What I’ve Been Learning About “Father Wounds”

children deserve a married mom and dad

This month I’m stoked to share thoughts on a topic I’ve been mildly obsessing over for the past few months.

Recently I went to an intense and unusual men’s conference. There was almost no verbal teaching there. Instead it was very hands-on and experiential. That weekend I saw man after man experience emotional release around the issue of his relationship with his father. Some of these were mature Christian men who had been stuffing their feelings down for decades. Since then I feel I’ve been noticing the father wound issue everywhere, in friends, family, and strangers, and in seemingly every movie I see.

On the ride home from the conference, our carload of guys debriefed each other and compared our experiences for 12 hours. When I got home I wanted to learn more. I began meeting with all of my adult children to be sure I hadn’t wounded them as I had seen so many others wounded. I thought I’d share with you some encouraging thoughts that have come out of all of this.

First, it would be more correct to speak of “parent wounds,” because it’s not only dads that mark their children with unmet relational needs. But it is true that it is more often dads who are absent, whether physically or emotionally, from the lives of their children. However, I want to hasten to add here that the point of this post is to encourage you! I would like to hold up the following vision before you:

It is not unusual in Christian circles to think of children as a gift from God. In fact, the scriptures explicitly say this (Psalm 127:3-5.) I don’t know that Mollie and I would’ve had 5 children if not for believing this. However, I think it is also true to say that we as loving parents are a gift to our children. If this was too obvious to point out in earlier generations, I would suggest that is no longer the case. As a parent I hope that you can see yourself this way. If you fulfill your parenting role well, your children will certainly grow up to see you as among the greatest of their earthly gifts. More importantly, they will enter adult life without the baggage that weighs so many people down.

What a parent wound is and is not
As I’ve talked with other dads about this, I’ve sometimes sensed some uneasiness around the topic. Perhaps this is because we are all aware that none of us are perfect parents. We all know it is inevitable that we will let down or hurt our children. But when I speak of parent wounds I am not referring to the occasional mistakes that we all make. This is not about being flawless. Furthermore, sometimes we’ll intentionally need to make decisions that will disappoint our children. But our children can understand and forgive these hurts if they occur within an overall context of love and affirmation in our family culture.

Rather, when I speak of parent wounds I’m referring to wounds that occur as a result of a regular pattern of deprivation; the withholding of good, emotionally rich relational expression from parents. If parents do not give their children a secure sense of being loved, accepted, and valued, those children will very likely seek these things elsewhere in a variety of unhealthy ways.

Since we all do make mistakes, humility is an essential part of loving, in both marriage and parenting. A parent who will admit a wrong to a child, and ask forgiveness from that child, is an amazing role model! Apparently there are a lot of people in the world who have never heard the words, “I was wrong” from a parent.

What was your “normal” as you were growing up?
To a great extent, much of family culture seems to be passed down, for better or for worse. For obvious reasons, we tend to repeat what was normal in the home in which we were raised. Think of your own upbringing. If you had a parent who rarely or never verbally expressed his or her love to you, it is likely that parent grew up in a home where love was never verbally expressed. For such a parent, verbally expressing love may feel awkward, forced, or perhaps unnecessary.

Realizing this can help us break the cycle of deprivation with our own children. We can learn from our own parents either way – whether their example was great or poor. Rather than conforming to a poor example, we can commit to be conformed to the image of God in our parenting. I would like to think that parents who are followers of Jesus would naturally excel at creating a family culture of love and acceptance, but unfortunately, dysfunctional patterns from our upbringings can easily assert themselves if we don’t keep our heads in the game.

It IS possible to do this well!
I recently finished a book by PhD psychologist, John Trent, and Gary Smalley entitled, The Blessing. It’s not a new book but I think the message is timeless. The authors contend that children naturally look to their parents to confer a blessing on their lives. If this blessing is withheld for whatever reason, those children will almost certainly feel a deficit in their being, and may spend a lifetime seeking to compensate for what they feel they never received from their parents. Trent and Smalley describe the parental blessing as consisting of 5 parts:

  • Meaningful and appropriate touch
  • A spoken message (because silence creates uncertainty)
  • Attaching high value to the one being blessed
  • Picturing a special future for him or her
  • An active commitment to fulfill the blessing

Do these things resonate with you as they did for me? If not, imagine withholding even one of these things from your child. Think of your own upbringing. Can you think of ways that your parents expressed these things to you? Or how they failed to? My parents were better at some of these than others, but I can clearly remember feeling, for example, their “active commitment,” not only to me but also to my three siblings. One of the ways they did this was by attending our events and involving themselves in the things we enjoyed.

My daily reminder
When our kids were still young, Mollie and I attended several parenting conference with our church. During one of them in particular, I consciously chose to take home a practical suggestion from one of the speakers. He said,

“Every day, give each of your children a loving look, a loving touch, and a loving word.”

I figured even if I only managed to do this once a week for each kid, the cumulative effect would be very great. So I wrote out a small reminder in abbreviated form and kept it on my nightstand where I would see it. It’s been there now for years. I felt a little sheepish that I needed a written reminder to express love to my kids, but I know I am prone to getting busy and forgetting things. I wrote it in abbreviated form because I was afraid one of them might wander into our bedroom someday and see my reminder, and feel like my expressions of love were items on a “to do” list and not from my heart. I still have my note, now a bit worn:

express love every day

Do whatever it takes to remember. I wish you all the best in creating a rich culture of life and love for your kids! You can do this as a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or caregiver as well.

I can testify to the power of parental blessing. My dad was an “uneducated” construction worker, while I was a skinny, sensitive, weird little artist kid. My mom was only schooled as far as the eighth grade and never even learned how to drive. I doubt if my parents ever read a parenting book. Nonetheless, they created a home environment that met my and my siblings’ relational needs as small human beings created in God’s Image. That truly is a profound gift.

If I may offer a postscript that might appear to be just a wee bit self-serving: reading storybooks to your kids every day is an enjoyable way to cover at least 3 of the 5 aspects of blessing your kids. (They don’t even have to be my books!)

A Simple Christmas Keepsake Idea for You

Xmas Big Picture Publishing

Our Christmas tree is a bit like a scrapbook. Many of our tree ornaments have stories behind them, or they mark obsessions or events in the lives of our children. I like this because these decorations come out once a year, and since they’re focused around a holiday tradition it makes sense to save them. As our children have grown older and we hang these decorations, Mollie and I are often reflective, and filled with gratitude over how the personalities of our children have born fruit in their adulthood over each passing year.

I want to share a simple, simple idea with you for an ornament that can become an heirloom for your family. This is one of my favorite keepsake gifts that I have given to Mollie because it recorded a specific point in the lives of our children. I suppose it’s really a variation of the plaster-cast-hand-print craft that we have probably all received at some point as parents, except I never really knew what to do with all those plaster casts. (I think we have them somewhere!…)

craft gift idea xmas

In this case, I had each child put his or her handprint in white on a red glass Christmas tree ornament. I put the age of the child next to their print, and the year. For the space that was left I asked the child what they want the ornament to say. (Usually it was something like “Merry Christmas Mommy!” and, “Love, child’s name.”) You probably need to do this before your child’s hands get too big!

I started with my oldest two when they were 3 and 1 and a half years old. After that, in subsequent years I decided to only do one handprint per ornament. The kids got into this because they knew we were making a Christmas present for Mom. I still remember each child’s reaction as I brushed paint on their tiny hands during the handprint process:

Caleb, who is legally blind and very tactile, got a big grin on his face.

Lee became very serious about the importance of the task, and did his best to carry it out perfectly.

Sierra giggled out loud and said it tickled, and that the paint was cold.

Joel kept making a fist, once he figured out I didn’t want him to make a fist.

Renee freaked out because she thought it was gross, and I had to reassure her that the paint would wash. off.

So that’s it! All you need is:
A set of large matching ornaments set aside for this purpose. I used white acrylic paint for the handprints, and green and gold paint for the lettering. Acrylic paint cleans up with water. I suppose you could also use latex (not oil base) house paint. (Don’t use poster paint as it will come off, unless you want to clear coat the ornament when you’re done.) You might want a small, pointed brush for the lettering, but a medium size, soft, flat works best for brushing paint onto hands.

A handprinting tip:
In order to increase your chances of getting a legible handprint, instruct your child to spread his/her fingers apart slightly before printing. (You might need to model this for them.) Then, guide the hand gently onto the ornament and pull the ornament away once you think a good impression has been made. If the hand slides around once it’s on the ornament you will have a globby smudge rather than a handprint. It might help to put the heel of the hand on the ornament first and then lay the fingers down. Also, you only need a thin layer of paint on the hand.

A final thought is that you might consider using plastic ornaments. I prefer glass, and we happened to have a matching set on hand, but I’ll be sad if ours get broken someday.

I’d love to hear from you if you decide to try this!

Brief book update: I’ve finally started illustrations for the next book, The Friendly City. I’ll keep you posted on progress.

Thank you for you support – I hope you and your family have a joyful Christmas season! May God reveal Himself more clearly to us all in the coming year,

Scott

christmas-tree-angels

Dad says all the angels have to go at the top of the tree…

Storybooks to Read With the Kids You Love. (Time to Order!)

the-annunciation-the-true-story-of-christmas

Three years ago I launched a kids’ storybook company. As an artist, writer, and father of five I became very excited about the possibility of producing beautifully illustrated storybooks that would help parents and grandparents instill and reinforce a biblical worldview in the children they love!

One thing that is different about my company is that it is all online, through my website. Books are printed “on demand,” as they are ordered, which means I’m not selling my books through stores. (I tried that with my first book, Naomi’s Gift, and it wore me out!) I hope ordering through my website will be more convenient for you as well.

I’m sending this post out now because Christmas is coming, and if you are thinking of giving a storybook to someone as a gift, now would be a great time to order in order to ensure delivery in time for Christmas! (The official ordering deadline for my storybooks in hardcover is December 3rd.)

My newest book is called, The True Story of Christmas. I wasn’t able to deliver this book in time for Christmas last year, so if you passed on it then, it’s ready to go now.

The concept behind The True Story of Christmas:
Our family has accumulated a nice collection of Christmas books over the years. But I saw a place for a beautifully illustrated Christmas storybook for kids that would
1) place Christmas in the context of the bigger picture and explain why Jesus was born, and
2) tell the Christmas story in fidelity to the biblical narrative.

The True Story of Christmas is the result. The book begins with the story of God’s good creation and the subsequent fall of man, and frames Christmas as part of God’s plan to “fix His broken world”:

“The story of Christmas is about how God still loves us.
Christmas is about His good plan to create a way for us
to receive His love, light, and life again.”

The story continues, briefly introducing children to the nation of Israel and the Hebrew prophets, building anticipation for the coming of a promised child who would grow up to bring salvation and establish a good and eternal kingdom.

books for kids-Scott Freeman

As for fidelity to the biblical narrative, much of our understanding of the Christmas story comes to us from extra-biblical traditions, Christmas carols, and greeting cards. Without sounding picky or pretentious, The True Story of Christmas aims to remain true to the biblical account while retaining the excitement and charm of the Christmas story.

Perhaps the most noticeable example would be the Magi arriving at the house of Jesus as a small child in Bethlehem, rather than at the manger on the night of His birth.

The nativity-books for kids

Watercolor illustrations of the shepherds, and the wise men, from The True Story of Christmas.

CLICK HERE to order The True Story of Christmas!

Some other Christmas Items:
For those interested, this year I was able to upload some new designs for Christmas cards on the Zazzle site that Mollie and I share. This is a site that takes our original artwork and puts it on nice quality cards and other products. Visit our store, (The Loveland Company,) and browse around. Also, as a gift idea, I will mention that I have ordered coffee mugs from Zazzle, and they came out GREAT! You can check out my coffee mug designs as well.

As you will see, some of the Christmas cards (as well as some everyday cards) use imagery from my kids’ books. Below are some of the new Christmas cards:

The Loveland Company-Zazzle

CLICK HERE to visit the Zazzle store.

An update on my storybook business:
If you’ve been subscribed to my BigPicturePublishing.com site for long, you may have noticed that I did not release a new storybook this year. The reason is that 2015 was an unusually trying year for Mollie and me as we both lost very close family members and experienced a number of other difficulties. Consequently we’ve taken a break from the stress of self-employment for a while, and are both working full time for the first time in 15 years. This has been a great time of catching our breath and catching up, but unfortunately has not allowed me much time to work on new books.

However, my next title, The Friendly City, is written and ready to illustrate. I’m quite excited about it and I’ll keep you posted as the painting begins. I think I’m getting close to being able to start the artwork. If you’re a new visitor to BigPicturePublishing.com, and you haven’t already done so, please sign up in the blue box to receive notification of when new books are ready, as well as an occasional blog post. Signing up does not obligate you purchase anything.

As the world grows more confusing for children and more hostile to followers of Jesus, it’s more important than ever that we instill and reinforce a biblical worldview in the kids that are in our care. I would love to play a part in that task by providing great tools for parents and grandparents. CLICK HERE to see descriptions of all my kids’ storybooks.

Thank you again for your interest and support!
Love rules,
Scott Freeman

How and Why to Not Be Postmodern

metaphor for postmodernism

Recently I had coffee with one of my adult sons. I wanted to hear his insights about his spiritual development growing up. One unexpected comment came to light as he compared our family’s culture to that of a close friend’s. He observed that Mollie and I had modeled a faith that permeated all of life, and that our values reflected this. By contrast, for some people, faith is something added on, like an extra-curricular activity.

He said, “For you guys, a biblical worldview was like a pair of glasses through which you viewed everything. For my friend’s family it was more like a pair of binoculars that they would pick up now and then.”

This got me to thinking about postmodernism – the cultural state of society that distrusts the very idea of objective truth.

What is Postmodernity?
Philosopher and author Paul Copan describes postmodernity this way:

“French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard said that, simplifying to the extreme, postmodernism is suspension toward a metanarrative, which is a ‘world story’ that’s taken to be true for all people in all cultures and ends up oppressing people…”

So, postmodernity is a perfect example of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Because there are many horrific examples in history of people oppressing others over strongly held beliefs – both religious and secular – postmodernity seeks to solve the problem by getting rid of the notion of truth altogether. It’s like John Lennon’s song, Imagine. Copan continues:

“…When people are so certain that they’ve got the truth and believe their system explains everything, then people who disagree with them are on the outside. They end up in Auschwitz or the Soviet gulags. So instead of metanarratives, postmodernism emphasizes mini-narratives. In other words, each person has his or her own viewpoint or story.”

Postmodernity attempts to address a very real problem in the world. It’s true that there are many metanarratives, ideologies, worldviews, and religions in the world that are coercive. But in making all truth relative, postmodernity does the world the ultimate disservice if there is, in fact, an objective, loving Authority who has communicated a true story that includes all of us. Followers of Jesus should confidently and joyfully ignore postmodernism and instead, prove the life giving nature of the story and message of Jesus in our own lives and families.

“All Truth Claims are Wrong!”
Copan points out that the relativism that stems from a postmodern worldview is self-refuting. It simply doesn’t work as a worldview.

“…the relativist believes that relativism is true not just for him but for every person. He believes that relativism applies to the nonrelativist (‘true for you’), not just to himself (‘true for me’). The relativist finds himself in a bind if we ask him, ‘Is relativism absolutely true for everyone?’…There’s no reason to take seriously the claim that every belief is as good as every other belief, since this belief itself would be no better than any other.”

But having noted the self-contradictory nature of postmodernity, what about the problem of metanarratives being necessarily oppressive? Specifically, does the big picture presented in the Judeo-Christian scriptures necessarily marginalize those “on the outside”?

Self Righteous and Holier-Than-Thou?
I don’t buy that. The Bible specifically teaches that self-righteousness is not even possible (Ps 14; Ro 3:10-18.) Salvation is a gift from God and something none of us can claim to have earned (Ro 3:23,24; 6:23; Gal 2:15,16; 3:2-5; Eph 2:8,9; 3:7-9.)

From a biblical worldview Jesus is the only human being who could rightfully claim to be without sin, claim to be righteous in-and-of-Himself, and claim to be unerring in His knowledge of truth. Yet He was the perfect picture of love and inclusivity. His life was characterized by loving, healing , and reaching out to the marginalized: those on the fringe of respectable Jewish culture, women, lepers, the sexually unchaste, traitors, servants, children, Romans and other non-Jews, and so on. He typically did this even though it was inconvenient for Him and often got Him into trouble with His critics.

Not only His actions but also His teachings explicitly taught that following Him must mean reaching out to and welcoming the marginalized in a broken world. Several parables come to mind:
The parable of the Samaritan
The parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector
The parable of the prodigal son
The parable of the wedding feast and the uninvited guests
The parable of the widow’s offering
The story of the rich man and Lazarus

Rather than oppressing the marginalized, a biblical worldview acknowledges our common humanity. It roots human worth in the idea that all people bear the image of God, and yet it humbles human standing in the idea that all people “fall short of the glory of God’s ideal.” It is notable that two of the most combative personalities in the New Testament repeat the quote, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Jas 4:6; 1 Pet 5:5.) Humility invalidates oppression and marginalization. A quote attributed to D T Niles rings true to me:

“A Christian witness is not like a rich man who has a lot of bread which he hands out to the poor beggars who have nothing. He is rather like one beggar who tells another beggar where he has found bread.”

A Bedtime Story
Accordingly, this all affects what we say to our children. As a young father it was my job and privilege to tuck my children in at bedtime. I would sing and pray with them each night. I remember a period of time when one of my boys was very troubled. He would tearfully express that he was a “bad boy.” Those are the words he used. He was probably 7 or 8 years old at the time. I was a bit taken aback by this because Mollie and I made a point of never telling our children that they were “bad,” even when correcting them.

He didn’t seem to be trying to confess a specific hidden offense that was troubling his conscience. Instead, he seemed to be expressing a recognition that there was something generally wrong within himself. I remember thinking carefully and prayerfully before answering him, because he expected an answer. Should I assure him that he wasn’t all that bad? Should I point out how he favorably compared to serial killers and drug dealers? This was my first impulse – to minimize his feelings and build up his self-esteem by pointing out all the things on the “good” side of his scale.

But a biblical worldview compelled me to say something different. Instead, I essentially agreed with him. And, holding him close in the dark, I sympathetically let him know that I was also “bad,” and so was every one else in the world; that what he was feeling was accurate. I explained that this is why God sent Jesus to us, because we all need a Savior. My son’s recognition of his brokenness was simply the first step toward the spiritual rebirth that Jesus offers to us all. Jesus promised to give us His Spirit to live inside of us, and after that we help each other to live a new life in that Spirit.

I’m certainly not recommending that we as parents teach our children that they are pure evil. The truth is more nuanced than that. I think the Bible’s description of the fallen human heart as “inclined” toward evil is helpful (Gen 8:21.) When I think of an incline, I notice it’s possible to roll a ball up an incline, but it takes deliberate effort. A ball naturally will roll down an incline. So it is with our hearts.

Speaking the Truth in Love
I assume there are those who would say it is appalling to say such things to a child. I imagine that a time may come when a secularist government will see fit to intervene in cases where parents teach such things. But truth is that which corresponds to the way things really are. What if a child is taught that he or she is naturally good and perfect? Where does that leave the child when he or she sees within himself or herself a tendency to lie, cheat, and hurt others? I contend that it leaves the child in a truly hopeless position.

The fact of human brokenness should never be used to shame or manipulate others. But neither does a biblical worldview indulge secularist, utopian, wishful thinking about the natural goodness of humanity. In fact, ironically this kind of thinking is actually dangerous when it comes to granting human beings governmental power over others.

I would like to hear about your experience as a child or a parent. How did you understand the state of the human heart? How was it communicated to you, and what effect did it have on you?

 

Dad Notes: You Are Having An Impact on Your Kids. Make It Count!

nuclear family 1967

Dad, me (center,) the sibs, and a stylish lamp – 1967

As a young man I never really dreamed of having kids, or even of getting married for that matter. I had been paying attention, and I rarely saw a marriage that looked like an enviable situation to me. I wasn’t necessarily opposed to the idea, it’s just that I had a lot of other things that I wanted to do. Things that probably wouldn’t provide a reliable means to support a family. Things like being an artist.

Wow, how things changed. Mollie and I will celebrate our 32nd wedding anniversary this fall, and our youngest of 5 children graduated high school 2 years ago. I now consider my relationship with my wife and kids to be far and away the best investment of my time, energy, and life that I could have made. I’m so glad we had 5 kids. I really could not have guessed how deeply fulfilling being a dad would be.

When my first son was born, literally when I first laid eyes on him, it was as though a switch got flipped. I embraced fatherhood with a passion. Building a solid marriage and family is hard work, but looking back on my own upbringing I could see that it was as important as any work there is.

Did I do things perfectly? Of course we all know the answer to that…

A bad dad story
Not that I need to prove I’m not perfect, but there was this one day when I took our (then) four kids with me to the grocery store to give mom a break.

We got out of the mini-van, and there was a stray shopping cart right next to the van. I strapped the baby in to the built in car seat, and told my kids I would give them a ride to the store entrance! I told my daughter to stand on the end of the cart and told her to hold on tight. I positioned a boy on either side of the cart and told them to hold on tight.

I told them to hold on tight, not because anything bad was going to happen, but because I was such an awesome and responsible dad.

I started pushing the shopping cart, now loaded down with small children. I remember being a little surprised at how heavy the cart was, and thinking that we were possibly going slightly too fast. But all of my kids were laughing and holding on tightly, and I could tell they were all thinking, “YAY! We have a FUN dad!!!” Plus I couldn’t really slow the cart down anyway. I noticed several people in the parking lot looking at me like I was an idiot, but I didn’t care because I was being awesome and they weren’t.

To my relief, we actually approached the store entrance without hitting any old people or getting backed into by a car. Unfortunately, just as we were slowing down and nearly out of danger, one of the boys decided to hop off the cart. This upset the delicate balance I had created and the cart began to tip. I was not strong enough to hold back the weight of the remaining 3 kids, and the shopping cart tipped completely over, right in front of the supermarket entrance.

There I was, red-faced on the ground with 3 screaming kids, including a baby who was (fortunately) strapped in, upside down in the shopping cart.

I remember being really glad my wife wasn’t there.

Embracing the fatherhood role
My dad was apparently smarter than me. I had a great dad and a very secure, I would even say uneventful, upbringing. No abuse, no feelings of non-acceptance, not even any big hurtful words or moments that I can remember. I took this for granted at the time. It simply fit with the way I thought a dad who claimed to follow Jesus should raise his kids. The love of my parents made the world make sense to me. I have now come to see how unusual my upbringing was.

It almost seems unfair just how much fathers impact the lives of their children. My adult children now lament that, even among their Christian friends, great dads seem to be rare. Many kids grow up warped by dads who were physically and/or emotionally absent, or abusive, or habitually angry, or control freaks, or unaccepting, or too proud to admit when they were wrong.

But there is an upside to how much impact a dad will inevitably have on his kids. The upside is that we can consciously choose to influence our kids for good. We can ask God the Father to give us the heart of a father – the kind of heart that He had in mind when He created the fatherhood role.

As a young parent, my dad’s example was always in the back of my mind, like a north star that I could navigate by when I was unsure of what to do. I think it gave me an added measure of confidence and peace in my parenting as well. But even if your upbringing was troubled, you can still learn from your parents’ mistakes, as our own kids will certainly learn from ours.

May this day inspire you to renew your mind and renew your commitment to be a great father to your children. No one else can do this as well as you.

“…For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:8-10.)