Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Parents on Trial

Those of you who live in the other 49 states aren't graced with the privilege (sarcasm) of having the Casey Anthony Trial taking over your daytime TV programming. Those of us in central Florida are. And while I'm at work most of the week while the trial is on, the days I am home, I find myself like most of my fellow comrades-- glued to the TV like a moth to a flame.

Funny, isn't it? How we are attracted to public displays of shame and failure, like a sideshow for a circus? Don't get me wrong. This is what we call "due process," and it's actually one of the beautiful things about our country. We, the taxpayers, have a right to witness a trial by jury, paid for by our taxes, and when it's something of this nature (relating to the well-being or death of a child), it's especially close to our hearts and especially magnetizing to our attention.

We each have our own reasons for watching. Some to see Casey "put on her charade." Some so that we have something to talk about around the coffeepot at work the next day. Some feel the need to "monitor" the process, making sure justice is being served for Caylee's sake. I'm pretty sure all of us are just plain old interested in this trial, period. All that said, aside from the nosyness I have like everybody else, I think I have finally pinpointed why my heart and mind are so drawn to this trial.

I have a need to find out where this all went wrong for Casey.

As a parent, as a parenting coach, as a student of parenting... where did Casey get forgotten? Let's get one thing out of the way right now. I totally believe Casey Anthony killed her daughter, Caylee Marie. I totally believe it was not accidental, not a spur-of-the-moment plan, but a premeditated act of desperation to get what she saw as a "hindrance" out of her life. I also believe that while we may have gotten to where we are because of the decisions of our parents, we stay where we are by OUR choices. So, regardless of what did or did not take place in her childhood (I do not believe she was molested by father, but let's just say she was...), that taking the life of a child is NEVER excusable. EVER. If you do not agree with me about Casey's guilt, that is totally okay with me... believe me. I have NO problem agreeing to disagree. So, please refrain from starting debates and the like because you don't share my verdict. This is the beauty of humanity... we can differ and still coexist.

That said, how does a mother who has felt a child move inside her body, ushered new life into this world, looked into the eyes of that child and felt sincere love and appreciation for her, two years later map out a plan to extinguish that life as if it never existed? How does a mother who has fed, bathed, nurtured, and sheltered that child turn her heart so against her that she not only willed her dead, but also followed through with it? How? HOW????

Watching the trial, one thing has become painfully obvious to the world. The Anthony family has built a majority of their lives around lies- whether they be Casey's, or their own family secrets. Stories are continually changing, and Casey is forever rolling her eyes and shaking with anger at her parents as they move forward with any version of the story that contradicts the drowning theory or the plethora of other falsities Casey has conjured up. It's clear through their testimonies that Casey was raised to get her way, as her attitudes and fits often proved too much for her parents to handle, even into her adulthood. She was given a car, didn't do the laundry in her parents house where she lived as an ADULT, and shirked primary care for her daughter to her mother, Cindy.

There are no perfect parents. Believe me-- I know this. And if there were a list of perfect parents, I do not in any shape, form, or fashion even pretend my name would make the top 1000. But I can tell you this. Watching the pain these parents have gone and are going through has made me do an inventory on my own parenting, because it is my heart's cry to NEVER see my daughter at the mercy of a justice system, especially if the origin of the offense was at her own hand. Because no matter which way you cut it, I would have had a hand in her downfall, somewhere, somehow.

So how then? How do we avoid sitting on the witness stand someday as our child faces death row charges? How do we keep from being the one with our hand on the Bible, testifying before God that our word is true, in hopes to save our child's life? Well, that answer may not be as cut and dry as one would hope. See, God did everything right with Adam and Eve, and they STILL chose to sin. We won't do it all right. But if you're like me, you have to go to sleep at night with the assurance that you aren't raising a child capable of the offense of taking her own child's life to simplify her own. And I don't have all the answers. But here's a few convictions that I KNOW will help deter my children's path from becoming that of Miss Anthony's.

1. LIVE TRUTH AT ALL COSTS. A Bible verse my parents mandated was Psalm 15:4- "He swears to his own hurt and doesn't change." This is as basic as making your child finish a sports season he starts, even if the coach is unfair and your child is being done wrong. Commitment is something our kids have little concept of and it's because we as parents don't make them follow through with anything! We live in an attention deficit time, where we bounce around from event to event, person to person, and don't stick with anything. When you make a commitment, FOLLOW THROUGH, for Heaven's sake. And if your child promises her favorite shoes to her friend, guess what she's obligated to give her even after giver's remorse kicks in? This will teach our kids that their word is their name. And a good name is all you've got.

2. EVALUATE HOW EASY YOU'VE MADE LIFE FOR YOUR KIDS. I'm not talking about going home and ripping the Xbox out and throwing it in the garbage can. I'm saying, when your kids say, "I want a drink of water," do you hop to the kitchen for them? Five year olds and up are capable of tending to many of their own needs, but sadly, we have boys and girls at 12 who utter a wish and their parents float to the need at the drop of a hat. This in turn produces entitlement, and entitlement produces nothing but laziness and ungratefulness.

3. STOP SHELTERING YOUR CHILDREN FROM CONSEQUENCES. If I decided today to drive 80 mph down Highway 441, and I get pulled over and ticketed, I can have an attitude all I want to with the reporting officer. But the fact remains, I DID IT TO MYSELF. But see, we fight too many battles for our kids, so when they are 16 and facing the law itself, they expect to be bailed out like they were the other 43,219 times we bailed them out. There isn't a defense in the world to protect our children from our negligence, which we inflict when we skirt issues, sweep them under the rug, and remove consequences from our kids when they are 3. This applies to constantly taking their forgotten lunch box to them, dropping our lives for procrastinated book reports, and simply running when they demand it.

4. SUBMIT YOUR BEST EFFORTS AND TRUST GOD TO COVER YOUR MISTAKES. We would be shocked what would happen in our homes if we would just give our best and apologize for our worst. We aren't expected to do it all right. We ARE, however, expected to be REAL. Apologize. Forgive. Close the past's doors. Open the future's new ones. At best, we may do 50% right. But the good news is, love covers a multitude of sins. When you blow it, admit it to your children. Even if this means saying to them, "I have been too easy on you, and I ask for your forgiveness." God, in His infinite mercy and grace, can right alot of wrongs if we're willing to work the plan.

5. STAY PLUGGED INTO THEIR LIVES. Know their inner circles by name. Foster openness and communication. Ask questions without pre-planned answers. Listen to their music with them without preaching a sermon, and afterwards ask "What do you like about that?" Do silly and ridiculous things with them, just for fun. Eat ice cream for dinner and pizza for breakfast. Blow up air mattresses and sleep in the living room for a movie marathon. Take them with you one-on-one to run errands. This is the stuff that helps us keep tabs on our kids without them knowing what we're doing.

There was a day when you weren't a parent. And then literally overnight, you became one. Remember that moment? Whether you pushed a seven pound bundle of goo and screams into the world or you were handed your child by a guardian or state worker... that moment, I would dare say, was one of the most defining moments of your life. You silently took an oath to protect, nuture, and grow that child to the best of your ability, willing to lay your life down at any moment for him. Between that moment and the day they enter college, there are many obstacles, many hurdles, and many failures. But there are MANY triumphs, MANY victories, and MANY happy tears.

I keep thinking of Casey. The day she held her Caylee for the first time. I know that in that moment, she loved that baby with all her might, soul, and strength. But the harsh reality is that it's what happened between when Cindy held CASEY for the first time and that fateful 2008 day that really mattered.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Dear Daddies,

Sunday is your day. Well, at least it should be your day. Father's Day. The day that has been set aside to honor you for being the man you are. I know, I know. Moms get all the glory. More phone calls are made on Mother's Day than any other day of the year. And turns out, more collect calls are made on Father's Day than any of the other 364 days. Don't get me wrong. Carrying an alien inside your torso that insists on cracking your ribs and gives you constant indigestion for nine months is no small feat, and we mothers deserve every bit of the perks we get for that feat alone.

But you are often the forgotten part of the equation.

You don't get the bells and whistles with your holiday. Oh, yes... You get some piece of grilled meat, a tie, and an afternoon of total TV control in your recliner.

You know what? That's not okay with me.

See, I don't know if you realize this, but we are born with a daddy-shaped hole inside us, whether we are male or female. Those of us who were fortunate enough to have men who filled the hole with love certainly have a different outlook on this coming Sunday than those of us who never had the hole filled.

It's not entirely your fault. It seems in our country-- shoot, it seems that in MOST countries-- boys aren't raised to be men. Most are raised to not show emotion. Most are raised to believe erroneously that their primary role is to provide a roof and food. Most are raised to believe they are numero uno in their households, never seeing their wives as their equals. Most were raised to believe that weaknesses should be hidden, and certainly not addressed.

So, it's easy to see how your day has become one that most people just see as a date on the calendar and find it sufficient to send the obligatory card, make the collect phone call, and move on.

If you find yourself feeling like you get the short end of the stick, can I humbly suggest you look around and ask yourself why that is? We need you to be who you were created to be, daddies! Our lives exist because of you. And our future is shaped by your influence in our lives, or lack of. Don't feel hopeless. Because you're not. Anything can be changed. Anything can be forgiven. And anything can be turned around.

For those of you still raising children, I'd like to offer you these words.

Be affectionate with your kids. This applies to boys AND girls. They need your physical affirmation that they're okay. Girls need to know you see their beauty. Boys need to feel your embrace. Affection left only for mothers to give is one-sided and unbalanced. Give hugs, kisses, and hand holding. Studies have proven that children who are affectionately embraced by their fathers do better in school, are generally happier, and sleep better than their peers who are not touched. And dads whose children are grown? They still need your touch. I still sit in my dad's lap, hold his hand, smooch him, and sit as closely as possible to him whenever I can. And I'm WAY past childhood.

Show your boys how to treat women. Speak kindly to women and OF women. Avert your eyes to something else when Victoria's Secret commercials come on during your game. Hold doors open for females of all ages. Avoid all lewd comments about women, whether your sons hear you or not. Those comments are stupid and they eat away at your character. Work hard to provide nice gifts for your wife and daughters. Talk about your wife and daughter's character, their beauty, and your love for them to your sons. And if you're not married to their mother anymore, you're not exempt from the responsibility of building her up with your words in the ears of your children. It's your duty to shine light on her positives, so they grow to respect her. Period.

Quit the perfection game. You aren't perfect, and everyone knows it, so, you might as well stop pretending to be. When you make mistakes, apologize. Cry in front of your kids. Make mistakes and stop trying to cover them up. They'll see you're human. Your transparency shows them how to cope with life. Your withdrawal from reality shows them to ignore their problems.

Don't leave all the discipline to their mother. Defend her at all costs. Never talk negatively about her to your kids, EVER. If they speak rudely to her, shut them down immediately. Back her up when she disciplines them. If she takes away their Xbox for two weeks, make sure all 14 days are Xbox free. Get on the same page with her.

Love your wife in front of your children. Hold her hand. Kiss her. Leave her love notes where the kids will see them. Give her flowers for no reason. Compliment her cooking. Talk about how smoking hot you think she is. Prefer her. Cherish her. Protect her.

Affirm your children. They are craving your affirmation more than any other person's on this planet. Look them in the eye and tell them you approve of THEM. Not of what they do, not of the grades they make... of THEM. Leave them written signs of your approval on their bathroom mirror, in their backpacks, or on the speedometer of their car. They desire to know they are worthy of your love just because they exist.

Foster open communication. Talk to your girls about what teenage boys are really like. Don't wait until it's too late to arm your sons with what they need to know about sex. Ask about their friends. Make sure your kids know that wherever they are, all they have to do is call home and you'll come get them. Refuse to let your girls leave the house dressed like Hooker Barbie. (Yes, I just said that). And arm your boys with the knowledge of how to react when Hooker Barbie takes the seat next to them at a party.

Date them. This applies to girls AND boys. Girls need to be romanced. If you don't romance them, I can PROMISE you that some pimple faced boy with one agenda on his mind will. Open her car door. Pull out her chair. Tell her to order whatever she wants. Take her on a walk. Once a week, do something with her that guarantees two hours of uninterrupted time together. If you have sons, be purposeful in your man-dates. Do things THEY like to do. If you like to fish, but they hate it, you shouldn't be centering your time with them around the lake! Investigate their hobbies and interests, and then surprise your son with planning an afternoon centered around just that.

Take the role of spiritual leader in your family. This means that when someone has a fever, YOU pray for them. When someone is brokenhearted, YOU speak words of life into their emotions. When it's time to eat, YOU offer a prayer of thanks for the meal. When it's bedtime, YOU speak a bedtime blessing over your family. You don't have to preach. Just let your relationship with God overflow into your interactions with your children. They'll catch it. And of course, make church a priority and a non-negotiable.

Every once in a while, surprise everyone. Wake them up at midnight for a run to Ihop for pancakes. Call a nighttime family meeting and give everyone flashlights and tell them to go hide. When it's pouring down rain, lock everyone outside for a game of mud-tag. Take everyone out of school for a hooky day at the beach.

Daddies, you are special. Your load is heavy. There is ALOT of responsibility on you. So much of your children's lives depends on your success as a father. But this isn't rocket science. It's not an impossible feat. You have been equipped to be the man your children need you to be. You can't be it all, can't do it all... But you can be who you were meant to be. That's all.

My prayer for you this Father's Day is that you see past your shortcomings and all of the balls you've dropped, and see the treasure and gift you are. You won't do it all perfectly, nor should you. Life's a great big learning experience. We don't learn unless we fail. This Sunday, please soak up your children, your wife... Please make yourself see the beauty you bring to this world. Please stop the "I should'ves" and "I wishes" and start doing something about it. You can't change the past. But the pen's in your hand to write a new ending for your family.

You are powerful. You are vital. And I promise you... You are loved.