When our son Luke was playing in the NBA, he had a conversation with one of his teammates on a day they received their paychecks. His teammate explained to him how some of the paycheck went to the mother of one of his children, some of it went to the mother of another one of his children and some of it went to the mother of another one of his children. The rest, he explained, was all his.
“What about you?” the player asked Luke. “How many of your kids’ moms do you have to pay before you see any of that check?”
Luke, somewhat caught off guard, explained to him that he was married and didn’t have any children.
“You didn’t have any children before you were married?” the player asked.
“I got married as a virgin,” Luke said.
The player couldn’t believe it and, initially, actually thought that he was joking.
“I lost my virginity in seventh grade!” the player exclaimed.
I tell this story not to paint Luke and his wife, Hope, as angels, but to remind you of the culture parents are up against and why it is so crucial to lead your children to a point where they can realize and believe that the straight and narrow isn’t just the way their parents want them to live but the better way for them to live. Unfortunately, this is something they have to figure out for themselves, much like how God grants us free will to experience what life is like without Him in order for us to realize how much we need Him.
Just as it is important to discipline your children to help teach them right from wrong, it is just as important to eventually trust your children. Demonstrate your trust in them early, too. They may be more willing to obey if they don’t feel like you are always trying to control.
A taste of trust
In the process of moving from Minnesota to Indiana, we stayed in a hotel during the transition period. Cody was 6 months old, Tyler was 3, and Luke was 6. Steve and I needed to go over some of the paperwork for the house we just closed on in Minnesota and our new mortgage in Indiana. We needed about 20 minutes without the kids. We gathered them and whispered to them, as if they were on a top-secret mission, “We’re going to go down the hallway and fill out some paperwork. While we’re gone, don’t let anybody in the room.”
We wanted them to feel like they were in charge. We wanted to give them responsibility.
“So when we come back,” I whispered, “The password is ‘Batman.’ If someone knocks and doesn’t get the password right, don’t let them in.”
They nodded. There was an excitement in their eyes that they were going to be in their own hotel room alone without their parents. They were taking the task we had given them very seriously.
In all actuality, we just sat in the hallway—if something horrible happened we would hear it. But they didn’t know this, and 20 minutes later, when we had the paperwork completed, we “returned.”
Steve knocked on the door of our hotel room. We could hear their feet shuffling on the other side as they all ran to the door.
“What’s the password?” they said.
“Let’s test them,” I whispered to Steve. He nodded.
“Robin?” I said.
We could hear their little whispers on the other side. They didn’t know what to say since we got the password wrong.
Eventually, Tyler spoke up: “Say ‘Batman’ and we’ll let you in.”
Moving past the “strict discipline” stage
Just as failing to discipline your children will lead them to running the house, failing to trust your children will lead them to leaving the house. This is the progression that took place within our household—from strict discipline (very little trust) to disciplined intertwined with trust (you trust them the more they prove they can be trusted) to total trust (very little discipline).
If trust is never exhibited, the home environment becomes a place where children feel as if their parents are constantly nagging them or striving to control them. The result is that they eventually leave the house and search for alternate means of escaping. If your children do not feel comfortable in their own home, it’s important to ask yourself why. Could it be because you never moved past the “strict discipline” stage? Could it be because they don’t feel like you trust them?
When Steve and I were dating, it was decided one Christmas that Steve would come out to Colorado with my family. He had never been out west before. Since we were leaving early the next morning to drive from Iowa to Colorado, Mom suggested that Steve stay at our place so we could leave directly from our house. With three bedrooms upstairs, there was plenty of room in the house, so it made sense for him to stay. However, when we returned to my parents’ house that evening after going out for a movie, we noticed that my parents had made a bed for Steve on our old, worn-down living room sofa downstairs.
All throughout the night, as Steve tried to sleep, the sofa cushions kept sliding out from underneath him. He eventually ended up sleeping on the cold, hardwood floor and only got a couple hours of sleep before a grueling road trip out west.
I was upset with my parents. There was an extra bedroom upstairs that Steve could have slept in, but they didn’t even trust us enough to let us sleep on the same story of the house? Honestly, it made me feel like they didn’t think very highly of me and my ability to make good decisions. They did a good job of trusting me in other situations, and fortunately that feeling of insignificance never became a trend.
But for some children this does become a continued feeling. And consequently, because children feel like their parents don’t trust them to make good decisions, they will lash out by making bad decisions. It is a helpless feeling for a child to feel like he or she cannot do anything right.
Trust, on the other hand, empowers them. They say the best leaders are the ones who can instill confidence in those below them. This is what parenting becomes—giving your children confidence to live their own lives and make wise decisions.
When you trust your children, they’ll confide in you
If your children don’t feel like they have the freedom to live their own lives, then they most likely will not confide in you since they are trying to get away from you. And if they don’t feel comfortable talking to you about the big things in life, then where will they turn? The internet, search engines, or perhaps their own curiosity.
Our first experience with discussing the “birds and the bees” with our children came on one Easter Sunday when Luke was 9, Tyler was 6, and Cody was 3.
We allowed them to let our pet bunnies, Bubba and Fluffy, loose in the house, which we hardly ever allowed them to do. When we let them free on that infamous Easter Sunday, however, Bubba and Fluffy “connected” for the entire family to see. That was an interesting introduction to reproduction.
Of course, we revisited the “birds and the bees” talks with each of our children several years after the Bubba/Fluffy incident. We didn’t overwhelm them with these talks, but we at least wanted them to know that they could talk to us about anything. Cody remembers Steve coming out into the sunroom when he was in middle school and bluntly saying to him, “So, Mom said you heard about sex.”
“Uh, yeah, I heard something about it,” Cody said awkwardly.
“Well, if you have any questions, just ask me,” Steve said.
“All right,” Cody grinned uncomfortably.
“I’d rather have you learn it from me than one of your buddies from school.”
Luke, Tyler, and Cody, at one point or another, all confided in us about some of these “taboo” subjects as they got older. Each time, we made sure that we weren’t surprised or shocked by the things they were telling us because we wanted them to continue coming to us for advice. Any type of emotion or overreaction to these things can make the home feel unsafe to your children. Rather, we treated the details they were telling us as “normal,” but then used our conversation as an opportunity to give them practical advice and sharpen their worldview.
The goal of every parent must be for their household to become a safe-haven to talk about anything and everything, as you move from strict discipline to trust. Trust is the tool that, ironically, gives your children the confidence to also trust in you as a parent.
Taken from Raising Boys the Zeller Way copyright ©2015 by Steve and Lorri Zeller. Used with permission by Core Media Group, Inc. All rights reserved.