You Never Win A Stand-off

I’ve started to coin my son as strong-willed. I admire that. However, when it’s time to head back to the house after a short walk and he heads a long-block away through the park to sit by a tree defiantly, I’m frustrated by his defiance, ‘er strong will.

Throughout my childhood and into young-adulthood, I was often involved with such strong willed people because I admire such trait. This didn’t always bode well for my self esteem, as being easily swayed in my younger years, so I encourage my son to exercise this trait of his.

Mixed with my getting-stronger will, especially as I hand it over more and more, I am easily coaxed into longer bed-times, extra playtime, an additional dessert or another You Tube video.


The other day, during the defiant tree sit-in, a walker passing by decided to inject herself into the situation. It may have something to do with me walking away from my young child yelling, “I’m going, come on. Time to head home.”

He didn’t flinch. In fact, I saw him fold his arms and grimace.

This type of escalation always ends in tears, for more often him than me. So I guess who is the real strong-willed person. My thought is that I’m trying to teach that we don’t always get what we want in life. There needs to be a balance according to Dr. Sears. 

Sears actually has a discipline tip that says, “The fewer no’s, the better your day goes.” Well, yeah thanks for the insight, Dr. Sears. I’ll just say yes all the time.

However, there is a crafted way to say yes. Like, “Yes, we can go to the park another day.” And maybe this works for some toddlers and pre-schoolers. But, my boy saw right through the balance of not making a promise and not saying no. Which brings us back to the tree stand-off.

I headed across the road to see if he’d run after me in fear of being left behind. Instead, he howled. Looking from outside myself, the top-of-the-lung shouting, was probably as or even more childish. Here we are at a power struggle.

I most often resort to a soft dance during a time like this, brushing off the behavior to show my four-year-old that he is not upsetting me, but in this particular example, anyone within earshot could obviously tell that I was upset.

This article discussing children with “strong-wills” can be perceive threats as attack on their integrity, and I found this to continually be true. In this instance, I resorted to saying, “If you don’t come now, you won’t be able to come back inside after dinner.” There was nothing beyond carrying him at this point.

For me, it comes down to reliance on God. I am completely powerless when it comes to the actions of my child. I can guide, coax, encourage, reward and threaten but unless this particular boy decides it’s his decision, there is nothing I can do. So I let go and let God. And then I carried my boy home.


Father’s Day Inventory

Four years ago, I was celebrating Father’s Day for the first time, nervously overwhelmed holding my not-even-two-month-old son. Today, I feel gratefully content holding my three-month old daughter while discussing roly polies with my four-year old son.

I remember celebrating Father’s Day with my dad pretty simply, hanging around the house, maybe grilling and eating a home-made dessert or store-bought cherry pie, and wondering why he never wanted to go out and about to celebrate or do something as a family.

This year, I didn’t have big plans to celebrate my own Father’s Day. Church, hang around the house and maybe some grilling. My truth today, as I celebrate my fourth Father’s Day is that I’ve been made into this homebody that enjoys just following the lead of my children.


I still have the drive to want to take the family out and take an airplane ride or such excursion on a Father’s Day. But in the end, a simple bike ride and ice cream journey was enough. Especially the part when my son shouted, “You’re doing good on Father’s Day,” as I muscled the bike trailer up a steep hill.

You’d think as a father that I should lead, as I do. I also lay down the law, get frustrated, shout when the stand-off to come to the dinner table occurs and execute some of the functions of keeping up a house of four, say by mowing the lawn or even doing the dishes. But when I sit back and peer through my kids’ eyes the wonder and excitement they have for the world, just being with them is enough.

My infant daughter is still working the neck muscles to hold her head but as she lays on her back and coos a story to me, her eyes sparkle. My son turns the back yard into a hide-and-go seek world of imagination.

There is something magical about just being with them that makes me not want to plan a thing and just follow their spirit for life.

So for this Father’s Day, I’m taking stock of some things that will help me continue my growth:

  • Take my promises seriously. The other day I promised a game of hide-and-seek after dinner, and caught the promise fleeting from my mind as the busyness of the evening moved forward. We blew past bedtime but I made sure to work it in.
  • Let go of the little things. This is a toughie. A dinner stand-off once spiraled into me carrying my son to his room, twice. Both of us were left shaking and upset. Dinner time is important to me, but maybe I could just show him he’s missing out next time, rather than use force.
  • Follow his lead. Life is busy. And I like to arrive on time. But I hope I can follow my son’s lead and enjoy the stroll to the garage, watching for birds or pointing out worms. When it really comes down to it, what more is there than enjoy the stroll to where you are going? (God, help me learn this and to not forget it.)
  • Trust. Also another toughie. The older one is infatuated with his younger infant sister, and he’s always putting his face in her’s, up to her’s and rubbing her head. I lost count long ago how many times I have reminded, “gentle” in this situation. Maybe I can trust that he has this in his mind?
  • Be patient. I have had many unrealistic expectations for myself over the years. And I’ve wanted them when I want them and that’s always now. It’s taken me almost half a lifetime to see this thinking is unrealistic, so why would I expect my children to get this.

Here’s to continuous  improvement and forgiveness.


I May Be Raising A Brat (or he’s just another selfish three foot human)

We took the family to Como Zoo and Como Town. The nonprofit donation-only zoo is amazing and we saw the famous Sparky The Seal Show that has entertained for generations. But the real attraction were the rides at Como town.

My four-year old flipped for train rides, a slower-than-a-stroll mini go-cart track and bumper cards. I even rocked the bumper cars with him, since he was just under the height requirements.


With his unlimited ride wristband came a zip-line ride. Now, he was too young to ride, so this six-feet tall kid was excited to take advantage. We waited in line together, as I needed to scan his band for me to ride. The ride attendant grabbed the pole-of-height to measure, and my son was maybe an inch below the height to ride with an adult.

And then the scene began. His little mind had the hopes–and why of course wouldn’t he–to ride the several story-ascending sitting zip-line that shoots two people across the park at treetop level. His two hands clenched together behind his back to make scanning the ticket impossible, and I was just shy of forcefully grabbing his wrist to scan the ticket. I wanted to ride!

We held up the line for what felt like 10 minutes before I had to step aside and ask everyone else to go forward. With disappointment, we strolled down the entrance ramp and the temper-tantrum erupted.

I’ve heard that people expect kids to behave like this from time to time, especially if these people are or have ever been parents. What they don’t expect is the parent to have a fit back at the kid for having their fit. I’ll show you who the biggest baby is. And trust me I can be a huge baby, but I reeled it in.

I remained calm while the, “I’m never going to play with you again,” pre-school insults were flung. Snot and tears rained. Ear-piercing screams alerted everyone in the vicinity that our family had arrived.

I offered consoling words. The calm, “It’s okays were pulled away from. “The I’m sorrys weren’t even acknowledged. “Go away,” was shouted with pure anger in his eyes. So I asked him to come join us because it was time to leave the amusement park and head into the zoo. “By acting this way, you have lost your privileges.” And he increase the volume when I thought it couldn’t go any louder.

This scene made me feel that I had completely failed at parenting and that my son is actually a brat.

Looking back on the event, the scene taught me that things do eventually smooth out. That most people don’t judge, and even if they do that’s not my business. That eventually my son will forgive. And that I need to forgive to put everything behind us. (I never did get to ride the zip-line.)

I am also realize the importance of expectations. Somewhere in hindsight, I could have alleviated the misconception that he was able to ride the ride.

Lesson learned. Enjoy the journey.

Setting or Settling The Bar?

I was gifted the opportunity to volunteer with a nonprofit called Start Reading Now that provides first-graders in poverty the ability to take ten books home before summer break. One particular study shows that giving low-income kids books over the summer is equivalent to sending them to summer school.

The program empowers students to select the ten books themselves, and they get their own personalized backpack. This is ground-level combat to narrow the achievement gap, and I will remember the experience for the rest of my life.

The response from the first-grade students at one elementary school melted my heart. I heard things like, “Do I really get to keep these books forever and ever and not bring them back?”


The students gracefully clamored for picture books, chapter books and even books that included a charm or Matchbox car. Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a popular early reader that appeals to all, and I remember one boy in particular excitedly snagging his own copy from the bookcase. This proud looking boy with a fresh fade hair cut and sharp, clean athletic gear had his arms full, approaching his selection of 10 books.

That’s when I saw the friendly educator reach for his arm and say something about that book being too hard for him, and that he should, “pick from the shelves over there,” as she pointed to the picture books. Yes, these are first grade students of varying reading levels, and maybe he’s still navigating Go Dog Go or Llama Llama but this moment is stuck in my head. Why? Why would you divert a student from challenging himself?

Managing a child’s frustration is one thing, but I vow, as a father, to never say anything is too hard for my son or daughter. My four-year-old enjoys flipping through the pages of my novels or business books, even if it is to enjoy the fan of the breeze and jumble of paragraphs without eye-catching illustrations.

And I have books that may be “too hard” for me. In fact, I enjoy snagging a book like City On Fire (944 pages), adding it to my shelf and hoping that I get around to reading it someday. The Bible I received in high school confirmation is still a little “too hard” for me at times–using old English and dense parables get pretty thick for me at times–but I still like the idea of  reading it. And someday I will get through it all.

Yes, maybe the energetic first-grader is shooting high, but what about his future. Shouldn’t he be encouraged to shoot high? What about a year or six months or by the end of summer when he’s ready to read about the adventures, struggles and drama that this book can relate to elementary students?

I volunteered at another book fair the same day, and I was shocked to hear it again, this time from a younger male teacher, rather than the approaching-retirement female educator from the previous school. What are we doing to these kids when we tell them a specific book is “too hard?”

We should be encouraging them through school and reading because chances are these students at the poverty level and below are getting little to no support at home. Parents and guardians are just too busy making ends meeting if they are around at all.

One particular literacy specialist at the school said, “I gave a book to a second grade student last year and she said ‘now, I have two books at home.'” Tears welled in my eyes.

The same research that shows reading over the summer has the ability to reduce summer setback shows that students in extreme poverty have an average of less than one book at home. Less than one book. That means no books. What does that look like?

I grew up in a fortunate family. We weren’t upper class but we didn’t have to worry about our next meal. We were blessed with family vacations, reliable transportation and a peaceful neighborhood. I also remember having more books than I could count, along with regular trips to the library dragging home bags of books. And I don’t ever remember hearing the words, “that book may be a little too hard for you.”