In parenting classes, we discuss that in the face of failure or disappointment, girls tend to blame themselves and boys tend to blame other people. I remain fascinated by how instinctive this process is for boys. I laugh to myself when my sons approach my wife with the question, “What did you do with my soccer cleats?”
Do you hear the blame within that question? It never occurred to them to say, “I have no idea where I left my cleats. Have you seen them?” It’s a knee-jerk reaction to assume it was someone else’s fault.
My wife will sometimes meet this question with humor. She will smile and say, “Let me think. I do remember wearing your cleats with my black skirt instead of heels. Maybe I put them in my closet.” Her ability to handle these moments with humor allows my sons to pause, laugh, and then make needed connections. And it keeps my wife from losing her mind with the foolishness of the assumption.
I want to step into more of those moments and have my sons rephrase the request with language that allows them to take ownership for their part first, and ask for needed assistance second.
When I meet with families together, I sometimes ask them individually to identify the strengths of the family (things they do well) and deficits (things they need to work on). I will then move each family member to a place of considering their contribution to what’s not working well. I remind them how easily any of us can identify what someone else needs to work on.
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? (Matthew 7:3, NIV).
Building Block #1: Repentance
It all begins with saying “I’m sorry.” They can be two of the most difficult words to speak for a boy. As we develop this part of our conversation, it feels important to make a distinction.
We, as counselors, believe strongly in the importance of kids asking for forgiveness when they’ve said or done something wrong. Whether it was intentional or accidental, going through the steps of requesting forgiveness is a necessary building block in a child’s social development. We all make mistakes. We all say and do things we later wish we hadn’t. As we’ve been discussing in the first part of this book, we’re all vulnerable to acting out of emotion.
When our sons make mistakes within relationships, it’s important for them to own it and apologize, whether they feel it or not. Love is a choice, not a feeling. Forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling. If I waited every time to ask for forgiveness until I felt sorry, I’d honestly never get around to doing important, relational work I need to do. Loving someone unconditionally means I do it even when I don’t want to.
As a parent, I get up in the middle of the night when my children are sick because I love them and choose to do so. I’ve never felt like getting up every two-to-three hours of the night to clean up vomit or change the sheets. It’s a choice I make. The argument many parenting experts make is that forgiveness won’t be authentic. To which we’d say, you’re absolutely right. It may not be heartfelt or genuine, but it will be intentional.
As we’ve discussed already, part of helping our kids develop emotionally is helping them understand we can’t allow our emotions to have control of the steering wheel. If I allowed my emotions to drive the car, they would drive me to Ben & Jerry’s on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. I have a weakness for using food as a means of comfort. I’m guilty of saying things like “I need Ben & Jerry’s.” I don’t need Ben & Jerry’s. I’ve consumed enough pints in my lifetime already. I want it often, but I don’t need it.
As I navigate my own emotional terrain, I’ll feel anxiety or fear that triggers the desire to self-soothe with food. I have to pay attention to developing different ways of navigating emotions that don’t involve over-eating. I want to make thoughtful, healthy, constructive decisions that are often in opposition to my desires.
I once heard a great line in a movie where one of the characters said, “Feelings are like children. You don’t want them driving, but you don’t want to stuff them in the trunk either.” For more ideas on how to support our kids’ emotional, social and spiritual development, check out our new book, Are My Kids on Track?