I cried when I scratched my tennis racket.
There I said it. It feels good to get it out.
I was a young budding perfectionist. Only in some things mind you. But most perfectionists tend to be that way. They are only perfectionists in certain areas. In other areas they don’t seek perfection at all. But that’s an article for another day.
I was playing tennis with my new racket and I guess I’m one of those people who doesn’t have a low gear when it comes to sports. Although, now that I’m getting older my higher gear isn’t as high as it used to be. But still, if I’m going to play something, I’m going to dive for the ball if I have to. Just sayin’.
Because of this, my identity as a perfectionist collided with my identity as an all out player and something had to give. The all out player won, and as I dove for the ball, my new racket and my perfectionism paid the price.
It was totally scuffed up, and I cried.
“That’s a funny story Joe,” you might be thinking. “But what does a crying boy and a scuffed tennis racket have to do with showing our children how valuable they are?”
Resetting My Scales
I tell that story so you can see how important things were to me.
My grandpa took immaculate care of his things. His lawn mower was probably in better shape fifty years after he bought it than it was the day he bought it.
I’m no where near that level of ability. But it’s in my blood.
So as those of you with children know, my identity as a perfectionist (in some things) and my identity as a HappyDad were about to collide.
I could only value one thing the most. Either my children or my things, and if the answer was my things, I was going to need a serious reset of my scales.
I Love You More Than Pickles.
I can’t tell you the whole story, because I don’t remember it. But at one time in our house, or maybe multiple times knowing the level of pickle addiction my children have, something happened and a jar of pickles broke.
My wife and I had a choice. Get upset over the thing, in this case a jar of pickles and the kitchen floor, and teach our children that the thing was more important than them, or calmly respond and show love to them, and teach them that they are more valuable than the thing.
It probably didn’t happen the first time, but one of the times that a pickle accident occurred. The words came to me to say, “I love you more than pickles.”
And it was true. (We actually found a sign that said this later on. So cool.)
The child’s value to me was far greater than that jar of pickles. But so many times as parents we forget that the lessons we teach our children now will guide their lives for years to come without them even knowing it.
The daughter who believes she is worth less than material possessions will settle for a man who treats her like one.
The daughter who knows she is worth more than material possessions won’t settle for a man who treats her like one.
The son who believes he is worth less than material possessions will sacrifice his family for them.
The son who knows he is worth more than material possessions won’t sacrifice his family for them.
Trained to Protect
I heard a story once of how secret service officers are trained to protect the president.
I’m not sure if it’s true or not, but I’ve always loved the analogy in regards to parenting.
Our natural reaction to the sound of a gun shot is to duck and hide. That’s perfectly normal to any sane person considering the circumstances.
But a secret service agent’s job is to protect the president. So this natural reaction is completely unacceptable and brings to mind the saying, “You had one job.”
In order to overcome it, they put them through vigorous training to reverse their natural reaction. Instead of ducking and hiding at the sound of a gun shot, they are trained to stand and put their body between the shot and the president.
After their training, this new behavior becomes their natural reaction.
So what does that have to do with parenting?
Trained to Love
When you hear a loud crash in the house. What’s your natural reaction?
For me it was, “What did you do?” My value system was set on things being important. This may not seem like a big deal to some of you, but to me it was.
I knew that by keeping that natural reaction I was going to be modeling and teaching my kids that things should be more important to them than people too.
So I started becoming mindful of this and putting myself through my own training.
Instead of saying, “What did you do?” when I heard a loud crash. I started to say, “Are you okay?”
I had to do this with my wife too.
Because if my children saw that I valued things more than her, it wouldn’t matter what I told them, my behavior to their mother would outweigh my words to them.
It didn’t happen over night and I still have to be mindful of my response, but I’m proud to say I’ve gotten to the place now where, “Are you okay?” is probably my response 8 times out of 10.
You’re More Important
This lesson isn’t just for your own kids or spouse either. As parents we have the extended honor of being able to speak into our kids’ friends’ lives as well.
Teaching them their true value just as we are learning to teach our own kids too.
I’ve had quite a few opportunities to do this as I’m sure you will as well.
When you do, the best words to say are, “You’re more valuable than…” or “You’re more important than…”
Here are a couple of stories to help illustrate it.
Just recently, I’ve had the opportunity to do this twice. The first was at our youngest daughter’s birthday party.
As I came around the corner to the garage where we had some decorations up, one of the little girls had tears in her eyes and I asked her what was wrong.
She said she had jumped up to grab some of the streamers and accidentally pulled the entire string down.
Thankfully my training had paid off and I simply smiled and said, “Don’t worry about it, we can put them back up and you’re way more important than decorations.”
You could see the weight lift off of her as the guilt was washed away with the realization that she was more important than those decorations.
It’s fun too see this and I know you’re going to love it too.
The next time, was when our oldest daughter had a friend over and they were cooking in the kitchen. As she was grabbing some spices she accidentally knocked over the salt shaker and it broke on the floor.
Once again I was faced with the choice of, “What did you do? or Are you okay?”
Thankfully, once again, I chose the latter which leads to, “You’re more important than a salt shaker.”
Sometimes even just a look is enough too.
One time we were out with a family at a restaurant and afterwards we were heading back to our cars.
Their car was next to our van and their boy had run ahead to get in the passengers side of their car. As I turned the corner and came between our cars where he was, I got there just in time to see him throw their door open right into the side of our van, leaving a noticeable white mark in the side of our van.
His face was like a deer in headlights as he looked up and saw me. Only by the grace of My Heavenly Father did I smile back at that boy, sensing his freedom he jumped into his car, closed the door and sat wondering if I was going to “rat” him out.
I ran my hand over the mark, gently opened my door, sat down and smiled over at him again.
I don’t know if he’ll ever remember that, but if I had yelled and made a bigger deal over a dent in my car than a boy in need of love, I guarantee, whether he knew it or not he would have been fighting with a negative value of himself for years to come, maybe even far into his adult life.
Reset Your Scales
It doesn’t matter if these words have convicted you of the out of balance scales that you have in your own life or not.
What matters is, if you’re going to make a change or not.
If you decide you will, here are the two ways you can show your children how valuable they are:
1) Ask Forgiveness
All too often as parents we think we have to present some sort of “all knowing perfect persona” to our kids. We aren’t God. We will mess up, and they need to learn the gift of forgiveness through us.
If we are unwilling to show our vulnerabilities to our children, they will be unwilling to seek our advice for theirs.
So ask them to forgive you for your mistakes. Let them know you are sorry for valuing things more than them and that you want their forgiveness for it.
Tell them you’re going to work on resetting your scales and you might not get it right every time, but that you’re going to keep working at it.
When you mess up and revert back to your old natural reaction, be quick to ask forgiveness and start again.
Have this conversation with your spouse too if you need to.
2) Train Yourself to Love
It’s going to take time and practice. Just as I mentioned in the story about the secret service agents, it’s going to take time for you to exchange a negative natural reaction for a positive one.
If you believe in prayer, ask Dad for help. Ask Him to give you peace in these situations, the words to say, and the mercy and love to say them with.
But no matter what, keep practicing.
Be sure to forgive yourself as you seek your children’s forgiveness too.
Let it Go
If you’re a parent in this day and age you’re more than likely familiar with the song from Frozen – “Let it Go.”
I apologize that it’s now stuck in your head for the rest of the day, but there’s a good reason for it I promise.
For many of you, your own parents may have taught you through their actions and words that things were more important than you.
Before you are able to model this new behavior for your own children, you may have to let any bitterness you have for that go first.
You will have to extend them forgiveness for that as you seek forgiveness from your children for your own shortcomings.
Parents are never perfect. As I’ve said before and I’ll say again, “Happy isn’t perfect.”
Happy is the choice you make to love your children (spouse, parents, others) in the absence of perfection (theirs and yours).
So whenever you feel that bitterness come to mind, I want you to think of that song and Let it Go! If you get annoyed by the song, hopefully it will become connected to that bitterness and you’ll get annoyed with that as well until you can let it go.
I’m Proud of You
I want to close with a thank you for taking the time to read this. It is proof that you do care for and love your children.
If you don’t think anyone else in this world is proud of you, I want you to know that I am.
You are more important than things. You must believe it about yourself or it will be incredibly more difficult for your children to believe it about themselves.
You are more important than things and I am truly proud of you.