Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Turning Hearts of Parents

“He will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and turn the hearts of children to their fathers. . .” (Malachi 4:6; ref. Luke 1:17)

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During December, Molly and I went to see the movie Fireproof. I don’t really have a lot to say about the movie; as is fairly typical of such movies, it had a solid message, but was executed in a pretty unsubtle manner. But, like some others, we were inspired to go get the book which the movie highlights, The Love Dare.

We didn’t dive right into the book; our marriage is really in pretty solid shape, and we don’t have much of a ‘felt need’ to make huge, transformative changes (not that there are no improvements that we could make; but it’s nice to be in a place not so far from ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’). But, over the Christmas break, Molly had what I can only refer to as an inspiration from the Holy Spirit.

“What if we did ‘The Love Dare’ with the kids?”

It was an idea stunning in its simplicity, and very pointedly directed at the needs of our family (and, maybe more to the point, to Molly’s-and-my needs as parents).

If you haven’t seen the movie, the couple at the heart of the story are struggling in their marriage, and on the edge of calling it quits. But the husband’s father convinces him to try ‘The Love Dare’ for 40 days, in a last, desperate effort to save their marriage. Every day for 40 days, there is a brief meditation on ‘Love’, or ‘Kindness’, or ‘Generosity’, etc, and an associated ‘dare’ – do some act of unsolicited kindness to your spouse, or whatever that day’s topic happens to be. And of course, by the end of the movie, the husband, by his persistent love (which, at first, he does pretty ‘mechanically’, but, as he goes along, he ‘grows into it’), has won back the heart of his wife.

So Molly was proposing that we take the chapters of The Love Dare, and, as parents together, direct them toward our kids. And it has been really, really good for us.

The first day, the ‘dare’ is simply to refrain from criticism. And honestly, I was surprised by how challenging that simple thing was, to pull off for a whole day. We were both confronted with how very critical we are of our kids, and how much of our day-to-day communication with them is critical, in one form or another.

On another of the early days, the ‘dare’ is to do some gracious act – some act of unmerited kindness. . . And so on. . .

And the thing is, we are feeling our hearts starting to change, toward our kids.

Both Molly and I can be fairly self-centered individuals. She can be very ‘task-oriented’, and I have a strong tendency to get lost in my own head. And both of us are pretty darned stubborn, and hotter-tempered than is always helpful. And those traits, over the course of 26+ years of parenthood, have often worked together to the detriment of our kids, who don’t know, as well as they should, that their parents love them, and take an intense interest in their lives and well-being. We’ve come to a good place in our marriage, but we’ve struggled a bit more to export the ‘good fruit’ of our strong marriage to the lives of our kids. And this is helping us to do that.

We haven’t been perfect with it, and we’re purposely taking it slow, so we can solidify the ‘habits of heart’ that are slowly being formed in us; I think we’re on Day Five, about two or three weeks after getting started (of course, some of that is because we have eight kids – we aren’t exempting our grown-and-moved-out kids from the project – whereas the book was written to be carried out toward one spouse). And we’re seeing how the kids respond, when we’re less critical, and kinder, and more gracious toward them. . . Maybe, just maybe, there’s hope that our family will get stronger, and more loving, and that our younger kids might avoid some of the struggles that their older siblings have had.

On one level, it seems a shame that we’re coming to this now, roughly two-thirds of the way (or more) through our child-rearing career. But, we do what we can. Wisdom and love come, more often than one might wish, out of the ashes of our own foolishness and failure.

And God is merciful.

Which is a darn good thing. . .

13 comments:

flutterby said...

What a great idea, Desmond! It's really true that so much of what is actualized in our day-to-day interactions with our spouse and kids is truly detrimental. A little bit of thoughtful intention goes a long way.

The book is on my List of Books to Read, now. Thanks!

Sailor said...

That is really a neat idea, what a cool concept. We always struggle with the whole problem of how to let the kids know we love 'em forever, no exceptions- but we don't always like the behavior/attitude, or whatever. It's so easy to come across as criticizing the child, especially when they're young enough that they can't see the differences clearly. I love this idea, if only to reinforce in us how careful we need to be.

Good for you and Molly, for your willingness (Even 2/3 of the way through!) to make that effort.

Xavier said...

We teach through learning .... that is something my Dad taught me before he passed and it's still so true today. If we are not seeking to improve, neither will our children.

Keep at it, love 'em to death! And thanks for giving the rest of us a new tool.

for a different kind of girl said...

I, too, think this is a great idea. Are your kids aware you two are doing this, or are you just doing it and absorbing their reactions and tailoring your own to match how they fit the unique personalities of each child?

I've thumbed through the book several times at work. We saw the movie when it was released. I could say stuff about it (for one - I thought it was disappointing how the story of the wife's unloving issues wasn't addressed and everything about the faults of the marriage was placed at the feet of the husband, even if her reactions were something of a result of the husband's)(anyway, this is me, not going off on that movie....). I've considered buying it and giving it a shot. However, I'm married to an "I don't know" or "I don't care" or "I don't know what to say" man, so I'm not sure how effective my efforts would be in the grand scheme, and I'd probably be irritated if I spent $10.40 (with my discount!) on the book.

Wow. This comment says a lot without saying much at all, huh?

Cocotte said...

I'm embarrassed by how critical I am of my kids as well. Husband and I are in the midst of trying to deal with an unmotivated 14 year old son. Maybe I need to go get this book too.

Kudos to you once again, Desmond.

Therese in Heaven said...

I saw the movie, as you know, and thought that while the message was good, the execution was pretty cheesy.

The concept of using that book for your children, though, is really awesome. What a fabulous idea! And you know, it is better to do what you can when the idea comes, then to not do it at all.

Desmond Jones said...

Flutter - It's just amazing to me how, my best intentions aside, I end up hurting my kids. The virtue of the book, for either a spouse or a kid, is just to get us to think about our interactions a bit. And maybe start to form some better habits. . .

Sailor - Yeah, and of course, the kids aren't particularly modifying their behavior; the real challenge comes when they push the same buttons they always push, to not respond the way you've always responded. . .

Xavier - True dat. As parents, you better understand that you've signed on for 'Lifelong Learning'. . .

faDKoG - As I said, when Molly suggested it, it was obviously inspired. . .

I didn't think the movie laid all the 'blame' on the husband; he was just the one who 'started the process'; since somebody has to, and you're not very likely to both think of it at once. . .

Cocotte - Keep plugging away; eventually, they grow up. . .

Therese - Yeah, that was about my appraisal of the movie. . .

And yeah, the idea of the book translates pretty well to our kids; that was kinda the whole 'inspiration' part of it. We've come across a couple of 'dares', tho, that don't 'translate' quite so well. I'm sorry, but I can't recall them off the top of my head, but there are a few things that come into play between spouses that don't 'translate' into the parent-child relationship (anything sexual would be one obvious instance, but not the only one. . .)

Bunny said...

What a great idea! We got the book for Christmas (from my mom), but neither of us has read it yet.

Perhaps the authors will eventually put out a Love Dare for Parents, like the "Five Love Languages" folks eventually expanded to children and teenagers.

Desmond Jones said...

Hi, Bunny

The same thought crossed my mind, actually - a 'Love Dare for Parents' would be a great idea. . .

And hey, if you and your husband can work thru the book together, you might find it pretty helpful. From where I sit, its major virtue is in simply helping us to form some better habits in how we treat each other. You know, finding better ways to express the love that we really do have for each other, even if it's gotten a little buried. . .

lime said...

whether your kids are older or younger if there is benefit to be had it is great that you've both chosen to seize it. it certainly sounds very practical and i like that you're practicing each step for a while before moving on. seems like it will be more likely to solidify into consistent practice that way.

Desmond Jones said...

Good to see you here, Lime.

Yeah, that's the hope, that we can 'solidify' the things we're learning. Of course, the flip side is that, if you go too long between 'dares', you can kinda 'lose momentum'. . .

FTN said...

A fine idea. I hope this works out well and the kids notice. I'm taking my young daughter out tonight on a 'date.' I figure I need to spend more one-on-one time particularly with my quickly-growing daughter.

The 'day-without-criticism' sounds particularly tough... I guess it depends on how far you take it, and whether you are still telling them to do things and scolding them when they don't. Picking up toys, eating dinner, that sort of thing.

Desmond Jones said...

FTN - Well, yeah, I suppose it would depend on what you call 'criticism'. Certainly, they need to be corrected and instructed, etc. But we aimed at doing it without being harsh or impatient, or any of the things that come immediately to mind when you say 'critical'.

And I think that they're noticing. At least, when we're 'on top of the game', the whole tone around the house is just calmer and happier. . . And that's a good thing. . .