Parenting – A War of Attrition…

Beth and I decided on something before we got children. We didn’t verbally have this discussion, but it was at the root of most of our conversations. It is a paradigm that has far reaching implications for our style of parenting. Are you ready for it? Here it comes. Prepare to have your mind blown:

We win.

That’s right. If two words are too simple for you, I can expound on that: We win all the time.

One of my favorite quotes from “Crimson Tide” is when Gene Hackman declares to his submarine crew, “We are here to preserve democracy, gentleman, not practice it.” This is how our house runs.

What are we winning? We are winning what I will call “will equity.” The simple truth is that parenting is a war of attrition. The thing that atrophies is will. Every day, there are a thousand little battles between our will and our kids’ will.

“I don’t want to clean my room.” “I don’t want water; I want soda.” “I don’t want to go to bed.” “I don’t want to eat broccoli.” “I don’t need to pee right now.”

As parents, we are not just players in this war, we are also the referees. If we wave the white flag, not only do they win the battle, they also sub-conscientiously note that we have, as referees, silently given permission to challenge us more at the next battle. They gain more “will equity” when we decide that “it’s not worth it” or it “isn’t the hill we want to die on”, and we let them watch a cartoon after sixty no’s and one yes. Not only do we loose the battle, we lose something that is far more valuable in the role of parenting (and life in general): integrity. Our word and our actions no longer line up.

I don’t want to cheapen the role of parenting, but this is the same principle that ranchers and farmers refer to when they “break a horse”. The animal has to learn that the owner’s will is so strong and so resolute, it no longer tries to buck, run, or do anything other than the master’s will even though it is the bigger, more powerful beast.

I realize that a year’s worth of parenting hardly makes me qualified to give parenting advice, but I have taught sophomores for 5 years and seniors for 1 year at church. In that role, I’ve been able to witness the war of attrition as it is drawing to a close in about 75 kids. Once kids get to be about 16 or 17, the war of attrition has been fought for so long, it is pretty one-sided. Either the parent or the child has nearly accepted the other’s will such that, there is little to no contest. If parents are winning, the kid rarely protests, he/she listens to their parents, and he/she can usually be trusted to follow instructions with little supervision. If the kid is winning, he/she is usually driving in a nicer car than their parents, he/she does whatever they want, whenever they want, and he/she has no problems being down-right foul when they speak to parents or adults in general.

The point is, as parents, we can fight these battles now, or we can fight them later with hefty interest. Sadly, I see some parents decide not to fight altogether.

One of the biggest issues we faced as adoptive parents is a 6 year-old that challenged our resolve when we first met. All five of our kids challenged us, but he was the worst. I have no idea how much will equity he had garnered between his original house, his foster home, or the orphanage, but he quickly tested us. The first week was miserable. We go back and read the first few days in August, 2012 in this blog, and we quickly recall how miserable it was. We fought battles almost every minute. Even though we were winning these battles, we silently would cringe when we asked him to do something or corrected him. However, we stayed consistent, we were clear with our expectations for him, and there were very real consequences when he did not follow instructions or protested in any way. Let me caveat this by saying we always validated feelings and told him that it was OK to be upset, but we also reminded him that frustration or sadness would not change the situation and were never excuses for being disrespectful or acting poorly.

In the ebbs and flows of everyday life, we don’t really notice it, but as the blog reminds us, this wild stallion has slowly transformed into a respectful young man. Don’t get me wrong, we are still a work in progress, but it is immensely better than it was! I have no problems telling him “no”, and the will equity is tipping in my favor so much that, 95% of the time, he doesn’t protest.

Here’s the thing – Right now, the battles are over stupid, inconsequential things like plain milk vs. chocolate milk or staying up an extra 15 minutes. If left unchecked, the battles 10 years later become having girlfriends over when we’re not home or taking the car keys after we’ve gone to bed.

Secondly, If they don’t learn to submit to their parents, they will never learn to submit to God and let Him be Lord of their lives (a truism that my mother-in-law shared with us in Bogota). We all have authority to submit to in life, even as adults – bosses, police men, wives (courtesy chuckle). It is best that they learn it now from us, and we can save them a lot of grief in adulthood when they are far less mold-able.

…and I’m going to be just perfectly honest: Kids can be stupid. They have no idea what’s best for themselves. One of my boys yesterday was playing in his room with nothing but a T-shirt on because he was hot! As a parent, we have approximately 20-plus more years of wisdom and experience than they do.

Lastly, challenging a kid and fighting these battles communicates love. It is tough love, but it is love all the same. Remember, the opposite of love is apathy, not hate. If we surrender, even on the little things, we tell that kid that we don’t care enough about them to fight. Giving in, in a sense, is giving up. I remind my kids all the time, if I didn’t love them, I wouldn’t care what they did or how they acted… but that’s usually in my “kiss and make up” speech after I’m finished winning!

That reminds me, all of this needs to be balanced and tempered with love. Discipline is an act of love, but we have to remember that God is both holy and loving when He deals with us. If we hammer on rules and never have that “kiss and make up” speech (or in more churchy words, “restoring the fellowship” – i.e. letting them know that things are cool, you love them, and there is no more weirdness between the two of you because of the conflict), this can breed resentment, and push a kid away.

I’m just concerned for the next generation, and that’s why I’m writing. I know (and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this), that my kids are one of the greatest gifts God has given me, and they are worth fighting for… and sometimes against!

At the dinnermesa,

Ty

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Pride and Prejudice…

Fair warning: This might fall outside the bounds of what is politically correct, but since offense is in the “ear of the be-hearer”, it may bother some, even though that is not my intention.

When I was in college, Texas A&M people drove me crazy! When the road diverged in a yellow wood at the end of high school, I took the one less traveled by, stayed home, went to UT Arlington, and earned my degree working part time. It wasn’t the fun choice, but I thought it was the wise decision given my circumstances. Every summer, my friends would come home, many of whom went to the Mecca of College Station, and would tell me all about their experiences. I was a good sport until a few implied I wasn’t going to “a real school, like A&M”. Fortunately, I have since worked and worshiped with a number of people who attended A&M that are of the highest caliber. They are proud of their school, but their pride stops at the point of putting me or others down. It is because of those individuals, I have softened my opinion of that institution.

While my college woes are over, I’m finding that there are those types of people in just about everything. Some other’s that drive me crazy…

Apple people – Whether they be pods, pads, or phones, your i-Things are cool. They are sexy looking. They run better than mine… I just don’t care that much. This computer I am using was bought from Walmart for $800, and does everything I need it to do.

Health people – You are Greek gods and goddesses. I can bounce a quarter off your nippies, and that’s pretty neat. You can run and not grow weary. I just want to be able to drink a Mountain Dew around you without getting a lecture on how I’m basically drinking gasoline mixed with baby seal fat.

Diatribe over… Begin story…

Being a white kid growing up in the 1980’s in the South, I considered myself a pretty open-minded fellow. I learned all about the struggles of the US, as it went through a Civil War in the 1860’s and a civil rights movement in the 1960’s. I also thought “Blazing Saddles” in the 1970’s did a lot to challenge our nation to reach across racial lines (Was that a racial joke?!?… pretend I didn’t say it!). I have to confess, in my early years, I was very confused as to why my country wanted to know if I’m black, brown, or white on most every form I filled out, and, at the same time, why I was told in school how much it didn’t matter.

I decided, early on, I would be racially apathetic (regardless of what the census form asks). I wouldn’t care. After all, that’s what judging someone on the content of their character, not the color of their skin, was all about, right? I also believed you gave power to the things that you constantly bring up… why do we always talk about race? If it doesn’t matter, why do we want to “raise awareness”? Again, apathy seemed to be the best road, and I felt that I was doing pretty good since one of my best friends in elementary school, Damien, was black. I had a hand-full of Mexicans in my classes at school, but even through I didn’t really hit it off with any of them, I didn’t really treat them any differently either. I had no idea that I would one day marry a Mexican… (well 1/4 Mexican. As she puts it, she is Mexican from the shoulders up). I also had no idea that I would be the father to a bunch of little Colombians. Yes. I am the only one in my house that doesn’t have any Latin blood.

As we went through the adoption, we were asked several times about how we would keep our children’s culture in their lives. The first few times, I did not know what to say. It flew in the face of my racial apathy. Why do I need to do that? As a family, I would have thought we would want to build unity, not focus on the things that make us different… Also, they were coming to the US. They should learn our culture and traditions.

While we were in Bogota visiting La Casa de la Madre y el Nino, the home our kids were at before we got them, we met a gentleman who was adopted out of the same home 30 years ago to a family in Belgium. After we got past the small talk about how much I loved their waffles, he said something very profound… “Being Colombian makes me no less Belgian, and being Belgian makes me no less Colombian.”

He gave himself permission to be proud, not just of the blood in his veins but of the country and culture that shaped him. It challenged my apathy. As we have raised our kids, they have taught me the same thing.

They love their home country. I never will forget how amazed they were to learn that Shakira is also Colombian. They pointed out that the Texas wild-flowers (blue-bonnets, Indian paintbrushes, and yellow tickseed) have the same colors as the Colombian flag. Any time another country is brought up in school, they immediately want to know how close to Colombia it is.

Colombian Pride... Our oldest put one of each type of wild-flower on the wagon for Colombia... before we got a chance to say it was illegal to pull them.

Colombian Pride… Our oldest put one of each type of wild-flower on the wagon for Colombia… before we got a chance to say it was illegal to pull them.

They love their new country. They love ice in drinks, ice cream, fireworks, swimming, baseball, barbecue, and cowboy boots. They all told me they want to be cowboys/cowgirls when they grow up. They recognize both the Texas flag and the US flag and point it out whenever we see one in front of a building. Any time another country is brought up in school, the second thing they want to know is how close it is to Texas.

This past week we celebrated the Fourth of July, our Independence Day. We watched fireworks, attended a parade, went swimming, and ate lots of hot dogs. We were proud to be Americans.

4th of July Parade in Midlothian... When did the throwing of candy become such an integral part of parades?

4th of July Parade in Midlothian… When did the throwing of candy become such an integral part of parades?

Pre-firework feast.

Pre-firework feast.

In two weeks we will celebrate the Twentieth of July, Colombia’s Independence Day. We will eat yellow, blue, and red cupcakes and sing songs in Spanish. (How do I remember so well? This date will forever be emblazoned in my mind because it is the day we drove to Houston to get our visas from the Colombian Consulate only to find out that they were closed for the holiday… chronicled in this blog).

It is OK to be proud. It is OK to celebrate who we are, and where we came from. It is OK to talk about it. After all, it is what defines us. I also think it is neat that pride is not mutually exclusive and my family can love and support two great countries.

However, we must never let our pride give way us to prejudice… putting others down simply because of the difference.

And, on that note, I’m going to have a Mountain Dew and stare at my UT Arlington diplomas!

At the dinnermesa,

Ty

Back to where it all started…

To anyone that has been following our little story, you know that a mission trip to Peru in June of 2011 changed my life and was the catalyst to our adoption. There were other events in our lives that God was using to nudge us in the direction of adoption, but after Peru, we went from “thinking about it” to “doing it”.

Well, I got an opportunity to go back to Peru with my church last month, and I couldn’t say no. Not only was I excited to see what God might do this time, one of the amazing byproducts of our adoption journey is becoming quasi-bilingual, and I couldn’t let that blessing go to waste!

When I returned, a lot of people, including my pastor, asked if God told me to bring home some more South American kids. He did not, but He did do a work my kids’ lives… and my life too.

While I was in Peru, our mission team got to share the gospel with about 1,000 kids. Each day, we would drive to a new neighborhood, invite everyone to the local park, share the gospel with singing, a drama, and a testimony, and then we would play games with the kids and adults afterwards. We were fortunate to see a number of people trust Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, and I led my first Sunday School lesson in Spanish!

Our group. This is the dream team of mission groups - Jordan, Bird, Barkley, etc... Seriously, an amazing group of people. 3/4 knew Spanish too!

Our group. This is the dream team of mission groups – Jordan, Bird, Barkley, etc… They’re all there. Seriously, It is an amazing group of people. 3/4 knew Spanish too!

After Cairo, Lima is the largest city built in a desert... a really mild, overcast desert.

After Cairo, Lima is the largest city built in a desert… a really mild, overcast desert.

My heart breaks for these children. For whatever reason, God, in his infinite wisdom, put me in the United States of America, the son of good Christian parents, with tons of opportunity. For whatever reason, God put these kids in Peru, in the middle of a sandy desert, where they will live and struggle for the rest of their lives to make around $2,700 a year. I don’t know why. Why am I so special to have so much more? Why do I get such a larger blessing disproportional to these and others around the world that were born into far worse situations?

I fear these are questions I won’t have the answer for on this side of Heaven. Really I only have one question to which I need to be concerned: “What am I going to do about it?” That drove my wife and I to adopt two years ago, it drove me to go back to Peru three weeks ago, and it drives me to shame for my ungrateful heart.

I really am ungrateful, and it pains me to say. I fail to recognize how blessed I am, and only see the things God is not doing for me… as if He should work to glorify me. We sang a new praise chorus about a month ago in church. I don’t remember most of it, but I do remember one line: “We don’t want blessings, we want You.”

Wow. I have Him, living in my heart and His blessings too, but still I crave more… To quote a lot of great men in the Bible, “Woe, is me!” I am such a baby in my faith, and I don’t think I would fare nearly as well as Job if the same thing were to happen to me. Lately my prayer has been “God, I want to want You. I want to want only You. Please help me.” I don’t know if that’s the best thing to say, but it is honest, and I have to trust in one of my favorite verses:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. Romans 8:26

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, my kids were also interceding for me. Beth was good about communicating to them that I was going to tell people in Peru about Jesus during the week I was gone. Beth told me when I got home that they prayed each night for God to help me, our team, and Tia Lorena (Lauren, our missionary friend that we were helping) share Christ with the people in Peru. How amazing to think that a year ago, these were fatherless children and a few of the nameless people half a world away whom James 1:27 calls us to help, and today they are interceding for others on their home-continent that they may come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ!

I have to admit, getting off the plane and hugging them after a week’s time was pretty great too!

Please continue to pray for Lauren in Peru. I got two snapshots (June, 2011 and June, 2013) of what God has done in that little area north of Lima, and I can say Lauren’s ministry is starting to get some momentum. Some of the people we shared Christ to the first time were actively ministering with us this time! However, as with anything that is done in the name of Christ, Satan just wants to attack more as it gains ground.

Looking down the street from Lauren's ministry center in Ventanilla. Pan-Americana, in the middle, is the main road through this area.

Looking down the street from Lauren’s ministry center in Ventanilla. Pan-Americana, in the middle, is the main road through this area.

I also have to mention, Father’s day came and went while I was in Peru. I did get a chance to Skype with my kids, and Beth packed me some cards that they made me ahead of time. While it was sad to be away from them for my first Father’s day, I was doing the Father’s work, so it didn’t feel quite so bad!

At the dinnermesa,

Ty