Last month my family and I were invited to a family birthday party for my one-year-old niece. I was really amazed at the amount of work her mom and dad put into this party. Everything was part of the theme including the cupcakes, which her mom had decorated by hand. They did an amazing job of organizing it and I started to think about my kids and their birthday parties. Sorry to say but I don’t think we ever out that much work into our children’s parties. I sometimes do the same thing about therapy and all the possible treatments we have or have not done for our son. Over the years I have met parents who to me seem to have limitless energy and sometimes pocket books to enroll their children in every program there is.
There is a scene in an older comedy movie “Raising Arizona”. In it a childless couple steal one of a sextuplet children to bring up as their own. On the first day they have the child they sit down to lunch with a couple who have five children and the well seasoned mother starts telling them all the things they need to do like shots and setting up a college fund. The new father who is played by Nicolas Cage looks as if his head is going to explode with all the new information. This is how I have felt when talking to these super parents, I feel like hyperventilating, thinking about all the things I have not done.
I spend way too much time on the past and what I could have done better. I spend time comparing my family to others and it isn’t fair to that family or to my family. Just like our children, whether differently abled or not, each family is different. Looking at what they are doing from my external view could never be accurate. We have had seasons of great activity and seasons of rest, times in which we were all together and getting along and times when we had to seat the kids in certain order in the car just to keep the peace.
During my conversation with Melanie Boudreau for this month’s podcast, she said something that has stuck in my head for a few weeks now. She talked about being at church with her daughter, who has issues with noise, and seeing the looks from others when they noticed her wearing noise cancelling headphones. As a parent you know the look, even if your child doesn’t have a special need. If our children act up or are not doing something deemed appropriate by others, they give us the look of disapproval. They of course would never let their child act like that, or perhaps if you were just a better parent your child would not act like that. A lot of things go through my head when I get that look, anger, shame, and judgment. I don’t like the feeling of others judging me in a situation they have no idea about, and I think to myself how they have no right to give me that look.
While I can be, in that moment self righteous, I have to sometimes step back and realize I have been at times on the other side. Maybe I didn’t give the look, but I have judged other parents for their handling of a situation or behavior, that I may have thought they should be better at dealing with. There might have been a million reasons why the parent was not having success in that moment, including as many call them, a hidden disability, which might have made what I deem acceptable, not possible. There have also been times when my children decided to test me, which meant proving to them that even having a tantrum was not going to let them get what they wanted, even if that tantrum was happening in the middle of Toys r Us.
Several years ago, I had the great privilege of attending a meeting with the president of Biola University, Dr. Clyde Cook. Dr. Cook has since passed away, but at the time he was on a retirement tour around the country. One of the stops was at the town in which we lived, and since my wife’s family had been long-time friends of Dr. Cook’s – and my wife attended Biola – we eagerly signed up to attend the event.
Dr. Cook’s story is a remarkable one. Born in Hong Kong to missionaries, his family was imprisoned in internment camps during World War II. As a young man, he earned his Bachelor’s from Biola, his Master’s from Talbot Theological Seminary, and his Doctor of Missiology at Fuller Theological Seminary. In between his university stints, he took part in missionary trips to more than 72 countries. He also set up theological extension programs in the Philippines. In 1982, he became President of Biola University, and during his 25-year tenure as president, he took a small, struggling college and transformed it into one of the premier Christian colleges in the nation.
Dr. Cook was a very humble man with a great sense of humor. He was also a terrific storyteller. At the gathering we attended were several older couples who had joined Dr. Cook through the years on numerous mission trips. As they related their stories about these trips, I learned about many amazing things all of them had done. While I listened, I couldn’t help but think, “Where are the leaders of tomorrow? What are they doing right now?”
The reason I wonder about the future of leaders in our nation is because I’ve seen so many so-called leaders who have fallen prey to traps and snares along the way. I know it’s far too easy for me to sit and judge, as I watch them from the sideline. But I witness many of them walking the straight and narrow for a little while. Some of them even accomplish great things, or start great movements. And while I’m sure that they all had the greatest of intentions, many of them lose focus and end up ruining any good that they might have done.
I was blessed today to sit and listen to some of the country’s best speakers on leadership. Many talked about what it takes to be a leader, or the things leaders shouldn’t do if they want to be effective. They all made good points; most were very engaging, or at least funny. I can use much of the advice I was given, but one idea in particular stood out to me. The presenter spoke about how our society has a misconception about leaders. Everyone thinks of leaders as extroverted people. Natural leaders, we believe, are people who love the spot light or get charged up by being in front of others. There are people who are naturally better at speaking to crowds, or making impossible tasks seem achievable with an uplifting speech. Some people are the big, bold, inspirational types. But if statistics are true, half the population is introverted. The thought of being in front of people, or giving a speech to a group, even a small group, makes half the population run for the doors. So does this mean that anyone in a leadership role must have an extroverted personality? It turns out many gifted leaders are not extroverts. The speaker gave us many examples of people with whom she had spoken, who occupy major roles in government, business and even the church. So what makes people who have a natural inclination toward solitude step out and risk being pushed far beyond their comfort zone? The key was the cause they fought for. Every one of these leaders believed in something so completely that they took a great risk, and stepped with quiet strength into a leadership role.
This made me think of the parents I see stepping out on behalf of the children they love. Some might see these parents as over-zealous, creating programs which take schools or even churches out of their comfort zones. Many think they are putting too much pressure on everyone for the inclusion of their kids, or that they should just take what the “system” is willing to give.
There is little you can say to a fourteen year-old about life that he or she will listen to.
From their perspective, they know everything about everything or so they’ll tell you. This is just the nature of growing up.
They feel invincible at that age.
But what if you are fragile or disabled? Does it cause you to deal with your teen years differently?
I haven’t yet come across a book that can guide you through these years for those who are what I call “off the charts.”
When I speak of “charts” I think of going to the doctor’s office when your child is young and the physician measures their head size, weight and height. He then offers you a point of comparison to other children of similar age. They call this the percentile.