Being a parent is hard. Kids have a way of reminding you of your shortcomings. So you try to surround yourself with resources and people that will help you to be a better parent. And you pray a lot. For nearly ten years now I’ve been getting help from God, older and wiser dads and books. But last weekend I got a helpful reminder from an unexpected source.
I watch TV with my kids. One of our favorite shows is The Looney Tunes Show. It’s the Cartoon Network’s new spin on the original featuring the voices of Portlandia’s Fred Armisen and Kristin Wiig of Despicable Me fame. It’s hilarious. For all of the bad that comes with it, TV can be good for creating a few memorable laughs. When I watch The Looney Tunes Show with my boys, we laugh a lot.
Last Sunday morning my kids watched a new episode while I was in the other room. I could hear the voices of Daffy and Bugs along with the usual cartoon sounds. But there was one sound that was missing.
I just assumed that it was a bad episode. Maybe it was one where the writers tried to tackle the tough issues and gave Porky Pig a drug problem. Sort of like that terribly awkward episode of Diff’rent Strokes where Arnold and Dudley meet their creepy new neighbor.
Long after the show was over we were sitting in our car in our church’s parking lot. As we pulled into the space and I put the car in park, my wife asked a question.
“Boys, how was your cartoon this morning?”
“I didn’t hear you laughing very much. Was it not all that funny?”
This is the part where the parenthood lesson comes in.
“We didn’t know when to laugh since dad wasn’t watching with us. We always just laugh when he does.”
Being a parent isn’t about being perfect or always having the right thing to say at just the right time. In a lot of ways, it’s about giving your kids someone to watch. And it’s not a matter of if your kids are watching. The real question is this. What are they seeing when they watch you?
Your kids want to know more than what you find funny. They are looking to see how you deal with stress, what you worship and how you love. In their minds, they are taking notes. Later on, they will refer to those notes when they encounter those same issues for themselves.
A few months ago I had my wisdom teeth pulled. My kids didn’t know what to think when I came home with two wads of bloody gauze in my mouth. They wondered why I wasn’t eating like I normally do. After a week or so, when I was back to normal, we were processing the ordeal over dinner.
My wife asked one of my sons if he was afraid to get his wisdom teeth pulled when he gets older.
“I was,” he said confidently. “But then I saw how dad handled it and now I think I’ll be okay.”
Good parents never stop learning and asking for help. Prayer, books and advice from wiser parents are all parts of the routine. But parents, whether good or bad, are teachers as well.
When we worry endlessly, we teach our kids that we are all just victims of chance with no real hope for the future. When we face our worries with prayer and confidence, we are teaching our kids that God is big and compassionate and worthy of our trust (Psalm 140:12-13).
When we stand at a distance, never showing any emotions other than anger or frustration, our kids get a lesson in holding it all in for as long as possible. But when they see us laugh and cry, they learn that “for everything there is a season” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).
When we can’t find anything good to watch on TV, we turn it off. But our kids do not have that option in the home. Their eyes are trained to look in your direction millions of times throughout the day. They can’t help but watch you.
That can be intimidating. Even overwhelming. Like I said, parenting is hard and has a way of exposing our weaknesses. Thankfully, God’s grace is sufficient. But there is still one question that every parent must answer and it has nothing to do with TV.
Am I giving my kids something good to watch?