On our plans for our kids’ success

On parenting:
Formulas, curriculum, techniques, strategies, tools.
Philosophy, values, goals, mission statements.
Homeschool, public school, private school.

They all can work

until they don’t.

One key is paying enough attention to if/when they don’t and adjust.
Not using them as a way to check out, to avoid having to work and deal with the responsibility of parenting.

The best plan can’t overcome an unengaged parent.
Even if there was such a thing as a perfect parenting plan/tool/formula we’d still have the problem of being imperfect parents.
It’s why we need grace & forgiveness and wise friends and mentors on the journey.

When you stop talking

In the busyness of life, it’s easy to lose track of those closest to you.
It isn’t helpful to assume negative things about your kids or your spouse, to assume they’re blowing it or off track somehow.
On the other hand, it isn’t always wise to assume they’re fine either.
Assumptions prevent understanding, honest and trust.
They allow hiding, lack of accountability and self-deception.

The answer is to courageously initiate conversation.
To overcome avoidance and risk rejection
to get to the heart of what is really going on in their lives.

Going first with transparency, leading with an invitation, not an interrogation, being willing to be wrong about your interpretations and hunches, having a mindset of curiosity instead criticism helps too.

On grace in parenting

On grace in parenting, something I’m still learning,
Giving up control doesn’t mean giving up.
Letting go, not being controlling, doesn’t mean
you don’t care
you are quitting
you are unloving
you are not doing enough
that your kids are going to turn out bad
you aren’t in charge anymore

It doesn’t mean that you are failing as a parent.

The verse is “train up a child in the way he should go.”
It’s not “Make a child go the way he should go”

It does mean you may not measure up to others in the comparison game
It opens you up to finding other ways to avoid feeling anxiety
feeling embarrassed
besides anger, shame, disapproval or power to get conformity.
It does mean you have to find a different way of measuring success besides what’s seen, on behavior
And that’s kind of weird and hard to put your hands on.
It opens you up to being disappointed that everything doesn’t happen
your way and the way you want.
It opens you up to just flat out feeling betrayed because you’ve been lied to or disobeyed.

But that’s a good thing.
For you and the kids.
Because, despite the frustration, stress/anxiety and even pain of it all,
you will actually have a real, living, breathing relationship between a real, live, amazingly human person and not some fabrication of a life that falls apart when you stop micro-managing it.

Parenting and Identity

Parenting is more about your best behavior than your kids’.
And realizing it’s not about behavior ultimately.
It’s about identity.
You can’t create a great story for your family, your marriage – you can’t be heroic in the face of your challenges – without facing and knowing your backstory.
You can’t get to “this is us”, without discovering “this is me”.

I went to a marriage counseling training last week, one of the interventions we learned was how to work through the aftermath of a fight.

One of the keys, besides self-awareness of feelings and listening well, was talking about a memory, a story from your past that brought up those same feelings.

It helps us identify our triggers, it helps us become more aware of how we react.
“None of us get out of childhood without a few crazy buttons.” – John Gottman.
When we understand this, we gain more self-control, we are able to stay calmer and objective (we prevent getting flooded).
This helps us problem-solve, brainstorm, compromise, collaborate and come to agreements more easily because we aren’t overwhelmed (and overwhelming our kids) with our frustration, grumpiness, anger or even rage.
We are able to give our best selves to our family.

Eight Coaching Questions for A Great Start to School

Eight Coaching Questions to Get Off To A Great Start with School

Hope you’ve had a good summer.

We had fun taking ~3500 mile road trip through CA, AZ, UT, NV, ID.

Hadn’t been to Disneyland in 8 years, it’s changed! And we had a chance to go to California Adventure for the first time as well as Monterey Bay, the Grand Canyon, the Narrows at Zion National Park, the Hoover Dam and Las Vegas.

As with most year, summer seems to go by so quickly. With our kids, every year is a formative year.

John Maxwell teaches that we don’t grow just from getting older and going through things, we don’t grow just from our experiences. We grow from evaluating our experience. We can’t control what we go through but we can control what we take away from our experiences.

And we can process our experiences in a way that grows and teaches us by choosing what we underline and highlight what we take out of hard experiences and positive experiences. They don’t have to be painful, challenging experiences. We can grow from mundane, every day, positive things too. With our kids, we can take it for granted that they are doing well or that they are managing the stress and challenges of the new year.

Sometimes kids can be left to fend for themselves, without being intentional as parents to check in with them. Sometimes we can get busy and focused on activities and results and we may neglect asking how they are doing emotionally. One way to process and support your kids is to debrief with them and listen for what they are going through, what they are experiencing.

Our kids learn more what they go through together with us, than what we tell them. Experience is one of the most powerful ways our kids learn.

So, what are your kids experiencing?

This year, ask your kids questions and listen well to what is going on in their hearts and minds.  Doing it early is a way of showing them that you care about them, that you’re with them, that they’re not alone.

When you do this early in their lives, later when they are questioning whether they want you around, or whether they want you involved, when they’re struggling with whether they want to be transparent and disclose what’s really going on with them, they will because there will be a lot of trust, a foundation of lots of support and encouragement that you’ve built up.  They’ll know that they can always come to you.

One of the joys, one the best parts, of parenting is when your kids trust you and are open with you.

Here’s eight questions for debriefing and coaching your kids:

1. What was that like?

When you observe them going through something with a sibling or someone on their sports team, ask them what was it like? You can ask this in the car, around the dinner table.

2. How did you feel?

Asking them this helps our kids develop self-awareness, an awareness of what is going on inside themselves. Being able to understand what is going on inside and giving them a vocabulary, an emotional vocabulary, to understand and express themselves can be very helpful for boys and girls. Not only will it help them identify their own emotions but it will help them develop empathy and emotional and social intelligence. It will help them increase their other-person perspective, an awareness of how they impact their peers, how they impact other members of the family, how what they do affects you.

You can over do that, you can be overly concerned with other peoples’ feelings, you can become enmeshed. But taking the first step of being aware and communicating how you’re feeling can also help with exploring and choosing healthy boundaries. It will help teach them the difference between being empathetic and feeling guilty and responsible for other peoples’ feelings.

Pixar’s Inside Out, if you haven’t already watched it, can be helpful in going deeper with this.

3. What did you notice?

This question sometimes is answered with physical observations, internal or external.  This question can help you see what your child is focused on or concerned about.

4. What did you tell yourself?

This introduces the concept that we have some control in way we respond to different situations; how we react and respond emotionally or behaviorally – whether it’s what we do or what we say – is greatly influenced by our self-talk. We can also increase self-awareness with this question. Sometimes when I ask counseling clients this question they respond, “I don’t know. I didn’t tell myself anything.” If you’re kids respond that way, that’s fine, just give them some time and space to figure it out and answer. Sometimes they don’t intentionally or willfully tell themselves anything. Sometimes automatic, core beliefs or our emotions drive our behavior.  Going back to question #2 How did you feel? And working backward can help reveal what is driving that emotion and reveal what they are telling themselves, maybe subconsciously. This can help with teaching anger management and self-soothing.

Brene Brown has described this in her book Rising Strong describes this as “the story I tell myself”, she notes that when we are in pain our brain searches for meaning to try to cope with the pain. And our brain will make up a story to try to make sense of and deal with the pain. Even if it’s wrong. It feels better than not having a story.

So, what did you tell yourself?

5. What does that say about you?

This is something I’m really passionate about, helping dads to speak truth into their kids’ lives. How your kid answer is one of the keys with whether they struggle with self-worth or self-confidence, with worry and anxiety. Or on the flipside with whether they become confident, compassionate, generous or brave. What does that say about you? When they are going through things.

It’s tough. When our kids are struggling or going through pain, our knee jerk reaction is to jump in there and reassure them.  My girls and boy have had different insecurities and have different struggles as they grown and are growing up.  It’s just like listening and being there for your spouse, instead of jumping in, allow them to express the depths to which they are struggling, try to listen a little longer.  Allow them to open up even more. What they start with may actually not be the most important issue, it may just be today’s symptom of it.  Often, with hard things, our kids will test the water. If they put out something and we jump all over them and cut them off too quickly, you may not get to what you need to get to. We have to handle it well.  If we minimize their feelings, tell them how to feel and think or what they need to do too soon, we disempower them. We have to let them struggle. Allowing them to struggle allows them to put down their mask and take off their “costumes”.

When we take the time and don’t rush, we earn the right to suggest other things that are true, other things that they could tell themselves. We can point them to the truth of Scripture. We can hold space for them when they are discouraged and bear patiently with them as they wrestle with decisions and ambivalence or sadness. When they feel that you’ve understood, when they’ve had a chance to vent without judgment and being shut down, you’ll feel the shift. They’ll start to talk about what they might do.

6. What do you think you’ll do next time?

You’ll know you’re asking this question too early if they “Yes…But…” you.

Asking this question, What do you think *you’ll” do?, instead of Have you tried this? Or Why don’t you do this?  Will reveal whether they are done venting and if they are ready to talk about problem-solving and what they’ll do next time.

7. What went well?

This question can help your child get unstuck and shift to problem-solving mode (Again, don’t get impatient or manipulative and ask this too early).

Most situations, if it’s not just something awful, have something to learn, something to takeaway, positive or strength, something that they did well. This helps our kids to get comfortable with ambivalence. For example, if they go to a party or you have a Thanksgiving Dinner, parts of the time or day may be great and fun and there will be parts that didn’t go great or didn’t meet your expectations. This question can help your kids with negativity, criticism and allowing the negatives to erase the positives with experiences and with people.

8. What would you like to try next?

This question helps our kids not worry about perfection.  This introduces or reinforces the principle of a growth and learning mindset.   We evaluate our experiences, highlight the positives, learn from the negatives and think solutions or adjustments and courageously try again, trying an experiment, trying to observe and improve and what we’ve been through. This question helps them understand that we don’t expect perfection, that we understand that they are growing. And we can say, honestly, that “You did a great job. You’re awesome.” And there’s to experiement with, adjust and learn. We want to give our kids truthful feedback. We don’t want our kids to be like the poor people on American Idol who they thought they are great singers when they are terrible. Somehow, no one’s been able to tell them the truth.  I guess their friends and family were well-meaning, they probably wanted to support them unconditionally but in the long run it doesn’t help our kids to not tell them the truth about where they are at. Their self-worth or how much we love them isn’t based on them being perfect.

Finally, when you ask these eight questions, it takes time.  To do it well it takes focus. Cutting down on distractions, carving out the space and time is important. When you do this with your kids, they will learn that they can put themselves out there and take risks. It will also help your kids not to quit when things get hard.

Our kids used to do musical theater. It always amazed me that they would do auditions in front of a panel of judges and their peers. They’d prepare a scene of dialogue or a song to present. And they learned that when they didn’t get the part that it was ok. And they were going to be ok and that was fine. It was still fun because they would find a way to still participate or be a part even if they didn’t get a main part.  And that was a beautiful thing that has translated to other challenges they’ve faced, like applying for jobs or taking on leadership roles.

How do our kids get brave?

They do that by having a sense that we are there for them. That we are going to walk through the risk with them.  We’re going to listen. We’re going to tell them the truth. We’re going to hold them accountable. We’re going to call them out when they’re getting off track. (It’s something my kids have told me they appreciate.  It’s hard because I want my kids to like me. It was really a struggle when they were younger.  But we’re learning.) We’re going to cheer them on. We’re going to honor their unique perspectives and their choices.

We help our kids by going through stuff with them. And we listen and support them better when we’ve worked through our own anxieties, fears and insecurity. So, maybe run these eight questions by yourself.

I hope these questions will help you coach, connect and support your kids in a deeper, more meaningful way this year.







A parenting lesson from Mayweather vs McGregor

Took my youngest to her first PPV, McGregor vs Mayweather.
It was fun.

Had me thinking about fatherhood.

A lot of guys, especially if they come to marriage and fatherhood later in life, find it difficult to crossover from areas of their strengths into the arena of relationships and healthy communication.

They may be extremely successful and competent in sports, in living independently, at work or with their military service.
They may be extremely motivated because of their own childhood to be a great dad and husband.
But lacking a role model or experience or confidence they can feel inadequate or even scared, talk themselves out of it or give up.

I know I was with my eldest daughter.
I threw myself into training and competing in MMA because it made feel good.
All the while neglecting her and my wife.

I didn’t give myself a chance to win.
A chance at significance and greatness in their lives.
It took a lot of pain, a year of wake up calls to make the changes I needed to make.

He lost but McGregor inspired a lot of people.
He lost but he still won.

I encourage you and other fathers, just get in the arena of relationships.
Swing for the fences.
Learn the fundamentals and basics of empathy, communication, resolving conflict.
Learn how to listen.
Go to counseling or get coaching if you have to learn the skills.
Be humble enough to be a beginner.
And can use the focus, effort and passion that you use to win in other areas and apply them to your relationships.
Give your best at home too.
A lot of those skills can translate.

You may be awkward at first, it might not be awesome.
You feel like you’re failing and you’ve gotten knocked down.
But trust me guys, the battle to be a great dad is worth it.

Encouragement for Dads and Daughters

Hi guys,

It’s a been a bit since I’ve blogged.  The end of the school year gets a little crazy in our family.  We run the gauntlet of musical events and graduations (one week we did two recitals and three concerts).

I was a “guest” on the Launching Your Daughter Podcast recently.  Nicole Burgess a colleague of mine from the Selling The Couch Facebook group invited me to write some encouragement for dads and daughters for Father’s Day.

Part of me jumped at the chance, part of me was nervous to share them. Despite the fact that most of what I shared, I’ve shared with FB friends.

You’ll also hear another reason why our family life has been a little crazy lately (big announcement!).

You can listen to the podcast here. 

I hope it encourages you.

(I just realized, my post a letter To My Daughters On Dating is still the most viewed blog post in the past two years.)

Be in your kids’ corner

Someday your kids will have to fight their own battles.
They’ll have to step into their arena, into their own cage match.
The door will shut and you won’t be able to join them inside.
And they’ll have to stand on their own.

But doesn’t mean they’ll be alone.
If you’ve put in the work at building a solid relationship, if you’ve prepared them well, they will let you corner them.
They’ll want you in their corner.
For instruction, for encouragement.
They’ll listen for your voice above the crowd.

But they won’t listen for your voice through the noise if you aren’t with them in the grind.
Coaching and leading them in the day to day work on the mats of life, of school, of growing up, of navigating relationships and discovering who they are.
You don’t earn the right to corner them on the big moments, the big battles in life, without consistently being that voice in their lives.
If you want to celebrate the wins, be there for them in the lows.

If you aren’t sure what that means, Dad, it just starts with listening and being curious.
They will teach you what they need just by being there and showing up for them.
Every day.

How To Not Raise Entitled and Enabled Kids: The E’s of Excellent Parenting

Had a fun break with the family for Spring Break.  On the five-hour trip back home, we had a good conversation about parenting.  It started out with the ideas of Entitlement and Enabling vs. Empowering and Equipping your kids. And we ended up thinking of a bunch of different ideas that started with the letter E.  We hope you enjoy it too.

Entitlement.  As parents, we don’t set out to raise entitled kids but it’s easy to justify giving your kids privileged or special treatment by saying you love them and want whats best for them.

Enabled. One of my professors on parenting explained enabling your kids as doing something for them that they could do themselves. Another aspect of enabling your kids is letting them get away with not suffering the consequences of their behavior.  Again, it’s easy to justify this by telling yourself that you want to love and protect your kids.  You want them to know that you always have their back or that you want to show them God’s grace or faithfulness to them.

The problem with this is you as the parent can end up feeling responsible for everything. Raising entitled kids can be exhausting, excruciating and embarrassing.  How does it feel when you are at work or working on a group project and someone on the team doesn’t pull their weight, do their share?
It’s exhausting.  You can end up resenting the other person. Well, it’s the same when your kids don’t pull their weight around the house.  You can end up feeling like you are doing everything (because you are), feeling unappreciated and bitter.

Empowering.  It’s not unloving to require and train your kids to work hard, give their best effort, be diligent and finish what they start.  It’s not cruel to ask them to do things with excellence.  To do chores.  To work for what they get.  To set goals.  To delay gratification.  It’s actually empowering to your kids to give them freedom and responsibility around the house and gradually more as they get older.  A child 8-10 years old could start to help out with laundry.  They certainly could be doing their own laundry by middle school and especially in high school.  It’s actually honoring to them to not give them special privileges, just because.  It’s fine to give them gifts and to show you love them in special ways.  But when they start to expect or feel entitled to have things, or always have things their way, it’s no longer special.  It becomes common.  And it actually sets them up for disappointment and failure later in life because you aren’t teaching them how the real world works.  Their teachers and professors aren’t going to give them special treatment.  Their boss at their work place is going to expect them to work, to problem solve, to take responsibility.

Equipping.  Not enabling or entitling your kids doesn’t mean you don’t love them, it’s doesn’t mean you won’t protect them, that you are leaving them to fend for themselves in the cruel, harsh realities of the world.  Parenting with excellence means you take a coaching and equipping mindset to working with them.  You provide the tools, resources they need and you also train them on how to use those tools.  You explore, process, experiment, debrief and work through things together.  You still have their back and at the same time, you are equipping them to stand on their own, to risk and put themselves out there in different areas, to be brave.

Expectations.  Having healthy expectations is a part of growing and stretching your kids to reach their potential.  As parents, we don’t want to put too high expectations on our kids but what I’ve seen a lot of parents with too low expectations.  Often, parents in the interest of protecting their kids from failure, disappointment or rejection, set the bar low.  Kids are often capable of so much more than we think.  I was watching a jiu jitsu video that talked about the metaphor of a “Goldilocks tension” and I think it applies to expectations.  We don’t want expectations that are “too cold”, too low, and we don’t want expectations that are “too hot”, too high.  We want to set expectations that are “just right”.  Expectations that are too low, lead to boredom and missed potential and growth.  Expectations that are too high, put an adverse amount of stress and pressure on your kids and that can stunt their growth as well.

Empathy.  So, how do you know if your expectations are too high, too low or just right?  You do that by listening and listening well with empathy.  One key to empathy as a parent, is focusing more on what your child may be experiencing and less on what they are doing, on their performance.  And you’re not the only one who needs empathy, your kids do too.

Emotional Intelligence.  Empathy is one of the pillars of emotional and relational intelligence.  EQ has been shown to be more of predictor of a person’s success than intelligence. Delayed gratification is another pillar.

Endurance vs. Expedient.  It’s hard to empower and equip your kids, it requires a lot of trust and courage. On both your parts.  It requires patience because it will be messy.  Things won’t go smoothly at first, things won’t get done as well and as quickly as you would just doing it for them.  But you won’t always be there for them, they will have to grow up and do things on their own someday.

It’s sad, very sad when I’ve seen teenagers treat their single mother with contempt.  Their mother did/does everything for them and these kids had no gratitude for the sacrifices their mom made (or at least they didn’t express it).  It was sad for the kid but also the mom.  She poured out herself, bent over backwards, to love and provide for her child and her child barely could stand her.  They had no respect for her.  They either struggle with selfishness or self-hatred or both.  I’ve seen entitled young adults who struggled with anger and resentment at their parents because they feel ill-equipped for life.  They haven’t had to problem-solve or bear the weight of responsibility and get overwhelmed by the demands of adulthood.  And they struggle with imposter syndrome and feeling behind in life.

So, don’t just give into what’s expedient, what’s easy.  As the kids get older, don’t continue in the habit of taking the path of least resistance.  Learn to be mindful and intentional about your long-term goals with them. And be patient, consistent.  Get help and support if you have to.

Enforce.  One way to be patient and consistent is with enforcing consequences and discipline.  It’s easy to justify being lax with discipline and consequences by telling yourself you are being caring and compassionate and loving.  But often being exhausted and wanting to avoid the stress and upset of conflict is the main reason for not enforcing consequences.  It really isn’t about what’s best for the kids, it’s often what will feel best, for you, in the moment.

Expose and Eliminate the Elephants. Instead of avoiding conflict, instead of building resentment or emotionally manipulating your kids with passive-aggressive indirect behavior, it will benefit you and them to expose and eliminate elephants, to call out entitlement, laziness, disrespect, and other behaviors and attitudes that may be poisoning your relationship and family life.  It’s easier to do this when those negatives are baby elephant size, not full grown elephants.  But even if they are huge, be brave and start to work on it. Sometimes, just the act of exposing them, shrinks them.  If you call it out, then everyone has a chance to be aware and take ownership of making it better instead of it being your solo project.

Example.  Might daughter suggested this one, besides enforcing consequences and making rules and throwing your weight around, she recommends parents need to be good examples of what you are trying to teach and require of your kids.

Energizing.  If you start to be more intentional about equip and empower your kids you will replace exhaustion with energy because you will no longer have to bear all the weight of responsibility for how your kids and home are doing. You will not have to wrestle so much with resentment, bitterness, worry and hurt feelings.

Encouragement.  This is hard work. Remember, your kids aren’t bad.  They may need some maturity, course correction, training and equipping, but they need encouragement and acceptance most of all.  You will need encouragement when they changes you are attempting don’t seem to be working, when you have a bad day, when it seems to be getting worse instead of better.

Enjoyment.  Lastly, implementing and being more intentional about the positive E’s for parenting will not just allow you to experience excellence in parenting.  It will allow you to enjoy the experience of being a parent, of being in a healthy mutual relationship with your kids.

The power of simple words and small beginnings

Happy New Year!

In the past few weeks you might have seen folks on social media posting about their word or theme for the year.  You can also see people writing about their resolutions and goals.  Do you have a word or goal for the year?  Here’s something I’m focusing on:

I got an early start and started writing a parenting book in December.  As of today I’ve written 24 days straight and I will write every day until I’m done.  The plan is to publish it later this year, likely in the Fall.

As I was writing this morning, I was musing about the why and how and what of writing. I’m writing to help parents, dads and mom, overcome insecurity and fear.  I’m writing about how what I’ve learned training, competing and coaching Mixed Martial Arts and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu can help with relationships and life.  And I was struck by the question of writing enough, not just “Will it be good enough?” but “Will I say enough? Will it be long enough?”

Not only do I want to encourage parents, as presumptuous as it may sound, I want to write to change peoples’ lives.  I don’t want to shy away from that.  If I’m not writing something that could potentially change someone’s life than why bother.  I want my words to have that type of impact.

This week I started listening to Tim Grahl’s Book Launch podcast and in episode two he emphasizes that you have to believe in the book you are writing will help others.  As I’m writing, I know it will because it is helping me and what I’m writing has helped my counseling and coaching clients and patients for many years.

While writing I was listening to some worship music oo YouTube from the Passion Conference 2017 being held this week. I realized that in songs, the number of words isn’t what makes them powerful.  Complex and artful prose may be impressive but simplicity can be significant and even more helpful. I listened to 4-6 word phrases that shifted my heart and mind and I thought of other songs in my life that have changed my trajectory or kept me on track and it made me realize the number of words and pages my book isn’t the most important target to shoot for.

There is power in simple words and small beginnings.

I’ll go with you.

I’m sorry.

I have a dream.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.

I’m proud of you.

You’re hired.

It’s not the critic that counts…

I will…

You don’t have to be perfect.


You can do it.

I need help.  

Thank you.

You are not your past.

I forgive you.

I’m not there, yet.

God, grant me the serenity…

Welcome home.

I’ll listen.

I can’t…but I can…

Let’s start over.

I miss you. 

I love you.

Small shifts in our thinking, in our communication, in our habits can undo patterns that have been in place for decades.  Living a different way, achieving a different outcome often doesn’t just mean changing our outward behavior – the most powerful changes often involved changing what we believe and how we see ourselves.  And if we are trying to make an impact in others’ lives, just the right words, at the right time – even if it’s just a handful – can make the difference. I hope in the stories and metaphor, illustrations and teaching, of my book many of those simple phrases above will sink into my readers in new and deeper ways.  And I hope in the meantime I will write blogs here that will encourage and support you this year.

Are you beginning something this year?  Are you starting over?

What’s something simple but powerfully true that you can tell or remind yourself of today?

What’s one small habit you could start that would make a big difference in your life?