I’m a simple guy. Grew up a simple kid in a small town in central Pennsylvania. A son to blue-collar workers, parents who still work in the same factories they did before I was born.
It’s funny how times change, how generations evolve. After 15 positions by the ripe age of 30, I quit keeping track of my jobs.
One of the deeper conversations I had with my parents was about life purpose. Some people have the notion that working in a factory is somehow less significant than, say, a people-helping or philanthropic position.
Every one of our lives matters. Whether the daily grind is spent on a factory floor in a rural town, a skyscraper office in a big city, at home as a mom, or somewhere in between, making a difference is about following the two most important commandments of Jesus—loving God and loving others.
No job constrains love.
My parents are living proof.
Were my parents perfect? Nobody’s are.
Did I always listen? What fun is that?
Did we have our ugly moments? Who doesn’t?
But in all of it, from the beauty of family vacations to the ugliness of divorce, I never questioned whether I was loved.
Embracing every season
It’s why I wake up every Saturday morning through the fall excited to play in the backyard with my son, jump in leaves, pick up acorns, watch college football, and give him the time and love my dad gave me.
It’s why I can’t wait until I can take my daughter fishing, spend a day with her on the water, just the two of us, and give her the adventures and love my mom gave me.
I want to embrace every season with my kids, both literal and figurative—fall, summer, winter and spring. I want to experience the smells. Honeysuckle in the spring. Fresh-cut grass in the summer. Fear in the winter. You know, those moments when our kids are scared and turn to us for support. I want to smell the fear of their failure or disappointment, walk with them through it, and teach them the fragrance of love.
I want to embrace the flavors. Home-cooked Thanksgiving turkey and trimmings in the fall. Ice cream sundaes together in the summer, especially after a big win. Defeat in the winter. I want my kids’ rejection to bitter my own palate, so they feel understood. Then I can teach them how to sweeten their plate by tasting the goodness of the Lord.
I want to create a bank account of memories—their best, worst, and even most mundane moments—from which they themselves will one day parent, for the quality of my presence while they’re under my roof will one day determine the quality of their presence under their own. When they become scared or unsure of what to do when their children are rejected, they’ll feel the security they had with me and instinctively respond the way they were loved.
Talk about leaving a legacy and setting patterns; this is how my parents were there for me. These nostalgic memories are now short stories integrated into my brain as a completed narrative that makes up my life story—a story written in a setting of love.
God our Father
Consider how the Bible describes God as our Father: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.”
Think about the parent-child relationship in relation to that passage: God as a Father is slow to anger. He loves us infinitely deeper than we could ever imagine. He shows mercy. He gives us grace. Blame and shame are quickly resolved. When He is angry, it’s for a brief time and because He loves us. When we’re in the wrong, His anger is about what could happen to us if we continue the behavior. He will discipline, but He does not punish. Neither does His consequence match our offense.
Our relationship with Him is central to how He fathers us.
The same should be true in how we parent our kids.
Parenting in a safe house
Neither of our children were easy babies. A combination of colic, acid reflux, gastrointestinal sensitivities, constipation, gassiness, and an inability to sleep without being held led to many sleepless nights in the Straub household. Imagine our daughter having a difficult time falling asleep because of terrible gas pains. Wailing ensues. Then, at the exact time, our strong willed 2-year-old son, who didn’t sleep well the night before or hasn’t eaten his breakfast, has a meltdown. Ever been there?
Moments like this are stressful and exhausting enough even for the most secure parent. But imagine carrying into these moments unresolved pain and broken moments from your own childhood relationship with your parents. Research shows the more fragmented our stories are, the more insecure we’re likely to be as parents. And the more insecure we are as parents, the more likely we are to write our kids’ stories in a setting of fear.
That’s why I like to use this equation as the basis for how we parent in a Safe House:
Love – Fear = Safe Relationship
Think about it. The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is fear. The Bible says, “Perfect love casts out fear.” To put it simply, an unsafe environment instills fear. A safe environment rids itself of fear.
Just think of the fearful ways we react to our kids in stressful moments when they act out. Yelling. Blaming. Punishing. Shaming. Maybe even spanking out of anger.
These reactions in such overwhelming moments tend to be fear-based. Look at the rest of that same verse in the Bible: “For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”
Biblically speaking, from what we’ve learned so far about God as Father, the equation Love –Fear = Safe Relationship goes something like this:
Perfect love drives out fear.
God is love.
God, as love perfected, fathers us in a setting of love, not fear.
God as a Father is safe.
Remember, research shows our capacity to love others comes from first having a loving relationship with a safe parent. If you’re a person of faith, the Bible clearly reveals that person is God.
The same is true for our kids. They need us to be safe.
Reprinted from Safe House: How Emotional Safety Is the Key to Raising Kids Who Live, Love, and Lead Well. Copyright ©2015 by Joshua Straub. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.