted to go ahead and put this up now to start some discussion.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

What's in a Name?

Up to this point, my posts have all been pretty reflective and vulnerable. I believe that vulnerability is a positive attribute, and have really appreciated how many of you have mentioned that you gain a great deal from such entries.

This, however, will not be such a post.

Zero depth and even less heart-wrenching tales and insight.

I just want names - names of grandparents, actually. Who picked the names that your kids would call your parents, and how did you decide what they would be? Did you have a name all picked out, only to have your son or daughter come up with something on their own?

And, most importantly (not because it has any direct bearing on my own situation, of course), what do you do if parents want to be called the same thing?

Would love to hear your stories!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Taking It to the Next Level

Something clicked the other night.

Caden had had a rough night. The schedule we had him on (well, sort of), wasn't happening, and, as newborns are wont to do, he was crying and we couldn't figure out why. So I was holding him close in a feeble attempt to calm him down, and he gave me "the look." Dads, you know this look. It's the one where they stare deeply into your soul, so deeply that it catches you off-guard, mostly because it comes from an infant who can barely focus on anything else.

It was during this non-verbal exchange that it hit me. I am his father. He is my son. And as such, I have a responsibility to raise him up in the way of the Lord and teach him how to be a man. And regardless of how great a community he grows up in, and how much his mother - my amazing wife - loves him, God has given me that responsibility more than anyone else. Most of my past decade of discipling college guys has been spent helping them answer those questions of manhood that their father should have answered for them but didn't. For whatever reason, their respective dads shirked that responsibility. For some reason or another, they bailed. And whether those fathers felt like they had a good reason for their actions, their sons were left doubting their ability to hack it.

I don't want my son to need a...me...in 20 years. I want him to know that he is a man. That he can hack it. I want him to be sure he knows how to love a woman, how to treat people, and how to follow God. And I don't want anyone else to have to pick up my slack in those lessons.

So as my newborn son is staring at me with deep blue eyes, taking me in, and his little three week old synapses are beginning to fire, making the connection of my face to "daddy," all of this is going through my head. And, granted, Caden's lucky just to be able to pick his head up, but it's definitely not too early to start thinking about these things, how to begin to help him become the man that God is calling him to be.

I just hope that man begins to sleep better soon...

For those of you with sons, what is the most important thing you can teach him on that journey to become the man that God is calling him to be, tangible or otherwise?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Guest Post on 3n1Men

Matt Snyder at 3n1Men has been gracious enough to let me guest post on his blog today. Matt worked at Adventures in Missions, and participated in the World Race, and it was there the Lord awoke in him a desire to launch a full-out attack on human trafficking, specifically finding ways to inspire other men to get involved in the fight. So check out my post on holding men accountable, but then take a wander around the site and see what the Lord lights up in you!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Keeping Up With the Joneses

Our neighbors came over a few days ago to meet Caden. Even though they live across the street from us, we don't see them all that often, so I had lost track of how well their oldest, who is a month younger than Caylah, is talking. And when I say, "well," I don't just mean that he's stringing together a few words at a time. By "well," I mean that this kid's vocabulary would put Webster to shame. He's using words that would stump middle schoolers at Scripps in DC.

Meanwhile, Caylah's conversational techniques are somewhat less advanced. I mean, when she says, "Mama. Baby. Up." with her arms outstretched, she sure looks cute, but I still need to translate whenever someone else is around so that they know what she's talking about.

And let's not even get into the tantrums. Oh, man, the tantrums. And of course they're at the most inopportune times. And of course everyone else's child is a perfect angel during those times when my daughter decides to channel Satan. It's all we can do to remove her from a situation before Hurricane Caylah wreaks havoc on everything around us. So as we slink out of a restaurant we can feel everyone's eyes on us wondering what kind of horrible parents we are that we would birth a child like that, who will obviously be in and out of juvies at 13.

The truth is that most parents are more than forgiving about things like that, because logic tells me that their kids have their moments as well. And while my wife and I wonder if boy genius' parents go home and talk about how my daughter couldn't find a coherent sentence with a nav system, reason does eventually prevail and brings us back to reality.

Still, the temptation to continually measure our kids against others is huge. "Why can't she walk sooner?" and "Did you see how much hair that kid had at two months?" are questions that make child-rearing more about competition than raising your child to be the man or woman that God is calling him or her to be. And I'm sure it won't stop. As Caylah grows up, we'll be wondering how her classmates did on their grades, why her teammates can kick a soccer ball with more accuracy, and even how her best friend's parents could afford to take that particular exotic vacation. Keeping perspective seems much tougher at times than keeping up with the Joneses.

What I have to keep coming back to, however (is my personal back and forth coming through clearly enough??), is that Caylah, Caden, and any other kids we eventually have, are going to grow and progress at their own pace. And unless we're raising the next Missy Franklin or Albert Einstein, there will always be someone else higher, quicker, smarter that we can negatively compare our kids to. But if we're raising them in a way that glorifies the Lord, we have to trust Him to do the rest, in His own time.

But, seriously, is "anachronism" that tough of a word for a two-year old??

How do you guys find it helpful to keep from that comparison game?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The "R" Word

I thought we'd be able to escape it. I knew it happened to other families, other children. But I thought we'd be OK. Caylah was so excited for Caden's arrival. After a week with him, however, things began to change. We began to experience the dreaded "R" word.


All of a sudden, the sippy cup was ditched for a bottle. Caden's changing table downstairs was a desirous place for Caylah to be. And a girl who never used a blankie was now attached to her baby brother's. My personal favorite was her climbing into the Pack 'n' Play that was sized for her own baby doll.

It's classic, I guess. She looks at this new intrusion on all of her attention, and decides that she needs to do the same things that he's doing in order to gain her rightful status as queen of the household again.

So far, our statements of "Oh, Caylah, that's for babies," and, "Don't you want to be a big girl" have been patently ignored. She seems intent on acting in ways that we thought she'd outgrown.

All of this seems absurd, until I remember that my journey as a dad isn't without some regressions of my own. I still choose to veg in front of the TV and not to engage with my family at times, even though I know that I'm supposed to have outgrown that. I still spend time worrying we'll never get through the "up all night" phase, even though that was an old worry we had with Caylah, too, and that phase passed quickly. And I still wonder if we can make it all work financially, even though God has shown me time and time again that He is going to take care of us.

Regression is a natural part of progression, it seems. Every once in a while the step back happens, whether it's after two, three or ten steps forward. As long as the overall movement is forward, then I'm still going to be headed in the right direction.

Now if I can just get Caylah out of that darn Pack 'n' Play...

What classic ways have your kids shown signs of regression?
How have you kept from regressing in your own journey as a dad?