The One Behavior Every Parent Must Stop Doing

My dad bought Landon a tee ball set for his second birthday. I admit everything in me wanted him to immediately pick up the bat and ball and start swinging for the fences.

But he didn’t. Instead he wanted to gather stones from our backyard and fill up his Little Tykes plastic golf bag with them. 

No matter how much I tried to make hitting that ball off the tee fun for him, he couldn’t have cared less. In fact, he didn’t care at all.

I was bummed. I love playing baseball. I also wrestled.

Fortunately, my dad supported me no matter my performance on the field or the mat. He definitely challenged me when I didn’t do well, but his support came first.

That wasn’t the case for all parents in the stands. I witnessed some ugly interactions between parents and kids on the baseball field and wrestling mat through the years. Cussing. Yelling. Even physical aggression. Parents, who challenged their kids hard, but offered no support.

No child deserves to be treated this way.

Sadly enough, some of these kids were so incredibly talented they had full Division I scholarships, but squandered them. Anybody with common sense knew why. Their parents were more invested than they were. So much, that by the time they got to college, they were burnt out. 

I use sports as the illustration because it’s where you see this behavior in parents the most.

Whether it’s their grades, career aspirations, or wishing your kids had a completely different personality, parents have agendas.  

But these agendas not only wreck us, they emotionally debilitate our kids.

That’s why the one behavior every one of us must stop right now is living our own unfulfilled lives through our kids.

They don’t deserve the pressure.

As a dad, I have some soul searching to do. As a counselor, I know the ramifications of unmet expectations at their worst.

I remember meeting with a very insightful young man a few years ago. He was failing school, socially using drugs and living a sexually promiscuous lifestyle.

However, it didn’t take long to see the pressure this young man was under. His dad was a respectable ministry leader. But his expectations for his son were for him to be the same.

Rather than loving his son for who he was, he shamed him for who he wasn’t. 

His tearful, heart-wrenching confession is one no child should have to make: “Josh, my dad’s expectations for me are so high, I know I’ll never be who he wants me to be.”

How sad.

The Bible tells us to “train up a child in the way he should go.” Notice the verse emphasizes the way each child should go, not the way we want them to go.

The question I needed to ask myself was, “Will I love my son any less if he doesn’t like baseball?”

Of course I wouldn’t love him any less.  Not from my perspective as dad anyway.

But I might treat him differently. And though we may not be yelling and swearing at our kids, our expectations are expressed in subtle messages and attitudes over time that reveal our agenda.

There are two ways to gauge how strong your parental agenda is for your kids.

1.   Do you use shame as a motivator against your kids when they don’t meet your expectations?

2.   How well are you becoming a student of your child’s interests, especially if it’s not an interest of your own?

Better yet, what if I privately were to ask your kids, “Do you feel like your mom (or dad) loves you more (or less) because you play (or don’t play) a certain sport, instrument, or some other activity?

We all must stop living our unfulfilled lives through our kids.

I want to close with an excerpt from John Smoltz’s (former Atlanta Braves pitcher) Hall of Fame induction speech just last month in Cooperstown.

In his closing statement he got loud applause with these words, “I want to encourage families and parents…baseball is not a year-round sport.

He continued,

I want to encourage you, if nothing else, know that your children's passion and desire to play baseball is something that they can do without a competitive pitch. Every throw a kid makes today is a competitive pitch. They don't go outside; they don't have fun; they don't throw enough. But they're competing and maxing out too hard, too early, and that's why we're having these problems (referring to Tommy John surgery). So please, take care of those great future arms.”

And might I add, “…those great future hearts.”

Get outside.

Have fun.

Enjoy your kids’ interests.

And if they’re good enough to one day do whatever it is they love professionally, support their dream, not your own, with all of your heart.

To learn more about how emotional safety is the key to raising kids who live, love, and lead well, you can order my latest book, Safe House: How Emotional Safety is the Key to Raising Kids Who Live, Love and Lead Well.

Joshua Straub, Ph.D. serves as the Marriage and Family Strategist for LifeWay Christian Resources and is the President and Cofounder of The Connextion Group, a company designed to empower parents, spouses and families. Josh speaks and writes on emotionally safe parents and spouses and the influence of technology on today's family. He is the author of the newly released Safe House: How Emotional Safety is the Key to Raising Kids Who Live, Love, and Lead Well (Waterbrook Multnomah) and along with his wife, Christi, is the producer and co-author of the video curriculum The Screen-Balanced Family: Six Secrets to a More Connected Family in the 21st CenturyJosh and his Canadian wife Christi reside in Nashville, TN with their son, Landon, and daughter, Kennedy.

For more encouragement and ideas on marriage and parenting in the 21st century, you can join Josh and a growing tribe of awesome families at www.joshuastraub.comand follow him on Twitter @joshuastraub or Facebook.