“I want to talk to him alone!” the three-year-old girl demanded, pointing at her two-day-old brother who had just come home from hospital. Big sister continued, “In his room, with the door closed!”
The parents weren’t sure what to make of this request. Was this sibling jealousy? Were her intentions good or bad? The new mom and dad tried to dissuade her but over the next few hours, her request only got more anxious.
Finally, the new parents decided to set up the baby monitor and listen. Once it was on and tested, to make sure the slightest sound could be heard, they told the girl she could talk to her brother alone.
As the little girl shut the door of the new baby’s room, the parents rushed to the monitor. Padding quietly over to the cot and the little girl said, “Quick, tell me about God. I’ve almost forgotten!”
This story, retold by many, is attributed to author Peter Palmer. Parenting isn’t easy. There are decisions every day. Some are more memorable than others!
If your parenting journey is anything like mine, you have a collection of cherished stories you like to tell about your kids.
The above story is one little girl’s legacy. She would have heard that story a thousand times. It shaped her, her brother and their family. “Babies are a gift from God,” She was no doubt told. And she believed and acted on that wisdom. Because the parents listened, they heard her words and that moment became legend.
My three children are all adults now. It is said that age comes with wisdom. But, as a gray-hair myself, I now realise it’s not age that brings the wisdom but all the stories. Life is lived. Stuff happens. Stories form and reform. Memories are made. In the repeated telling of those stories, wisdom is created. So, as a dad, here’s a few of the stories and parenting tips that shape me.
Listen to your children
I remember setting up camp one summer afternoon. Five-year-old Mikey stopped me. “Dad, my tummy hurts.” I asked him if he was hungry. He was. I opened a banana and gave it to him. A few minutes later, “Dad, my tummy hurts.” I asked him if he was thirsty. He was. I opened a bottle of water and gave it to him. Water gone, he returned, “Dad, my tummy hurts.”
“Why does your tummy hurt, Mikey?” I asked, exasperated.
He pulled up his shirt revealing a tummy covered in angry scratches. “I slid down the rocks,” he said matter-of-factly.
I’ve told that story many times over the years. And it has taught me many times. Listen. Ask questions. Listen again. Then act.
Another time, having just had a good laugh at one of my own excellent dad jokes, my eldest son—maybe four years old—took me aside and said, “Dad, can you not be so funny around me? I like to be serious.” And he does, still. We have had amazing deep conversations over the years. Sometimes I still am a bit too silly. But I remember and I try!
They are also listening to you
One night, before putting the kids to bed, I told them a story about Elisha helping a woman who had no food (found in the Bible in 2 Kings chapter 4). He told her to get as many jars as she could find and put them in her house. She sent her two sons around the village and they collected empty jars. Her house full of empty jars, Elisha told her to get her oil jar. She did. It only had a few drops left. He told her to pour oil into the jars. Acting in faith, she began pouring the oil into one of the empty jars. Soon the jar was full. She moved to the next and the next jar until, as she reached the last jar in the house, the oil stopped pouring. Elisha told the woman to sell the oil and use the money to feed her family. I finished by telling my kids prayer was like the oil. If we pray in faith, God will answer our prayers.
As I tucked my youngest child into her bed, she said, “God never gives me what I ask for.” Surprised, I asked her what she had asked God to give her. She shrugged her shoulders and said, “Nothing.” I asked it differently, “What do you want God to give you?” Again, she shrugged and said, “Nothing.”
“Quick, fold your hands and close your eyes,” I said. She did and I prayed, “Dear Jesus, Rachael really, really wants nothing. Please give her lots and lots of nothing! AMEN!” I clapped my hands and waved them around the room, “Look at it all! WOW! All that nothing!”
“You’re weird, Dad.”
A few days later Rachael and I were at a park. I lost my wallet but didn’t notice until hours later. After cleaning the car and realising it had to be at the park, I told Rachael we needed to go back and look for my wallet.
On the way to the park, I said, “We should pray about the wallet and ask God to help us find it.”
Rachael said, “I’ve already prayed in my head. But if you want me to pray out loud, I can.” I smiled and said I would like that. So, she did.
The wallet was under the bench where I had been sitting. Prayer answered.
She had already prayed. That story still teaches me. Not to assume things. Not to worry. Not to fear. And to understand the importance of your child’s attention—they’re more attentive than you may realise.
Listen to your body
On January 3, 2013 an acoustic neuroma was carved out of my head. As a result, I lost hearing on my left side. Permanently. I lost my ability to focus. Lost energy. Lost spacial awareness (don’t knock it ‘till you’ve tried it!). Lost focus. Oh, I said that.
Before the surgery, the doctor told me I would need to set different expectations for myself after the surgery. Some things would come back. Some wouldn’t.
He was right. I am much slower now. Tired.
But, in this new life, even if I hear less when I listen to music, ultimately I see and hear more. Where once I saw people walking past, now I see individuals and think, “What silent suffering are they going through right now?” And now, because I have slowed down, I hear them when they speak to me. Even though I only have one working ear, I hear people better than I ever have before.
Being truly heard is far too rare in today’s busy world.
At some point, your body will tell you to slow down. Listen. Then, just do it. Rejig your priorities and put people first. You know the story—nobody on their deathbed wishes they spent more time at work. Everyone wishes they spent more time with their family. Start now.
Listen to loved ones
Relationships are the purpose of life. Cultivate them.
My dad speaks wisdom. When I was a kid, he often said, “If it is to be it is up to me.” One of the hardest teachings (for which I am very grateful) he lived rather than spoke: “I have no right to protect you from the consequences of your actions.”
My mum speaks hope. She shaped my future: “God has a plan for your life.” She shaped my character: “My Davy never lies to me.”
My wife speaks truth. “You’re not wearing that shirt today.” And a minute later, she’s right! “We are not buying a bigger TV.” Still true. “You should do some writing today.” Done!
The world paints reality askew. Perfection is not the goal. Connection is. Value your family. Work on the relationships. Care for the wounded. Be there. Listen.
Being a dad is all about shaping people with stories. Create memories. Speak wisdom. Tell stories. And then, tell them again!
Dave Edgren is a storyteller and school chaplain who lives in Victoria, Australia. He hopes that if nothing else, you get a good laugh from his parenting advice.