Our Border Crisis - What's Missing?

The images are sad and disturbing, but I suspect none of us seeing it on tv understands the real scope of the problem. Kids, already a long way from home, brought across a border into a strange new country, are being distributed by bus and plane to locations around our country.  Not just a few, but thousands; 60,000 this year so far. What's been missing in every conversation on every news station, both conservative and liberal, is the notion of parents being responsible. Missing in the picture above is any parent. We can talk about 3.7 billion dollars being enough or not, but there's no amount of money that magically creates the only real solution, and that's parents. They are missing--from the photo and from the conversation about solutions. I care about kids, and often I care for them. I care for my grandkids and I care for the kids at church on occasion. It's hard work. It is hard work to feed, clothe, bathe, diagnose, treat, and house them. But these are the relatively easy parts. The harder part is knowing them, comforting them, encouraging them, teaching them, correcting them, loving them--in short, parenting them. Who is going to do that? Until that question comes into the national conversation, we are you-know-whating into the wind. Sorry, but that's the West Texas phrase that comes to this West Texan mind. Any matter that has to do with kids better consider the need for parents. Governments and institutions can rightly support parents, but they can't take their place.

Politicians need to get this right, or we can make this crisis even worse for these and other children. This is a good time for us to pray for our national leadership. We need God's guidance. I'm praying that someone has the sense to get these kids back to their parents. I'm sure the parents thought this would be best for their kids, but it's not. It's not best, and it's not right. God can care for these children through loving surrogates, just as He did for Moses. He was another child sent into the river for a better life. Maybe that's where you and I come in, but even for Moses, God sent a family to care for him and allow him to grow. Raising a child is a job for a parent, not a federal agency.

Introducing My New Book - Parenting UnChained

The publication date of my book is drawing closer. I expect it by July 1, so in a bit of a tease, I'd like to share two excerpts to give you an overview of the book. In the first excerpt, I share from the introductory chapter, and answer directly the reader's question:

How Can Reading Parenting Unchained Help?

"If you haven’t figured it out already, Satan is a liar. And if parenting is important to God, rest assured that Satan wants to deceive parents and disrupt the transmission of their faith. Satan wants you to take your eyes off of the most important aspects of parenting and put your focus on trivial or even destructive things. Parenting Unchained helps you keep the most important principles of parenting in mind while avoiding Satan's traps. It gives you insight to make important educational and child-care decisions, and it reminds you of the importance of simply being present. Parenting Unchained explains the biblical motives for modeling, discipline, and instruction, illuminating the methods that Jesus, the Master Teacher, used. It teaches you how to help your children find their ultimate purpose in life and lays out the three final steps that will launch your children toward their unique futures.

The family is God's idea, and He intends it to be a setting for disciple making. The family is the bridge to the next generation of disciples. Sadly, this bridge is cracking under the weight of prodigal children and their discouraged parents. Satan has played a leading role in this devastation by telling lie upon lie. Parenting Unchained will help you break Satan's chains so you can lead your children to lay a foundation of faith."

In this second excerpt, I sum up the last chapter of the book by focusing on a challenge to parents:

“The challenge of this book is not just for you to let your children go out into the world; my message is to prepare them and then send them. Send them out armed with that strong foundation of relationship you formed with them. Your unconditional love is their introduction to God. Send them out with a tank full of memories of your presence in their lives. Send them out with a mental imprint of your genuine life in Christ modeled before them, disciplined in love and taught by your wise words. Send them out clothed with the experience of your family’s mission and passion. And finally, send them out armed with an active prayer life and the knowledge of the Holy Spirit. The best news is that if they have the Holy Spirit, He won’t be content just to give them knowledge. He’ll go with them, in the secret compartment of their hearts.”

Parenting Teens Who Struggle

For parents of teens who struggle, every day can feel like a battle. It's exhausting and brings a load of guilt and second-guessing. I ran across a great article for parents caught in this situation, and I couldn't have written anything more fitting. Click on the photo above to go to the article. Then come back and get an eternal perspective on the issue.

No matter how well we parent, we live in a fallen world, our kids live in that world, and we all suffer from the effects of sin on our planet. A Christian parent's struggles are temporary, though, as Ephesians 1:3 showed me this morning. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ..." In heavenly places, and in Christ, we have every spiritual blessing. I take that word 'every' to mean in every realm, in every sense, and to the maximum extent. Every kind of blessing, every sense in which we can be blessed, and to the fullest extent. That would include our relationships with others. So, when we arrive in heaven, the struggles we have as parents will be over and the blessings we have will be beyond our imaginations. Our relationships with our children will change, of course, when we stand side by side worshipping Christ together, but I believe we will know our loved ones in heaven, and enjoy perfect fellowship with them in Christ. Hold onto that in your daily struggles as parents.

But salvation is not universal. Just because I want my children to go to heaven doesn't mean they will. The Bible tells us that only those who are born again go to heaven (John 3:16), and thus we pray and work toward that end for our children. But I can't lie. If salvation is not universal, I must face the possibility that some our children won't accept Christ's forgiveness. God is sovereign. He loves our children more than we do, and He hears our prayers to save them. I'm counting on that. So while I believe we have every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ, I don't presume my children will be there. I pray earnestly they will but I trust all to the loving Savior who rescued me from my own sin and stupidity. This is the tension of Christian parenting. It forces me to simply pray and trust the Lord.

The Silent Type Is Not God's Idea for Fathers

Satan Wants to Shut You Up

There’s a lie going around among Christian parents that says “You don’t have to talk about your faith. Your children will catch your faith from you.” While we all hope our children ‘catch’ our faith, our faith-motivated actions alone can go unnoticed or be misunderstood by our children. We know the source of every lie, and this one is no different. Jesus said that Satan was “a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44 ESV) It comes as no surprise then that Satan would lie about a parent’s primary responsibilities.

God gave parents the responsibility to train their children in spiritual matters. Deuteronomy 6:7 tells parents “you shall teach (spiritual truths) diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way…” That’s totally different from the silent approach that Satan pushes on us. God not only tells us to speak up constantly about spiritual things, He modeled this truth by being specific and clear about His truths. While Satan wants Christian parents to be silent, God provided us the best example to follow: God taught his children with plenty of direct instruction.

Satan wants to shut you up, so he will make you feel awkward about sharing your faith verbally with others, even your own children. This is especially true among dads. For whatever reason, men often seem hesitant to take the spiritual lead in their families.  Maybe it’s a man’s pride that keeps him from speaking.  Thinking he needs to be perfect, a man may sense that he is not godly enough to speak about Biblical truth. That may be true, but the answer is not to remain silent. The truth is that none of us is godly in our own strength. We men must set aside our pride, admit our own weakness, and speak out about spiritual things.

If Satan can’t make us silent, he will try to make us ignorant. He keeps many Christians from studying God’s Word by casting doubt on it. Because we don’t fully trust the Bible, we won’t invest the time needed to understand it. But God doesn’t want men, the leaders of families, to remain ignorant. He desires that we study His Word so we can teach it to the next generation.  By studying how God led Israel, and how Jesus taught His disciples, we find a perfect model for fathering.

This is the approach I took in writing Parenting Unchained. I looked at two examples that God provides of parenting. God acted as a father to the nation of Israel, and their journey from birth as a nation to their years of rebellion seemed to be a pretty good analogy for parenting. In the New Testament, Christ chose and trained 12 men over three years, preparing them for independent life in a hostile world. Again, this seemed like a good analogy for what parents do. As I studied these two modeling jobs, it became obvious that God was intentional in His training--His parenting. I found ten parenting truths in Scripture, as well as ten deceptions that Satan uses to hide them from us.

Of course, the truths in Scripture work perfectly for moms as well as dads. Where moms must lead in the home, God gives them the strength to do it well. But God designed the home to be led by a loving father, and while the silent type might still work in the movies, godly men need to speak up.

Your Motive for Discipline

Screenshot 2014-05-10 09.37.05Sometime this summer, my first book on parenting will hit the press. I'll provide several excerpts from the book in the weeks ahead. The title is Parenting Unchained – Overcoming the Ten Deceptions That Shackle Christian Parents. In the book I describe ten deceptions or myths that derail any parent who wants to raise children with strong character. Here's a peek at Parenting Unchained: As I look back on my parenting, my biggest failure was not in my methods, but in my motives. I’m sad to say that my motives were too often to achieve peace for my own comfort (“You kids be quiet!”) or to protect my reputation as a parent (“Be good in front of my friends.”). It’s not that I did not love my children, it’s just that my love for them was not my foremost intention as I chose my discipline times or techniques. I fell for the lie that why and how I disciplined didn’t matter, as long as I was getting my kids to obey.

Obedience Is Not Enough

To a parent who is struggling to get a child to obey, obedience sounds like a sip of cool water in the desert. But what looks like an oasis can turn out to be a mirage once you arrive. Many parents, including myself, achieved obedience using behavior modification with a child only to discover later that they failed to train a more important quality. Two commands in the Bible are directed to children. One says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.” Obedience equals doing what I’m told to do. The other command says something that sounds similar but is significantly more valuable. “Honor your father and your mother.” Honor equals doing what I’m told with a respectful attitude because I value the giver of the command. The difference is that a child may obey his parents but not honor them. Honor takes the outward act of obedience and couples it with respect. Obedient children leave home and often may not continue to obey. Children who learn to honor their parents leave home listening to an inner guide who sounds suspiciously like Mom or Dad.

Our motive for the discipline we administer is vitally important. If we set out to achieve obedient children because we want to look good in front of our peers, or we simply want to have a peaceful home where chores get done on schedule, then honor is not essential. But if we want to discipline our children to build into them an honoring heart, then our methods will radically change.

Will Our Methods Always Work If Our Motives Are Right?          

Sadly, no. I wish it were so, but a factor in the equation is easy to forget: your child has to cooperate. The essential factor, which requires your child to buy in, is for your child to see the benefit of discipline. Thus the greater aim of the discipline of a wise parent is to teach a child to see the benefit of correction. Success in this effort is seen not in the child who always behaves perfectly (this is usually a mirage, anyway) but in the child who accepts discipline with a good attitude and learns from it. Another word for attitude is heart.

So check your discipline motives from time to time. Are you focusing on the benefits to you, like getting the house clean or getting kids to bed on time? Or are you helping your child develop a heart for obedience and responsibility? If you get your child to obey but fail to help them see the benefit in the correction, you may wind up with an obedient but resentful child. How do you develop your child's heart toward honor?

In calm moments, talk to them about the benefits of being teachable. Share a vision for the kind of life your child can have if they learn to treasure correction. Be vulnerable and let them know how you had to make changes when you were corrected, and how that helped you. Point out how they've made improvements in obedience and how those improvements have helped them mature.

You can learn the right way to discipline your children. But don't forget to learn the right reasons for disciplining them. Good behavior is an admirable goal for any child, but a heart that can be corrected is a priceless gift that keeps on giving.

Are Parents Happier than Non-parents?

Yes. At least that's what new research shows. I'm attaching a link to an article in Atlantic.com which looks at survey data and compares the happiness of folks in the child-rearing years. I'm encouraged to know this, as I want it to be true. I have a heart for parents and believe that raising children is a noble, God-ordained activity. I also believe that we do a better job at those things we enjoy, so finding the joy in parenting is one goal of my own life's work. The authors of the research speculate as to why, and these reasons are interesting. One I'll tip you off to is that parenting helps us stay connected in the world. All their reasons seem correct to me, and this one particularly so. I hope you'll read the article and comment. If you are a parent, are you generally happy? Let me know.

Follow Through on Your Instructions

Whether you know it or not, your family forms routines to accomplish the repetitive tasks of home life. Routines develop around bedtime, getting up in the morning, mealtime and many other common situations. You probably have an instruction routine, because giving instructions happens often in families. An instruction routine sometimes develops in ways that are counter-productive, so the first step in changing a poor routine is to give a simple, clear, and anger free instruction. Consider your current instruction routine: Is it effective? You may have a great instruction routine and your children may be cooperating perfectly. If that's your family, congratulations! This article may not help you at all.

In some families, however, the routine develops like this: the parent gives an instruction, then gets busy and forgets about it. Remembering later, the parent checks on the child to find that nothing has been done. The parent speaks a little louder or with a threat like, "I'm not going to ask you again to..." or "How many times do I have to ask you to...?" The parent goes away and doesn't follow through, and the child waits for another parental appearance. Children play this kind of delay game until they finally observe a cue that causes them to think "Mom's really serious now, so I better move!" Sometimes that cue is the redness in your face, veins popping out on your neck or anger in your voice. I suggest you change your routine by making it clear that you will follow through right away if your child does not begin to obey.

Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, parenting experts and authors of numerous books, tell parents to use a "tight action point." A tight action point means that you act quickly to require your child to follow through with the instruction. You don't allow them to wait. Some parents fail to foster cooperation in their children because they don't follow through. Here's a simple suggestion from Turansky and Miller for a better instruction routine—have your child answer back. Requiring this answer immediately upon giving an instruction sends the cue that you mean now.

When you give an instruction, teach your child to say 'yes Mom' or 'yes Dad.' You may prefer 'Yes Ma'am/Yes Sir.' If you have a child who is prone to forget what you said or has trouble focusing, have them repeat your instruction to you. You might say "Maria, tell me what I just told you to do." By having your child answer back as part of your routine, or having them repeat your instruction, you make sure your child heard you. You also have a chance to gauge their heart's intention by their response. A child who won't answer back (after being taught to do so) may need a lesson about respect or responsibility. That child might be angry or sullen. Body language like rolling the eyes or stomping of feet indicates a selfish or disrespectful heart. As a parent, you may choose to deal with these wrong attitudes right then, or deal with them after the child has completed the task.

Regardless of when you handle a bad attitude, be sure you begin to require your child to answer back. It will remind you to make your action point tight. And of course, don't go off and ignore your child after giving an instruction. Check to see if they are moving to follow through promptly. These behaviors on your part tell your child that your instruction is a matter of high value to you. It may take time for these changes to take effect. Remember, you may see the benefit and be committed to make these changes, but your child may need time to develop new responses.

A faulty instruction routine generates harshness on your part, encourages disobedience, and builds frustration in both you and your child. A clear, gentle, but firm instruction routine with prompt follow-through creates a peaceful home and teaches your child to respect your words.

Difficult topics

In the months ahead, I'm going to explore some difficult topics related to parenting in our peculiar day and time. We are living in a most remarkable age with breathtaking changes happening so fast we don't know how to respond. One of those changes is our nation's view of same sex marriage. I have a Biblical world-view, and thus I have a strong opinion about homosexuality. I believe the Bible is clear in calling homosexual behavior a sin. Yet this same Bible tells me to love my neighbor as myself, and some of these neighbors are homosexual.

Two questions seem to press in on us: 1) How do Christians show love for homosexuals and draw them toward Christ? and 2) How do Christians respond in the political arena when our nation's and our states' laws are changing?

The answer to the first is simpler than to the second, at least for me. I am learning to think of homosexuals as nothing more or less than human beings with the same dignity and problems I possess. They are sinners whom Christ died to save. If I think about them in this way, I simply focus on sharing with them the life-giving water Christ gave me, and I don't worry about much else. As I change my thinking, I am not as likely to avoid them, and I can joyfully engage them as people like myself--fallen but made in the image of God.

But when I'm asked to vote for candidates or support parties that intend to change the definition of marriage, I'm less clear about the path. The consensus we once had as a nation regarding same-sex marriage has now swung so that more believe it is right than wrong. Whether I like it or not, the laws appear to be changing. But man's laws have often been in conflict with God's laws, and we may have to relearn this lesson in 21st century America. Is it a person's fundamental right to marry someone of the same sex and receive all the blessings of marriage that society affords? I don't think so, but neither do I relish laws that deny basic civil rights to people.

At any rate, I want to pray and read and think about these issues so I can share with parents whose children may be experiencing same sex attraction or considering marriage to someone of the same sex. I read an article that stretches my thinking a bit, but I agree with much of what he said. The author is celibate and single, yet has same sex attractions. His struggle is enlightening and makes me want to pray for him and others like him. The article also reminds me that the forces of political correctness may squelch such viewpoints soon. Please read it yourself and tell me what you think. Treasure your right to read and hear from various points of view. We may not always have this right!


There is a ministry we know that gives tremendous help to those who struggle with SSA, and to those who love them. Go to www.livehope.org.

Common Sense Risk for Kids

  The Atlantic (atlantic.com, by Hanna Rosin, March 19, 2014) published an article called The Overprotected Kid, decrying the loss of creativity on playgrounds and suggesting that society has gone too far in creating 'risk-free' environments for our children. I read the article with particular personal interest because I designed playgrounds as part of Grounds For Play, Inc. for 22 years, and the expert they quoted in the article, Dr. Joe Frost, was my mentor in the study of children's play. I was a parent in the 70's and 80's and I certainly felt the same paranoia discussed in the article. The article bemoaned the drastic changes that began in the mid-1970's, changes sparked by new (1977) information about the number and seriousness of injuries occurring on playgrounds. Joe and I, along with dozens of other concerned professionals, sought and created new national safety standards. These standards led to the creation of safer equipment, and one unintended consequence was less creative play environments, especially at public schools and parks. Having watched this process from the inside, I agree that far too much creativity was lost--but not because of safer standards. It was due to the over-application of these standards and a lack of understanding of a child's need for 'perceived risk.' I would call it a lack of common sense. Joe, along with myself and another of Joe's protégés, Dr. Eric Strickland, advocated play environments high in perceived risk—what the child perceived as risky—but with common sense safeguards in place. Our approach resulted in stimulating environments where children wanted to play, but where actual risk was low.

The Atlantic article idealizes 'adventure playgrounds,' where kids play with very little adult supervision, and in junky play environments reminiscent of the play many of us enjoyed on open lots or in the woods. Sure, the idea of kids using found materials – crates, tires, mattresses, and cardboard—to build their own play empires has great appeal. It appeals to my nostalgic side. But I and other playground experts reviewed the case files of children killed or seriously injured on unsafe playgrounds. In the majority of injury cases, lack of supervision played a part. So no, I'm not an advocate for less supervision on playgrounds. And as a builder of children's environments, I did everything in my power to avoid the need to face a parent of an injured child. The penalty for unsafe play environments involves injury to some parent's precious child, and that's just too steep a price.


What was missing from the Atlantic writer's account was a discussion of the common sense response to any new information. I responded, as did most parents of the 70's, 80's, and 90's, to the information I received back then, and that information scared the living daylights out of me! Stories of sexual abuse, abduction, and random violence filled the headlines. Thinking people respond to what we learn. To ignore new information is the definition of stupidity. As playground designers at Grounds For Play, Eric and I never ignored new information on injuries, but we did view it with common sense. We always used the national guidelines and mixed them with the common sense realization that kids will find a risk level that suits them. If we don't provide appropriate risk in the environment we build, kids will find it inside or outside that environment by doing things that adults do not plan for. Ever see a kid scale the outside of a climber and perch on its roof? I rest my case.

The environments we created at Grounds For Play contained not only appropriate risk but also places for art, music, science, gardening, and social interaction—lots of it. Such environments were safe and stimulating. Grounds For Play, in its 30-year history building 13,000+ play environments, has never been named in a lawsuit for injury to a child. I didn't say they'd never lost a lawsuit; they have never even been named in one. So it is possible to have creative and safe play environments.

Once upon a time, children had freedom to move unattended about their neighborhoods. I did that as a child growing up in the late 50's and 60's. It was a wonderful childhood, and my freedom was enhanced because I grew up in a small town in Floyd County, Texas. My best friends drove pick-ups to help their farming dads when they were 4th graders. In first grade, I began walking by myself the four blocks to Andrews Ward Elementary. In those days teachers' biggest complaints were about kids who chewed gum in class. Want to know how much times have changed? I'll give you three words: Sandy Hook Elementary.

Obviously, we live in a drastically different America. Mass killings, bullying episodes, and other morally corrupt acts fill our headlines today. The reasons for this are many, but regardless of the reasons, parents look for ways to protect their children. Some of these responses go overboard, but the motive is valid.

In a sense, the changes on playgrounds represent the overall move toward over-protecting our kids. That's what the Atlantic article pointed out. But what it did not point out is that change is appropriate in the face of new information, new threats. When we learn about dangers in our world, it's right to make changes to address those dangers. That's what we did when playground injury data first became available in the 70's, and that's what parents of the 70's did when it became clear that child abuse was a growing problem. It's what parents do now by giving their kids a bit more freedom in response to data about the ills of overprotection. Let's not fool ourselves and turn back the clock to the nostalgia of rural America. That time has passed. Good parenting practices, like good playgrounds, require common sense. So here are three steps parents can take to be sure they don't hear new information and go overboard.

1. Respect the wisdom of the ages. Old information may be old, but that doesn't mean it's outdated. Grandparents and Biblical truths often provide the perspective a new generation of parents needs in The Information Age. Don't neglect the old truths just because they are old.

2. Check the motive of the information source. For example, the education industry, including education researchers, is driven by the economic need to sell new books, curricula, and textbooks. So they have a vested interest in trying new programs. This has led to numerous educational campaigns that were new, but not better, and sometimes catastrophic. New Math was all the rage in the 70's, and it proved disastrous! Again, compare the new approaches to the wisdom of the ages. Every blog, post, or news source has a point of view. Be aware of it!

3. Relax and consider the middle ground. Yes, the new childcare center down the road seems glitzier and the computers are the latest. But do they mix in what 100 years of early childhood practice has found to be critical for young children: a stable work force, hands-on active learning, and a focus on social skills rather than academics (in the early years especially?) Find a school that blends the best of technology with the best of traditional early childhood education.

The Atlantic article's author was right that children need the freedom to overcome risk in play, but not in environments proven to be unsafe, though they might be nostalgic.