Four Things Every Parent Should Know
By: John Croyle
I’m not going to mince any words: There are two things you have to give your children in order for them to make it, and two things your children will have a hard time forgiving you for. Those may seem like bold Statements, but as the founder of Big Oak Ranch-a Christian home in Alabama for abused, orphaned and neglected children-I’ve worked with more than 1,200 children over the past 22 years. Some people in this world may be able to take these concepts apart, but can assure you they are true.
If you want your children to make it, you have to let them know that:
1. You love them, no matter what.
2. You believe in them, no matter what.
The two things that your children will have a hard time forgiving you for are:
3. Not disciplining
4. Not trying.
1. Love Unconditionally. I read this story in Reader’s Digest several years ago, and I’ve probably told it 10 million times, but I still cannot tell it without getting a lump in my throat.
One day, a father took his two elementary school-age children for a ride in a pontoon boat. They were traveling down the river when suddenly the motor stopped. When the father looked behind him, he noticed something familiar about the red sweater tangled up in the propeller. Then his young son yelled, “Sherry fell in!”
In horror, the father saw his little girl entwined in the propeller of the boat. She was submerged just beneath the surface of the water, looking straight into the eyes of her father and holding her breath.
He jumped into the water and tried to pull the motor up, but the heavy engine wouldn’t budge. Time was running out. Desperately, the father filled his own lungs with air and dipped below the surface, blowing air into his daughter’s lungs.
After giving her air three times, the father took a filet knife from his shocked son’s hand. He quickly cut the red sweater from the propeller and lifted his daughter into the boat. Although she had survived, her deep cuts and bruises needed medical attention, so they rushed her to the hospital.
When the crisis was over, the doctors and nurses asked the girl, “How come you didn’t panic?”
“Well, we’ve grown up on the river, and my dad always taught us that if you panic, you die. Besides, I knew my daddy would come and get me.”
Do your children know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you would come and get them, no matter what? If he was busted in a drug raid, would you go and get him? If she got caught being a prostitute, would you get your little girl? If your son was drunk on skid row, would you disown him?
2. Believe in Them. Of course, once you come to their aid, they must face the consequences of their actions. But do they know that you believe in them no matter what they do?
Many of the abused children who to Big Oak Ranch come from homes where they know without a shadow of a doubt their dads and wouldn’t come to get them. The says that children are A blessing from the Lord. Do your children know that they are blessings, or do they think they are burdens-financially and emotionally?
A lot of people think that children will never forgive their parents for abusing them. But we had one little boy whose mother dipped his legs in hot grease and burned him horribly. Yet during the seven years he lived with us, all he could talk about was how much he loved his Momma.
3. Discipline Them. Remember: Children want discipline. We had one small boy, Michael, who stood in front of me one day and stomped on our flowers.
“Michael, if you stomp on those flowers one more time, I’m going to spank you,” I warned.
He looked up at me-I must have seemed like a giant to him because I’m 6 feet 6-and looked back down at the flower bed. Then he raised his foot and smashed the flowers into the ground.
“Okay, come on inside,” I said. I took a ping-pong paddle and gave him three licks, but when I got through, he wasn’t crying.
“You done?” he asked.
“Yeah, but why did you deliberately stomp on those flowers?”
“Because I didn’t think you’d spank me.
His answer was in his eyes. They were saying, No one’s loved me enough to discipline me and keep their word.
Sometime parents are afraid to discipline because they fear their children won’t love them afterward. It’s like going into a grocery store and hearing a mother say, “Josh, if you touch that cereal box again, I’m going to punish you.” When the youngster continues to pull cereal boxes off the shelves, the mom threatens him-again and again, You feel like saying, “Hey, lady, will you just go ahead and do it?”
You see, a broken promise is a lie to a child, and if you promise him that you’re going to do something, he’ll test you to see if you’re going to keep your word.
4. Keep Trying. Why will your children have such a hard time forgiving you for not trying? That’s a big question.
I’ve known fathers who’ve had 14-year-old rebels, and they’ve thrown up their hands and said, “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
And when these children come to Big Oak Ranch, some of them ask me, “Why did my parents give up? I know I was being a real jerk, but did they have to get rid of me?”
If you’re in a situation where you and your spouse are considering divorce or separation (and every child has told me that he blames himself for the breakup), know that sooner or later your child is going to say, “You didn’t try. You didn’t care enough about me to work through your problems.”
At Big Oak Ranch, we’ve had children dumped in our driveway in the middle of the night. These kids are looking for an explanation. “Well, your mother thought it would be best if you live with us,” I say.You can tell the boy is all torn up, and his anger just spews forth when he says, “She didn’t try.”
Perhaps you’re saying, I would never abandon my child in that way. But you can emotionally abandon your child. One of the girls here hates golf because her dad loved hitting balls at the driving range more than he loved her. The average father spends about’ four minutes a week in conversation with a child, and if you divide that time in half, figuring the child is saying something, most dads are using their time to I lecture and not to listen. That’s a killer.
When I played football at the University of Alabama, our star running back was Johnny Musso. After Johnny’s playing days, I remember going to a big party at his house and seeing his little son come down the stairs, calling for his dad. Johnny said excuse me, and right there in the middle of the living room, he knelt down in front of his little boy and asked, “What is it, buddy?”
What impressed me was that Johnny was six inches from his son’s face, and it didn’t matter that his house was filled with sports celebrities-his boy needed to talk to him. Seeing that reminded me to be a good listener.
Children want to be listened to. Children want discipline. Children want structure and order. We’ve had children come here who are totally undisciplined. They think God has a last name and that church is a building you drive by. On the other hand, we’ve received children from half-million dollar homes who would give anything in the world for Daddy to say, “Honey, I want you in at 10 p.m.” They were never given a curfew.
That’s why when children come to Big Oak Ranch, I tell them four things:
1. I love you;
2. I’ll never lie to you;
3. I’ll stick with you through thick and thin;
4. If you ever do me wrong, I’ll get you.
Now that last one sounds pretty harsh, but what have I given these children with these four statements? I’ve given them:
1. emotional support;
4. the knowledge that there are boundaries.
Those are four things these youngsters desperately want, and so do your children.
John Croyle’s first book, Bringing Out the Winner in Your Child (Moorings), will be released in September. He was assisted in this article by Focus on the Family magazine editor Mike Yorkey.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED IN FOCUS ON THE FAMILY, MAY 1996, BY JOHN CROYLE, PP.2-4. THIS MATERIAL MAY BE USED FOR STUDY AND RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.