Q: As a single mother whose kids are approaching puberty, I'm becoming acutely aware of their need for positive male role models. Where can I go to find this kind of input?
Jim: You're right -- this is extremely important! I've been where your kids are now. My father was an alcoholic who abandoned the family when I was very young.
One of the best places you can look for male input is your own extended family. Do your kids have a good relationship with your father? If you believe he's a positive role model, ask your dad if he'd be willing to spend time with them. If he lives nearby, you could arrange for them to spend one weekend a month at their grandparents' house. If grandpa lives far away, send them for an extended stay during school vacations.
Another good resource is your church. Ask the pastor if there's a trustworthy older couple in the congregation who might be willing to act as "surrogate grandparents" for your family.
Other options could include a trusted schoolteacher or coach. You'll need to screen them to ensure they're reputable and that their values align with yours, of course. I had a football coach in high school (my mom had succumbed to cancer years earlier) who took me under his wing and welcomed me into his family. It changed my life!
Q: My son is 17 and has been dating a girl from school for the last year. She is very negative and not a good influence on him. If I say anything, he gets defensive and tells us that he loves her and that is all that matters. I don't want to push him away, but I would like for him to find someone more encouraging. I could use some advice.
Leon Wirth, executive director of Parenting and Youth: This is a tough dilemma for many parents. My heart goes out to you!
It's obvious that your concern is for your son's well-being. You love him and you want what is best for him. But is this the message he hears when the subject of his girlfriend comes up? Or does he feel like you're simply attacking her -- and, by extension, him and his choices? It's true that many teens become combative despite their parents' best efforts to broach a controversial subject peacefully. But to the extent you're able, make sure he knows that your concerns are motivated by your love for him, and not out of a desire to control his life.
My colleague, Dr. Greg Smalley, and his father, Dr. Gary Smalley, surveyed 5,000 parents about what they considered to be "fair fighting" between parents and teens. Here are the top 10 answers that emerged from their survey:
-- Listen for understanding.
-- Avoid yelling, verbal threats or abuse.
-- Maintain an honoring, respectful and loving atmosphere.
-- No name-calling.
-- Use open communication.
-- Don't bring in past "garbage."
-- Keep the focus off the person's character.
-- No violence.
-- Avoid accusatory language (e.g., "You never ... You always ...").
-- Make sure only one person talks at a time.
That's a pretty good list. You might want to write it down, so the next time this issue arises, make sure that you, your husband and your son all abide by these rules. Remember, too, that your son, like most men, desires respect (which is not the same as agreement) as he assumes more maturity and independence. He'll be more likely to listen if he has the assurance that you respect him, and that you are clearly hearing -- and understanding -- what he's saying.
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.