It is that time of year again, March Madness. It is full of excitement and is often an emotional roller coaster for players and fans around the country. It also reminds me of my own experiences playing college basketball many years ago. As I think back, I always feel like I could have had greater success if I had not been so distracted and had approached the game with a little more purpose. It might seem silly to feel some remorse or disappointment in myself after all of these years, but as I watch my kids leave home and go off to college, l can’t help but feel that same regret on some level.
As I think back to my basketball days or of my days parenting, I am reminded of how important it is to have a purpose. In college, I was probably more focused on dating and having fun. My lack of purpose led to less fulfilling accomplishments on the court. As a parent, it is also easy to lose sight of the higher purpose of our leadership in the home. It might be the work life, the carpool thing, or maybe the cultural noise (music, drugs, boyfriends, etc.) that keeps us distracted and disconnected from living out our core values.
At times parenting has felt like the days on the basketball court when all I was focused on was playing defense. There was an imbalance; I was not being assertive with offense because I wasn’t shooting the ball well. Parenting might feel that way to you sometimes as well – a very defensive focus. What with dating, drugs, alcohol, pornography, movies, dress…I mean, it can really come at you! And we certainly need to protect our kids; after all, it is one of our primary roles. But it is also easy to begin to feel desperate, lacking confidence and unsure of what to do. Of course, you can’t win many basketball games if you only play defense.
The problem is that most parents have never identified what is at the heart of their purpose in parenting. As a result, that core purpose doesn’t impact their normal day-to-day lives. It is like we don’t have an offensive game plan and aren’t running any plays. We are just throwing the ball at the hoop and quickly running back to defend.
The key to any core purpose is that it is authentic. Imagine asking our teens to run a certain play on the court while we run around doing something completely different. It will not make sense to our families and our kids might actually quit, throwing the ball up in the air out of frustration.
I once worked with a father that wanted me to help his son quit smoking marijuana, which seems like a reasonable goal. The problem was that his purpose was hypocritical. He wanted his son to quit because he kept stealing the pot from the father’s stash. Hypocrisy creates battles as teens have a real sense of justice and will almost always engage in a fight for their right to live the lives they see modeled.
Many of us struggle to see the hypocrisy in our own lives. We value faith and hope that our kids follow us in our beliefs. So we surround them with like-minded people. We enroll our kids in Sunday school, youth group, and seek out positive religious influences. And these activities are really good. But really they are intended to just be a net. It is not the core – the core is the family. The net around it is the supporting structures that help us build an environment around our family that helps us get where we want to be as healthy families.
Studies show that we do more harm than good when we go to church on a Sunday morning and live another way the rest of the week. Kids want authenticity. During adolescence, kids really step back from authority and evaluate the authenticity of the message. They want to see if our behavior matches our words and if it is really worth following these values into adulthood.
When you think about it really though, it’s not just that kids in this culture want authenticity. It’s God Himself that wants it. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken and contrite heart. He wants us to come to Him in honesty.
As parents we should stop and think about this. If somebody went to our kids, and asked, “What matters most to your mom and dad?” would our kids have to think? What would be on the list they’d come up with? What do you think they are seeing around the house?
Examine these answers and ask yourself what you might need to do differently. Am I just going to acknowledge it and feel ashamed, guilty, and like a failure as a parent? Or, am I going to examine my game plan, establish a fresh purpose with input from my spouse, and begin to practically work that out in my relationships with my children? This new game plan can be established around the values of my family, around my schedule, around how I order my life, and it can begin to reflect a heart that really does love God, and is passing that heart on to my children.
So watch March Madness, notice the focus and purpose with which they play and enjoy a few bracket busting games.