PARENTING TOPIC: Widen the circle

Why Your Kids Need Five Other Adults in Their Lives

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

I have something like 1,300 contacts in my phone. No doubt, 1,300 is a crazy number. You might have double that, or half that. It’s just the world we live in.

But even if you only had 100, you wouldn’t really know each of them well. Not deeply. Not personally. You couldn’t. Our relational span just isn’t that big.

But there’s also a “favorites list” on my phone, as there probably is one on yours. On that list are the people who are one touch-of-the-screen away from a call or a text. My favorites list is much shorter. In fact, there are less that twenty people on that list. If I were to get even more granular, there are really only about five that I call or text all the time. These are the handful of people closest to me.

These five know me inside out . . . my good points and not so good ones. My dreams and my struggles. My favorite and least favorite things. They’re the ones who are not only great friends, but great advisors.

I’m sure you’ve got those people too.

But do your kids?

When your kids need to talk, who do they talk to?  I mean beyond their friends and beyond you as a parent? Friends are of limited help; sometimes the last thing a 16-year-old needs is advice from another 16-year-old. And sometimes the  last person they want to talk to is a parent. I’m sure there are parents who say, “my kid will talk to me.” But let me ask you something, did you tell your parents everything? Exactly!.

So who do they go to? To whom can they turn?

I dream of a culture in which every child has five adults, other than their parents, they can talk to about the important stuff. Like school. And girls. And parents. And the future. And God. And faith. And their problems.

If you were fortunate when you were growing up, you might have had someone you could talk to other than your mom or dad about the big stuff and the little stuff. Maybe it was a coach who took an interest in you,  a teacher, a neighbor,  a grandparent, or  an uncle who always seemed to have the time for you. If you had someone like that. you know what a difference those relationships can make.

That’s why I wanted my kids to have at least five other adults in their life guiding them and giving input.

Five people who know their hopes and dreams,

Five people who know their quirks and good points.

Five people they can talk to honestly about what’s really going on in their lives.

Five people who can offer wisdom when life gets confusing.

Five people who care about them and pray for them.

My question is simple: who are your kids’ five? Who will they text and who will they call when they don’t know what to do?

If you don’t know who those five are, you’re not alone. But you can change that. Soon.

I would encourage you to spend some time over the next month identifying people your kids can build a trusting relationship with.

My guess is between small group leaders, neighbors, family friends, uncles, aunts, grandparents, coaches and teachers, you will find a few who will be willing to spend a little one on one time with your child periodically.

Ask them if they’ll spend some time getting to know your child or teen, and even pray for them regularly. And then watch what happens.

If every child and teen ends up with five adults on their phone’s favorite list, we might indeed be raising a wider, more secure, more grounded, more Christ-centered, more joyful generation than we’ve seen in a long time.

And if you’re still not convinced, I have a simple question. Don’t you wish there had been five other adults in your life growing up that you had a great relationship with, trusted, and could talk to?

I do. Which is why years ago, I sat down with my sons and drafted theirs. It’s a different world out there. And it can be a better world.

An Epic Adventure

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

EPIC.  It’s a big word right now, the latest upgrade of “awesome” from years past.  But to me, the word goes even deeper and conjures up larger-than-life characters and adventure from classics like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings.

On that note, I’ve been reading about something called the Hero’s Journey with specific steps characters like Luke Skywalker and Frodo Baggins follow on their journey through transformation.

  • The hero starts out in an ordinary world, with limited awareness of the problem and is-
  • Called to an adventure, with increased sensitivity to the situation
  • They are initially reluctant and might even try to refuse
  • But they are encouraged by a mentor and overcome their doubts
  • They move into a special or different world, committed to the mission
  • But then they are tested, discovering both allies and enemies along the way
  • They go through a huge ordeal to help bring about the change they desire
  • Finally, they are transformed and changed themselves, no longer ordinary, and they experience some reward, consequences as well as improvements

It’s a storyline with which we all resonate, one that says we all have the ability to grow, that change and redemption are possible. It got me thinking about my own nine year old son, who loves these tales almost as much as I do.  How would something like that play out in his life?  Don’t we as parents want our kids to live EPIC lives and not settle for average?

While every part of the story is important, I think one of the most crucial elements in a Hero’s Journey for our children is the outside voice or mentor. With a strong mentor, our kids can navigate even the most difficult tests and ordeals.

It’s so important that we as parents find people that not only we can trust, but that our kids can trust to help them along in their life adventure. Who else is speaking into their lives and encouraging them in ways we cannot alone?

Cara Martens is the 252 Groups Director at Orange. She loves to write, research, and develop creative ideas. Cara and her husband, Kevin, have two kids and live in Texas.

Why Your Kids Need Someone Else to Talk To

Friday, April 20th, 2012

I remember the day I turned thirteen. I was thinking of my red three speed bike with the banana seat, sissy bar and raised handlebars. I loved it, but I knew it was a kids’ bike and soon I’d have to ride a ten speed like every other teenager. I wish I could say I was excited about becoming a teenager, but the emotions were really mixed.

For one thing, ‘teenager’ wasn’t a great word back in the late seventies. At least from the perspective of a thirteen-year old, most adults seemed to either fear them or loathe them.

Secondly, I was the oldest child in my family of four kids and the only son. So I didn’t really have anyone to look up to in my family who could show me what being a teenager was like. I knew some teens for sure, but I knew they were into things that I probably didn’t want to get into. In the moment, going back a year to being twelve or even eleven seemed like a better option than turning thirteen.

I don’t remember having anyone to talk to about any of this. I could talk to my dad, for sure, but how do you have a conversation like that? I wasn’t even sure what I was feeling, let alone did I know how to articulate it. And while there were lots of adults around me, I didn’t really understand that I might be able to talk to them about life.

Ever been there as a kid?

Fast forward a few decades. I’m a father now with two sons who are four and seven years past their thirteenth birthdays.  I remember when they turned thirteen, I tried to initiate a conversation with them, just in case they felt like I did. Let’s just say the conversation was super friendly and super short. They either didn’t struggle with it, or, maybe, they didn’t feel like talking to their dad about it.

All of which reminds me of the importance of a wider circle.

I’m so thankful my kids are growing up realizing that there are other adults they can talk to that actually want to invest in them. They each have a small circle of a half dozen or so adults or young adults they have meaningful relationships with. Some have been mentors to them, others have been small group leaders or church staff.  Others are family members, friends and neighbors. They don’t need to be alone, and they’re not alone. I know they’ve had many conversations with their wider circles–some of which I’ll never know about. And for that, I’m incredibly grateful.

Do your kids have a wider circle of influence? Maybe it’s a small group leader at church, or a teacher who’s taken a special interest in them, or an uncle or an aunt they feel comfortable with. Whoever it is, it’s just important that someone is there. And as an adult, you can help foster those relationships.

Oh, and by the way, I still ride a bike.  And while it’s not red, it’s a ten speed road bike that I like even a little more than my beloved banana seat bike. Growing up wasn’t so bad after all.

Who have you got in your children’s life that can provide that wider circle of influence? What are you doing to encourage those relationships?

The Alice Factor

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

Image found on FanPop, Show owned by ABC.

By Gina McClain

I grew up watching The Brady Bunch. As part of our after-school television line up, Brady Bunch reruns were a favorite past time for me. From Marsha’s broken nose, to the infamous broken vase incident. . .I loved the Brady family. There was a simplicity to life portrayed among the Brady’s. Raising six kids can’t be easy no matter what era you raise them in. But Mrs. Brady had an advantage that every parent needs:

the “Alice Factor.”

You see, Alice was equally invested in the Brady clan. You didn’t have to go far to see that she cared as deeply for the Brady kids as if they were her own children. When they hurt, she hurt. When they struggled, she struggled. And when they fought. . .well. . .she settled it. Alice had a subtle way of revealing the right perspective when Mike and Carol were simply missing it. As creative sitcom writers would have it, Mr. & Mrs. Brady had a trusted sounding board they could turn to for a listening ear and a source of wisdom.

With the antics that take place in my home, sometimes I wonder if I’ve got sitcom writers secretly feeding my kids ideas on how to test the limits of my parenting. And just like Mrs. Brady, I need an ‘Alice’ in my life. I need someone in my life willing to listen and wise enough to tell me the truth. Though there are plenty of people I could choose to confide in and find solace. . .solace is not always what I need. I need wisdom.

I’m a better parent when I invite others to invest in my parenting. When I intentionally seek out those that are proven to be trustworthy and wise. When I give them opportunity to take a peak into my heart, see my fears, speak into my life and give me guidance. When I invite them to ask me hard questions and hold me accountable. We call it Widening the Circle. Inviting others to invest in our children so our sons and daughters have other voices that shape and determine the direction of their lives.

Take a look around you. Who do you know that is willing to speak truth in love when no one else will? Who’s wisdom is rooted in God’s Word rather than the fluctuating opinions of our world. Who won’t back down because they love you enough to apply pressure when needed.

Do you have the “Alice Factor” in your life?

Gina McClain is the Children’s Ministry Director at Faith Promise Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. Gina is driven by the idea of equipping parents for the journey of teaching their kids how to follow Christ. Based upon her experience as a mom, she identifies with the everyday challenges parents wade through. Gina and her husband, Kyle, have three kids, Keegan, Josie and Connor.

Getting it Right

Friday, February 24th, 2012

I’ve been watching my daughter do all kinds of crazy things to get my little granddaughter to eat her vegetables. We are currently blending them into a green yogurt smoothie. As my daughter works to get Baby E to eat a balanced and nutritious diet, I listen to everyone give her all kinds of advice. There is a lot of wisdom in the advice. I love when more experienced women share their knowledge. Many times my advice is heaped right on top.

But every time Baby E locks her mouth shut and shakes her head no, I see my daughter’s shoulders slump a little bit. I know she must be wondering: How did all of these other women succeed in getting their kids to eat veggies? (P.S. We didn’t.) Am I doing something wrong? She’s tried all of the advice. I know that she loves Baby E and wants to get it right.

If you’re like me, you desire to help these young parents. You want them to learn from all of your mistakes and successes.

Here are a few tips to help them as they work to get it right:

1.  Support their efforts. There is very rarely one right way to parent a child. I’ve heard a million pieces of advice on everything from potty training to getting them to sleep through the night. But sometimes in all the advice-giving, we overwhelm young parents and undermine their confidence. Instead of trying to change their way of doing things, support them. Do it their way. Remember how much you learned by trying? They need to learn that way too. Who knows, we might learn something new.

2.  Encourage their hearts. Instead of telling them the right way to do everything, tell them about the mistakes you’ve made. You know, that time you thought your child was faking and they really had a broken arm? Remember how everything turned out okay? Speak to their emotions. Let them know that in spite of your fears, weaknesses, and mistakes, your kids thrived. Tell them what a great job they are doing. Let them know you are proud of them. Remind them that their child will survive their mistakes. Lift them up when they are discouraged.

3.  Give them advice. When they ask and when they don’t, refer to #1.

4.  Help them. Babysit, do the dishes, buy them a much needed stroller, let them take a nap, or cook them dinner. Roll up your sleeves and help. Raising children is hard work. If you want to have influence and a place in their everyday lives, then help them. These young moms have nothing to prove. Don’t make them do it by themselves. Help to carry their load so they have the energy to do the demanding job of parenting.

In those moments when you’re supporting, encouraging, and helping you just might find that you are sharing far greater wisdom than you can imagine. And you will have the pleasure of knowing you helped a young parent become a GREAT parent.

Making Christmas Better

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

by Mike Jeffries

I’m writing this post from the Latin American nation of Nicaragua where, over the past few days, we’ve had an interesting international experiment in global generosity from the perspective of five young children.

Three families decided one of the best Christmas gifts would be to take their kids to work among other children in the this second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. (The average income in Nicaragua is less than $200 a month.)

One of the dads is a cardiologist who brought his seven-year-old son. He met his wife here on a mission trip when he was in college, so he wanted to show young James where Mom and Dad met. Another one of the dads brought his seven-year-old daughter, Isabel. He’s a news photographer so he and his daughter stood side-by-side, each with their cameras capturing unbelievable images. The third dad has been serving in Iraq and Afghanistan as a pilot in the Air National Guard, but got a week off to spend with his wife and three kids — 10-year-old Jacob, nine-year-old Gabrianna and seven-year-old Zach — and they decided to spend their vacation here in Nicaragua.

Each one of these families had the same objective: make their own Christmas better by making Christmas better for someone else.

Five kids, and three of them only seven years old.

They walked from dirt-floor shack to dirt-floor shack, mostly giving the gift of friendship and just being there. Sometimes they gave away candy….it’s difficult to measure how much of a sacrifice it is for a seven-year-old to give away his last Snickers bar. At home in the U.S., they collected school supplies: simple calculators, rulers, notebooks. They had lots of toys to give away…..mostly Barbies from Isabel and Gabrianna, sports equipment and toy cars from Jake, James and Zach. But the kids got the greater gift: a new view of the world that will change everything they ever experience in their lives, every single day from this day forward.

I’ve been part of dozens of mission teams, with team members as diverse as highly specialized surgeons and high-placed politicians to hundreds of bouncing-off-the-grasshut-wall high school students. But I’ve never quite seen what I’ve seen this week: elementary-age children seeing first-hand what it means to give up something they want so that someone else can have something they need.

Parents who’ve been on an experience like this know how powerful it can be for their kids, whether that experience is in a local church’s soup kitchen or in another country’s barrios. It’s been especially easy to see the virtue of generosity here on these dusty roads. The five kids are truly living out our definition of generosity: Making someone’s day by giving something away. They’re giving away the most important gift of all: themselves.

Mike Jeffries works with Reggie Joiner and Orange publishing initiatives and creative strategies. He’s also serves as an associate pastor at a fast-growing multicultural church in South Florida, specializing in global missions and communications.

Intentional Influences

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

Earlier this week, we talked about how important it is to find other trusted adults who will have an influence on your children. We suggested several places to look: educators, people with interesting jobs, extended family members. While it might seem to just make sense that we’d want other voices saying the same thing we as parents are, our research shows that usually this just isn’t a priority.

In the State of the Church and Family Report we commissioned with The Barna Group, only a quarter of the parents said they place a high priority on finding other adults to speak into the lives of their children and teens. Of those who do, here are some of the ways:

• Connect kids with family members and grandparents
• Encourage involvement in church or a youth group
• Enroll in extracurricular activities, like sports or Scouts
• Participate in community service and volunteerism

Unfortunately, even when parents take these actions steps, they don’t go far enough. One-fifth are intentional about family connections. Ten percent actively encourage sports and clubs where coaches and leaders can take mentoring roles. Overall, only five percent articulate the importance of volunteering to help others.

Even though many parents responded that they want other adults to positively influence their children, they aren’t intentional about what it takes to make that happen.

Interestingly, parents who don’t regularly attend church are twice as likely as church-going parents to introduce their kids to a trusted adult mentor. And parents who do go to church are twice as likely as nonchurch-going parents to encourage their kids to volunteer.

So in light of the need to create space for others to meaningfully influence our families, what steps should we be taking to make sure multiple voices are saying to our kids they same things we want them to hear from us? Is it intentional, or is it accidental?

During the holiday season, opportunities for such interaction will happen naturally. How can you plan in advance now to turn those times around the tree into transforming moments?

Never Parent Alone

Monday, November 28th, 2011

Here’s a simple question to start thinking about, “Who are the other adults in your kids’ lives?” Personally, I think one of the biggest mistakes a parent can make is to try to parent alone.

You should reject any notion that you are the only adult influence your kids will ever need. Reality suggests that, as your children grow up, they will look for approval and affirmation from someone other than you as a parent. So, the choice is simple. Either you are strategic about who else you will invite into their life, or they will pursue relationships with other adults on their own. But it will happen. It’s normal and natural for kids to desire a degree of attention from other adults or parents.

It is also important to realize that most research indicates that kids who have other significant adults investing in their life during their teenage years are better prepared emotionally and spiritually.

So, what will you do? You can resist, cooperate or compliment your children’s transition toward adulthood. Think about it, if your goal is to raise an adult who is independent of you, then you should start now. If you don’t like the idea of your children becoming independent from you then you may be parenting with a wrong motive.

But if you hope to unleash your kids to discover their potential, then open doors for your kids to connect to other adults. Why don’t you start by making a list of potential adults that could build a short-term or long-term relationship with your children.

Parenting with this in mind can make the difference in whether or not you limit the growth of your children, personally, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. Here are some categories to help you start thinking.

Find someone who specializes in something your kids are already interested in doing. (Look for a friend who shares their interest in art, guitar, carpentry, birds, baseball, etc.)

Don’t limit their experiences to what you enjoy.

Find someone who can help them develop a critical skill for adulthood. Look for a friend who is good at managing money, health and fitness, cooking, etc.

Don’t limit their skill to what you are good at doing.

You would be surprised at how many of your friends were teachers or are presently teachers. Who can you invite into your kids’ lives to help them in their education? Look for friends who can inspire and temporarily tutor them in math, science, history, etc.

Don’t limit their learning to what you know.

Find mentors or coaches who can help them grow spiritually. This is where a good church is important. Look for a church that strives to put consistent leaders in the lives of your kids. Attending church consistently allows your children to bond with other adults who will help shape their faith.

Don’t limit their faith to what you have discovered about God.

Other adults can broaden their imagination about the kind of career they can have one day. Look for any opportunity that can expose them to understanding what people who may be wired like them do as a profession.

Don’t limit their concept of work to what you do.

Spending time with other adults who are from a different ethnic background can also play a critical role in how your kids treat and respect others. A significant part of their adult life will be interacting and working with people who are different than they are.

Don’t limit their view of the world to what you see.

Something interesting happens to a child’s understanding of their family story when they hear your parents or siblings talk about you. It has a way of connecting them to a bigger family dynamic. It is always valuable to recruit key adults in your extended family to build relationships with your kids. They can usually be trusted to definitely have your children’s best interests at stake. Who are the adults in your extended family that can give your kids a sense of who they are and where they came from?

Don’t limit the connection to their family’s story to what you tell them.

Some of these leaders can be enlisted to help your kids with a specific task or on a short-term basis. Others can and will have long-term influence. Just remember the greatest thing that you do for you child may be what you get another adult to do.


Friday, October 28th, 2011

Earlier this week we said that one way to see where your children are heading in life is to look at their friends and the people who influence them. Your closest friends are a preview of the future you.

Now, I totally understand that will cause some of us to worry. Not that we need another reason to worry–many of us hardly have difficulty finding reasons to panic. But read on…help is closer than you think.

If you’re worrying, what do you do? After all, there’s an organic quality to friendship that you just can’t manage. As much as parents love to control things, we can’t really influence who our child likes.

So what can you do to encourage your child to move in a different direction relationally? The younger they are, the more influence you have on their relational circle. But one day our kids will be on their own and 100 percent able to choose who they hang out with. What do you do between the toddler and college years that’s healthy and not overbearing?

Here are a few suggestions:

Have an honest conversation. It’s not unreasonable or overbearing to talk to your kids in their early elementary years (and every few years after that) about the importance of their friends and how they impact the quality and direction of their life.

Create conditions. You can’t control a child’s every moment as they move into the teen years (nor should you try to), but you can create conditions for healthy relationships. Create stricter limits (tighter curfews and parameters) when the friends they are hanging out with are questionable, and freer permissions when they are with kids who exercise better choices is a fair strategy. It’s probably more important to be generous with the “good” influences than it is to be especially punitive with the questionable influences.

Widen the circle. There are at least two ways to help broaden the positive relationships in your child or teens’ life:

Small Group. Many churches offer Small Groups for kids that provide a consistent group of peers who know each other and are moving in a good direction. The kids in their group may or may not become their best friends, but their influence can be powerful nonetheless.

Another Adult Saying the Same Things You Would Say. In addition to a Small Group Leader, you might consider inviting other adults into your child’s life. A few days ago, I met a woman named Vicki who noticed numerous girls in the 7th grade who needed more than just the influence of a Small Group Leader. So she decided to ask the girls’ parents for permission to hang out with them more regularly. She started attending their games, went out trick-or-treating with them and started tracking with them on Facebook.

The result? They loved her influence so much that when Vicki ended up moving across the country recently for a new job, the kids made her promise she would keep in touch and even do a regular Skype Bible study with them. Now that’s influence.

Two questions to wrap up. First, do you think you could be a Vicki in someone’s life?  Seriously. Who do you know who’s looking for guidance?

Second, what would you add to this list? What other healthy ways have you seen to help steer your kids into relationships that nurture them in what matters most?

A Parent’s Plea

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

My children are now twenty-six, twenty-four, twenty-two, and twenty years old. I am more convinced than ever that the leaders who have invested in my son and daughters during their elementary and teenage years have had critical influence. Those were important years that have affected their concept of God. There are countless stories and faces of the people who have influenced their faith and molded their views, people who will be lifelong friends to them.

As important as their teenage years were, this stage is different. The stakes are extremely high. Over the past couple of years I have watched my kids struggle with college and career choices, establish new friends, move into their own spaces, move back home again, date, and in a couple of instances go through heartbreaking situations that emptied them emotionally. The one thing I am most grateful for during this phase is the adult men and women who invest in my children’s lives. I am smart enough to know that I am not the only leader they need to help them navigate these years.

I decided a long time ago to look for opportunities to encourage them to connect with mentors and leaders our family could trust to be wise voices in their worlds. At some point in my life, I realized I should be involved in doing the same thing I hoped other people would do for my children. I have watched college-aged people wait tables, manage retail stores, hang out at movie theaters and coffee shops, and I’ve seen they are almost always with their peers. It seems like they disappear in the eyes of the adult population that walks by them or orders from them or sits next to them.

Something has changed in me over the past decade when I see someone in this age bracket. When I meet someone who is college-aged, I think about my kids, then I think about their parents, and I wonder what I can do that would reflect what I would want another adult to do if this were my son or daughter. It’s not that I am extremely gracious or noble; it’s just that I am a dad and I have children, and I know adults who care about my kids. So I tend to care about other people’s kids; it’s just contagious that way. I have this tendency to tell every adult I meet to consider investing in someone who is college-aged.

So here’s the question for parents of all ages: Who is the college-aged person in your life you need to adopt?