Q: Once again, I couldn't afford to give my kids the memorable summer vacation that their friends all seem to experience. It's discouraging. Do you think they'll resent me for it?
Jim: One of the best lessons I've ever learned about parenting happened about 10 years ago. I headed out on a road trip with my brother and my son to pick up a fifth-wheel trailer I'd purchased online. Nine hundred miles from home, my truck broke down on the highway. We were stranded. The repairs cost me a lot of money and four days of my vacation.
I don't mind telling you I was miserable and frustrated. We were stuck in a small hotel and had to eat every meal at the same restaurant next door. By the time my truck was fixed, we just headed back home.
I remember pulling onto the highway and stewing over how terrible everything had turned out. That was when my then-seven-year-old son turned to me with a huge smile and said, "Thanks, Dad. That was a great vacation. I think one of the best ever!"
I had been upset all week about abandoning my vacation plans back there along the highway. My son just wanted to spend time together. The stuff we did wasn't nearly as important as who he was with.
My son taught me a great lesson that day. And I think in the long run, your children will feel the same way. What we do isn't as important as who we're with -- the people we love.
Q: My oldest daughter is a model child -- pleasant, cheerful and agreeable. Her little brother is the exact opposite. How might a mild-tempered, cooperative child be impacted by having a defiant and strong-willed sibling in the home?
Danny Huerta, Vice President, Parenting and Youth: You're wise to recognize that a compliant child may be overlooked and taken for granted, particularly with a more defiant and outspoken youngster in the family. As the saying goes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Even subconsciously, we may expect the compliant child to do more or sacrifice because Mom and Dad just don't have the energy; there's a tendency to place more responsibility on the kid who won't complain as loudly.
But that has consequences. The responsible child often develops a sense of powerlessness and resentment that simmers below the surface. She may also become prideful of her "good" behavior and overconfident in her natural abilities and delegated power. This combination of pride and a sense of injustice can sometimes lead compliant children to become passive-aggressive, manipulative and devious in dealing with others. They may even learn to get away with things "under the radar." They can also be prone to perfectionism, stress and depression since they often feel trapped by their need to please other people.
So it's important to balance the scales and make sure the compliant child gets her fair share of parental attention. Set aside special times to spend with your daughter on a regular basis. Make a date to have ice cream, go for a walk or simply sit and talk together at least once a week. Cultivate an awareness of her feelings and the details of her life at home and school -- especially any fears, anxieties or resentments that hide beneath her quiet and cooperative exterior.
If necessary, draw her out by asking questions like, "What's it like for you to live in our family?" or "What do you wish we noticed more of in you?" Invest the time to celebrate her successes and positive decision-making. Let her know that she's an important and highly valued unique member of the family. Emphasize that you're thankful for her -- imperfections, dreams and all.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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