A Guest Post by Chip Mattis
If the title hasn’t clued you in yet, this is post is a guest post from my friend, Chip Mattis. I’m drowning in all the work of caring for my new baby & running our new non-profit Finally Family Homes, so I’m grateful to have such a gifted writer step in and write a guest post about Parenting in Christ.
Chip is a husband and father of three, and a great writer. Chip just published his first children’s picture book, “Under the Dancing Tree” inspired by the deeper understanding of God as Father that he experienced himself as a father. I’m sure you’ll enjoy this post and his wonderful book!
When Parenting Becomes Real
I read a lot of books and had a lot of conversations about parenting, but the reality of being a dad was much different. Instead of a theoretical baby, in 2008 I was suddenly holding a tiny, real-life little girl.
She was mine, and I was hers.
It didn’t take me long to learn that I couldn’t really learn as much from studying as I could from doing. I have been blessed with lots of wise advice. I am a natural learner, devouring books on any subject that interests me. So the academic part of me has loved preparing for fatherhood that way.
But nothing replaces the lessons I learn as a dad when I actually parent.
I’ve read books on disciplining kids: spanking versus time-out and how to engage my spirited child. But it was only through studying MY KIDS that I learned how they respond best to discipline.
My oldest is a textbook first-born. She carries the responsibility of the family on her shoulders (when she shouldn’t), and she’s so hard on herself. My son is tender-hearted but pensive. He needs instruction away from the moment, and he needs to fully understand why something is done or needed. My youngest is dramatic. She needs firm boundaries and clear consequences but mingled with tender reassurance of her value.
Many of these elements were things we learned from others, but none of them represents a parenting style we hold to. Each of our children needs a different approach, and it’s my responsibility to love each of them, not just all of them. Parents that create firm systems where all their kids are treated identically miss the mark and can end up breaking their relationship with the kids down.
Learning how to build my kids up became a primary goal. It’s tragically easy to destroy a kid’s confidence.
So one of the things I set out to do is to study my kids to see how they respond to love.
The 5 Love Languages has been instrumental in how I approach my kids. It challenged me to think of loving the people in my life in a deliberate way, not a convenient way. That means I needed to learn how my kids want to be loved and that’s what I believe parenting in Christ is meant to be.
We all need a bit of each of the five love languages throughout our lives, but since there is a primary language we speak, my responsibility is to speak each of my kids’ love languages fluently. It gets easier to tell how each kid responds to different ways I love them as they age. Their own way of demonstrating love starts showing me how they want to receive my love.
My oldest daughter wants acts of service and words of affirmation most. She loves to help others and encourage them. So I try to praise her when she does great work. I’ll brag on her when she’s standing right next to me. And I’ll help her with things she’s doing to make the chore easier. My son wants quality time and acts of service. He seems so much more himself when he’s had one-on-one time with me.
My youngest wants lots of physical touch. She wants tickle fights and tucked in at night. She wants hugs and kisses. She wants to wrestle and play around on the floor.
I’m certain they’ll grow and change. Even I have seasons where I need different kinds of love. The key is I need to demonstrate my love for them, rain or shine, in order for them to feel secure in their value as my kids. When I love them for who they are, they’re more relaxed about life and confident in how they’re made.
That is probably the most important lesson I’ve learned about being a dad: my children’s sense of who they are and who God rests on my shoulders.
I wrestle with this because there are plenty of counter-examples. There are healthy people who had fathers who fell woefully short and plenty of others whose lives have collapsed but had great dads.
The realist in me recognizes my daughter will grow up and make her own choices. But the question I repeatedly ask myself is whether she’ll be a good adult because of or in spite of me.
Proverbs is full of wisdom for parents:
- Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them. Proverbs 13:24
- Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:6
But it’s Jesus who gives us the best advice as parents.
He only does what he sees the Father doing (John 5:19), and God loves the Son and shows him what to do (v20). Whatever my biggest hope is for my kids, it has to be modeled, and I’m the example they’ll follow.
Do I want to raise hard workers? I should work hard.
Do I want my kids to be honest? I should be honest.
Do I want my kids to follow the Lord and obey him? I should center my life around making God famous and let my kids see the joy it brings me.
If I do anything worthwhile in this life, I want it to be that I served God by fathering these kids well. After all, what greater legacy can I leave in the world than my own kids?
How Under the Dancing Tree was Born
When I caught my daughter dancing with our willow tree, all my love for her came welling up and spilling over. I sat down, and I wrote a poem about all the fun times I had with her and all the times we still had left. As I finished, in tears, I knew I had written something I would cherish forever.
My entire goal with the story was to capture the love, hopes, and dreams a father has as he watches his little girl grow up. I hope you enjoy reading it with your kids as much as I enjoyed writing it for mine.
Check out Chip’s book on Amazon.
Learn more about Chip and check out his blog at chipmattis.com.