Equipping Your Teen with Character By Tiffany Stuart

Why do today’s teens answer the question, “What is character?” with good looking? Since when did physical appearance become a character trait?

Society and pop culture send unchristian messages like:

It’s all about me.
Sex outside of marriage is the norm.
Girls must dress sexy to be attractive.
What’s at stake with this kind of thinking? Our culture’s moral compass — and our sons and daughters’ future.

Can we help our teens reclaim Christian values so their lives make an impact for Christ? Yes. Our influence still matters.

The cliché is true: Values are more often caught than taught. Jesus’ followers learned to be like him by modeling his behavior. “Follow me,” Christ told his disciples. They did, but not without questions, doubts and some resistance.

Sound familiar?

Actions speak louder than words. St. Francis of Assisi put it this way: “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching” (emphasis mine). For years, your teens have followed you — sometimes resisting, sometimes not. They determine what is important based on observing you. If this thought makes you cringe, don’t let your past failures stop you from showing love and patience today. Continue to grow in your relationship with God, so that your teens will see your faith and want to know more.

Faith. Hope. Love. So many positive character traits are reflected in the meaning behind these three simple words. If we want our teens to emulate these character traits, we need to live them out at home. Here are just a few to start with:


As parents, let’s make our wrongs right by saying, “I’m sorry.” Our sons and daughters will more easily forgive others when they’ve experienced forgiveness at home.


Teens need to hear us say, “Thank you,” when they watch their younger brother or load the dishwasher. Especially thank them if they confide in you. Teens tend to share their secrets and struggles with their friends, so if they pick you to talk to — stop and listen. Let them vent and cry if they need to. Offer understanding and a prayer instead of a long lecture. Ask them if they want your advice.


When you do give advice, talk about how to handle temptation before your teen attends a party or a game. Encourage firm boundaries. Talk about the consequences of premarital sex. Share your testimony if it relates. To promote modesty, buy a fun and trendy — but modest — prom dress. When your teen is walking out the door, say, “I believe you’ll make wise choices tonight.”

Preach the Gospel

Who’s following your teen? Chances are, someone or some group is observing your son or daughter, whether it’s a classmate, teammate or coworker. Teenagers already have the opportunity to spread the light of the gospel. Most of their opportunities for talking about their faith in Jesus will come from first living their faith. This is what St. Francis of Assisi meant when he exhorted, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” Encourage your teen to live a life that emulates the faith, hope and love of Christ so anyone who’s watching will be attracted to Jesus.


Are you showing your teen mercy when they need it?

I don’t always. For example, Justin got in trouble for laughing in class so I gave him the cold shoulder. My message? Shape up, buddy, if you want my love! A bad mom moment, I know. Whenever issues arise between me and my son, I try to remember that God’s unconditional love for us isn’t based on our behavior.

Next time your son or daughter disappoints you, shake things up a bit. Think of Jesus’ example with the woman caught in adultery. Offer a hug and forgiveness instead of a hard word and see what happens. There are times when that treatment isn’t the best option. But there are also times our kids desperately need grace. The Bible says mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13).

By offering mercy, my friend Beth saw results in how her teens responded to one another. Once when Beth disciplined her daughter, her oldest son interrupted and asked, “Mom, can you show mercy to her this time”


If we show our teens compassion, they learn to be compassionate, which carries into their jobs, college campuses, relationships, and into their marriages. When people are hurting, they need a safe place and understanding — not judgment. Inspire your teens to be that place for someone in need.


In a me-focused world, we need to challenge our youth to see beyond themselves. We start by serving our teen and others in need. Simple gestures go a long way.

Beth served her two teen girls by making their beds for them after they left for school. She helped them when they were drowning in classes and activities.

After driving past a homeless man, Scoti turned around and bought the best meal at McDonalds. Her teenage sons handed the meal to this man and said, “Take this in the name of Jesus.”

Our Christ-like examples are the most powerful influence to persuade our teens to be Christ’s disciples. We can equip our teens to offer the world something better — something of eternal value. “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13, NIV).

Helping families thrive with the support of friends like you.
Copyright 2008, Tiffany Stuart. Used by permission

When Our Past Affects Our Parenting by Roy Baldwin

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” Genesis 2:24-25

Shame is a very powerful emotion. It can live quietly in the shadows of our heart rearing its ugly head in moments we least expect. It recites a script we often lament, yet reinforces the very core of who we are…and the why behind why we might “hate ourselves so much.”

My script sounds like this:

“You are not worthy. How many times do I have to remind you?”

“See, you failed again.”

“Your best isn’t good enough!”

What does shame have to do with “the talk” you ask? It has everything to do with it.

You see, what you and I believe about marriage will ultimately show up in one of the most critical aspects of being a parent. You see “the talk” is not just talking about puberty, or the mechanics of “making love” and “where babies come from.” You see those mechanics are birthed out of the belief we have about ourselves and our view of marriage.

How “high” is your view of yourself and marriage? If not high…you could be leading yourself and your kids towards disaster.

Two Worlds Collided

Roy – My View

When Karen and I married in 1995 we were in our late 20’s and had been dating off and on for about 5 years. During that time we had experienced a long distance relationship, a broken engagement and many other significant challenges and trials. At one point, a pastor told Karen that we were not right for each other.

You see Karen and I had forged a pretty amazing friendship and for the most part we knew each other’s junk. We kind of knew what we were walking into when we said, “I do.” At least that is what we thought.

Our first few of years of marriage were tough…actually our 18 years of marriage have been tough but so much of our struggle rested in our “becoming one flesh…”

One of the BIG challenges for me as a young man was my identity. In my blog post, Hello My Name Is… I shared about my struggle with pornography.

Here is a portion of what I wrote and why it is so applicable to this post:

“I have always struggled to find those things that are good and loveable about me. I lived a life that I thought God and my parents would be proud of. I didn’t drink or party. I didn’t sleep around or have sex with girls. I remained a virgin until I was married. I didn’t smoke or do drugs. I followed all the rules…why did I feel so empty. I felt my performance (striving and fighting for my identity) would eventually win over the poor way I looked at myself.

Oh how I struggled internally. On the outside, I looked squeaky clean. On the inside I was a mess.”

You see so much of my identity was based on performance. I still struggle with the fear of failure and rejection. I need to know what I do matters.

Karen – Her View

I, too, grew up living a pretty wholesome life. The temptations of drinking, drugs or sex never entered my thoughts. The greatest deterrent from doing wrong was the thought of disappointing my parents. When it came to intimacy, I didn’t get it. The word ‘love’ was seldom spoken or displayed. We just knew it existed because of commitment and loyalty to family. Every once in a while ‘the talk’ would come up, which I interpreted as sex was not good. Though that was meant in the context of being unmarried, it was the only thing that had been shared with me.

In my teens and early 20’s, I experienced some traumatic “physical” acts that continued to send the message that physical intimacy was bad. So imagine laying all of my dark moments out there before I would consider marriage, thinking these things might make him run! I figured if he could accept me knowing the darkest of my secrets, our love could survive anything…and I would have an excuse for the things I feared.

Two Worlds Become One

Why is this important? Because our identity and our view of marriage is wrapped in our ability to love and be loved. The healthier that is the greater emphasis Karen and I will place on our children to be healthy individuals especially when it comes to determining who they want to spend the rest of their lives with, if they so choose that. Honestly, they need to know the mechanics of emotional wholeness as much as staying sexually pure.

Despite the fact we both came into our marriage with our sexual purity intact our emotional purity and our identities were broken and damaged.

So what do you do with your past? What if your shame is your identity?

You see “becoming one flesh” is not just a picture of physical intimacy. It is the joining of physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual worldviews. Dr. Brene Brown writes,

A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.

Karen and I have definitely had our share of struggles. Shame has crippled us in many ways based on bringing “our stuff” into our marriage. Our longing for wholeness in our marriage led to some of the most painful yet most rewarding aspects of our marriage.

Robin Weidner writes:

What a tremendous gift I can offer to my husband when I despise the shame, reminding him that his battle with addiction does not define him. And what a gift Dave gives me when he tenderly reminds me that my insecurities don’t mark me either, but rather make what I have accomplished more inspirational.

By making our marriage a shame-free zone, we’ve both found the grace and strength to make difficult changes. We do this through:

Talking about shame. One will share, “I’m feeling ashamed right now.” Or the other will ask, “Do you think there’s something bigger than this bothering you?”
Avoiding the language of shame. We make a concerted effort to share our own needs and feelings, rather than pointing fingers at each other.
Scorning the shame.As we come into the light with our battles, we put our trust in Jesus’ deadly blow to the shaming power of the accuser.
By routinely draining “pockets of shame,” Dave and I are learning that together we can be victorious, no matter what the struggle – as long as we engage the battle together.

As Karen and I look at our own children we want to set them up for success in some of the most important decisions they will make, most importantly marriage and family. Our desire is that they will see in their mom and dad, who are far from perfect, that vulnerability, authenticity mixed with love and grace can be the foundation in which shame has no foothold in their lives or the world of the one in which they will collide with someday.

About Roy Baldwin
Roy Baldwin (@baldwin_roy) is a contributing writer for Dad Matters and the Director of Parenting & Youth at Focus on the Family.

Husbands, 5 Phrases That Will Turn Your Wife On

What man doesn’t desire more intimate time with his wife? Sex is a healthy and necessary part of marriage. Without it, some marriages greatly suffer and frequently fail. Your goal, as a couple, should be not to ever allow that to happen.

Women, your husbands desire to touch you, kiss you, feel you. They’re men and the need for their sexual appetite to be filled is great. However, I recognize there are quite a few factors that affect intimacy in a relationship. It could range from health issues to simply being too drained or unfortunately not interested enough to make sex happen on a consistent basis. Husbands, with that being said, you have a responsibility as well. It’s not enough to simply desire intimacy with your wife, you’ll have to take a few positive actions in order for it to become more of a constant reality. Women have to feel desired, relaxed and excited about making love to their husbands. Men, you actually have more control over that than you think.

A loving kiss, gentle touch (in all the right places) are the easy turn ons for both women and men. However husbands, there are also a few simple phrases that could create the type of stimulation your wife needs. Here are 5:

“I’ll do those dishes”

One of the biggest reasons a wife isn’t always excited about intimacy is because she is too tired. Working a job or working in the home, raising a family and managing a household can be tiring. Anytime a husband can relieve his wife of one of her many responsibilities, the better. If you free her up with one of her tasks, she can make room for something a little more exciting, like sex with her husband.

“Dorn you fine!”

Husbands, sometimes your wife doesn’t feel as sexy as she should. Compliments from you that remind her of just how beautiful, sexy and desired she is, usually results in her wanting to demonstrate just how sexy she really is. The way you look at her should show how much you desire her.

“I’ll take the kids out for a little while so you can have some time to yourself.”

Wives need “me time” but won’t always ask for it. If you notice your wife seems a little frazzled, step up and give her some time alone. Her ability to regroup increases your chances of getting some.

“Can I rub your feet, your back, or wash your hair, etc.,”

Basically asking what can I do to help you relax will mean so much to your wife. Your being attentive and taking action will be sexy to your wife. When she sees you as sexy, it’s a turn on big time.

“Get dressed. I’ve planned a surprise date night.”

Telling your wife you’ve planned a night out, handled the babysitter and all she has to do is get dressed will turn her on in a way you can’t even imagine.

Husbands, the bottom line is that wives want to be considered. We want our husbands to recognize what we need and take action. Surprises are nice, touch feels awesome but you taking notice and relieving some of the daily pressures your wife feels is extremely sexy and could definitely lead you to that bedroom quicker than you ever thought.

Tiya Cunningham-Sumter
Tiya Cunningham-Sumter is a Certified Life & Relationship Coach, founder of Life Editing and a Career Coach/Trainer. She helps couples and individuals rewrite their life to reflect their dreams. Tiya has been featured in Ebony Magazine, Essence.com and on the Michael Baisden Show. She resides in Chicago with her husband and two children. For more of Tiya’s fearless life and love wisdom, visit her blog at www.theboldersister.com

Fighting for My Marriage

As most people know by now, this has been a very difficult year for me and my family. The premature birth of my son in January, his three months of hospitalization, his Down Syndrome and the challenges that have come along have pushed our family in numerous ways. We have had to readjust our expectations of ourselves, our family and our friends, all while giving ourselves the permission to struggle and even fail at times. Our kids have had to learn to share parental time, how to help more around the house, and have matured in amazing ways.

Overall, this has been an extremely challenging but very rewarding year for the Kuiper household. But in the last two weeks, a new challenge has been placed in front of our family.


That’s right, school. A few weeks ago, we found out about a program in the state of Colorado in which parents can earn income by taking care of their handicapped children if they have their CNA (certified nurses assistant) certification. And when we found out that a local organization was willing to pay for Treshia’s CNA classes, and even her certification tests, we prayed about it and felt like the Lord was giving us an amazing opportunity. So we signed up and jumped in. Since then, Treshia has had to attend classes every evening, while I have had to take care of things at home.

Every day after work, I pick up the kids, head home, finish homework, make dinner, get kiddos in the shower, feed the baby, and get everyone ready for bed. Meanwhile, Treshia has to carry a brutal schedule better fit for a woman in her twenties, not a working mother in her early forties. Everyday, she gets ready for work, drives the kids to school, works from 8-5, then drives to school. She then attends class until 10pm, comes home and studies until midnight, then gets in bed in time to get 4-5 hours of sleep before it begins again. By the time the weekend comes, she is completely spent. She has nothing left and yet her family is desperate for her time and attention. And that is where an unexpected battle has come into my life. In the midst of being a virtual single father all week, I also have to fight for my marriage.

How so? I have found that with everything that is going on, and the absence of my beloved bride, my natural instinct is to shut down my heart and go into survival mode. It is easier to focus on the tasks that need to be done, to pour myself into my goals at home and to unplug from my marriage. But then when the weekend comes around, my lonely heart longs to reconnect with my best friend and is disappointed and hurt when she has almost nothing to give back and has to focus on schooling, her own uncompleted tasks or simply to catch up on the sleep that she has lost all week. And as my heart feels that disappointment and hurt, my instincts are to emotionally quit and shut down. No, I do not even consider pursuing a divorce, or anything that drastic, but emotionally I want to file the paperwork and move on. I am hurting and want to do anything to make the pain go away. But I can’t. And I won’t. But that means I have to FIGHT for my marriage. I have to mentally stop myself from focusing on my own hurts and pains, and the extra burdens that I am carrying.

Instead, I have to concentrate on my wife and on my children. I must put myself into her shoes, and consider what she is going through. And I must be willing to take care of everything at home, from meals to baths to cleaning, so she can concentrate on the tasks set before her without having to worry about her home or her family. I must be willing to love my wife through my actions and attitude, all without hardly seeing her much.

I wish I could tell you that I have done an amazing job, and have been the perfect husband and father, but that would not be true. I have really struggled at times. I have lost my temper with my kids. I have grumbled and gotten bitter some evenings. And I have wanted to quit. But at the same time, I have learned how to be a better dad and a better husband. And I won’t quit. I won’t back down.

For better or worse…
For richer or poorer…
In sickness and in health…
For as long as we both shall live.


6 Ideas for Starting a Family Bucket List by Rich Bennett

Since its release in 2007, the film The Bucket List has inspired many people to make a list of things they want to do or accomplish during their lifetime.

I’ve always appreciated the intentionality and forethought that comes with making such a list. Recently, I’ve been thinking … what about making a “bucket list” of things we want to do or experience as a family before our kids grow up and leave our home?

So, my wife and I sat down to create our own family list. Here are our six ideas, which you can build on or use to help start your own list.

1. Special Vacation Destinations

When I first started thinking about making a family bucket list, most of my initial ideas gravitated around places I’d like us all to visit together. For us, the clock is winding down on this knowing we only have four summers before my oldest son goes to college.

Rich and his children at the beach

We’ve visited a Disney park, Yellowstone National Park and beaches on both coasts. Now that our kids are older, we’re starting to hit historical locations like Mount Rushmore and presidential libraries. A big one left for us is to travel to our nation’s capital, and perhaps cities closely connected to our nation’s founding, such as Boston and Philadelphia.

While we weren’t quite this formal, we know one family that made a list of places they knew they wanted to travel to as a family before their kids even started school, and they’ve been systematically crossing those places off over the years.

2. Take A Missions Trip

We know families that have taken overseas missions trips with their elementary age kiddos. For us, we decided to wait until both our kids were at least middle school age. And, we decided to make our first family missions trip a domestic one with the help of Adventures in Missions.

Sure there are ways you can serve others right in your own backyard. But travelling together away from your hometown not only enables you to experience some place new, it requires greater reliance on God’s strength – putting you less in control – something I personally need to experience to be reminded to lean on His power – not merely the abilities He’s given me.

3. Teach Your Kids Key Life Skills

As parents, we like to do things for our kids. And, quite frankly, sometimes it’s just easier to do things ourselves rather than take the time to teach them to do them. But both my wife and I know young adults who left their parent’s home for the first time not knowing skills like the basics of cooking … how to do laundry … balance a checkbook … mow and trim the lawn … or change a flat tire.

Make a list of those things you were glad you knew how to do when you left your parent’s home – or, that you had to learn the hard way – and make a point to teach your kids before their time comes to strike out on their own.

4. Care For a Pet

My wife and I have always joked with our kids that the reason that we got a dog shortly after we got married – and before we had kids — is that we figured if we really screwed up the dog, we’d know to stop there.

But the truth is, having to care for something or someone besides yourself is a great way to learn responsibility – and become less selfish. Having pets that your kids help care for is a great way to prepare them for bigger responsibilities down the road.

5. Experience Classic Movies Together

Beyond just being entertained, watching classic films together is a great way to expose your kids to other time periods, get your kids thinking critically about decisions other people make, and tee up discussions about a host of life topics.

For instance, we recently all watched The Sound of Music together, a movie I hadn’t seen since I was a kid. Not only is it extremely well made, but it gave us the chance to have discussions about what it means to be selfless, take risks to help others and provided a historical context for World War II.

Plugged In’s website offers free online “Movie Nights” lists for both families with younger children, as well as families with teens, which provide great ideas for age appropriate movies to watch together. Each movie listed also comes with discussion-starter questions that you can use to talk about themes the film raises from a biblical perspective.

6. Align with Your Kids’ Passions & Interests

If your kids are like ours, they each have different things that animate and energize them. My daughter loves animals, art and being outdoors. My son is fascinated by dioramas of places, anything to do with aviation and space, and is increasingly interested in music.

As a result, we look for activities, or places to visit, where together we can explore the different passions God’s given each of us. We’ve visited several space and aviation museums over the years. And we’ve likely made more trips to the zoo than the typical family for my animal loving daughter and wife.

So those are major items on our family’s bucket list. What would you put on a bucket list for your family? What have I left off?

About Rich Bennett
Rich Bennett (@coloradorich) is a contributing writer for Dad Matters and the Vice President of Ministry & Marketing Strategy for Focus on the Family

The One Thing Nobody Tells Expectant Dads

There are a lot of things expectant dads can be short on. Time. Money. Baby name ideas. But the one thing no expectant dad is short on?


Young or old, parent or non-parent, married or single, rich or poor, everyone has advice to share with expectant parents and plenty of it. Some of it sounds great and is actually insane. Some of it sounds insane and is actually great. Some of it both sounds like and is actually flat out insane.

pregnant couple

Pregnant couple smiling When we were expecting our first (and second and third) baby, I heard all of the above. I was advised on the best ways to put your babies on a schedule (many nice, but insane theories), how to soothe babies (including an insane, but great method), and how turning babies heels over head three times in a row resets their internal clocks so they’ll sleep when you do (sounds insane and is, well, insane).

There has been advice and suggestions regarding the best diapers, formulas, pacifiers, cribs, high chairs, car seats, toys, monitors, strollers, baby foods, outfits, and breast pumps. (Okay, so maybe nobody gave me advice on pump options.)

However, there was one thing nobody shared with me when I was an expectant dad.


I don’t recall one person not passing along any advice to me. (To be fair, there are a lot of things about being an expectant dad that I don’t recall. It was a blur, and parenthood is murder on the memory banks.)

For better and for worse, it seems like there is a very well-intentioned compulsion that people have to share their best advice with expectant parents. It’s wonderful… and sometimes exhausting. I like to think of myself as a friendly, quip-full guy, but I’ve run out of clever ways to graciously accept “Pro Tips” from amateurs.

Again, to be fair, I consider myself a parenting amateur. Actually, I pretty much consider everyone to be a parenting amateur. We’re all figuring this thing out, and we all have very unique children. One thing I’ve learned about parenting after having three kids is that even advice gleaned from my own experience with one of my own children can be completely ineffective when applied to one of my other children.

What am I saying? Advice isn’t one-size-fits-all, and you know what? That’s okay, and it doesn’t mean that all advice is bad and/or ought to be rejected.

The nice thing about realizing that a large portion of parenting advice people give you isn’t going to apply to your life is that it allows you the opportunity to see the real value of advice. You see, my theory is that people share advice because they care, and not because they think you—as the expectant parent—are incompetent or incapable of being a parent. I believe it’s quite likely that it simply means they’re interested in helping your parenting experience be a little less bumpy.

So, while I personally am formulating a line of non-advice one-liners to drop on expectant parents, I am no longer going to be bothered by people passing their advice along to me.

And my advice to you? Next time someone passes along their best tip, lay it away for a rainy day. You never know when it might prove to actually be handy, and you just might make a good friend who’ll be there to walk alongside you as you venture into parenthood.

Book cover for “Expectant Parents”Oh, and while you’re at it, stay tuned for a brand new iPad app from Focus on the Family called “Expectant Parents.” It won’t solve all your problems (especially since it isn’t out quite yet), but it’s not meant for that. What it is meant for, though, is to be there for you when you have questions. To come alongside and encourage you on your journey of parenthood.

You know, like a good friend. Except digital… and slightly less good at hugs.

(The book version is much better at hugs. Don’t ask me how.)

How Will Your Kids Remember You?

The picture you see here is of Scott Bachman, his father and Dad’s 1973 convertible Corvette. That’s Scott standing up in the driver’s seat with the football helmet—probably advisable headgear if he was actually planning to take it for a spin.

That car reminded Scott of his father like nothing else. Which is why, earlier this year, Scott went on a quest to track down and buy that ’73 ‘Vette. Not just a 1973 Corvette convertible that looked kind of the same. The very same one.

According to Fox 2 in Detroit, Scott started dreaming about the car this May—dreams so real that, eventually, he told his wife that he was going to buy it. Scott had kept the ‘Vette’s VIN number. So, after a little poking around online, he found the current owner and made an offer, which was accepted.

“It wasn’t until I got into the seat and put my hand on the steering wheel that I felt like I really connected with him again,” Scott told Fox 2.

Not many of us would repurchase an old car as a sort of chrome-plated memento of our own fathers. But most of us have possessions that remind us of loved ones no longer with us: A watch. A chair. A tool belt. As I said last week, stuff matters—if it’s filled with memories. It makes us feel closer to our dearly departed.

But in an age where much of our living is done online, do we have as many tangible reminders to pass on? When we’re gone, what will remind our children of us?

It’s a little trickier now. But it’s doable. And maybe even easier in some ways.

I don’t have a lot of cool stuff to pass down to my kids. I don’t have a nifty collectible car dining room table I carved from a felled tree in the backyard. My tool of trade—my computer—was obsolete five seconds out of the box. I’d imagine that many of us are in the same boat: Cubicle workplaces, alas, are rarely filled with ready-to-go heirlooms. Sometimes are hobbies are wrapped up in pretty disposable stuff. No one, I’d imagine, will want my worn-out running shoes when I’m gone.

But I do have an advantage that some folks don’t: I’m a writer. And much of my stuff is somewhere online, floating in the ether. This blog post, for better or worse, will outlive me. And if my children ever get a hankering to hear me long after I’m gone, they’ll be able to do so (after a fashion) with a simple Google search.

Not every dad writes or blogs, of course. But most of us probably have some sort of online presence—pictures and flyaway posts that might be little online pearls of wisdom for our kids. And if we feel that our 2014 Facebook witticisms aren’t quite how we’d like our kids to remember us, we can become a little more intentional: We can start journals that catalogue our thoughts and feelings as our kids grow up. We can even record ourselves reading to them, so they’ll remember the rise and fall of our voice.

If we’re not so comfortable writing or can’t stand the sounds of our own voice or, really, want to stay away from all that computerized memory-making entirely, we can do other things: Collect little treasures that we picked up together and put them in a box to give them when they’re older—a rock that your 3-year-old daughter thought was the most beautiful thing on earth (before she forgot about it), a ticket stub to a football game, a copy of a book that means something to you and you want to pass on to them. You can jot down little notes on why these things are important to you. Or you can simply look through the box when they’re older and/or grown and tell them yourself before passing the whole works on.

But no matter what, we should take the time to create memories with our kids. Give them moments to treasure. Times to embrace and recollect and retell to their own kids. Those times are, after all, what makes the rest of what I’m talking about worth anything—and worth more than even a classic Corvette ever could be.

About Paul Asay
Paul Asay (@AsayPaul) is a contributor for Dad Matters and a senior associate editor for PluggedIn.com.

Serving as a Family in a Self-Centered Culture

What does it mean to be a servant to others and how do we as a family serve others?

In today’s society, servant-hood seems to be a lost word and it is lost on many people. The idea of true servant-hood is one of sacrifice and putting others before yourself. It is contrary to our culture.

How does a parent instill a Christ-like attitude of servant-hood in our children when all they are exposed to in our culture is a selfish, instant gratification attitude? Our kids cannot go anywhere without being inundated with the messages of selfishness and looking out for number one. I as a parent even fall prey to that mindset. There are many ways that we as dads can show our kids how to put others first.

Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. The King of kings becoming the servant of all.

Be the role-model that our kids need us to be

Unfortunately, or rather fortunately it falls on us as parents to be the role models in this. Back when I was a child I remember having some good role models to look up to, but today it seems like there are fewer and fewer role models to look up to. And anyway it should be us as parents to model this for our kids.

I know that we as parents and especially dads get really busy just running the rat race of life and do not take the time to be others-centered.

I know I do. I find myself really busy between my job, my business and college, that having any time left to help others just seems impossible. I am not saying we stop all those things, but we can be doing little acts, even at home to show our kids how to be self-sacrificial and serve others.

It starts with being a servant to your kids’ mom

One of the things that turned my marriage around was when I as the husband really grasped the scripture Ephesians 5:25 “Husbands, Love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it…” As I thought on that verse in the last period of separation that my wife and I went through, I really felt convicted of my self-centered nature and I only really focused on my needs in our marriage. Oh I took care of things, but I never did it with an attitude of being her servant and modeling Christ in our marriage. When I put her needs before my own and when I started doing things with a grateful heart and from the eyes of being a servant, my marriage and family life drastically changed. The things that happen in life didn’t get any better, in fact we went through many other hardships with our children being teenagers, but my perspective and attitude in these things changed. I still fall into my own self-centered nature, but I am more aware of it now and it takes me a lot less time to realize what I am doing. So it starts with how I look at things and how I treat my wife and the kid’s mom, no matter what the family situation looks like.

It moves from there to how I treat my kids

Coming from how I was raised in a more old-school household, I fall prey to that mindset as well sometimes, especially when my kids portray the typical teenage attitudes that are very prevalent today. I know that as a dad I have an incredible amount of influence in my kid’s lives, not only in my words, but especially in my actions. As they have gotten older it has become more important that I portray and act like I speak or tell them. “Just because I said so”, “Do as I say and not as I do”, and “I am the parent and you are the child” have very little influence or power anymore.

Because I am so busy, doing things for my kids seems like another daunting task, but I have found just doing little things can make a big difference in how they perceive a self-centered life and a life of servant-hood. For example, we live almost an hour away from my kids’ youth group and after a long day of work, I don’t want to take them to youth group and take up 4- 5 hours of my evening, but if I can do this (without complaining and with a cheerful heart) my children can see how to model being a servant, even when I don’t feel like it. Most parents sacrifice a lot when it comes to their kids, from taking them all over for school stuff or doing those last minute projects, and let’s face it dads, our wives do most of this and keep the house going, but we need to step up and take some of those things or other things to help out, instead of watching that football game or playing video games or whatever we want to do. (I find this especially difficult when the Broncos are playing ans I want to watch my favorite team!!!) We need to step up dads and model being a servant of others. Even these little things can have a big impact.

Here is a little video that I am sure many of us have seen on YouTube, but it captures the essence of helping others and the joy that can come from doing just simple selfless acts. I think this is why we love to hear stories on the news about paying it forward.

I know it has helped me to look at things a little differently. Check it out:

Start something that might be in your comfort zone to be a help to others

Finances are always an easy way for me to do something. Because my time is limited and very valuable to me, I find it easier to give money or support something. So our family supports kids in China and we as a family send them things as we can. The kids will write letters and send gifts from money that they earn. So this is just one way we do things that are in our comfort zone.

Move onto something that is beyond our comfort zone

Get your kids involved in helping and respecting others. My children volunteer for our church. It shows them how to help others and give sacrificially of themselves. Again this helps me adjust my attitude, because when they volunteer, I have to also sacrifice my time. which teaches me too.

Get them involved in helping others. We need to let our kids see us freely help others in every way possible. From providing a meal to a homeless person to giving our time to help other teenagers and making our house safe for other teens, especially today’s teens! I would say that teens today are dealing with more today than I would ever have thought imaginable or possible. I know it wasn’t this way when I was teen, so this needs to be in the forefront of our minds. Doing this is especially hard for me because my kids know that I am not a people person. Not that I don’t love to help people, but my personality is the type that tires very easily from being around people and so it is a big step out of my comfort zone to have people over. So start small and build as you can.

So I am still working on getting beyond my personality and getting out of my comfort zone to help others as time goes on. It is a work in progress and I am making steps in the right direction. Our kids need to not only hear our words, but see us in action portraying our servant hood and helping others.

Because I am not very good at living outside of our family unit, I needed help with this concept. So being an employee of Focus on the Family I went and looked for resources that we may have on this subject. I am truly amazed at what we have available to dads like me who are working on making our family better. So here is something that we have that I can say has helped me a bit and will help us as a family to go beyond ourselves this year. Especially as the holidays approach.

Here is a link to it: http://bit.ly/1xOXI6z

So what does your family do to help others and be a servant to others? Do you have any holiday traditions that involve you and your family helping others?

I would love to hear about it! Feel free to post your thoughts and ideas in the comments!

Fostering Faith, One Talk at a Time

America is growing more secular. All the studies say so. While it’s still an overwhelmingly religious country (and most adherents say they’re Christian), numerous polls have shown a rise in people who claim no religious affiliation. Many Christians worry that their children will slip away from the faith. And, from personal experience, I can tell you that that can happen.

But if you want to foster a healthy sense of spirituality in your kids, there’s a critical step you can take: Talk with them about your faith.

According to a new wave of data from the ongoing National Study of Youth and Religion (and reported on by David Briggs of the Association of Religion Data Archives), parents have a huge impact on whether their own children become religious adults.

“No other conceivable causal influence … comes remotely close to matching the influence of parents on the religious faith and practices of youth,” says Christian Smith, a University of Notre Dame sociologist and lead author of the study. “Parents just dominate.”

The study actually began way back in 2002 and 2003, tracking teens and their relationship to faith. Now those teens are young adults—ages 24 to 29. And there’s no question that these young adults are engaged with a more secular country than their parents were.

But here’s the thing: 82% of teens raised by moms and dads whose faith was important to them—and who demonstrated that importance by talking about it and taking an active part in church—were spiritually active themselves. That’s no guarantee, of course, but you have to like those odds.

In comparison, teens raised in more secular households were almost guaranteed to be pretty secular themselves. Only 1% of those secularized teens went on to find a meaningful connection with faith.

“Parents, for better or worse, are actually the most influential pastors .. of their children,” Smith said during a presentation of his findings at the Yale Divinity School. “Parents set a kind of glass ceiling of religious commitment, above which their children rarely rise.”

So how do you show your kids the importance of religion? Going to church is a good step, of course. Volunteering at church is one step better. But it seems like the biggest factor in encouraging children and teens to follow your faith is to talk about it.

It’s funny: We should know all this already, and maybe we do. Dads, as the spiritual leader of the home, should be particularly aware of their need to communicate religious truth. But I think a lot of times we pass on the responsibility, leaving our children’s spiritual education to outside “experts” like pastors and youth leaders. But this study stresses that we moms and dads are still by far the most important teachers our kids have, particularly when it comes to faith. There’s just no overstating our influence.

Yeah, it can be tricky to talk about religion with our kids. We don’t always know what to say or how to say it. And if we consciously try to foster really open discussion, our kids’ questions can be pretty challenging. But all the more reason to deal with those questions head-on, right? It’s so much better if you try to answer those questions—however imperfect you feel those answers might be—than leave a void for other influencers to fill.

I’ve always felt that good communication is one of the most important keys to good parenting. If you’re worried that your children might turn away from faith, the answer might be as close as an afternoon walk or a chat around the dinner table.

Do You Know Why You Get Angry?

Angry face
I can’t pretend to remember (or know) all of the things I’ve been angry over. If you’re a dad… or a mom… or a human being, then I’ll hedge my bets and wager that you probably can’t either. I know I’ve been angry, but I don’t really remember why.

I was really angry with my kids just mere hours ago and, this time, I know why. I can remember. I was angry because I wasn’t getting my way. Because I felt like my desires/needs/rights were being infringed on by my children.

I didn’t notice at the time. Of course I didn’t, or else I wouldn’t have gotten angry in the first place. (I like to think.) They were disobeying by not listening to me when I wanted them to because I wanted time for myself. Which isn’t a bad thing… until you let it drive you to yell at your children… like I just did. All because I wasn’t getting my way.

Which, if I’m not mistaken, is called a tantrum. A temper tantrum, to be precise.

I just threw a temper tantrum.

I could blame it on a lot of things. Lack of sleep. Stress carried over from work. Hunger and dehydration. Brain malfunction due to my children’s mind-numbingly loud shrieks. The melting of the polar ice caps. All are great excuses, and most are relevant to my situation. But those are just exacerbating the real problem: selfishness.

Parenthood, much like marriage, is really, really terribly/wonderfully good at rooting out the core selfishness in a person. Like insanely good at it and, just when you think it’s all been plucked up, more always seems to be surfacing. So much so that it almost feels like I’m more selfish now than when I first became a dad. Which is no good, especially as I’m realizing that pretty much all of my shortcomings as a dad, including my anger, stem directly from my selfishness.

A father carrying his sleeping son You see, the external triggers that I generally like to blame (stress, fatigue, dehydration, grasshoppers) really just reveal the true nature of my selfish heart. Because, it would seem, if I wasn’t so selfish then my reactions to the stressors would likely be much different.

I tried to rationalize my anger away as simply being stress-related, until I found myself yelling at a blank bedroom wall for no reason other than wanting my kids to go to sleep so I could have my “me time.” Subtract selfishness from the equation and, even though the external stress still exists, the yelling at family members and inanimate objects can be more easily addressed and nixed.

It’s all very important, I’m discovering, because if I wasn’t so worried about what I felt like I was missing out on I’d be better able to enjoy the moment I’m actually in. I would be better able to see my kiddos struggle with the concept of staying in bed as gentle learning experiences rather than as deliberate attempts on my sanity. (Even when it really, really feels like the latter.)

Do you struggle with this at all? Or have you found that your anger has another source? Or are you just never angry?

I think it’s worth digging through the muck to find the roots. I want to for my family’s sake and, honestly, for my own sake too. I think healing can start and be most effective there. At the source.

And who knows? If we can figure out why we’re actually angry, we might just find ourselves well on our way toward having happier families.