This is part 4 of a 5-part series
When you encourage your children and your spouse, you have the unique ability to make them feel special. Parakaleo, the New Testament Greek word for “encourage,” or “exhort,” can also be translated “call to one’s side,” “strengthen,” “instruct” and “teach.” 2 Exhortation is not just about positive reinforcement and encouragement; it is also about challenging your children and spouse to be all they were created by God to be. Your life and words speak into their lives with comfort, counsel, affirmation and challenge.
To encourage your children, you also will want to set realistic expectations for them. Many kids suffer from a very poor self-image. They play the comparison game and lose every single time. When it comes to brains, beauty and bucks, our society is not kind to this generation of young people. If we aren’t careful, we as parents will reinforce the unrealistic cultural expectations that confront our children daily.
A couple came into my office very upset about their teenage daughter, who had decided to be influenced by the punk-rock culture. Her hair was dyed stark white. Every piece of clothing she was wearing was black; and her makeup definitely made the statement “I don’t want to be like my parents,” who, as successful businesspeople, dressed very conservatively. Their daughter seemed nice enough, but even as a youth worker who had seen it all, I thought she looked Halloweenish. I thought, I’m glad my daughters don’t look like her.
As the parents began to talk about their daughter, they were very tough on her, expressing lofty goals that she was never going to achieve—at least not in her current frame of mind. Her parents, both Stanford University graduates, expected her to be getting straight As and following in their footsteps. They kept saying that when she was younger, she had never received even one B and that she didn’t understand that success was spelled Stanford, As, business and a new hairstyle! As a parent, I could understand their concerns somewhat, but I still felt uneasy. The daughter was very polite the entire time her parents unfolded their plan for her life. Now it was her turn.
Her parents probably thought I asked a weird question when I turned to the daughter and asked, “So what excites you about life besides rock music?” She paused, smiled and said, “Art.”
“Art?” I repeated, surprised.
“Yeah, art. When I was little, Mom would take me to museums, and I fell in love with art. I love music—just not their kind. I love impressionistic painting. I love drama. I would like to work on Broadway as either an actor or artist.”
To be honest, I didn’t expect what I heard. I expected a caustic teenager, rebellious and self-centered. What I heard behind her purple eyeliner and bright red lipstick was a very articulate, well-educated, enthusiastic young lady with a passion for art and theater.
Now I had a dilemma. I didn’t especially like her style of dress, but what she said made sense. She loved her parents but didn’t want to grow up to be like them. She had a flair for the artistic side of life, and they had a flair for business. Her parents wanted her to have a Stanford business degree with straight As, but she wanted to study at a college that had a wonderful performing-arts program. If her parents continued to push her to study business at Stanford, they were setting themselves up for a colossal failure. If she totally rebelled against her parents’ values and relationship, she would be flirting with disaster. They needed some good old-fashioned negotiation and compromise.
We took out a blank piece of paper on which the parents and daughter negotiated a new set of expectations: “We will drop our expectation of a Stanford business degree if you will go to class, do your homework and try your best to get into the school of your choice. We’ll quit nagging you about your clothing under the condition that you wear something besides black every day.” Before the meeting was over, they had in writing a new set of expectations that both parents and daughter could live with and dialog about.
The question in my mind when they left my office was, Will these parents be able to encourage their daughter to excel in her areas of interest? The answer is that they absolutely did encourage her. They call that meeting their “parenting conversion.” Their daughter didn’t become an A student, but she didn’t become a dropout either. She threw away her punk-rock outfits—though she still doesn’t own a business suit—and today, their daughter is a vibrant, talented young actress with a deep Christian commitment.
2 Thayer and Smith, “The KJV New Testament Greek Lexicon,” crosswalk.com, 1995-2003. http://www.biblestudytools.net/Lexicons/Greek/grk.cgi?number=3870&version=kjv (accessed July 31, 2003).