Pay To Play

Parenting, the first and last great leadership opportunity. Without any research, I am positive that there are a million blogs dedicated to the subject, probably many many more millions of memes, tweets and Facebook updates. Cute. Life experience though teaches me that most parents are just trying to survive the experience. So to protect the innocent, let’s assume that this blog is NOT about my children.

Ok, dammit, it kinda is…

“Hey boys, feel free to not read any further. Or go ahead and do, it’s your call, cause you were there for our life and leadership convo, so here’s my recap.”
The other night, after a few weeks of my boys getting off track with some selective behaviors and expectations, I felt like it was time to re-group. We’ve all been there as parents… right?! We’ve all had those moments when we can sense our kids are getting derailed, then scratch our heads and wonder, “how exactly is it that my children can’t seem to get in line with such basics like doing their homework on their own, completing some chores on their own or even taking a shower on their own. By on their own, yes, I am implying that I don’t believe I should be needed on a daily level at their ages (11, 13, 15) to act as their constant chaperone and resident craggy old nag in order to stay the course on things that they have been taught since birth (OK, since the age of 6, since technically I didn’t have a lot of teaching for them at the ages of 2 and 3 years old when it came to homework, chores and the like).

First it began with a little group project. I have installed a nifty and quite sizable boardroom-styled whiteboard in my kitchen/dinning room area. (Why? That’s for another blog.) In the center I drew a hand little sketch of our house, the 4 of us men and our dog Chuck. I then made five sections with the following titles and gave them a basic description of each (verbally):
Responsibilities – Things that you “own” and should be taking care of on your own.
Expectations – The quality and standards you have been taught.
Dreams – For your life; Where do you want to go and what do you want to accomplish?
The Basics – What I am legally required to provide for you as my children.
Extras – Anything you have or get to do because you are my children, because I love you and I want awesomeness for you.

You see, I don’t actually enjoy being an ogre or an ass, neither as a parent or as a human being. To my core, I try my best to be a teacher. I love teaching. I hate “enforcing”. When someone is struggling in their job or in their life, I tend to lean heavily towards “maybe what that person needs is a bit of coaching, perspective and encouragement”. I mean really, who as a parent enjoys being the bad guy, the enforcer, the grounder and the police? None of us. And I for one certainly didn’t want to slip into this pitiful while I was feeling a bit like each one of my kids needed a “tune up”. So, I rounded up some grub, pulled up 4 bar top stools to the kitchen counter and began our “manhood” session. With each category I gave an example of what I meant. “Do your homework” under Responsibilities. “Get A’s & B’s” under Expectations. “Go to college” in the dream section. “Electronics” within the Extras category. And of course, “Food” being a Basic. From there, I encouraged them ontheir way to getting markers for the board and to begin filling in the categories. I instructed the boys to jointly list 5-10 items in each section and then to come find me when they were done.

After about 10 minutes of brotherly bonding they announced proudly that they thought they were done. To my wild dismay they were in fact very done with the first leg of the the evening’s program. “Wow” actually escaped my mouth. I was slightly impressed both with them and in myself as a teacher / father up to this point in their finite lives. They had retained what I had been teaching! What ensued next was one of a handful of utterly fulfilling times as a parent I have ever experienced. Surprising right? To me it was.

For the next one and a half hours we talked our way through life, the categories on the whiteboard and my goals as a parent. Ethan titled our talk on the board as “Pay to Play” cause he has come to understand the best things in life don’t come without putting in a lot of hard work most easily expressed by all of bruises and injuries he pays into becoming a very, very good skateboarder .
The best lessons should be able to be reduced to a memorable core. My parenting goals are really simple. I am aiming for my boys to be independent men who love God. That’s it. Everything I am aiming for as a dad can be reduced to those two simple axioms. To state that is easy. To explain that is wordy. To teach that is a labor of love. To achieve it will be success. We darted through all of their bullet points on the board bouncing from one category to another. Within each idea I shared personal stories and experiences about my ‘growing up’ years and what things each one of us as parents labors in love over with during our short tenures as their live-in guides.

My sons listened intently as I cast a vision for what it means to be ready to be a man by the time they are 18 years old. I shared with them why I am not planning to pay for college (no, it’s not cause I can’t afford to). I conveyed exactly what it was like to personally live life without a lot of extras or to know only a couch in the living room as your bed for 3 years of high school. They hadn’t known that their grandpa had died while their 2 aunts were still high school age, nor had they known how hard that was for them and their grandma and what lessons we all had learned from that period of life. We talked and talked some more, and they listened to hear what I derived from having a job since I was 14 and what personal determination it took to go to school, provide for myself and to now be at a place where I love providing for them.  You see, my sons lacked some adult context, but they already had all of the required information and learning. What they were missing wasn’t information, but possibly some motivation and inspiration moving them towards determination.

It’s been said that our roles as biological creators of life moves from caretaker towards trusted adviser. Children are an eternal gift but they are also a temporary assignment. These bipeds will always be my sons, but they won’t always be responsibility. That baton of personal responsibility and life leadership has to be passed. And so the passing of that baton continues. I further reduced our items on the board as we discussed life and their paths ahead.

From one parent to another, it pains and also challenges me that not enough of us keep our sights squarely focused on our roles as developers of thriving adults. Sure, we busy ourselves with carpooling, sporting attendance, lazy evenings around the TV with the kids nearby, but often we neglect intentionality. We sell short our opportunities to coach. We shy away from letting our offspring lose with principals in hand to explore the world, instead creating artificial bubbles of safety. School becomes both a professional babysitter and an endless tyrannical pursuit of “A’s” on papers that are utterly worthless to infantile adults who never graduated into manhood or womanhood. So press on! Turn off the radio, the iPod, the TV and engage. Time is short. Do yourself, your kids and all of us a favor and continue to take on the challenge of parenting. Don’t assume your DNA is enough to carry them on and out of your house to being thriving participants in society. Let’s all challenge one another to be intentional, sharing our best moments and picking each other up in our worst.