Little Time to Make a Big Difference

I arrived at Starbucks 20 minutes after I received Steve's urgent call. We made our purchases and found chairs under the awning on a perfect California spring morning. But Steve didn't waste time getting to the reason for his call.

"I'm really down, Pastor," he said. "I see my two boys two weekends a month, and neither of them really talks to me. Their mother has turned them against me."

Steve went on to describe his concern over the boys "lack of boundaries." "They jump in my car, turn on the radio and pure junk oozes out of the speakers. I tell them, 'What's wrong with you guys? Can't you tell garbage when you hear it? Your mom actually lets you listen to that stuff? ' "

Frustration came through as this single dad discussed the little input he felt he had in the boys ' lives. "I won't be surprised if one day soon they call me and say, 'Don't pick us up this weekend, Dad. We've got important stuff to do, and we don 't have time to work you in. '

"What should I do?" Steve asked. "I 'm concerned about the little time I get with my kids; then when I do get time, I jump all over them. I just want us to be close."

The impact of custody

Steve isn't alone in the noncustodial parenting challenges he faces. But I 've seen creative, caring fathers use this limited time with their children to achieve limitless results. How does this happen?

Research tells us that the average father of an intact family spends only 27 seconds a day talking with his children. Noncustodial dads have solid blocks of time every other weekend to relate to their children positively and make every moment count. I reminded Steve that no person, not even his ex, has the power to destroy his relationship with his sons. Likewise, no person has the power to build that relationship either, except for the individual himself.

I've been a full-time pastor to single moms and dads for 13 years, and I 've never seen one parent successfully turn the children against the other parent. Over time, kids make up their own minds regarding their feelings about each parent.

Steve needed to concentrate on cultivating relationships with his sons based on positive, not negative, responses, regardless of what they received from their mom. Then I told him one of my own parenting stories.

When my son, Gary, was 14, he tuned in to a rock station on the car radio and started singing along. He knew the words and vocal inflections well, but I was shocked by their innuendoes.

So I decided on a strategy. I asked Gary to repeat the words. He did, and when he got to the suggestive parts, he became self-conscious and said, "A little steamy, isn 't it, Dad?"

Gary and I continued to listen, and we talked about the lyrics. I asked him how he felt about what he heard, hoping his responses would help him see the bigger picture.

That experience and others enabled Gary to become the 24-year-old man he is today, with an incredible gift of discernment he has carried into his marriage and his work as a computer network engineer. Gary got an early start at making good choices for himself while developing a solid relationship with his father based on mutual respect.

The custody of impact

Steve and I finished our coffee that morning with my suggestion that he focus on the time he does have with the kids, not the time he doesn 't. "When your boys are confident that you respect them, they 'll ask for your opinion," I said. "That 's an event worth working for."

On my way home, I thought about these principles that are true for all us dads, single or not. The most discerning and capable children I know are those who are given opportunities to make choices by parents who earn the right to be heard.

With God's help, all of us dads can become that type of dad.

Background Information

Journey of No Return
Sometimes as parents, we have a knee-jerk response to our kids as we're barraged by their numerous inquires and desires. Maybe it's time to stop being so negative.

When Not To Discipline
Parents should recognize when they should and shouldn't discipline their children.

When You Feel Like Calling in the SWAT Team
Are your children constantly testing you? This classic parenting advice will help you regain the upper hand.

Questions and Answers

After I spank my child, she usually wants to hug me and make up, but I continue to be cool to her for a few hours. Do you think that is right?

We'd like to be more unified in our approach, but how do we successfully move from two financial approaches to one?

How long do you think a child should be allowed to cry after being punished? Is there a limit?

I have never spanked my 3-year-old because I am afraid it will teach her to hit others and be a violent person. Do you think I am wrong?

It just seems barbaric to cause pain to a defenseless child. Is it healthy to spank him or her?

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