being a manly dad :: control vs. influence

December 30, 2010

Here’s my theory:  At some point on the parenting path with each child, you must give up control to gain influence.  Let’s discuss…

My oldest son has that look on his face again.  Wide eyes.  Forced blank stare.  Trying not to convey anything.  Underneath he’s angry, but he’s trying to look unruffled.  Unchallenging.  He’s trying to avoid hearing his parents say, “Don’t look at me that way.”

But Seth is tenderhearted, so the forced nonchalance doesn’t suit his face.  There’s still that anger around the edges, in his posture and his hands.  And there’s hurt in his glazed eyes.

We’ve been here before, but not often.  Seth is a deeply good kid, and I’m so very proud of who he is becoming.  I can’t even type this without tears coming up, just under the surface.  I’m so proud and grateful he’s mine.

But he’s a normal kid with an independant streak a mile deep, and we, his parents, are actual people with attitudes and character struggles, too, so we’re bound to butt heads once in awhile.  In those times, I’m shifting my parental strategery.  I’ve begun to have these conversations differently…

From “The Silence of Adam” by Dr. Larry Crabb:

“Manly men release others from their control and encourage them with their influence…  Manly men nudge their family and friends to the same crossroads where they, as men, have found that trust [in God] or unbelief must be chosen.  Unmanly men require their friends and family to meet their demands.”

Do we require obedience from our kids, then?  Yes, we do.  And we don’t always have the time to answer the “why?” questions, so we require our kids to verbally agree with an “OK, Mom” or an “OK, Dad” after a directive is given.  This has been a VERY helpful piece of our parenting tool kit.  This assures that our boy is making eye contact and acknowledging that the directive has been heard.  Further, it reinforces the understanding that obedience is the expected norm.

But when kids grow, they gain complexity as they become more independant.  We still expect obedience, and we will not allow disrespect even when our boys disagree with our decisions.  But there is no question that parenting Seth requires a different kind of nuance.  And this is where being a manly dad means leading more by example and clear expectations , and less by demand.

So I’m trying to park my pride in my parenting.  I’m trying to be clear with expectations, and I still give PLENTY of directives.  But when I see that blank/hurt/angry/stubborn/conflicted/growing/complex/young/old/forced calm/frustrated face, I’m shifting my parenting gears.  I’m doing more nudging, and letting him choose.

Instead of, “Go apologize to your mom,” I’m encouraging Seth to choose the honorable way. “When you settle down and think it through, I think you should consider talking to Mom.  I think you owe her an apology.  And real apologies don’t come with any ‘but’ connected.  You think about your part of this, and you decide what to do.”

Seth will be a teenager in a month.  He has a living faith in Jesus, and the Holy Spirit feeds his conscience with a steady data stream.  He’s becoming a young man, and he’s not blindly falling into moral traps at this point… he is choosing.

My job, as I see it, is to help him become the man who will choose what is right because his character won’t allow him to do otherwise.  And that means prayer, trusting in God to shape him, and letting go of control in favor of influence.

Seth, and all of our boys, are miraculously wonderful kids.  Lord, help me not mess this up.

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“being a manly dad :: control vs. influence” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


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Psalm 24:7 & Luke 10:42 >> Like David, and Mary, I'm in pursuit of my one thing. I'm the Pastor at St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Montgomery, IL. Pastor, teacher, writer, communicator, designer, and drummer. I definitely got the better deal in my marriage to Amy. And I couldn't be any more proud of my five amazing boys. Deeply grateful.

11 responses to being a manly dad :: control vs. influence

  1. Uh huh, uh huh. I liked this post as soon as I saw that it had a big picture of ME as the opener. 😀
    And, in my humble upon, you have not “messed this up”. But perhaps my opinion is a bit biased…

    • Ah, yes, young grasshoppa… Your wisdom is great. Choose well, my son, which path you will follow. For there is but one path that leads to righteousness and life. The other to humiliation, pain, regret, sadness, anger, and death. Choose wisely, Padawan.

      Love you, kid. 🙂

  2. It takes an strong father to put his pride on a shelf and lead by example. You have clearly given your son a sound foundation. I have no doubt he will choose wisely as he finds his own way. Great post Josh!

  3. Josh,

    Thanks you! Tears in my eyes as I think of how much I, and all us parents, need this reminder and God’s Spirit to empower as we try desperately “not to mess it up” – and for the sweet exchange between you and Seth above; love in the flesh. :

    ps – young girls have “that look” too!

    Love to your family from ours,
    Michelle (Rose) Whalen

    • Thanks Michelle. 🙂 Since we have 5 boys, girls are a complete mystery to me. Good to know they share at least SOMETHING in common with boys. We are praying daily for our boys, that they will be men who want to do the right thing. Not that they always will, but that they want to. Because in a very short time they will be making more directional decisions about their life than we will. We pray that they are led by the Spirit, so that the direction they go lines up with God’s best for them.

      God bless you guys! We hope 2011 wildly exceeds your expectations. 🙂 Thanks again for checking in.

  4. This post sort of kicked me in the shorts. You know, in a good way.

    peace | dewde

  5. This article was great to read. I have been working in youth groups for many years and this totally encapsulates what I’ve been feeling lately with some of my kids. One of the cool things that kids bring to the table of their parents is a different view of many things that perhaps we have taken for granted or have not thought about. Also think it’s cool that Seth backed you up on here 🙂

    • Thanks for checking in here, Patrick! This is a fine line to walk, and I’m certain I don’t do it “right” all of the time. It is hard to know how quickly to let go of the control reins and when to pick them back up again. But Seth (and all of my boys) are opperating under “earned trust” with Amy and I. The more often and regularly he dispalys trustworthiness in the smaller things, the more likely we are to trust him in the bigger things. Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy gets quoted a lot at our house: “Trust, but verify.” 🙂

      Anyway, I’m glad to hear these things are widespread with other families and other kids. Hopefully parents are learning with their older kids how to trade in control for influence. God bless, man. Thanks again for your input.

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