This series I’m writing is based on a simple idea: Each day, I’m going to wake up, pray and read in Proverbs with “parenting eyes.” Then I’m going to blog whatever comes to mind. This could be brilliant or an epic failure. But that’s the plan. Today, I read Proverbs 5.
Her grades had started to slip a little.
She’d exchanged her Wally Cleavers for Eddie Haskells.
Curfews were fudged at first and starting to get ignored.
She’d never had demerits before and now detentions were in the mix.
Her glad-to-be-home smiles devolved into silent avoidance or nuclear war.
Church and youth group were now off the menu.
It was textbook. So the caring & loving Mom wanted to pick my brain on what to do. I used those adjectives because they’re accurate and you’re going to need to keep them in mind because she’s not going to come off looking too good in this example. But they are true.
“This all started about the same time school went back in session. It’s been like night and day. One minute she was a beautiful and happy girl who’d light up our home when she hit the door and now we’re walking on egg shells so we don’t set her off. She would tell us everything. She loved cheerleading. She enjoyed her youth group. She had friends over all the time. Her grades were good and teachers always spoke highly of her at the parent/teacher nights. Now…”
Her voice trailed off and she was starting to cry.
…we avoid saying anything to her when she comes home because she’ll either glare at us or explode. She says we don’t trust her. Truth is, now, we don’t. We’re not nosy, but it’s hard not to notice the rattles and bumps that only a drunk teenager can make coming into the house. Especially when it’s followed by hearing her throw up at 2AM on Saturday morning. And, well, our physician mentioned that she’d been in to get some birth control allegedly for her acne. But even if she hadn’t, I’d seen some condoms in the purse she left on the kitchen counter. So, at least she’s protecting herself.”
I listened and then asked a few questions about any family changes over the summer. You know, like maybe dad’s job required more traveling or mom’s involvements at school taking up more time than normal. Just to feel out the lay of the land.
“Well, nobody at church knows this, but I found out my husband’s having an affair this summer. He has been traveling a lot more but that’s not it. The other woman lives here. He’s on the road trying to get more commission because it’s been a tough year. And I didn’t really know who to turn to or who I could trust to talk to, so I started talking to my daughter about it. She’s 18 now so I’ve been venting to her. And, well, along the way, I started drinking more wine than usual. A lot more wine than usual. It’s been a really difficult six months, but we’re a good Christian family. We have no idea where she gets the idea that it’s okay to binge drink and sleep around.”
Tracy (who was with me as I was meeting with a mom alone) and I immediately looked at each other. Please tell me that if you were the one with me as I was meeting with a mom alone and you’d heard her say that sentence, we’d immediately look at each other.
Again, she’s a good & caring mom. She simply didn’t see what was plain to a 3rd-party observer: She and her husband were sending a message to their daughter that alcohol could help you deal and that sex outside marriage might be an escape from the pressure. Now, I don’t want to deny that the 18-year-old woman (yes, I referred to her that way by design) had SIGNIFICANT responsibility as she certainly had been taught right from wrong, but she’s still a young woman who needs reinforcement. I’d suggest that the new attitude green-lights she turned on had been influenced significantly by her folks’ actions…
…and my guess is that mom’s “venting” had painted dad pretty negatively. Dear old dad certainly had communicated a new set of values even if he didn’t know he had yet.
When you read Proverbs 5, you pick up pretty quickly that a young man should avoid certain types of temptation. Notably, seductive women. Her lips are sweet. Her words smell good…but they have a heavy hidden cost in the small print at the bottom of the contract.
Don’t go near her house. She’s cruel, and she doesn’t realize it. You might have fun for an hour or a day or month or year or decade…but you will pay. Dearly.
You’ll look back on that time with regret. The words of the parent will echo in your brain so much that it borders on making you mad. Your circle of friends and acquaintances will take note of it when it’s discovered…and it will be. Your own sin will trap you. It will choke you. You’ll be reeling because of your actions. Your lack of discipline will cause all sorts of problems.
See, I imagine that every affair starts with an attitude shift. It’s the stuff of a lot of movie plots, really. From a guy’s perspective, maybe the woman looks great. She smells magnificent. Walking with the new woman might make you feel alive. You can’t wait to get to her house to have new experiences. The time of pursuit seems well worth it. It’s like you feel young again. Feel important again. Renewed. Alive. Just sign on the dotted line, and like when you’re signing your mortgage papers, just trust that the small print is legalese you won’t understand.
…you’ve been with her long enough to see her physical flaws. She becomes normal. You don’t feel alive anymore. In fact, just the opposite. You feel like a little bit of you is dying inside. You avoid her house like you avoided your own. You don’t have the energy for two lives. You feel older. You lose prestige once you’re discovered. Used up. Discarded. Now you’re under-water on your life’s mortgage.
I’ve heard enough husbands describe that across my desk and wanting to fix things.
I’ve seen teenagers’ become broken hours after they heard the news. Slow down and read that again. Broken. Crushed.
I’ve watched wives cry helplessly and wonder why they weren’t good enough.
I’ve never heard anybody involved say that the affair was the best thing that ever happened to their family. (Sure, as an aside, I’ve heard discussions about a bad marriage and how they’re happier now they’re out of it. But I’ve never heard anybody talk about how glad they were that people got deeply hurt in the process. Those are two very different discussions.)
The payments far exceeded the initial offer, man.
And in parenting, you have to watch your attitudes in front of your children.
If you’re married, I’ve found it helpful to focus on the things about my spouse that made me want to trade in my cinder-block/plywood shelves and beer posters and chaotic friendships to get near her every day of my life. She was the coolest girl I ever met. There were times when I’d have to discipline my thought life and actions because we weren’t married and well, her physical beauty inspired precisely what it was supposed to inspire in a 20-year-old pursuer. I designed ways to get near her. I was fascinated by everything she did. She made me laugh. Made me think. Challenged me. Made me better. That’s why I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.
Sure, once we got married and IKEA shelves and art and married couple friendships and day-in day-out warps and woofs and child-raising took over things became, well, normal. I don’t want to paint this picture that it’s been all wine and roses. Much like judge Whopper said in the movie What Happens In Vegas when a couple wanted him to finalize their quickie divorce from a drunken marriage in Sin City, “Listen, I’ve been married for twenty five years to the same wonderful, infuriating woman. And granted there are days when I want to light her on fire but I don’t, because I love her. And that would be illegal. And you know something, and I might be old fashioned but when I said those vows, I meant them.”
But, I’ve always made sure to stay focused on those things about her that make me want to draw water from my own well. That make want to be satisfied with the wife of my youth. I speak well of my wife in front of them. I flirt with her in front of them. I let them see me watch her walk away. I want them to see that my attitude is that I’m happy with her. That I love her. That she’s the one I made a covenant with in the vows. That I meant them. And that I love her. Because I want to see that attitude in their lives as they approach the age where they’ll be making the same decisions about who I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. After they’ve been married nearly a quarter-century, I want them drinking water from their own wells.
And, even if you’re not married and things didn’t turn out so well, you can still take the high road and speak well of people. You can still honor the institution even if you’ve made mistakes or been the victim of poor choices. It’ll be difficult, sure, because a lot of pain and hurt is involved. But, like Solomon (who’d made horrible choices in his own life along these lines as well as seen the carnage his own father’s affair had caused), you can still teach honorably from your experience. Because it’s the most loving thing you can do for your children.
So, remember that your attitudes can help them read the fine print before they sign their own life mortgages…no matter what your past or present is like. Your kids are paying attention, and while they may not hit the bottle or the backseat as blatantly as the cheerleader I mentioned earlier, your attitudes and words are picked up on and heard. More than you know.