Parenting Doesn’t Work, It Woos
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William SmithWilliam P. Smith (PhD, Rutgers University; MDiv, Westminster Theological Seminary) is a pastor, author, and retreat speaker who has served several churches, been a faculty member of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation, and taught practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. He is the author of Loving Well (Even If You Haven't Been) and numerous other books and booklets.
How can a parent raise their child to one day be their peer? Dave and Ann Wilson talk with William Smith, the author of Parenting With Words of Grace, on what it looks like to woo our kids.
Parenting Doesn’t Work, It Woos
Bob: It’s easy for us to think that, when our workday is over, our work is over; but William Smith says our new job is just beginning when we get home from work.
Bill: You have to put your primary shepherding care into your family; that’s the foundation from which you shepherd the rest. And why do I know this?—because I did it backwards. I was much better to an early ministry than I was to my wife at the time. I had to realize: “Wow! I’m a peacemaker by day and a war-maker by night. That makes me a hypocrite, and that means something has to change.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, December 9th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. In the long run, it’s the work we do at home with our spouse and with our kids that’s going to matter most to us in life. We’ll talk more about that today with William Smith. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition. I’ve been thinking today about something I heard Dennis Rainey say over and over again.
Ann: Oh, this is going to be good!
Bob: It is good.
Ann: We all love Dennis.
Bob: Because this was one of those things that I had to lock onto as a parent. I’ll share that with our listeners here in just a minute; but David Robbins, the new president of FamilyLife®, who took over for Dennis a couple of years ago, is here with us to talk about the fact that the end of the year is coming. That’s pretty important for us, here, at FamilyLife. I think a lot of people are cheering the fact that this year is almost over.
David: 2020 has, no doubt, been pretty unpredictable, but there’s been one thing at FamilyLife that has not been unpredictable; that is your faithful partnership that keeps ministry going at this time when families need it the most. In the year ahead, it’s going to be more important than ever that we are reminding the world of what God has to say about marriages and families. There’s an acute need, in this season, to impact and develop godly homes.
To do this, we need your help. Would you stand with us in giving families help and hope that’s anchored in biblical truth? This is an especially good time of year to donate, because we’ve had some friends of the ministry come alongside us and offer to double every donation we receive. They’re going to match it, dollar for dollar, up to $2 million. For us to take full advantage of that matching gift, we need every listener, who has benefitted from this program over the course of this year, to be as generous as you possibly can.
We want FamilyLife Today continuing to be aired on this station. We invite you/and really, I challenge you: “Would you help us go into this new year, in a powerful way, to keep ministering to families on this station?”
Bob: Yes; and it’s easy to make a yearend contribution. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to donate, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Not only will your donation be doubled—matched dollar for dollar—but we’re going to send you a couple of thank-you gifts as well: a copy of my book, Love Like You Mean It, and a flash drive that has more than 100 of the best FamilyLife Today programs from the last 28 years—really, the best of the best. Those two resources are our gift to you when you make a yearend contribution, and we hope to hear from you. Again, donate online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a donation.
Now, the thing I was telling you about that Dennis Rainey shared with me so many times—he would often say that: “A relationship with your children is like a bridge over which you can deliver a truckload of truth.”
Dave: I’ve heard him say that.
Bob: But he said, “When the bridge goes out, there’s no truth getting across.”
Ann: That’s a wise statement.
Bob: So if you want to interact with/if you want to be able to share truth with your kids, you’ve got to make sure the relationship is solid, and stable, and can bear the weight of the truth you’re going to take.
Dave: You know, Ann and I did sort of a teenage parenting seminar a few years ago at our church.
Bob: Yes, for parents of teens?
Dave: —not teenage parents—
Dave: —but parents of teenagers. [Laughter]
Bob: Just clarifying.
Dave: And by the way, it sold out; right?
Dave: They all want help! We’re all like, “Oh, my goodness!”
Ann: They are desperate times.
Dave: Not that we know anything about it, but our kids are now no longer teens; so we can look back and say, “Here’s what you shouldn’t do.” But I think the thing we started with is: “The key to parenting teens is relationship, relationship, relationship.”
Dave: If that’s gone, like Dennis said, the bridge is gone; and you can’t transfer truth.
Ann: And here’s the thing; it’s easy to blow up the bridge.
Bob: Because “Life and death are in the—
Ann: —“the power of the tongue.”
Bob: —“power of the tongue”; right.
Bill Smith is joining us on FamilyLife Today. Bill, welcome.
Bill: Thanks, guys. It’s great to be here.
Bob: Bill is a pastor from South Jersey/from the Philadelphia area. He is a counselor and has written a book that I think is going to help a lot of moms and dads know how to keep the bridge up. It’s a book called Parenting with Words of Grace. This is a part of the thesis of your book; in fact, the subtitle of the book is Building Relationships with Your Children One Conversation at a Time.
You’ve seen, both as a parent and as a counselor, how important this relational stability is for all we do; right?
Bill: I have; and relationship is the thing that everybody craves, I think. They want to build friendships with their kids, but I think we really struggle to know what that actually looks like. When I talk to people, I find people falling off on two ends of the continuum.
On the one side: “How do you build a relationship?” You do the great event—so you have the vacation to end all vacations, or you go to this wonderful activity in the afternoon or take everybody out to dinner—the expectation is: “Because we did all this really cool stuff together, that costs an awful lot of money, relationship just comes out of that.” [Laughter] On the other end, are people, who are like, “Yes; I don’t know. It just sort of does or doesn’t happen; there’s not a whole lot you can do about it.”
You go back to Scripture, and you realize: “No; relationships happen in these very mundane little moments of life: it’s how you look at someone; it’s whether or not you greet them; it’s how you greet them; it’s what you say to them.” Conversation is just one of those things that—throughout Scripture, Genesis to Revelation—God is very interested in helping us understand what conversation looks like that actually has a prayer of building a relationship.
Bob: It’s the doing chores; it’s driving the kids to school; it’s the dailyness of life. If we’re there, and we’re there together, relationship is forming in those moments.
Bill: It really is.
Bob: Your book is about communication/about how it’s essential to building and maintaining a strong relationship. In fact, you say that every conversation, between parents and children, there’s an implied question in that conversation. What’s that question?
Bill: If I could back up, maybe, even before then—in every conversation, I’m always sharing what I value and what’s important to me—I can’t not do that; “Out of the heart, the mouth speaks.”
Ann: So that’s just coming out of us naturally; we’re not even aware of that.
Bill: We’re not, and it comes out when we say things; it comes out in what we don’t say. But all of our expressions—physically, whether that’s verbal or otherwise—always express what’s most important to us. That’s always true in a relationship: so when I’m talking to you all right now, you’re getting a sense of who I am as a person; when I’m talking to my children, they get a sense of what I value.
In that expression of what I value, I’m also saying: “Here’s where your place is in that; here’s how I see you: ‘In the image of God, with eternal glory; someone to be respected and honored,’ or ‘Chess piece on my board that I manipulate.’” Therefore, the question that you’ve really asked is: “Having experienced me this way, would you like to have another conversation with me?” or “When you finally have enough autonomy, are you going to say, ‘No, thanks; I’ll find that somewhere else’”?
Dave: Boy, that is the question in all relationships, really. I mean, it’s like: “Do you want to say to your wife, ‘You know, having experienced me as your husband, do you want to be married to me?’”
Dave: And the same thing, obviously, with our kids; they’re feeling the same thing toward us. It isn’t just we’re communicating who we are through our words; we are receiving who they are through their words.
Dave: I know, for me, as a dad, often I’d be with them in the mundane; but I’m not there.
Dave: You know what I mean? I’m physically in the car, driving or whatever, but my mind may be on work. I could literally be looking at my phone—not while I’m driving—but you know, while I’m with them, thinking, “I’m not fully present with them right now.”
To have a relationship, you’ve got to be fully present, not only expressing yourself through words, but really discerning and listening to their words. Talk about that a little bit more. How do we know if the person—especially our kids—wants to experience us the way we’re presenting ourselves? Is there feedback for that?
Bill: That’s a great question, because what’s the ugly way of asking that question? The ugly way is, “What can I do to guarantee that my kids are going to want to come back after they go to college?”—[Laughter]—right?
Bill: And the sad answer is: “There is no guarantee; because they’re an independent, autonomous human being. They have their own heart, and they have their own”—if you want to say it this way—“their own issues.”
I think the question more is: “How can I create a context in which they are more likely to want to interact with me? How can I speak in such a way that says, ‘I care about you. I want to sacrifice myself for you. I don’t want to brow-beat you, but I also won’t allow that on the other end either. How can we have a mutual respect and interaction?’”
Bob: It sounds like you’re saying we need to be aware of the fact that we are either wooing or alienating our kids in how we interact with them. Part of me is going: “Now, wait a sec. I’m the parent; they’re the kid. I’m supposed to pander to their desires, and woo them, and romance them, and get them to want to come? They should just do that, because I’m the parent!”
Bill: If I wanted to be nasty, then my response to that would be: “Then don’t pursue them any more than Christ pursues you.”
Ann: Oooh, that’s good!
Dave: Oh, I like how you just put Bob right there—[Laughter]—boom!
Bill: No one can see that I’m smiling when I’m saying that; [Laughter] but those are the questions that go right to my heart, because I often feel like that: “I take care of you. I provide the home. I have sacrificed; I have laid down—I drive an old car—I don’t have…”
I had my son ask me one time/he said, “Daddy, why don’t we have a truck?” And I said, “Because we have you.” [Laughter] I think I actually said, “Because we have kids.” He looked at me and goes, “What?!” [Laughter] It’s like, “Never mind.”
Dave: “Someday you’ll understand!”
Ann: But what you’re saying is: “This is always in the back of your mind in having conversations with your kids,” which is amazing. You start out the book, going toe to toe with one of your sons.
Ann: Tell us about that; take us back there, because I’m reading this like, “Where is this going to go?”
Dave: Yes; we’ve been there.
Bill: I think it’s normal; I think all of us are. Again, a young man standing in my living room, deciding he didn’t really like what I was thinking or saying.
Dave: How old was he?
Bill: I always pick 12 or 13 when I don’t know. [Laughter]
Dave: Old enough—[Laughter]
Bob: Early teens; okay.
Bill: Yes; again, at that point, where [he is] feeling comfortable enough to rebuke; or push back would probably be the better word. [Dad saying]: “I don’t like being challenged in my house; I don’t like being challenged when you’re wearing my clothes that I put on your back. [Laughter] Because I fed you, and you now have the energy…”—all of those sort of—“You want anger? I can match anger! You’re not taller than I am yet.”
But in that moment, the Holy Spirit is so helpful. The thoughts don’t come, because I’m smart or anything; there’s that little sense of: “Be very careful with what you say next.
Bill: “Because you are at a point in this conversation where that will have bigger impact for longer than just the next half-hour.”
Dave: Yes, and those might be words you literally regret for decades.
Bill: Yes; so I was asked a question a couple of years back: “What do you wish you had known about parenting before you got started?”
I wish I knew how important those small moments were. I wish I had been smart enough to understand, earlier, how much you can hurt/how much you can help in those small moments. Again, I probably fell off on that side of the big-event kind of person. No; those small moments are really where relationship is built—and it flourishes or it dies—that would be one.
The opposite side of that is: I wish I’d had someone help me understand the grace of God and the resurrection of Christ means there are countless number of times to try again and countless numbers of times to come back to your children and say, “I am so sorry; please forgive me.” To speak to the Father and to say, “I cannot live in regret. What I did, I did. What is past is past, and now we’re going to have to wrestle with the fallout; but that doesn’t mean it’s hopeless. There’s still hope. You rose from the dead; therefore, nothing has to remain the same.”
I wish I had known those two things: how important those small moments are and how powerful the gospel really is.
Dave: Is that what you mean by saying, “Parenting doesn’t work; it woos”? Because Bob used that term earlier; and I thought, “Boy, that comes right out of your book.” I’ve never heard it said like that. Are you—explain that.
Bill: Yes, that goes back to—a lady at a seminar, who said—“Okay, I get that I’ve not been gracious; but if I was more gracious at home, then my parenting work better.” I thought, “You’re looking for a guarantee. You’re looking for: ‘If I do A + B, then I always get C.’” That’s not the way a human being works.
You can offer people the opportunity of a relationship; you can’t force them to take it. You don’t have the key to someone else’s heart. You can help them see that it would be attractive, that it would be beneficial, that it would be good for them; you have to pursue them. But in that pursuit, you’re wooing them; you’re saying, “This is actually a better world for you. Why don’t you try it?” It’s an invitation rather than: “I will force you to have this.”
Dave: Yes, and I’ve found that I’m a better woo-er outside my home than in my home.
Ann: Why is that?
Dave: Oh, here we go! [Laughter] I’m not even looking over there! She’s just looking at me.
I mean, we’ve talked about this many times—like: “Wow! You walk in the church/you walk out [of home] and you light up! You can be very warm and inviting to people. You walk in our home, and you can shut down and not woo your own children.”
Ann: I think a lot of wives can feel that about their husbands as dads.
Bill: And again, not knowing you, and you don’t really know me; but I think pastors/we have that public place, where it’s sort of the job.
This is now going to be a counseling session. [Laughter]
Ann: Oh, good!! [Laughter]
Bill: I get the opportunity to mentor a bunch of young guys. I’ve taken them back to
1 Timothy 3, which lays out the qualifications for an elder. We’ve looked/I’ve said: “Most of these are how you relate to your family. You have to put your primary shepherding care into your family; that’s the foundation from which you shepherd the rest,” and “Why do I know this?—because I did it backwards. I was much better to an early ministry than I was to my wife at the time. I had to realize, ‘Wow! I’m a peacemaker by day and a war-maker by night.
Bill: “’That makes me a hypocrite, and that means something has to change.’”
Ministry doesn’t end at six o’clock; it starts.
Ann: Well, one of the things that you said, Bill, was that parents should start by considering, at their most basic, who their children are: so “Who are they?” and “How do we discover who they are?”
Bill: This is one of those, again, strange places, where hey come from our bodies, generally—or we adopt them into our homes—we provide everything for them; we think they’re ours—
Bill: —and they’re not! That’s always startling to people when I say it that way; I do that for the shock value. They’re God’s, first and foremost; they’re on loan to us.
If you start to think about who they are supposed to become—okay; so maybe they’re 25, 30/35 years behind us—that seems really significant if you’re 50. But if you actually believe/your faith—that you’re not going to live 70, 80, or 90 years—you’re going to live 50,000 years—
Bill: —a 35-year head start is really nothing, 50,000 years from now. These are young people, who are growing up to be your peers. In fact—you all have kids—you see places where they’ve surpassed you already; it didn’t even take 50,000 years! [Laughter]
So what are you doing? You have the privilege of interacting with people, offering them the opportunity to have a friendship with you if they so desire. They’re potential future peers; when I think of them that way, that changes the way that I actually interact with my kids.
Bob: There are two things about that—and I agree with you—one is we desperately want a relationship with them; because parental love, by God’s design, is so compelling and so powerful. It’s one thing to say, “You know, if you’d like to have a relationship with me, we’d be open to that,”—no!—we’re like, “We want to be with you! Our hearts are knitted together!”
The other thing is—I think there’s part of us, saying, “And if we don’t have that relationship, I lose some validation; part of who I am is diminished. I need you to want to have that relationship with me, or else I’ve failed; I’m not who I’m supposed to be.” Just talk about what’s going on in us when we hold out this invitation, desperate for them to say, “Of course, I want to be with you!”
Bill: There is a depth of passion in our God to be with us. You have these pictures of Him almost pulling His hair out in the minor prophets—that I absolutely love—you know: “Israel, I can’t stand that you’ve been doing this; I’m sending you away,” “Oh, my heart turns within Me, and I have to have you.” You know, you get this picture of someone yanking on His hair.
There is that longing and desire in us, that does not begin to approach His longing and desire, so think, “Okay; within bounds, we should feel that passion.” But it’s passion to have a relationship that’s not a co-dependent relationship, where I need you to like me so that I am a valid person; right?
Bill: You never have the sense that God’s going to be eternally unhappy because somebody has rejected Him—
Bill: —and we will now have the ability to ruin His eternal future.
Bob: He is, in Himself, complete and satisfied; it’s not dependent on your response. He says, “I am passionate for this. If you reject it, I’ll be sad; but I won’t be less-than.”
Bill: “I will not be ruined and destroyed.”
Bill: There is something, within the power of the community in the Trinity, that is fully independent.
Bob: Yes, that’s good.
Dave: And I would just add—I mean, we started here with the value of the relationship. I underestimated, when I was a young dad—and now an older dad with adult children, who are married with grandkids—I underestimated how much I would appreciate and value our relationship, man to man/adult to adult.
I would say to the young parent, listening: “Man, parent with words of grace; because you’re building a relationship that’s going to be one of the most special things in your life, 20 years from now.” You know, I can look at my sons—and we don’t have this perfect relationship—but they’re my friends.
Dave: And they challenge me, man to man; and I can challenge them. It’s beautiful, and it could have been lost if I made big mistakes in the formative years.
I would just say, “Boy, cherish it!” You know, the book title is One Conversation at a Time. Every conversation is significant—the mundane ones/the big ones—they are building a relationship that you’re going to cherish the whole rest of your life.
Ann: And I would add this, Dave. I think the best conversation, too, that we can have is our relationship with our heavenly Father; because that’s where it starts. When we understand—His love for us; our role; how much He loves our kids; how He carries our burdens; how He’s there with us, and for us, and for our kids—that’s that first conversation. For me, that starts at the beginning of the day, of saying, “Father, I need You. Please help me in being able to love my kids and see them and say the things that You would say and see.”
Bill: What is the model?—there is not a single one of us around this table, who had a perfect upbringing. Again, we don’t all know each other’s stories; but I know that. “How do we have a prayer of entering into our children’s worlds?”—it’s not because we were perfectly parented by human beings; it’s that we have a perfect heavenly Father, who actively parents us, right now, nudging us.
Bob: We have a prayer because we have prayer. [Laughter]
Bob: We have a prayer, because we have a relationship with God. As you said, Ann, “Through us, can flow to them His love.” We experience it, and then it flows out to others. And we can learn how to do it better by reading books like the one you’ve written, Parenting with Words of Grace. We’ve got copies of William Smith’s book available in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order the book, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get a copy of William Smith’s book. Again, it’s called Parenting with Words of Grace. Order online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get your copy.
And if you have not gotten together with other parents yet, and gone through The Art of Parenting®video series, think about the new year—starting in January or February—getting together, virtually or distanced, if we still need to be distancing/probably will—think about getting together in some way with other parents and going through The Art of Parenting. You can go online at FamliyLifeToday.com to find out how to get this eight-session video series that’s all about parenting. Find it, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Now, as some of you heard David Robbins say, at the beginning of today’s program, we’re hoping to hear from FamilyLife Today listeners over the next few weeks. This is a critical time for us as a ministry. We’re trying to take full advantage of a $2 million-matching gift that’s been made available to us. Your donations today will be matched, dollar for dollar, when you give. We’re going to send you, as a thank-you gift, a copy of my book, Love Like You Mean It; and we’ll send you a thumb drive/a flash drive that has more than a hundred FamilyLife Today programs from the past 28 years—the best of the best! The book and the thumb drive are our thank-you gift when you make a donation today. You can do that at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. We appreciate you, and we hope to hear from you.
Now, tomorrow, we want to talk about how important it is for us to make sure we are communicating the biblical “Why” behind our correction with our kids. They need to understand, not only that they’re doing it wrong, but why God’s way is the right way. We’ll talk about that with William Smith tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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