(This is the final part for the second topic in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance was appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter. In this final part we address one question. At the end of this entry, there are some suggested resources on this subject.)
How long into your parenting life did it take for you to feel like you’d found balance and what were the signs?
Tonya: For us that journey started when we were still serving in ministry. My husband was working for the church and the district at the same time-part time money at full time hours. So he had come home from work, gobbled down dinner, and was heading out for a church meeting. My son was playing with his dump truck outside in the dirt. When my husband came out the door to leave, he said, “Where are you going, daddy?” He said, “I have a church meeting, son.” And my son stood up and threw his dump truck to the ground and with all the anger he could muster he said, “I hate church!” Both of us were dumbfounded. We said, “No. No more. We’re unbalanced. This is the last thing we want him to feel.”
One of the things we started doing was setting a six-month calendar. The church would set one, so we’d have a family meeting to set our schedule before the meeting for the church calendar happened. My husband would take it into the staff meeting in order to say no where he needed to say no. We made it a priority that our family was going to come before the church calendar.
Mark: From our standpoint, we had a pretty clear philosophy on being family-centric, not being overly committed to activities out of the home. I feel like we answered that question early on. It’s fluid though, and we’ve made adjustments along the way. But I’m going to take this along a different direction.
One area of parenting that we still haven’t solved is technology and devices. We have taken a very conservative view on the spectrum. We are also a homeschool family, so traditional pressures aren’t as strong for us. But I can’t say we’ve landed well on this subject. This is something that I feel like my wife and I have been chasing from the beginning and are always chasing balance.
Tonya: I’m with you on that. We were able to stay away from it longer than others also by being homeschoolers. For example, they didn’t get phones until they were older. But I’m also married to an IT director, so technology is all over our house in every form imaginable. So this was a battle in our marriage where we had to work out balance with each other. I was harder on the limits we needed to have, and he was more about teaching them how to handle it because this is the world now. That was rough. They were exposed to things by being on the hockey teams, so we had to do a lot of teaching, a lot of talking and accountability. My husband took the lead with the boys, “Let’s take a look at what your looking at on your phones and iPads. Let’s take a look and talk about it.”
I don’t know if you know, but the Boundaries book was updated. Henry Cloud was at a conference I was at recently, and he said that book was updated with a chapter on boundaries on technology. I haven’t got it yet, but I want to get it to see what they say with that. It’s a hard one, a new world we are dealing with. The other thing, Mark, is we are fighting against an enemy in this area. There are apps being created to get around parent’s control. Kids can send each other messages, but they disappear within a few seconds and can’t be traced. Another thing my husband taught the boys is that everything they put out there is always going to be out there. You need to think about everything you say and do; you no longer have control the minute you hit send. That was real important to help them understand that.
Mark: That’s such a hard concept for teenagers to understand. They are in their prime of life, enjoying these freedoms and social interactions where one little discretion is out there forever with implications in hiring decisions and choices down the road, like we’ve seen dug up for political purposes. This has been a challenge for us, for sure.
Tonya: Absolutely. And also teaching them that a relationship by text message is not really a relationship. We can all be our fake self. We had that with our youngest. He learned a hard lesson after texting a lot with a young lady who turned out to not be at all what he thought. I had to explain to him that you can be a fantasy person in a text message. Until you meet somebody face to face, they may not be the same person.
Mark: That’s another component of the technology piece-not losing the face to face interaction, real depth of relationship. Nothing replaces face to face whether that is a romantic relationship or with an authority figure where you are teaching them to make eye contact and shake hands, basic skills of manners. There’s been that balance of accepting and embracing technology while navigating how to manage the consequences of what it brings.
Tonya: I’m curious, John, how this works for you as a single person. How easy is it to flip into not having the face to face?
John: Oh, that’s very easy. And the younger generation needs awareness of how easy it is because it’s all they know. They need guidance from older people who that’s not all they know. One thing coming to my mind on this topic is input and output. As a single person, at times I find myself needing to check the quantity and quality of my intake. Along the thought of when did I start paying attention to this, I remember dealing with this when the sitcom Will & Grace first came on. I thought the writing and everything was really good, but the more I watched it the more I realized the intake was not healthy. It may be funny, but it’s laying the foundation for something that does not match my values. So I had a little self conversation, “Yeah, you like this show, but you’re not going to watch this anymore.” A single person either has to develop those self-disciplines or have someone else speaking into their lives challenging their input. Their have been seasons in my home where I have purposefully taken a fast for a lengthy time from the Internet or TV to do some corrective action but also to just unplug, create an exercise to test my balance on what I’m bringing in and how it plays into what I give off.
Tonya: I remember a pastor of ours challenging us several years ago to take a fast from TV for a few weeks and see what happens when you resume watching. He said what happens is you get desensitized. When you take a fast from it, you then can see what you didn’t see before. We were very big on what you put in matters. I always told my boys, “I’m not going to tell you what kind of music you can listen to. But if you cannot talk to the Lord in the middle of your song, something’s not right with the song.” So that’s a big piece, understanding intake absolutely has an influence on your output.
John: Another viewpoint for singles is the trap of escapism. You can find yourself deep in a hole using these avenues to escape something. If you can get ahold of that awareness, there’s where you’re going to find balance. Getting that awareness of why you do what you do when you’re at home is a big deal. Ask yourself, “Why am I watching what I’m watching?”
Tonya: I like the input/output thought. One of my clients made the comment about he always watches the Raiders, “I just watch one game.” But the output issue just came back to me. He said, “You know what? I got so angry at the end of the game I threw something across the room and yelled. My kids were scared, and I realized, whoa, what’s going on here that’s created so much emotion in me?” So, is it entertainment, is it a family thing, is it fun, or is there something more going on there? So that input/output is good. I like that.