A Run-Of-The-Mill Soccer Weekend

It’s Monday morning. I am sitting at my desk, wishing I was at home in bed. So far, this Monday is winning the battle. It was a long weekend, but it was a very good weekend. Our two oldest boys played in a soccer tournament this weekend, the Alliance Cup. And by all standards, the tournament was a success. By far, the most successful tournament our boys have participated in.

In the past, tournaments have kind of been a necessary evil. A long weekend of soccer that leaves you exhausted and wishing you could go back in time and devise any excuse to have not gone to the tournament. This weekend is different. I am tired and I am sunburned, but I am satisfied with the outcome of the tournament.

More than that I am proud of how my boys played their hardest and showed how much they have grown and improved in soccer this fall. They are both playing with an intensity and commitment that brings great joy to my heart. But more importantly, they had fun and enjoyed the experience.

hayden-goalHayden’s team finished the tournament 1-2 and did not make the finals. However, in the game they won Hayden scored a goal. This was his first goal of the season. He was so excited and happy! He barely could contain his excitement throughout the day and weekend. This was definitely a highlight for him and us as parents. Our satisfaction with Hayden doesn’t change because he scored a goal. We love him the same no matter what. I am full of joy because of the happiness this goal has brought to him. Aside from the excitement of the goal in that game, Hayden played one of his best games he has ever played that game. He was put on the field as a forward and several runs on the goal with the ball and had it not been for the defenders stepping in, he would have been in a position to take shots on the goal (somehow, he managed to make runs without the support of his teammates). During the other games, he played goalkeeper and he has show great improvement overall but especially as a goalkeeper this year. I could not be happier with where Hayden is at this moment.

Noah’s team finished the tournament 3-1 and Champions of thenoahchampir division. They came out strong and played strong throughout the tournament. Noah played goalkeeper in every game and he only let 3 goals in for the whole weekend. He had two clean sheets during the weekend. He claims his team named him the Man of the Match for the final game. The final was a great game and he played a very good game. He was challenged by the opposing team and stood the test and emerged victorious.

This was a significant tournament for both of out boys because their previous tournament experiences left something to be desired. This season as a whole has been a great one. I credit their growth and development as young men to making this season a good for them in addition to a new coach (they both have the same coach) who is able to coach and speak to them in terms they can understand. He is a great coach and really enjoys coaching and enjoys these boys.

As a father, it is hard me to find greater joys than seeing my boys happy. And today, they are happy… therefore I am happy.

Undivided Attention – What Kids Need Part 2

In our digital, global, information overload world with rapidly changing images and stimuli, we have cultivated a culture where less is more and this has bled over into our relationships and most detrimentally to our relationships with our children. As parents, we often look for ways for us to not give our kids the Attention they are looking for.

It is the little things in life that make the most meaningful impact sometimes. It is the tying of the shoes. It is the folding of the clothes. It is the completing of the homework. It is sweeping or making of the bed together. It is the picking up of the toys. It is the time spent doing the tasks or things that have seemingly no importance at all that make the difference. It is the not-so-helpful hands preparing dinner. The snuggles on the couch before bed. It is xbox, board games, card games, kicking a soccer ball, playing war or the occasional lightsaber battle in the living room. All of these are times when children get the attention from their parents they crave desperately. Attention focused on them and no one else. Attention given to them, showing them their little lives matter to us as parents.

Sometimes it is hurtful yell or scream. Sometimes it is chastising glance and mean words given. Sometimes it is unending berating in the form of a lecture about how the smallest mistake means the child is stupid. Sometimes it is spanking, the slapping and the forcibly being put into the corner or on their bed for timeout. It is the undivided attention of a parent who can no longer ignore the actions of their child and now they have to intervene and give attention to the child because the child has so completely disrupted whatever activity the parent is engaged in.

Either way, the bottom line is attention. Children crave the attention of their parents. The old cliche is so very true, ‘negative attention is better than no attention at all.’

Many kids just want someone to pay attention to them. Someone to give them something. The challenge as parents is for us to not be irritated when our kids need attention from us. Often, if we stop what we are doing for just a few minutes we can give our kids the attention they desire and be able to get back to our tasks. It isn’t hard. It is about giving them the attention and time they need. It usually doesn’t require a lot of time. As parents it is our responsibility to be on the lookout for the attention our kids need from us and then give it to them. Offer them what they desire. Give them the love and attention they crave.

Are we looking for ways we can give our kids the attention the desire or are we viewing every interruption by them as a nuisance to be overcome? I challenge you today and the rest of the week to take the moments your kids ask for… and then some. Don’t be bothered. Don’t be agitated. Don’t get mad. Give your kids what they want from you… you. Your attention. Your time. You.

Are you willing to accept the challenge?

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Common Threads – What Kids Need Pt. 1

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I’m not an expert on anything… except maybe Jeeps and Star Wars. I would pit my knowledge of those two subjects against any other human on the planet and bet on myself every time. Hands down. Other than that, I’m not an expert in much of anything. But I pay attention to people, things and details. I watch. I listen. I take notes. I connect the dots. I read between the lines and see the picture beneath the surface. I cultivate an interest in behaviors and the motivation for the behaviors. I desperately want to understand the ‘why’ of what motivates each of us to act the ways we do. I make assessments and evaluations based on what I see, hear and observe.

As I look back on my professional career (which has involved a wide range of jobs/roles, but with one common thread throughout), it is clear working with youth and families has been the center of everything I have done for the last 20 years. I have worked with youth and families in a wide range of settings. Sometimes it has been fun. Sometimes it has been difficult. Sometimes it has been uncomfortable. Sometimes I have been an advocate. Sometimes I have been a fried. Sometimes I have been an adversary. Sometimes I have been a mentor, teacher or guide. And sometimes, I have been the ‘bad guy’.

Through it all, it has been highly rewarding for me personally. I have learned tons and grown much. I have jokingly called myself a ‘Jack of all Trades & Master of None’ due to wide variety of roles I have found myself in. The reality is, I have consistently worked with youth and families fro 20 years. It feels very good to be able to say I have been a field of work for that long. I have been told (finally) my resume is impressive. For someone who struggles with confidence (a shocker, I know) this is a much-desired boost.

In my current season, I am working as a therapist with an agency which allows me to offer therapeutic services to youth both at the homes and in their schools. On a side note, I really enjoy seeing a kid in their home and then seeing them at school and being able to see the difference of personalities that come out based on the setting. I spend a lot of time with kids these days. I spend a lot of time having fun, joking and laughing with kids. I spend a lot of time sitting in the homes of families. I lose a metric ton’s worth of card games in any given week. And sometimes it’s not on purpose. Haha. There’s more there for another time. I spend a lot of time one-on-one with kids trying to tear down the walls they have built to protect themselves. I get to take the time to just sit and talk to them. To play card games. To have conversations that don’t always have an agenda. I get to take a genuine interest in the menial things of life that matter most to kids.

As I have spent these hours with kids, I have started to notice some trends. I have begun to notice common threads running through the lives of each one. Abraham Maslow identified some basic needs each human being has and noted until we learn to meet each need as we develop in life, we can’t move on until we learn how to meet each need progressively. I find there is some truth to his assessments. I notice certain kids react or behave in specific ways towards me each time I see them. I have also come to realize, I can learn much about what is going on in the life of these kids based on how they respond to me. I can learn much about what affirmations they are getting… or not getting at home. I can learn about their insecurities and where they are confident.

I have noticed at least three common needs each of the kids I work with has. I think these three needs are common to the experience of every child. I believe every child looks to have these needs met by their parents and other family members, friends, teachers and other important figures in their lives. No doubt, there are many more than three needs each child needs to have met or affirmed, but these three seem to me to be common and are likely some of the easiest for us as parents to dismiss or to simply just miss on.

In our digital, global, information overload world with rapidly changing images and stimuli, we have cultivated a culture where less is more and this has bled over into our relationships and most detrimentally to our relationships with our children. As parents, we often look for ways for us to not give our kids the Attention they are looking for.

In a world where social media has become dominant and our relationships have become more and more surface with little actual substance or depth to them, we have created a culture where we have confused disconnection for connection. As parents, we have missed the critical aspect of Connecting with our kids and learning more about them than what kind of day they had at school.

In a world where we are strapped for time, being pulled a million different directions and our kids are bombarded with an ever-increasing amount of homework, sports, video games and Pokemon to catch, we have cultivated a culture where we are too busy watching mindless television and immersing ourselves in the ridiculous lives of unworthy role models we don’t take the time to actually play with our kids anymore. As parents, we relegate Playing with our kids to the iPad, Xbox, PS4 or whatever else we can so that we don’t have to be distracted from our Facebook feed.

In my work with youth and families, I have found these three needs do wonders for lives of the kids I work with. When I take a few minutes of the time I have with them each week, to invest in each of these needs I see a marked change in their attitudes and behaviors. I think these needs are critical and as parents we must work overtly to ensure we are reaching our kids in these three ways.

I’d like to take the next few weeks to discuss some of my observations on these needs and how I think we as parents can do better about meeting them. Will you join me in learning how we can meet the needs of our children?

So Much has Changed…

Often in life, each day is just another day. Each day is a day unto itself. But sometimes, the day is more than just a day. It is a defining moment.

This day last year was one of those. It was a defining moment. It is frozen in time. It is a day never to be forgotten. It was probably one the hardest days of my life.

Without sharing too many details or the particulars – one year ago today, my brother was taken into custody after a court hearing and transported to county jail and ultimately to state prison. This is an experience my family has not talked about much outside of the ‘Westfall Family circle of trust.’ Today, I am feeling as though I need to share my thoughts on the last 12 months. I am not going to talk about the details, but I want to talk about the feelings and impact this experience has had on my family from my perspective, my point of view.

February 5, 2015 was one of the hardest days of my life. Watching your brother get taken into custody is hard enough, when you add into the mix having to watch your parents as their son is taken into custody and you have the makings for a tough day. I have found it is one thing to cope with your own emotions and to assist others in coping with their emotions… but when the others is your family, it is significantly more difficult to keep an objective presence. Watching my parents explain to my niece and nephew their father isn’t coming home for a long time… as their little minds attempted to wrap around the concept of another parent who would be missing from their lives. As they tried to make sense of something that makes no sense at all. Watching parents struggle with the exact same thing… finding sense, meaning and purpose in a experience that makes no sense.

It was on this day I learned the futility of saying, sometimes crap happens to good people and we have to accept it. This does nothing to comfort those suffering. Knowing it is unjust doesn’t make it easier to handle. I mistakenly thought those were wise words in a time of crisis because they are true. Scriptures teach the sun shines on the wicked and good all the same. But in times of distress, these words are hollow. Empty. Meaningless. We search for meaning, for understanding and we want things to make sense. And when things don’t make sense, posting out they make no sense, makes no sense.

Over the last year, I have experienced feelings of loss I hadn’t anticipated. Some time ago, I wrote the following words trying to understand my feelings:

  • This feels strange to write this…I find myself mourning my brother. No, he’s not dead. But he is in prison. While the story is complex and convoluted at best, I want to muse more on how this whole story causes me to feel.

    I find myself mourning him. He’s gone, while not being gone at the same time. It causes an odd void in my heart and life.

    On any given day, I communicate with Ronda more than I do any other human being… makes sense, cuz she’s my wife.

    Next in line on this list was my brother. I didn’t realize how often. I called, texted, emailed, facebook messaged, sent him a YouTube video or otherwise reached out to communicate with him. Countless times over the last two plus months I have found myself wanting to reach out to him about something, nothing or anything in between. I actually called his his iPhone last week! Haha. Habit.

    Given the amount I typically communicated with him, there is now a void in my daily communicative expression. This evokes a feeling similar to mourning in my heart because I am unable to communicate with him when and how I want to.

    I don’t know what I expected the feelings to be like…

    At least we can speak on the phone once a day. We could write letters, but that’s not a fun as it might sound. We can visit, but things have been some crazy at work I haven’t had the time to plan a trip to Georgia.

    I know this is only temporary and after this season has passed life will return to normal. But in the meantime, I miss him.

I feel a great sense that can only be described as loss. There is a hole in my life which can only be filled by my brother. A large, special piece of my everyday has been taken away from me. It is missing. This loss has certainly changed our relationship… I don’t know how exactly or what things will be like when we can talk whenever we want, but things have changed.

I know my family has felt the same or similar feelings on loss, too. This has affected us all. We all have felt the pressure, the loss, along with other feelings. We have felt betrayed at times. We have felt lied to. We have felt disappointment. We have felt like we have been left to pick up the pieces of shattered lives. We have felt overwhelmed and unable to cope. We have felt guilt. We have felt responsible. We have felt feelings that are real and powerful. We have hurt and we are hurting. I would argue this is normal. This is to be expected. And this is ok. What’s not ok is bottling the feelings up and letting them gnaw at our hearts and allowing those feelings to adjust or change the love we have for a brother/son who himself is hurting. Maybe more than us. Likely, more than us.

This may be a simplistic approach to the dilemma, but I believe guilt or innocence to be irrelevant. Maybe not irrelevant, but holding no bearing on the reality of my feelings about him or about this situation. I love my brother. I will always love my brother, no matter what. But loving my brother doesn’t mean I am not allowed to have feelings like the ones above. It doesn’t mean when I have those feelings I am in the wrong. But it also doesn’t mean I can use this as an excuse to feel differently about him. What has happened has had a dramatic impact on my family and we are forever changed because of it. And at the resolution of this whole experience, there will be more exploration to finally resolve it. To finally, make sense of it… as much as we can. No doubt, there will be more tears, more frustration, more anger, guilt, remorse, sadness, joy, laughter, more whatever.

I’m not going to pretend I see the silver lining and I know on the other side of this we will be stronger, better, blah blah blah. This sucks, from start to finish. But, this is where we are. This is our life. This is the experience we have. This is the hand we have been dealt and whether God is in it or not, we will endure it. God will use it, certainly. But knowing that doesn’t make it any easier. Doesn’t make it suck less.

For about 12 months I have wanted to share my thoughts and feelings. I have wanted to express what we are going through. And I haven’t. I don’t know if it is because I was embarrassed. Or if if I didn’t want to hurt feelings. Or if I wasn’t sure we were or I was ready. But the sooner we stop hiding in the shadows, the sooner we can have some resolution about what and how we feel.

I love my family. I love my brother. I will always love them. Nothing will ever change that. This has been hard, but it hasn’t killed us yet. And I don’t think it will. If we continue to stand against this as a family, we will endure.

These are my feelings. These are my thoughts. This is my voice. If you are reading this and you feel like you have suffered and are suffering know you are not alone. Know there are others walking through life carrying heavy burdens. Burdens we daily try to give to Jesus, but hang on to because it is hard to give them up. There’s a band called HELLYEAH. They have a song entitled Hush. It talks about growing up in a family wrought with abuse. While it is not always true, emotional pain (regardless of the source) often easily translates from person to person. What I mean is, when we feel emotional pain we can associate with others feeling emotional pain regardless of whether the source of that pain is the same or not. As the scene is described in the song, a line from the chorus says, ‘if this reminds you of home, you better know you’re not alone.’ This is why I write these words today. I want share my pain to let others know they are not alone. To let others know they don’t have to suffer alone in silence. We can help each other. Today I may be strong enough to hold you up, but next week I might need you to hold me up.

I will hold you, will you hold me?

Dogfight Alley

  
A couple of blocks from our house, there is a park with a variety of attractions. There’s and off leash area for dogs. A BMX bike trials area. A mountain bike trail through the woods. Open fields for running & playing. 
This afternoon, I took the boys up there to ride their bikes & for some soccer drills. At one point, they rode off to the water fountain and I kicked the soccer ball at the boys. Don’t worry, my aim is terrible so I didn’t hit anyone. But as the ball rolled towards the bikes, I was reminded of dogfight alley. 

Abe & I would ride our bikes to this parking lot and proceed to kick a soccer ball whilst we rode our bikes. I don’t recall if we ever named the sport, but it became vicious at times. Imagine full throttle bike riding & kicking a ball. There were times the ball didn’t exactly pass safely between the tires of the bike. Wipe outs were had. Scars were earned. 

As I think about this game, this experience it occurs to me this is the stuff of life. Creating new games, dangerous games. Games bringning to the brink of death. 

Epic tragedy possible at every turn. 

The very essence of existence. 

This is what it means to be alive. This is the quintessential experience of being a child. Of being a boy. Creation & destruction all wrapped into one package. 

As we grow older, we sometimes lose sight of the awesomeness that is being alive. As we grow, we get bogged down by reaponsibility and adulthood. Life takes hold of us and there suddenly things ‘more important’ than this life of fun & adventure. Excitement & creativity take a back seat to responsibility and work. Wonder & awe are traded for rules and regulations. 

For those of that are parents, we are caught in the middle. Caught between the reality that is life as an adult and the reality of living with growing, developing human being who haven’t matured beyond simply viewing everything in life as a place to have fun. As a parent, I confess, I am too often concerned with the rules and don’t focus on the fun. If you know me at all, this may or may not perplex you but it is true nonetheless. 

I prefer order over chaos. I prefer rules to anarchy. And children are nothing if they aren’t chaos & anarchy. (Especially my 3 boys) They are the antithesis to everything I hold valuable. 

So there is a struggle… can I break free from the chains of adulthood and allow myself to step back into the world of my youth and experience the creativity, wonder, awe, excitement and adventure that is being a child? 

More importantly, can I allow myself to allow my boys to have the fun get so desperately crave? I don’t always. 

But I always wish I did. 

So here’s to being a little less uptight & and more like a child. 

All Saint’s Day

574797_3631959845175_594874501_nEven though I am a day late writing this, I wanted to share it with anyway.

November the first is All Saint’s Day. This is a religious holiday that was created as a response to All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween as we know and celebrate it. All Saint’s Day commemorates those who have attained sainthood as a response to the commemoration of the dead (and presumably evil spirits) which happens on Halloween. Unless you are Catholic, you probably have no idea what this holiday is about.

November 1, also happens to be my mom’s birthday. I was afforded a special treat and had her at my house on her birthday this year and I was able to celebrate it with her. I don’t recall the last time I was in her presence on her birthday. Before you brand me a bad son, keep in mind we live 500 miles a part. We had a joyous time joking that the day is called All Saint’s Day thanks to her being born on that day. We tried our best to make her feel special and celebrate her.

What I want to share with you, is not thoughts on Halloween or All Saint’s Day… I want to share a few thoughts on my mom. As most sons will tell you, their mother is the best mom and I am no exception. She is the best mom I could have hoped for or wanted or deserved. I’m not sure how she put up with me all these years, because if as a child I was anything like I am as an adult I am sure I was challenging. There are many things my mom has taught me, but three things stand out to me.

  1. She taught me to never give up. This may seem simple, but it really isn’t. There are many times throughout our lives where we will want to give in, to throw in the towel, to just give up. I have seen my mother deal with some very difficult situations and to take on responsibilities that are very heavy and overwhelming to her. But each day she never gives up. She continues through the difficulty, through the hardship and through the toughness. My mom taught me, that no matter difficulty or obstacle is in front of you you must overcome it, you take it head on and you must not give up.
  2. She has taught me the power of enjoying the little moments of life. No matter what is going on around you, there is never not enough time to enjoy those you love. There is always time to share an experience, to snap a photo, to slow down and enjoy the little things which bring joy to those around us. Enjoying the little moments keeps us from getting uptight and upset about trivial details which don’t matter anyway. She taught me to not get hung up on little inconveniences when they result because we allow kids to be kids.
  3. She has taught me above all else, never stop trusting God. Each of us have experiences and encounters which lead us to question and wonder where God was in the midst of our pain. Why would he allow us to suffer? Why wouldn’t he step in and stop this from happening? Why? Despite these questions and pondering, we must not stop trusting that he is our father and that he loves us and that is still in control of the things happening around us. She has been an example of trusting God through the good times, the easy times, the bad times and the utterly difficult and unthinkable times.

My mom is an unsung hero in my life. These aren’t the only things she has taught me… it would be impossible to write everything I have learned from her. But these highlight the character and essence of who my mother is: a Godly woman, a woman who is able to find joy amongst the whirlwind and a woman who will never stop. These are characteristics I try to cultivate in my life and hope to cultivate in lives of my boys.

I love you, mom. Thanks for being who God created you to be. Thanks for being my mom.

The Ordeal

strategic therapyOne of my favorite classes in my counseling program was the Brief Strategic Therapy class I took while we lived in Jacksonville. One of the things which made this class so enjoyable for me was the professor. Had I not taken the class at a Jacksonville campus, it would not hold such a high place in my heart. The professor was a straightforward, no BS, cuss like a sailor professor who told you how it was. On the first day of class, she shattered the strongly-held precept of mental health counseling – the client must have insight into the struggle before real, lasting change can be made. The first day of class she comes in and tells us we don’t care if the client understand the why or gains any kind of insight at all… all we want is for their behaviors to change. We don’t care if they understand why they act the way they do or if they understand why they need to change or why the changes work. All we want is for the client to change.

This literally, was a slap in the face to everything I had learned in my program prior to this and it was exactly what I had been screaming in my head as I sat in class. What I didn’t understand at the time, is that you want change first to allow time for the understanding to come. In a brief, strategic scenario you are time-limited and need to change to occur quickly allowing the client time to reflect later. This approach was refreshing and laid some solid groundwork for me as I began to formulate and design my own approach to counseling. Since then, I have become more convinced that real, long, and enduring change can only come when you take time to reflect and understand what the root cause of your anguish is. Having said that, there is also a time and a place for a brief, strategic approach which doesn’t waste precious time assisting the client in gaining insight, but rather forces a quick, necessary change immediately.

This morning, I arrived to work and found one of the youth in our Residential Group Care (RGC) home refusing to go to school. I walked into his room, woke him up and said, “You have two options – 1. Come sit at the conference room table in my office and let me get all the tasks on my list for today done that require me to sit in front of a computer. For this to happen, you don’t have to tell me anything… I don’t care what’s going on, I don’t care why you don’t want to go to school, I will leave you alone to sit at the table and do nothing all day long. 2. Come with me to run some errands, a different set of tasks on list for today. For this to happen, you have to give me something… you have to help me understand what is going on inside your head and heart which explains why you don’t want to go to school. Help me to understand there is something churning inside you and that you just aren’t choosing to be a turd this morning.” He replies, “I’d rather go to school!” And I say, “And there is option 3, get up and get dressed so I can take you to school.” He got up, got dressed and I took him to school.

This is a Directive technique called the Ordeal. The rationale here is to give the client something to do which is harder to fulfill than following through with the symptom you wish to alleviate. I wanted him to go to school, so I gave him options that were less desirable to him (i.e. harder) than going to school. Additionally, I utilized several Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) techniques in the process. First, I empowered him to have a choice… have a voice in the process. He was given the freedom to choose any of the options and I would have been ok with whatever he chose. This also employs the compromise technique. He doesn’t get what he wants, but he can choose from two alternatives and we roll with what he chose. It was a win-win for everyone this morning. He was empowered to choose and we did what he chose and I got him to go to school and didn’t have to have shadow all day long because he refused to attend school.

When working with the youth in our RGC, it isn’t always this easy. There are times when it goes much less smoothly. However, the key ingredient in each interaction which continues to prove successful is authentic engagement. Many times, the youth we work with haven’t been given a choice, they are shown respect, they are lead to believe their voice doesn’t matter and that no one cares for them. But we do. I do. By authentically engaging in the life of this youth, we establish a relationship where we can accomplish much simply because we take the time to engage in their lives in an authentic way which demonstrates that unlike so many others in their lives, we care about them and they matter to us.

The Beginning of Another Year.

As we begin another school year, we have a fifth grader, fourth grader & a kindergartner.

We also have a safety patrol.

This is the only year they will all be at the same school.

These little dudes rock! So happy to be their dad.

I find as I get older, it is the little things in life which bring me the most joy. Sending the dudes to their first day of school for a new year. Celebrating the little things in life that make them who they are. Getting excited about our safety patrol in the family. I joked with my parents, that we all have to be on good behavior because we now have law enforcement in the family.

Noah had a pre-season soccer tournament this weekend. His team ended the tourney 1-2. He was a little disappointed, but happy for the win. Ronda and I saw a lot in Noah over the weekend and we spoke with him a length about playing the best soccer he can. I know he thought we were coming down hard on him, the reality is we see something in him and we want others to see it too. I told him (and his bros) I only push him for more, because I know he is capable of more. I know he has more inside him. I have seen it. He agrees. In the midst of our discussion, he conceded Hayden (our middle child and Noah’s arch-rival) was putting out more effort in soccer than he was. I asked how he felt about that… he said he was glad for Hayden and a little disappointed in himself. He said he was going to do better. He was going to put more effort into it. He left the house with a soccer ball today, to spend time at recess and in his free time working on his skills.

With all the boys, we are pushing them to work on the skills/drills each of their coaches assign them as homework. Additionally, we are trying to play more pick up games and encourage them to practice juggling the ball to improve their footwork and touch on the ball. We are trying to make it fun again. This is one of those little things I spoke of. Making soccer fun. Making it a friendly competition between them and me to see who can improve themselves quicker. I have decided I need to practice my ball skills too. I try to do the drills they do also in order to improve myself, but to also model the commitment they need to see.

Commitment. It hit me this weekend, we are asking our boys to commit to touching a soccer ball for 20-30 minutes everyday. Using the argument, the people who really want it, who want to be the best, who want to get better do this. You have to be committed to putting time in everyday for this. If you love it and want it, you will do it. As I gave those words of encouragement and instruction, I felt convicted there are many aspects of my life I give lip service to their importance but don’t follow through with any real commitment to them. I felt convicted to be serious about my life and the things which are important to me. It felt a little hypocritical to be asking them to do something I wasn’t willing to implement in my own life.

What does this mean for me? I hope it means I will take stock of the things in my life, identify those I wish to excel at, and them implement a strategy to excel at those endeavors. I want to take my own advice and become a father and leader they look up to and follow because they see me modeling in my own life what i am asking of them.

When Parenting Happens and We Aren't to Blame

boysAs a parent, each day is full of moments where you are sure you are doing it wrong. On occasion, there is a moment when you know you have done it right. And then there are moments, when it is right and you know it wasn’t that you had done it right as much as the character you have been working so hard to instill in your children shows through their actions.

Recently, our oldest son has been having a bit of a philosophical dilemma with friends at school. He is finding himself in need of locating new friends. As we inquire as to what is going on, we have discovered the ‘cool kids’ are being mean to the ‘uncool’ kids. My son typically falls into the cool category, but he is having a problem with the way his friends are treating other kids. So he had started to hang out with others at school, because he doesn’t want to be cool if it means being mean to others.

As a dad to three boys, I feel like I spend a lot of time trying to instill a sense of justice in my little dudes. As brothers do, they constantly fight and argue and get on each other’s nerves. They love each other, but they also love to fight each other. What inevitably happens, the youngest and smallest gets pushed around (although, in all honesty he can hold his own… he doesn’t know the phrase dog eat dog yet, but he is aware of the principle!). When the little guy gets pushed around, I try to instill in the older boys a sense of the injustice inherent in picking on the little guy. It really irritates me. I want them to know that it isn’t ok the push the little guy around just because you can. As a side note, this is an important lesson for them to learn in my kind because I want to ensure as husband and fathers, they don’t use their size to push their families around. We call those men batterers and abusers. If I teach my dudes nothing else in life, I will teach them not to abuse or batter their family. I wouldn’t necessarily say I have an inflated or big sense of justice, but I would say I want justice to prevail as much as I can help it.

So when my popular, athletic, electric, outgoing, tons of friends oldest son says he is struggling with his friends because they want to pick on and be mean to the less popular or cool kids, my heart is warm. It’s not that I did it right as a parent, as much as my son is becoming the man I have prayed and hoped he would be. It’s not that I have done it right as much as he had the character of a man who has a heart after God’s heart.

And the icing to this cake of awesomeness is when you realize the other two boys are walking through the same struggles with their friends too. When they are also beginning to see and understand it isn’t ok to pick on kids to be cool. For one son to demonstrate the character I hoped for is great… for all three of them to demonstrate that kind of character is indescribable.

I’m not some super parent who is awesome… but I am happy with who my dudes are becoming as men.

The Battle Hymn of Parenting

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I have three awesome boys. They really are great. Most of the time they are the light of my days.

Some days they are not. Today is one of those days.

Today is a day where everything is a battle, especially with our oldest son. He is fighting us on everything. Everything. For no reason at all.

I suppose I have come to accept the reality there are some days that are going to be battles. All day long. All day long.

It continues all day today. He is fighting about everything and accepting no responsibility for his actions at all. I don’t expect him to accept responsibility like an adult, but he is old enough he can accept responsibility for his actions. Nothing is his fault. We are the bad guys.

Again, some of this comes with the territory of being parent and I accept that. But this is going beyond what is to be expected as normal.

I accept I am not the world’s greatest parent, but I know I am not the world’s worst either. I’m somewhere in the middle, nestled in mediocrity as a dad who does good sometimes but also drops the ball sometimes.

My wife and I have tried tough love today, we have tried cuddly love today, we have tried ignoring, we have time out, we have tried spanking, we have tried restriction, we have tried it all to no avail.

It’s days like these that cause even mediocre parents to question themselves and wonder whether they really are bad parents. I’m not a bad parent, but I sometimes wonder what am I doing wrong. The question “why do they hate me so much?” does come to mind sometimes. Gentle reminders and encouraging words between each other parents help to keep us on track remembering we are good parents.

Honestly, these battle days are the days I realize I am a good parent. Despite all the frustration, I did not beat or abuse my child. No matter how he acted or responded to me, he was treated with respect and dignity. I never humiliated or made fun of him. I did not cut him down or degrade him.

He is still my child. He is still my son and I love him more than he will ever know. He has captured a place in my heart that can never be taken away. From the first moment I laid eyes on him (and all my boys for that matter) he nestled his way into my heart and can never leave it… no matter what he does. He will always be my son. He will always have my love.

He may push the limits and test to see how far my love extends, but what he will find is he can never reach the end of my love. He will never push beyond its limits.

I love him without measure, beyond comparison.

I have the greatest boys a dad could ever hope for.

Even on days like today, where everything is a battle.