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. The next set of entries will have to be different as the verses/chapters I’m reading are, as one of my former students referred to them, “Christian fortune cookies.” In other words, two lines of insight with no real connection or continuity among them for nearly 400 verses. So, there will be more smaller entries rather than longer ones and the verses will be pretty much randomly selected as ideas pop into my brain from wherever they are. Today, I read Proverbs 17.

My mom was *NOT* a happy lady at that moment.

She was giving my dad all kinds of “what-for” from the front porch. The crux of the matter-at-hand was the reality that our next-door neighbors had won the “Yard of the Month” award for our subdivision, and our front lawn was littered with basketballs in the driveway, a homemade hockey goal kept near the street for when those games broke out, and the outlines of a baseball diamond created by a series of pre-teenager feet. That’s the short list of the norm. On this particular day, there was also a recently mowed circle that made a putting green as the rest of the lawn was left longer to work on our short game. We were 12…but we weren’t golfing this day.

It was late summer and the neighborhood baseball season was in high-gear. We used aluminum bats and tennis balls. It made scrawny 12-year-olds feel like Hank Aaron.

My dad did shift work at the steel mill and rolled into the driveway around 3:30pm. He assumed his usual role as “all-time pitcher for both teams” right after he grabbed a beer out of the fun fridge and lit a cigarette. Don’t let that fool you. He was a good high school athlete and threw strikes for us to whale on. It was win-win.

It wasn’t long before my mom caused a time-out with her diatribe. In no uncertain terms, my father got the message that Al’s diligence when he got home from work resulted in a painted plywood flower from the Bluff Park Meadows homeowners group that would stay for one month and let the world know that they had the best yard in the neighborhood. Mom’s diatribe also made it perfectly clear that the state of our lawn would likely get some sort of commemorative award from the same association for whatever the opposite of “yard-of-the-month” is. She was livid and vocal. Me and my friends were all deer-in-the-headlights.

My dad let her go. He waited for a pause and once he got it, very calmly said, “Charlotte, I’m going to ask you one question and I want you to think very carefully about the answer. Because how you answer it will determine what I do with the next two hours of my day. ‘Are we growing grass or raising kids?’ That’s all I really want to know.”

Awkward silence.
Mom storms back into the house.

My dad, fresh off the skirmish he’d just won, resumed the game with a “Batter up, let’s play ball!” Knowing what I know now, my guess is that particular skirmish led to a longer battle later behind closed doors. And, like most wars, there was a treaty drawn up where both sides gave a little. My dad would move all the sports stuff to the backyard when not in use and mow the entire yard every so often (well, make sure I mowed the yard every so often) and she would let go of the expectation we’d ever have a plywood sign awarded to us by Bluff Park Meadows.

My dad was laid-back. Never, ever, raised his voice. My house was full of laughter. Before I paint my sainted mother out to be an ogre, she was usually plugged into an upbeat tone around the house. I saw my parents laugh and dance to Chubby Checker and Buddy Holly right in my kitchen. There was kissing in front of us. Mom laughed a lot and thought my dad was hilarious. My friends were expected at my house and muddy footprints from football in the rain were laughed at and shooting tin cans off the back fence with pellet guns happened and there were popsicles in the fun freezer at all times for all of us. Sit-down dinners every night with “High/Low” being played. Occasionally, golf clubs were used for the purpose of trapping snakes in woods behind our house. My mom actually used the phrase, “No snakes in the house, boys. Keep outside the fence.”

But my house was fun and chaos and loud music and bouncing on the bed was okay.

My grandfather’s house was much different…the one my mom grew up in. There was a room where me and my cousins were shuffled away from the adults at any family gathering. A converted garage where we could be in the house but neither seen nor heard. Every now and again, Uncle Jack would come and hang out in the bar at the far end of the room because he wasn’t liked by my maternal grandfather. But there were rooms we weren’t allowed into at any time for any reason. Slip covers and fancy china and was always immaculate. My grandfather had business people over often and that room was somehow important for that. Me and my cousins would often show a certain fearlessness by sticking a hand or foot into the airspace of that room. But in his day, children were seen and not heard and he was certainly the benevolent dictator type. I feel confident he never understood my dad anymore than he did Uncle Jack.

Keep in mind, neither of those styles, or tones, of the house is “right” or “wrong.” They’re simply personal preference. It isn’t my point to have you choose one over another (even though I lean much more toward my dad’s style). My point is from a couple of verses in Proverbs 17:

Verse 1: “Better is a dry crust of bread where there is quietness than a house full of feasting with strife.”
Verse 3 tells us that our hearts, or inner life, is what God works on. The presumption is that if you keep up with the inside, the “outside” behavior will follow suit.
Verse 9 tells us to be quick to love as well as forgive…this includes spouses & children, no?
Verse 15 tells us to strive for justice.
Verse 17 tell us that family sticks together in hard times.
Verse 21 reminds us that a foolish child is tough on a parent.
Verse 22 talks about a cheerful spirit and the benefits of it, as well as the hurt of a crushed spirit (and don’t we hate ourselves when we crush our kids’ spirits? One of the most painful deals I’ve experienced.)
Verses 27-28 warn us about taming our tongues.

All of these remind me of the “tone” we set as parents. I mentioned in an earlier blog about how it irritates me when moms use the phrase, “If Mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy” as a badge of honor. The mindset is don’t do anything to get under mom’s skin because you’ll wind up dealing with the wrath of Mom. I’ve long told people that saying is true, but Mom need to make the choice to get happy (and dads, too, of course) because she’s the grown-up…

AND THE GROWN-UPS set the tone for the household (or car ride, or whatever).

If you are a jerk as a parent and wake up your kids by flipping on lights and yanking off covers, well, that’s the tone for the day…and you’ve provoked your kids.
If you bark at them in the morning to get lunch made and their homework together and because they’re running late, well, that’s the tone for the day…and now their teacher gets a provoked kid. Prep the night before so the morning is at least quiet and peaceful.
If you are big on punishment and do so without Spirit-led fruit, well, you’re the one out-of-bounds. You’re not disciplining them or guiding their hearts.
If you’re conditional in your love, they’ll learn to behave well, but never understand you’re there for them through thick and thin.
If your home isn’t a haven from a tough world but more of the same, they’ll seek ways to stay near their friends who are a haven instead of bringing them over.
If you can’t contain your tongue and words, well, that one has a series of built-right-in consequences in our relationships with our kids.

And all of this goes toward being proactive in the tone of our home. It doesn’t matter if that tone is one where bouncing on the couch with glow-necklaces and techno rave music with legos all over the floor or one where there’s a lot of bookshelves and classical music and slip-covers and discussion over that touchy middle east situation or somewhere in-between.

You set it.

You have to ask yourself, “Am I growing grass or raising kids.”

Because if you’re proactively setting a tone in your house of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness faithfulness and self-control, that’s a tone where any kid can flourish. So, if Mama ain’t happy, she needs to serve her family and get happy.

Metaphorically speaking, of course. 😉