Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ethiopia, Here We Come!

Hello friends and loyal dadlosophites! I am writing this entry rather quickly from a coffee shop in Washington, D.C. Meredith and I arrived yesterday on the first leg of a long trip. In a few hours we will board a plane for Ethiopia. We have a twenty-hour flight ahead of us as we go to Africa to meet the twin baby boys we are adopting.

If all goes as planned, we will make a seven-hour drive from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to the orphanage where our sons are living on Tuesday. Then, on Friday, we go before an Ethiopian judge, hopefully to be awarded custody. Unfortunately, we do not bring our boys home right away. Next begins a month-long process of paperwork, during which Meredith and I will return to the states until time to return and pick up our sons in late December.

It's crazy! It's exciting! It can even be challenging. You go through a lot when you're trying to adopt. There's a ton of paperwork, a massive amount of financial expense, and (when adopting from Ethiopia) quite a bit of distance one has to travel to bring home their child/children.

"So why do it, Kindred," you may ask. "You and Meredith already have three beautiful kids. You have a great family. You're happy. Why spend all that money? Why put up with all the administrative headaches associated with gathering paperwork, passports, tax records, and so on? And, for goodness sakes, why get all those shots to protect you from diseases you usually only hear about on National Geographic or the Discovery Channel? Most of all, why risk it? Aren't you worried that you might mess up the kids you've got? Don't you think you should devote your full attention to them and that this will only take away from all you and your wife should be doing to ensure they have a fulfilling childhood? Shouldn't all that money you're spending on an adoption go towards Emerson, William, and Carson's futures? And what about possible issues? What if these kids you're adopting have inherited diseases, mental problems, don't adjust well, and so on? C'mon, man; what are you thinking?"

Well, I'm sure I'll get deeper into our reasoning in the weeks to come as I get to know my new sons and have more time to write (fighting the clock a bit today). But here's some short answers.

1)Why do it? -- It's right. God is described in Psalm 68 as a "Father to the fatherless." Jesus tells us in Matthew 25 that "as we do unto the least of these, so you do unto me." The Bible repeatedly tells us to remember the orphans and widows. And, let us not forget, of all God's kids, only one is begotten. The rest? All adopted if you believe the Bible. Oh, and any distance we're having to travel or trouble we're encountering is a lot shorter and easier than the distance Jesus had to travel to reach and save us so that we could be part of his family.

For me, the answer to "Why do it" goes back to the fact that I'm a Christian. I claim to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. 'Nuff said. Of course, many Christians say that they "don't feel called to adopt." Hey, it ain't my place to judge; especially since many of these people exhibit Christ-like qualities that far outshine my sinful example. But I will say this: The math doesn't seem to add up. God calls all Christians to remember the orphans, but most Christians don't feel called to give an orphaned child a home. Something to ponder, eh?

2) Why Spend the Money? -- Trust me, I've asked this one more than a few times. But the truth is, I believe this is why God gives me money. God hasn't blessed Meredith and I so that we can read monthly statements showing a growing IRA or other retirement account (although I do believe in saving). No, he has blessed us so that we can put the money towards His purpose. "A Father to the fatherless." I think God wants us using our resources to adopt these orphaned boys, not planning our dream home or the trips we'll take one day when we retire (although it will sure be cool if we get to enjoy those things too.)

3) What About the Kids We Already Have? -- What about them? They're excited about 2 new brothers from Africa. And you know what I've seen? They are more selfless and more conscious of God and what it means to care about and love others since we started talking about the adoptions. Yep, lots of money saved for college is nice (and is still a goal of mine). But I'd rather my kids value the lives of these two Ethiopian boys and see parents who live out their convictions, not just talk about how much they admire other people who do.

4) What About Health and Other Issues? -- What? Our twin sons don't need a mom and dad if they have health issues? In fact, wouldn't they need the love and support of a family even more if they have health concerns. And, if they are going to have health issues, how much more does God expect Meredith and I to be there for these kids. As for issues, the fact of the matter is this: We all have issues! Heck, I hope the twins do have issues. If they don't have issues they won't fit in with our family. In fact, don't give us kids with no issues--we'll only mess 'em up.

There's tons more I want to, and eventually will, say. But for now, so long. We're off to Africa. I'll shoot out my next post when I return (probably just before Thanksgiving) and give you an update. Take care and, if you're a prayer warrior, say one for us. We'd really appreciate it. In the meantime, look for ways to remember the orphans and widows (and sick, and poor, and hurting...) Don't forget, your adoptive Father is watching.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Parenting Style? More Like Parenting Philosophy

This week's dadlosophy is a bit different. Rather than sitting at my own kitchen table, in my office, or at the local coffee shop, I'm sitting in a room full of fellow bloggers at Atlanta's WXIA television studio. No, I haven't been called here to be interviewed on live television (hard to believe they would miss such an opportunity, I know). Nope, I've been invited to participate in a blog off.

What is a blog off? Well, it basically involves a bunch of mommy and daddy bloggers sitting around and blogging about our parental lives. After an hour and a half, judges will come around, read our blogs, and judge us. What happens if our blog falls flat? Personally, I think the losers should have to take the winners' kids for a week. Now that's a blog off!

We've been given several topics we can choose from. Topic one, My Scariest Moment as a parent. That's kind of like blogging about my goofiest moment as a teenager. Too many to choose from--next topic.

Next, How My Child Surprised Me. Again, hard to narrow down. Throw in the fact that many of those "surprising moments" nearly resulted in my needing therapy, caused me to have a life-threatening rise in blood pressure, or cost me enough money to bring tears to my eyes, and I'm pretty certain that I don't care to relive any of them again for fear that it may lead to the need for some really expensive medications. Pass.

The topic I've chosen is HOW I FIRST REALIZED MY PARENTING STYLE. Hmmm... interesting question. First of all, what is a parenting style? I'm not totally sure. Haven't really thought about it before. I would describe what I have as more of a parenting philosophy. I realized pretty early on that it is important to be my kids' dad, not their buddy. Don't get me wrong, I love hanging out with my kids and having fun together. I get a kick out of playing games, wrestling on the living room floor, throwing the ball in the backyard, and doing silly dances with my daughter to whatever is playing on the kitchen radio. But, at the end of the day, what my kids need most from me is leadership, not another pal.

I can't necessarily think of one moment at which I came face-to-face with this realization. Rather, it's more like a series of moments that continue to occur. Take, for instance, the other night. The kids and I had just finished dinner and were engaged in one of our fairly common post-meal wrestling smack downs. They were winning, but they also cheat. They call for Mommy every time Daddy starts to win. Anyway, they were laughing and thoroughly enjoying themselves when my supervisor (a.k.a., Mommy) walked in and announced, "Okay everyone, time for bed." Noticing that the kids didn't seem to notice, Meredith gave it another go. "Did you guys hear me? I said the wrestling match is over, time for baths and bed." This time, my kiddos jumped up and proceeded running around the house, thinking that it would be funny to tease mommy.

It's at moments like these that a parent has to ask him or herself a question: What do my kids need me to be right now? The answer (as I see it)is AUTHORITY FIGURE. Not that my wife wasn't more than capable of corralling this rowdy herd of little Howards, but since I was the one who'd gotten them so wound up, I felt that I needed to be the one to reel 'em back in. I stood up and, in a calm but firm voice, called my kids. Realizing Dad meant business, Emerson, William, and Carson, stopped their running and, still smiling, made their way into the living room. Were they scared of me? No. Did they know Daddy was serious? Yes. They could tell that Daddy had just flipped the switch. I had transitioned out of "let's have fun" mode into "Authoritative Leader" mode. After apologizing to Mommy, my kids went upstairs.

That's a good illustration of my parenting style/philosophy. In a word, it's leadership. More specifically, CONFIDENT LEADERSHIP. I believe kids need parents to be comfortable in their role as an authority figure. Sadly, many parents today don't feel confident. They feel that they are doing something wrong or destructive by being in charge. But kids need direction. They need firmness. They need discipline (which entails a lot more than punishment). And, yes, they need Mom and Dad to decide for them what is best--at least when they're as young as my kids.

Be confident leaders Moms and Dads. Be comfortable being in charge. Believe it or not, your kids want you to clearly define the boundaries. They don't need an adult buddy, and you shouldn't over concern yourself with whether or not your kids always like you. Nope, in fact, being a good parent often means loving your kids enough to let them NOT like you for a while. The coolest part is that, if you do fulfill your authoritative role, you'll probably find that your kids are so secure and happy that you're all having more than enough fun to go around. And that's a pretty good prize too, even if some blogger won't take your kids for a week.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Your Child's Greatest Need

Last Friday, I arrived home after a long day at a seminar in Atlanta. I'd left early in the morning, before my wife and kids were up, and returned roughly around dinner time. As I pulled into the drive, my children rushed to the car to meet me. They were excited to see Dad and immediately started bombarding me with information. I was glad to see my kids. I gave them all hugs and listened with "fascination" as William described how he'd skateboarded down the sidewalk without falling and Emerson shared about the sleepover she'd been invited to that weekend.

As my little paparazzi followed me, begging for my attention and expecting me to stop, I slowly kept moving as I said things like, "Really?... That's wonderful, Buddy..." and, "Sounds awesome, Emerson..."

Entering the house, I found my wife, Meredith, cooking dinner. She was wearing a sweatshirt and pajama pants. Her hair was pulled back in her customary "mommy pony tail." It was obvious from her appearance that she'd been tending to household responsibilities and kids all day. In other words, she looked beautiful as always.

It's then that I did the most important thing any father can do when he gets home at the end of the day. I turned to my children (whom I dearly love) and said, "Guys, I want all of you to go outside and play while Daddy and Mommy talk for ten minutes." That's right; I sent my children away so that I could have a few moments alone with my wife.

Why? What deep thing did I need to discuss with Meredith? What important issue demanded that we talk right away without the kids around? Absolutely nothing. The fact of the matter was, I just wanted to see my wife and have some time alone with her. I hadn't seen her all day, and I wanted to find out how she was doing.

Often, when I write 'Dadlosophies,' I make reference to how important it is that we spend time with our kids and not let the concerns of life crowd out what's most important--our families. I especially think that this is valuable advice for dads, who are often busy pursuing careers and have a tendency to define themselves by what they do for a living. We're usually the ones who can most easily make the mistake of defining what it means to provide for our families in material rather than spiritual, emotional, and developmental terms.

But even parents devoted to spending time with their children can fall into a dangerous and potentially destructive pattern (destructive for the marriage and the kids, themselves). If not careful, our homes can become kid-centric rather than marriage-centric. One of the dangerous trends I often see developing in families is when our households all-to-easily end up revolving around the children instead of the marriage. Before we know it, we parents wake up and realize we've become mommy and daddy first and husband and wife second. Mom's life is more about caring for the kids than being what her husband needs. Dad comes home and immediately engages the children rather than first making sure his wife is okay and connecting with her.

Here's the deal: Your child's greatest need (outside of a relationship with God) is a strong, loving marriage between Mommy and Daddy. Nothing--ABSOLUTELY NOTHING--makes a child feel safer and more secure than seeing that Mommy loves Daddy more than anything or anybody, and absolutely no one (not even his own child) holds a candle to Mommy in Daddy's heart. As my new friend and nationally renowned parenting expert, John Rosemond, puts it: "Mommy and Daddy HAVE A RELATIONSHIP with their child, but they are IN A RELATIONSHIP with one another." Translation: I'm my wife's husband first and my kids' dad second. Meredith is my wife first and my kids' mommy second. Our home must revolve around our relationship as husband and wife, not our kids' schooling, extracurricular activities, children's "needs" (which often are just wants), and so on.

Yes, I take time every day to spend with my children. Of course there are times when the kids get and even require our full attention. But Meredith is number one. In fact, it's no contest. When Meredith is talking to me, the kids know that they are not to interrupt. When I come home at the end of the day, I want to (and will) see my wife first. I'll take some time to play with my kids, but not until after I get quality time with Mommy. And when there is an issue that involves disobedience or requires discipline, the kids know that Mommy and Daddy stand united. We back each other up and trust each other's judgment. Trying to play us against one another is a crucial and, as my children have learned, potentially fanny-painful error.

Does that mean Meredith and I always agree? No. But we act like we do in front of the kids, then discuss any differences of opinion behind closed doors. In short, the most important relationship in the home is NOT parent-child, it's husband-wife. Our children are NOT the center of the household universe, Mommy and Daddy are.

What about your home? Is it kid-centric or marriage-centric? Does your kids' world revolve around your marriage, or do you and your spouse continually neglect each other because of the kids' activities, the children's "needs," or some unhealthy cultural standard you've bought into that erroneously suggests your worth as a parent is gauged by how much time you devote to your children or how much you've helped them accomplish in comparison to other kids?

If your kids are the center of things, then you're setting them up for failure. What happens when they get out in the real world and are met with the harsh realization that things don't revolve around them? What happens when your child, who is used to being waited on, catered to, or given precedence over everybody and everything gets married one day and is disappointed to learn that his or her spouse falls short of adequately "meeting their needs?" Can you say 'divorce after only a year or two of marriage?'

Nope, best thing you can give your kids is a strong marriage and a sober realization that they aren't the main player. Trust me, they'll be more secure and comfortable in that role, and it will provide them with a good, realistic assessment of themselves. One that will better equip them to interact with others, have strong relationships, and do well in life once all is said and done.

And moms, don't buy the lie that the best mothers pour tons of time and attention into their kids. No, the best moms are the ones who teach their kids to be people of character, to care about others, and to fend for themselves because they'll have to in the real world. This means occasionally REFUSING to do for your children, insisting they solve certain problems on their own, requiring them to do some chores around the house, not being afraid to lead and discipline your kids, and sometimes reminding your precious little angels that they aren't anything special rather than constantly shining a spotlight on every little thing they do as if it were some earth-shattering accomplishment. (A dose of humility will serve kids well, don't you think?)

So parents, show your kids some love. Send them away while you hug each other, kiss each other, compliment each other, and ask each other about your days. Chances are, there's a little kiddo who'll be peeking in, smiling, and feeling happy and secure in the knowledge that Mommy and Daddy love each other more than anyone else in the world--even the kids.