I’m rarely on time. When I am, people look around to see if there is evidence of a supernatural occurrence or they immediately put their hand on my forehead to check for a fever. Those who love me and put up with my tardiness have come to expect a 15-30 minute late arrival and when it does not occur, they figure either God has intervened by picking me up and dropping me where I’m supposed to be, or they assume I’m not functioning at full capacity. Some even ask who I am and what alien has taken over the body of Denise McKinney. In my years as the youth pastor at Redeemer Covenant Church in Tulsa, one student even came up with her own affectionate jab for my tardy tendencies: Denise Standard Time.
You have to understand that I don’t ever intend to be late. It’s not a good feeling to keep people waiting, but somehow I fell into that pattern in scheduling my life. It’s a rut I’m slowly digging out of, but I’m determined to not to be the queen of late my entire life. Just like I don’t intend to be late in my scheduling, I don’t think we intend to be late in having important experiences and conversations with our kids either, but somehow we get stuck in a pattern of living that diminishes our influence in their lives.
As a parent, I know I’m on a learning curve, but I don’t want to look back when they are grown and have a huge laundry list of things I wish I’d done with them earlier, or stuff I needed to say sooner. And as I youth worker who has encouraged parents to not give up guiding and mentoring their kids too early – even if they have to do it from a distance, I’d like to offer a list of things we as parents should commit to not be late in doing. Maybe we can encourage each other in the process:
- We should talk openly and honestly about God and spiritual matters. I find that parents either leave these conversations up to their kids’ Sunday School teachers, or they just leave them alone when they feel unprepared for the topic because of their own questions, doubts or mistakes. But one of the most wonderful gifts we can offer our children is the affirmation of their own search for spiritual understanding by talking about the things we do know and being honest about the things we do not have figured out yet. Our job is to point them to God by helping them experience prayer, scripture and what it means to belong to a community of faith. God really does not expect us to have all the answers, but does want us to demonstrate an honest search, when it is easy and when it is hard.
- We really should sweat the small stuff. By that I mean, we should put time and energy into things our kids really find important that we may see as trivial. Instead of making my daughter play the board game just like the rules are written, maybe I should go along with her creativity for a new game and not fuss about how I don’t think it’s gonna work. If your thirteen year old son is upset about a skate park closing or your 15 year old daughter is crying because no one has asked her to the homecoming dance, don’t fall into the trap of telling them it’s no big deal and it won’t matter ten years from now. Be there, in that moment of disappointment with them, listening and offering practical help if necessary – because it matters to them at that moment. And…our participation in these moments will matter in their ability to be vulnerable with us in the big moments.
- We should get over ourselves and our fear of the sex talks. For full disclosure, I’m telling myself this, too! As a youth pastor, I’m pretty comfortable talking to kids about issues of intimacy. Those conversations invite more anxiety as a parent. What the youth pastor in me has taught the parent in me is that it is different talking to our own kids about sex, but it is also more meaningful and important. Appropriate conversations at the right times, and honest answers to questions asked build trust with our kids and gives them healthy filters for the onslaught of information they will get at school, online and from movies and music. We should begin simple conversations about human sexuality early in elementary school with an engaged radar for how those conversations need to deepen as the years go by. As they understand more details about sex, we get to share about the sacredness of sexuality and how it is a powerful expression of love and commitment. If we wait until our kids are in 7th or 8th grade to venture into this topic, they already have gotten a lot of information from other sources, most not so reliable.
- We should plan to teach our kids without using words. I can tell when my daughter is tired of listening to my thirty minute dissertation on the importance of a tidy room – and when I get that look, I know she has dismissed everything I just said. But what she does respond to very positively is explanations in action. Every Saturday is room cleaning day and how much she did to put things where they belong during the week directly impacts her clean-up time on Saturday, possibly giving her more free time. This holiday season, she initiated the conversation about poverty after helping with the grocery shopping and delivery of a Christmas meal to a family in a very poor neighborhood. Planned or impromptu events where the family really lives life together and gives time and talents together may be the best teaching on caring for others and setting priorities.
- We should learn how to say we are sorry before we expect to hear it. Our kids need us to admit that we aren’t perfect. Often, even if we know we are wrong, we hesitate to apologize to our kids for fear it will weaken our authority. But I have come to admire the parent who can apologize for approaching a matter the wrong way, and still communicate the importance of the life lesson they had hoped to teach. I’ve also found that I can expect my kids to “do better” when they are messing up, but working hard to “do better” myself where I’m messing up reminds me that “doing better” is hard, intentional work for all of us.
This is really just a starter list. You may have great, thoughtful additions to these suggestions of things we should work hard to not be late in doing with or saying to our kids. So, I hope we can spur each other on to do better than just “Parenting Late Standard Time.”. We don’t want to be the kings and queens of what we should have experienced with our kids. And while not every moment of parenting is glorious or perfect, every moment is an opportunity to teach and guide our kids in word and action.