Q: How should I deal with the tension between my son and his dad over his participation in sports? Summer leagues are starting up again, and I'm dreading the inevitable fights between them. Our son is an excellent athlete, but he's never enjoyed playing, because of the pressure he gets to perform. What do you suggest?
Jim: As someone who grew up enjoying and benefitting from sports, I can understand your husband's eagerness to pass some of the same positive experiences on to your son. It's important to encourage children to pursue excellence and develop self-discipline, and with some kids sports can be an excellent vehicle for teaching these values. Even more critical, though, is for the parent-child relationship to be based on unconditional love and acceptance. Kids desperately need Mom and Dad to be their biggest cheerleaders, affirming them when they succeed and encouraging them when they fail.
If we as dads (or moms) are overly competitive, we can often make the mistake of basing worth on achievement and affirming our kids only when they succeed. That's a bad move. It may negatively impact our child's self-esteem for the rest of his or her life. It will also place an unnecessary strain on the parent-child relationship, preparing the way for major explosions when they reach the teen years.
If your husband has difficulty parenting this way, you may want to get a copy of Dr. Tim Kimmel's insightful book "Grace-Based Parenting" (Thomas Nelson, 2005) and study it together. Then spend some time discussing the changes that one or both of you may need to make in your interactions with your son. I'd also invite you to give our licensed counselors a call at 855-771-HELP (4357).
Q: My daughter is married to a good man, but she can be very unkind and disrespectful to him. I want to talk with her about this, but I'm not sure that's best. It embarrasses me when she's like this. What should I do?
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: You're wise to tread lightly here. It's important to not shy away from confronting destructive behavior, but in every scenario it should be approached with prayer, honesty and humility. If not, it can result in further harm instead of healing. The pitfalls in your case could be the alienation of your daughter, or an unintended wedge being driven in their relationship if your daughter thinks you're taking sides. Your actions could also have the effect of "neutering" your son-in-law in the eyes of his wife if she thinks "Mother" has to fight his battles.
Honestly assessing your motives will help you avoid these undesirable outcomes. Be open to the possibility that your interpretation of things may be influenced by experiences from your family of origin, or those in your own marriage. That you find your daughter's behavior "embarrassing" might indicate that you're concerned how it reflects on you.
Keep in mind, too, that it can be difficult for an adult child to accept "reproof" from a parent. It may be a matter better addressed by a non-family member. You might pray that God would embolden a trusted friend or bring along a couple mentor.
If you decide that your relationship is strong and secure enough to have this conversation, voice your concerns thoughtfully. Use "I" statements, and resist judging or blaming. Instead of using absolutes (i.e. "You are ..."), speak in tentative terms (i.e. "It appears that ..."). Remember: Your goal is to listen, rather than to try and fix things. You might encourage her to find help from a counselor, including our Focus staff of therapists. If we can assist, please give us a call.
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.
Focus on the Family counselors are available Monday through Friday between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. Mountain time at 855-771-HELP (4357). Focus on the Family's website is at www.focusonthefamily.com.