Why Men are Scared to Have Daughters

November 19, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

Being Daddy to a baby girl is the best

Being Daddy to a baby girl is the best

Most men would have to confess that when he first finds out his wife is pregnant, his first thought is that he hopes it’s a boy.  Men do not want to admit that and most feel quite guilty about it.  Most of us have a hard time articulating why we feel that way, but we do.  I believe that there are different reasons why men feel this way.  The first and most stereotypical reason has to do with sports.  A man imagines himself playing sports with his son, throwing a football around the yard, shooting hoops in the driveway, etc.  He wants to watch his son grow up and be the sports hero that he always wishes he had been.  The psychology of dads living vicariously through their sons is a topic for another day and another book though.  However, I believe that there is a deeper reason that men are afraid of being the father to a baby girl.

We are scared to death to have a daughter.  The very thought is terrifying.  First and foremost, we do not understand women.  I know that can seem like a stereotypical joke.  “We men sure don’t understand women, do we boys?  (canned laughter)  No way.  Women, am I right? (shrug shoulders)”  But it is more than a joke.  We have not understood any of the women in our lives up to this point—mom, sisters, friends, wives.   We do not understand them and these are grown up women.  If they are that complicated and mysterious, what must they be like growing up?  What does it take to raise one?  Who knows?  I do not know what to do when my wife cries, what do I do when my daughter cries?  The ups and downs of my mom’s emotions were too much for me.  What am I supposed to do with my daughter?  If we as men are going to be honest, we would admit that we believe that maybe we can handle one woman (our wife), but to add more is more than we can handle.

Furthermore, again if we can be honest with ourselves, we are scared because we fear that somehow we might “break” them.  We are scared to be entrusted with a daughter for the same reason we do not want to be the one carrying anything fragile and valuable.  This is not to say that we fear responsibility. Most men loved to be challenged.  Give us a big challenge.  Give us something heavy to carry.  We may not be able to lift it, but we will embrace the opportunity to try.  Heavy is fine; however, delicate is scary.  We will work as hard as we can to move or carry something heavy.  We will not give up.  We will not admit fear.    But if we are talking about something fragile, that is a different story.  What if I break it?  What if I drop it?  Please do not make me responsible for protecting something breakable.  I would rather you pile two more boxes on my load then make me carry something fragile with my index finger and thumb and my pinkie sticking out, tiptoeing around scared to death that someone will bump into me.  Whether you believe what I am about to say is insulting or chauvinistic or not, it does not matter.  This is how we feel.  We believe little girls are fragile and delicate.  We think that we can easily break them and that we will do irreparable damage.

Drop a boy on his head and it will make him tough.  Eventually the boy will learn to love it.  In fact, he may ask you to drop him on his head again.  Yell at a boy and if he cries, that’s his problem.  If you tell us that we might hurt our boy’s feelings, we will likely shrug our shoulders and say that it’s good for him.  “My dad hurt my feelings, his dad hurt his feelings, his dad hurt his.  I am just continuing a sacred circle and tradition.”  Perhaps someone with boys can write a book and tell us that we should not view boys that way, but we do.  We believe that boys are durable.  They can “take it.”  But what if I say something and my daughter cries?  How will I make her stop?  What if I hurt her feelings?  Will she forgive me?  Will she be mad at me and scarred for life?  What if I break her?  Is that possible?  Will I do any damage that cannot be undone?  I do not want to find this out.  As a man, I would rather avoid the conflict.  I would rather not risk it.

So, in our hearts we think that it would just be simpler and easier to just have boys.  I know what boys are like.  I used to be one.  We are not easy to deal with, but at least I understand us.  I do not believe that I can break a boy permanently.  I know what boys like and I know what we would do together.  We can go outside and play catch, go fishing, and wrestle— things that I know how to do.  I have never had tea parties before.  I have never played dress up and changing clothes on a Barbie doll makes me uncomfortable.  Seeing a little girl cry, because of something I did?  I do not even want to think about it.  Let’s just move on.  Let’s just have boys.

Then the moment comes.  You find out that you are having a girl.  Everything in a man’s life is turned upside down forever.  We have no idea how much at the time, but we instinctively know that we will never be the same once we become a daddy to a little girl.  We know deep in our hearts that we are finished.  We once were strong, independent men, but not any more.  Now, I am about to be the daddy to a little girl.  She is going to own me.

But what I know and many of you do not, is that I would never, ever go back.  I consider it a great honor and privilege to be the Daddy to 3 amazing girls. Many of the greatest joys of my life have come from this sometimes scary but always awesome role of raising girls.  I am the most important man in the world to 4 women.  I can’t imagine much greater than that. So if you find yourself a Daddy to girls, about to be or scared to death you might be, don’t run, don’t hide and don’t be scared.  Run full speed ahead to one of the greatest adventures and joys that God can give a man–a lifetime of being a girl’s dad.

Attention Dads: Be the Good Cop and the Bad Cop

November 5, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

The two parents in our home have different titles. (FYI: my wife came up with these.) We have the utility parent (Heidi) and the novelty parent (Me).  The utility parent is the grinder.  The one who makes sure that there is food and clothes and is getting kids places on time.  She is the one who is always there doing the bulk of the work with the kids.  In what can sometimes be a thankless job, I publicly give thanks to the utility parent in our home. You are the best!

Fun--taking the girls to CFA.  Look closely you'll see also that the little one has met not fun dad.

Fun--taking the girls to CFA. Look closely you'll see also that the little one has met not fun dad.

The novelty parent isn’t typically around during the day.  I’m typically around from dinner to bed time during the week.  The girls have been with the utility parent all day.  They’ve been told no a few times.  They’ve been leaned on to do chores and get their stuff done.  It’s not unusual for there to have been a dust-up or a kerfuffle or a brouhaha or some falderal (I love all these words).  This happens in homes to moms all over the world.  Parenting is relentless.  Mom is tired and the kids are getting frustrated.

Enter the novelty parent. (While this post may be most applicable to families with a stay at home mom.  Even when both parents work outside the home, it is still very common for the mom to be the utility parent–the one who gets it done with the kids.)  The novelty parent comes home and what does he do?

A typical dad will choose one of two roles.  Dads either become the mean one or the fun one.  The mean one is the one who comes in and cleans house (metaphorically of course, though literally would never be a bad idea either, but that’s for a post called Chores: Your Wife’s Real Love Language or A Healthy Sex Life Begins with Dishes and Laundry)  By cleaning house , I mean that he comes in and starts fussing and disciplining the kids for making their mom upset, for not doing homework, for whining, for whatever.  Dad comes in with the big stick.

The fun one comes in and starts handing out candy and playing video games with the kids.  He tells his wife that she needs to relax and says that chores and homework can wait. Let’s have fun!

What do I suggest, you may be asking?

The worst option is to choose neither.  The worst thing that you can do is come home and not engage with your family.  You cannot come home and be off the clock, especially if your expectation is that your wife is still on the clock.

The best option, and the one that I try to choose is both.  I want to be both the fun one and the mean one.  I can bring a fun calming influence when it is called for and I can bring the thunder when it is called for.

When you pick just the mean one, you have a warped relationship with your kids.  They begin to dread you coming home.  They believe fathers are angry and judgmental.  Not only does that damage your relationship with them, but it gives them a picture of God as Father that is unhealthy as well.

When you pick just the fun one, you undermine your utility parent.  You make it where she has to enforce all the rules and you get to break them.  Now instead of you being the ogre, she is.  Neither of those options is good.

Because of my role as novelty parent, I have more energy to play the extremes.  Heidi may be too exhausted to have fun or too exhausted to bring strength.  I can do both, depending on what is needed.  I can buy Laylah a sucker because, why not? I can also tell her that she can’t have any treat of any kind because of the way that she has treated her mom.  I may have spent work energy all day, but I still have parenting energy.  I haven’t used any of that.

If you come home and you feel you don’t have any parenting energy, allow me to give you a piece of advice, man to man.  Suck it up and find some.  Your wife needs you, your kids need you and you need them and you need to be a great husband and dad.  Said differently, you get to be a great dad and husband.  Don’t waste the opportunity by telling yourself that you are too tired.

I find great joy in being a dad.  I find great joy in being the novelty parent.  Not only do I get to serve and love my kids by playing and giving and serving.  I get to serve and love my wife by being the heavy hand when her hand is just too tired.

Now Dads! Go out there and give your kids treats and play games and have fun!

Now Dads! Go out there and put your kids in time out and take away their stuff!

You win both ways.

I Don’t Want Normal Relationships

October 19, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

There is a striving that so many of us have to be normal, to fit in.  You see this mostly in teenagers, but many of us never grow out of it.  We don’t want anyone to think that we are weird.  We don’t want to stand out and have people judge us.  We want to be thought of as “regular”, and sometimes following God’s plan for our lives or having his standards for dating and marriage are just too weird.  We just want to be normal.

Why-Be-NormalI have had versions of this conversation with one or both of my daughters many times.

“You must/can’t do blah blah blah”

“But Dad everyone/no one  is doing blah blah blah. I’ll be weird. Well, even more weird than everyone already thinks I am.”

This is where a parent is supposed to consult the parenting cliche manual, page 34 and say, “If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you?”  However, I am weird, so I say something completely different.  I ask them if there is someone that you know that you would rather trade with?  Not just on this issue, but in every way.  Is there someone who has a relationship with a boy that you envy? Is there someone’s whose lifestyle that you want?  How is being “normal” working for everyone else?

(Disclaimer, this sentiment is found in the outstanding book Weird by Craig Groeschel.  Most content that I have that is worth anything I borrowed/stole from him or Andy Stanley. Thanks guys!)

I have made the challenge to my daughters that when you find a teenage dating relationship that is better than the one that you have, then I will modify all my weird dating rules.  Until then, enjoy the fact that you have the best relationship of any of your friends.

What do you think? Are normal relationships working?  How would you characterize a typical/normal marriage?  Normal dating relationships? Normal parents?  Unless you live someplace radically different than the rest of us, you will likely acknowledge that normal families and dating relationships are not healthy or enviable.  Divorce rates have never been higher.  More people are rejecting even the thought of marriage.  They look around and see that marriage doesn’t work.  Kids are rejecting their parents and God.  The world is struggling to make relationships work and if we want to “fit in” then we should expect the same struggles.

If we want our relationships to be extraordinary, then we are going to have behave in extraordinary (read: weird) ways.

Date only people who are passionate about pursuing Christ.

Refuse to experiment with sexual intimacy until marriage.

You’ll have a weird dating life, but it will be an extraordinary one.

Choose to forgive your spouse and not keep a list or wrongs.

Serve your spouse unconditionally not based on how they are serving you.

Stop lusting after other people and looking at porn.

Make an unconditional commitment to your spouse and never, ever leave–don’t even talk like you might.

Proactively date your spouse and consistently share your heart.

Stop making jokes at your spouse’s expense.

You’ll have a weird marriage, but it will be an extraordinary one.

Be humble with your kids and apologize when you are at fault.

Be honest with your kids and completely and fully answer all their questions, especially the uncomfortable ones.

Be gracious with your kids AND hold them to high standards rather than just choosing one or the other.

Be patient with them as they are navigating new seasons of life and maturity.

Set boundaries for your kids and consistently enforce them.

You’ll have weird kids, but they will be extraordinary.

It is time for us to stop trying to fit in and be normal.  Everywhere we look, marriages and families are falling apart.  Dating relationships are unhealthy and produce even worse marriages.  Kids are rejecting their parents values and the cycle of struggling families intensifies.  If what you are doing isn’t working, do something different.  Try weird instead of normal.

Talk to someone and get some help.  Sit down with your family and ask them what they wish were different about your family.  Choose God’s plan for marriage, for singleness, for parenting.  God’s plan may, at times, be weird. However, if it is God’s plan, you can know for certain that it is better than whatever idea you have about how to be a husband, wife, friend, etc.  Different is good and God’s weird works!

Embrace Groeschel’s book title, Be Weird: Because Normal Isn’t Working

Let’s Talk About Sex

October 8, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

We got the word out last Sunday that we will talk about sex at The Grove Church this Sunday.  It is not unheard of for a church to talk about sex on a Sunday morning, but it is still unnecessarily rare.  We are not talking about it to simply be provocative and potentially have a high (or low) attendance Sunday.  We are talking about sex because it’s important and we need God’s voice on this topic to be as loud as all the other voices.

Birds-and-the-beesI grew up in a church that talked about sex, at least in our youth group, but really we only had one thing to say about sex.  SEX IS BAD! DON’T DO IT!  You just keep saying that over and over again until it takes root in their hearts.  If it doesn’t seem to be working, then say it louder or with more guilt and anger.  Perhaps you should even consider using awkward illustrations, the more props the better.  Maybe you should even consider using an outdated video.

Before you think I am something that I am not, I firmly believe that God’s design for sex is only for a married man and woman.  I am 100% for abstinence.  I’m the guy who has crazy restrictions on his daughters for dating.  (Read here.) I’m certainly not encouraging anyone who is not married to have sex.

However, can we agree on a couple of things?  Sex is not bad.  Sex is not a necessary evil.  Sex is amazing and an incredible gift from God.  Also, God has much more to say about our sex lives than a list of people who shouldn’t be having it.  When we act like all that God has to say about sex is that some people shouldn’t have it, we do damage.  We also make the only voices informing us about sex to be voices that are pointing people away from God’s design. So, we at The Grove Church and your lovable curmudgeon Cloften will be talking about more than just when not to have sex.  Because when we fail to do that we make the following mistakes:

1) We confuse our kids.  Your kids don’t have to be geniuses to figure out that sex is not bad.  They don’t even have to experience it to know that.  Too many people seem to be enjoying it.  Pursuing sex also seems to be very natural.  For heavens sake, they know that you have done it…at least that one time.  Please, please, please do not be one of those parents that is ashamed of your physical attraction to your spouse or make it seem awkward or dirty.  It would be better to make your kids uncomfortable and show your kids that you have a healthy love and attraction for each other rather than reinforce that sex is dirty or something to be embarrassed by.

So if you are only telling them that sex is bad and they intuitively know that is false, then you become an unreliable source.  Everything you say about love, sex and dating is false, because this one thing that you say is definitely false.  If this post gets some traction, I’ll will post later about talking to your kids about sex.  I’ll give you 23 words on it here.  Try this: Sex is awesome when done in the right context–marriage.  When you do it any other time, it causes more damage than joy.   Ok, a few more words–do not every make your kid feel embarrassed for asking a question about sex.  Affirm their question and answer fully.

2) Our marriages suffer. If we are not talking about sex openly and honestly, then our marriages will face serious consequences.  Without open, real conversations about sex, we are left with two conflicting ideas.  One is that sex is dirty and I should be embarrassed. (There is no switch that you can flip that goes from “Sex is bad. Sex is bad. Sex is bad.” *Wedding Ceremony* “Sex is great.”)  The second is sex is supposed to be like it is on TV or movies, or worse, porn.  Hey guess what? It’s not.  However, it is an awesome time of emotional connection and physical intimacy which married couple should do, a lot.

Have you had a conversation with your spouse about it? Are you satisfied with your relationship? Does your spouse know? Is there something that if your spouse started doing or stopped doing during sex that would make it better? Do they know?  Talk about it!

3) We miss out on God’s awesome gift. Seriously, you know this, I think.  Sex is great.  It is a designed gift from God given to us.  If he wanted it to just be about making babies, it wouldn’t also feel so great.  It wouldn’t also be a time of such emotional connection.  Too many of us are settling from something significantly less than an ideal sex life. We don’t have this great emotional, spiritual connection with our spouse, because we don’t talk.  We are having sex too infrequently.  We are not meeting each other’s needs.  It’s just not as fun as it could be.  The simple reason is because we won’t ever have a clothes on, lights on, calm conversation about how we are doing in this area. The only time we talk, somebody is mad because someone just got rejected or feels put upon.

What if? What if we had healthy conversations with our kids and they grew up without the awkward discomfort that some of us grew up with?

What if? What if we knew how we could serve our spouse better by just asking?

What if? What if there is something way better than what we are experiencing out there?

What if you made a decision to actually talk about sex?

Parenting a Velociraptor

October 5, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

Parenting is hard.  If you are a parent, you already know that.  If you are not a parent, but you pay attention, you know that.  Parenting is relentless and exhausting.  How much so?  So much, that one of my best metaphors is that it is like raising a velociraptor from Jurassic Park.

velociraptor(Side note: I have blogged about this before.  You can read that here.  I hesitated to do it again, except that if Hollywood can keep making sequels, I can too.)

So how are kids like velociraptors? Will they calm down if Chris Pratt clicks at them? Probably but that’s not what I mean. Will they obey you unless they meet a bigger dinosaur, but in the end their loyalty is with you?  Umm, rarely, but again that’s not what I mean. (Velociraptor parenting updated for the new movie!!!)

How kids are like velociraptors comes from the original movie from 1993.  In the beginning of the movie we are introduced to raptors.  Dr. Grant describes them as dangerous hunters.  Then later when he visits Jurassic Park he is horrified that they would breed raptors.  Then in what is one of my favorite scenes, Muldoon, the Crocodile Dundee-ish (Boom! Even more dated reference than the original Jurassic Park movie!), game warden describes to the scientists his encounters with the raptors.

The raptors are systematically going around the electric fence and charging it.  When asked why, Muldoon says that they are testing the fence for weaknesses.  They were relentlessly slamming up against an electric fence looking for weaknesses.  They did not care that they were getting electrocuted, they were testing the fence and looking to get out.

(In the 4 years since I first wrote about this, someone finally put the scene on YouTube.)

If you do not see the parallels to parenting, then you haven’t been parenting very long or you haven’t been paying very close attention.  Kids are relentless like raptors.  You put up a fence (a rule or boundary) and they spend their entire day/week/month/year/life testing that boundary for weaknesses.  You say to your toddler to not touch the stove/TV/fireplace.  They walk over to it slowly, right to the object (metaphorical electric fence) and reach their little hand out.  Why? To see if you mean it.  To test the fence for weaknesses.

Don’t say that word! (Rams the fence)

Don’t go in there! (Rams the fence)

Go to bed! (Rams the fence)

Eat your food! (Rams the fence)

Over and over and over again.  They are constantly ramming the fence.  Some seasons are worse than others.  We call these stages Velociraptor Mode.  They just are relentlessly testing everything that you say, every rule, boundary, everything.  All The Time!

You are tempted in these moments to give up.  Maybe you start to doubt yourself as a parent.  Maybe you begin to tell yourself that you are just too strict.  Maybe it would just be easier if you relented and got rid of the fence.  I know that it might seem that way but it is very important that you understand this.  There is a key difference between your kid and a velociraptor.  Your kid, deep down, needs and wants the fence to hold.  They need security and consistency.  They need to know that you are in charge and you have things under control.

Even though everything about the way that they are acting says the opposite, know that they do not want to be in control.  They do want the security that you provide for them.  I know this to be true, because the most stressed out kids I know are the ones who don’t know where the fence is.  It’s not that they have no boundaries (although those kids are pretty stressed out as well), it’s that they don’t know where the fence is or it is constantly moving.

Your little raptors need that fence.  They need to know that they are safe.  This goes for kids in their terrible twos to kids in their sassy seventeens.  Do not let the exhaustion of the constant testing and charging discourage you from being a great parent.  I understand that this is relentless, often thankless job.  But if we don’t lose heart, and let the fence hold, you will discover over time that you have a great kid who respects authority and is growing into an awesome young man or woman.

Again, I know that it’s a thankless job, so allow me to say “Thank you! Thank you for doing the most important job that God has given any of us–to love, disciple and raise the precious little ones that God has given us.”

In the mean time, where can we all get some of these?

raptor cage

When One of Your Worst Stories is Also One of Your Best (Parenting Post)

October 2, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

My wife and I were sitting downstairs in our house in St. Louis.  Our two daughters were (theoretically) asleep upstairs.  We had the TV on and were winding down from another day.  We were getting ready to move to Cabot and it had definitely been an exhausting few months.

Then suddenly, we hear a blood-curdling scream from upstairs.  It was Lauren.  As fast as we could, we both ran upstairs to Lauren’s room.  We dart into her room and our five year old is sitting on the floor in the middle of the room screaming her head off.  It did not take much investigation to find out what had happened.  There on the floor next to her were a pair of charred cuticle scissors and on the wall was a charred electrical outlet.

Needless to say, everyone in the house is freaking out.  Mama is holding Lauren trying to calm her down.  They are both crying…a lot.  Maylee, who is 8, has wandered across the hall also wondering what has happened.  She is now crying, not because she knows what happened but because her mom and sister are crying.  (This is what we do by the way. Dad of daughters!)  I take Maylee back across the hallway and back to her bed.  I sit with her for a little while and help calm her down.  When it is apparent that she will fall asleep post-chaos, I head back downstairs.

Mom has Lauren and I wanted to keep the chaos level down.  Mom and Lauren are laying in bed and eventually stop crying.  After probably 20-30 minutes, Heidi finally leaves Lauren’s room and slowly comes downstairs.  She sits next to me and we sit in a silence for a while.  We are still both breathing heavily and quite overwhelmed.

Heidi breaks the silence.  “You know what your daughter said to me right before I left?” (It’s never good when your spouse refers to one of your kids as your kid.)


He narrowly avoided litigation

He narrowly avoided litigation

“She said, ‘When I put those scissors in the outlet and the electricity went through my body, do you think my bones glowed like Jimmy Neutron’s?’”


(Both erupt into laughter)

That is how the one of scariest moments in our life became one of the funniest.  10 years later and we still laugh about it.  10 years later and my heart still races a little about what could have happened.

Mostly I just wanted to share that story because it’s a great story, but let’s try to turn it into something of value.

Random Parenting Advice

1) Your kids are affected by what they see on TV.  No, we didn’t try and sue Nickelodeon.  No, we didn’t ban TV for a year or anything like that.  However, don’t go to the other extreme and think that what they are watching doesn’t affect them.  We have temporarily banned a handful of shows over the years.  We noticed them talking to us or each other differently.  Then we notice, hmm, that’s how they talk to each other on that Disney Channel show.  Then, ban.

2) Your kid that is like you will repeat your mistakes.  Yes, I stuck something in an outlet once.  Yes, it was because I wanted to know what it was like.  Yes, I feel guilty about passing on my genetic traits.  If you know what your kid is thinking, use it to your advantage and help them process things the way that you wish that someone would have helped you.

3) Take great love and care with any kids that you have that you would describe as curious, scientific, and/or reckless.  Don’t think, they will never _________ because they can and will.  We had and have continued to have many conversations with her about the ideas that she is currently having.  One slipped through the cracks.  It happens.  While we are at it, pray a lot for your “Lauren.”  We plan on holding a party for her guardian angel when we get to meet her.

4) Don’t be afraid to laugh at stories like this.  Sure it was scary but it was also funny.  Sure it’s embarrassing and could have been a tragic story, but it wasn’t.  Thank God (literally) and laugh.  Don’t beat yourself up. Learn, laugh, move on.

Parenting is a brutal, crazy adventure and it is relentless and draining.  Hang in there. Trust God. Enjoy the ride.

Why You Should Stop Counting to Get Your Kids to Obey

September 30, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

There are some things that are so common that I begin to wonder if I am the one that has the problem rather than the rest of the world.  Am I the only sane person in a crazy world or the only crazy person in a sane world?  For example, when did pajama pants become acceptable as being pants to wear in public?  It happens so much now that I think that maybe I’m just old and cranky.  Perhaps I need to yell at kids to get off my lawn. (Side note: there are some teenagers that have decided that the hammocks in our yard are open to the public. They really need to get off my lawn.)

frustrated parentThere is a parenting tactic that falls into that category for me.  A parent is trying to get their kid to do something and they won’t.  They tell them a couple of times to no avail.  Then the parent starts to count, “1…2…”  The tactic theoretically is that when the parent gets to 3, the kid has to obey or something bad will happen.  Usually the kid responds by 2.  Sometimes the kid goes to 3 and and allows whatever to happen.  Since I only observe this in public, I can only speculate if anything actually happens to the kid that dares to disobey past 3.

Much like pajama pants, I believe this is a bad idea.  I don’t judge in the harshest sense of that word, because I recognize that many people who read this are using this tactic.  I certainly am not one of those single guys who is judging you at Wal-Mart who has no clue about what it’s like with small kids.  I have been there.  I went through that phase twice.  Wait, I’m back there again.  I have a 3 year old right now. I understand that it is hard with small children.  FYI: older kids are much the same just with a more extensive vocabulary.

I do, however, caution against doing this.  This can be frustrating for you and confusing to the child.  It also has the potential to reinforce the behavior that you are trying to prevent.  Typically you start the counting method because you are having a hard time getting your child to obey and you are frustrated because they aren’t listening and they don’t respect you.  So you start “laying down the law” by telling your kids that there will be serious consequences if they don’t obey.  They will know consequences are coming with the counting.

However, when you start counting, you are already frustrated.  When they don’t obey until the last possible second, you are still getting upset and feeling disrespected.  So it’s not helping you in that regard.  “But Cloften, at least they are obeying.”  Sure, at least sometimes, but is that really the only or even primary goal of what you are trying to teach your kids?  “As long as I get eventual obedience, then I’m being a successful parent.”  God is calling us to do much more in the lives of our kids than to receive eventual compliance.

This tactic is also confusing the kid.  They may not know that they are confused, but they are.  You are communicating to your child that they have a choice in obedience.  They get to decide when they are ready to obey.  They should not have that choice and you should not be giving them the impression that they do.  When they are asked to do something by a parent or an authority, they must comply, immediately.  When you don’t do this, you are also communicating to them that sometimes you don’t mean what you say.

(Kid in room)

“Time for dinner. Go wash your hands.”

(Kid continues to play in room)


(Kid continues to play)


(Kid continues to play)


(Kid goes to wash hands)

Your child moves when they believe that you are serious.  You didn’t really mean it until you started counting.  They learn this because there are no consequences for not listening at first and because there are times (You know there are) when you give up asking before you start counting.  If they can keep playing, they will.  When you are serious, they will obey.  Our kids need to know that what we say is what we mean.  Don’t say it if you don’t mean it.  If you mean it, enforce it.

So what I suggest instead is that the consequences begin when the first act of disobedience occurs.  They don’t have to be severe, but there needs to be a consequence for not listening.  Your children are under authority and it is your responsibility not to simply get them to comply eventually, but to discipline them.  They need to learn submission to authority and humility.  Their teachers will not count, their coaches will not count, and their bosses certainly will not.

I know that it is hard and kids are relentless.  “If I got them in trouble every time they didn’t listen, they would always be in trouble, and I would be exhausted.”  That would be true, at least for a while, until you establish the better pattern.  You are already exhausted, you might as well get the discipline and obedience as well.

Then with kids that are listening and obeying the first time, you can sit back and relax…in your pajama pants…but only at home.

One Simple Thing You Can Stop Doing That’s Stressing Out Your Kids

September 16, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

So there I was at McDonalds on a Sunday morning, doing what I do every Sunday morning–playing games on my iPad when I should be polishing up my sermon.  No, no, no.  I’m working on my sermon. Then a family comes and sits in the booth next to me.  The mom sets the dad and the kids down at the booth and before she goes and orders, she asks her 2-3 year old son a question.

“What would you like to drink?”


“Do you want milk?”








You might think that I’m exaggerating the number of times of this back and forth went down because I’m a curmudgeon.  However, I assure you that if this is not accurate, it is because that it is under-reported.

Disclaimers: I am not normally an eavesdropper.  I usually keep to myself in these situations and try not listen to other people’s conversations.  This was loud and right next to me. Also, I am not the kind of guy who judges someone’s parenting by their worst moment at Wal-Mart (What is it about Wal-Mart that makes kids throw fits? Something in the air?  Also, something in the air of malls sucks the life out of dads.) I’m sure this is a good family.  I’m simply making an observation about this situation and what it says about a troubling trend in parenting.

So what is the problem here at McDonalds?  The mom asked her son to make a choice when she didn’t really want him to have a choice.  She wanted him to have milk.  She was hoping that somehow her son would naturally choose against the sweet sugary caffeinated drink that energizes and hypes him up and instead would choose the healthy option so that his bones would be strong.  That is not a choice that a lot of kids are going to make, if they legitimately have a choice.

So now they have this altercation in public and the mom is stressed because the kid won’t choose milk.  The kid is stressed because someone asked him what he wanted and he told them.  Then they decided he wasn’t going to get what he wanted.  Not just that, he was being told that what he wanted.  She’s stressed.  He’s stressed.  I’m stressed. (Wait. That’s irrelevant.)

What should the mom have done?  Simple, yet potentially controversial, answer: stop giving your kid choices.  Give the kid milk.  The kid is too young for soda, and it would seem that you know that.  You don’t want him to have soda.  Don’t give the kid soda.  Don’t give him the choice for soda.

“Wait, wait, wait.  It’s important to teach kids how to make choices.  We don’t want to be controlling.  We want to foster healthy self-esteem.”  Fine, I’ll soften it a little bit.  Don’t give a kid a choice when he doesn’t really have a choice.  Only give choices when choices are actually available.  “You are having milk for breakfast.  Would you like to drink it out of the carton directly, do you want a straw or do you want me to put in a cup for you?”  Now you have given your child a choice they can make.

How do you know the difference?

1)       Don’t give them a choice if there is a wrong choice. This stresses kids out big-time.  You are giving them a false sense of control when they have none. You are telling them that they can make their own decision, but they can’t.

Mom works all afternoon making dinner. “We are having chicken for dinner. Would you like some?”  “No.” Gives kid chicken for dinner.

How frustrating is that?  You make the kid think they have a choice.  They don’t.  Better to teach your kids that there are some areas in our life where we don’t really have a choice.  There are boundaries to the decisions that we can make.  Their teachers do not ask them if they are ready for the test.  They place the test on the desk.  Their boss will not ask them if they are ready to come to work.  They tell them when work starts and fire them if they determine they are “not ready.”

You are the parent.  Teach and show them what they are supposed to do.  Teaching your kids right and wrong supersedes their need to make choices.  Show them right.  Point them away from wrong and when they later are in situations where there is a right and wrong choice, they will be equipped to make the right choice.

2)      Don’t give them a choice that they are not ready for. Do not ask your child at bed-time if they are ready for bed.  Do not ask them at dinner time if they are hungry.  Unless, they are rhetorical questions.  Even still, I advise against it.  Tell your child it is bed-time.  Tell them it is time to eat.  Who cares if they are ready? They don’t know how much sleep they need.  They don’t know when or what kind of food they need to eat.  You do, because you are the parent.

This does not end when your kids get older.  They become ready for some choices and are not ready for others.  My girls do not get to decide when they are ready to date or whom they are going to date. (I get a smug satisfaction from using whom correctly.)  My wife and I decide that. They don’t get to decide when they are ready to drive on their own.  Their parents decide that.  We want them to be a part of the process.  They can give input, but they don’t get to choose on their own.  Our oldest is a Senior and is making a decision about college.  Let me say that better.  She is a part of facilitated process where together we will make a decision.

Doesn’t it frustrate your kids that they can’t make their own decisions? Doesn’t it bother them that you don’t trust them?  Simple answer: yes.  However, I don’t believe that it is near the level of frustration that a kid has that has to make choices that they don’t know how to make or to be given false hope that they can make a decision when they can’t.

It is our job to train our girls.  We have to teach them to make good decisions.  We have to help them to get ready for decisions that they will face when they are away from us—school, with friends, etc.  That is hard work and it can be very stressful, but not near as stressful as dealing with a kid who is being asked to make decisions that they shouldn’t or can’t make.

What I Learned about the Love of God from Adoption

September 9, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

I still remember the moment like it was yesterday.  It is emblazoned on my mind and heart forever.  We were standing outside the NICU at Washington Regional Hospital.  Maylee and Lauren, who were 14 and 11 at the time, were too young to go in.  So the nurse said that they would hold her up through the window so we could all see her together for the first time.  Then in very Lion King fashion, the nurse held this precious baby up where we could see.  She was tiny and covered in fine blond fur and this three day old baby was one of the most beautiful precious thing I had ever seen.

Mine from the beginning

Mine from the beginning

Just 24 hours earlier, we didn’t even know that this precious baby girl existed.  We were just living our lives and doing what we do every day.  Then on Tuesday afternoon, we get a call from DHS and they tell us that there is a newborn baby girl at the hospital.  She has no one.  Her mom had left her and she was alone.  They asked if we wanted to be her foster parents, but they told us there was 99% chance that she would need to be adopted and asked us not to say yes unless we would be able and willing to do that.  It was the easiest yes I had ever said especially to something as immediately  and drastically life changing as we knew this would be.

We had been praying for this for some time.  We knew that God wanted us to adopt and we were patiently waiting for God to put the child in our lives.  I had been talking about it this way.  I knew that somewhere out there was a Loften.  We didn’t know who he or she was or where they were or anything.  However, we knew that God knew and at that just the right time, he would bring her to us.

So there we were with this beautiful baby at the hospital and in exactly the first moment that I saw her, she had me.  I was hers and she was mine.  There was not and has not been one moment of hesitation.  She was fully loved and fully mine.  Even though for the first 7-8 months of our life together, there was a chance that she wouldn’t be with us forever, it didn’t matter.  I was her dad.  She was mine.  I loved her fully and recklessly.  I didn’t know what the future held, but I knew that that baby girl need a daddy.  That daddy was me.

She's mine and I'm hers

She's mine and I'm hers

She has now been mine for almost 4 years.  We get to celebrate Laylah’s forever day in October (the day she legally became what she had always been in my heart) and then her 4th birthday in November.  During that time my love for has exponentially multiplied.  I can’t believe that I have the great privilege of being her dad, and I’m super thankful to God every day that he placed her in my life.  At night when I check to make sure that she is still well tucked-in, many nights I just stare at this wonderful gift from God.  That leads me to this.

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

Galatians 4:4-7

There was a time in my life where this passage was just another passage in Scripture.  Adoption was a theological concept and metaphor that Paul used to explain what it means to be saved and have a relationship with God.  That is no longer how I feel about this passage.  It is not an abstract theological concept.  This touches the most sensitive place in my heart.  I know how I feel about Laylah.  I know what it means to me that she calls me Daddy.  I know how it makes my heart leap for joy that she knows that I love her and that she is mine.

But let’s also be clear, I am a selfish guy with mixed motives and imperfect love.  So what if God’s love for me is not only like the love that I have for Laylah which is huge, but it is, in fact, significantly greater than that?  What if when I call Him Dad, what he feels about me is even more? What if when he looks down on me, he loves me with a deeper more complete perfect love than I do when I’m just staring at my beautiful daughter?

Just keeping it real

Just keeping it real

God loves me and us far deeper than we realize.  Each step that I take in my life with our precious baby girl, I realize that more and more.  Take a moment and ask yourself, if God truly loves you like an adopted son or daughter, what does that really mean? What does it really mean that God loves me as his own?

10 Signs That You Are a Dad of Only Girls

It all seems very normal to me.  However, I can tell by the look on a lot of people’s faces, that it doesn’t seem normal to everyone.  My family is my wife, my three daughters (at this moment 17, 14 and 3.  Soon to all have birthdays.), and me.  One guy, four girls, that’s us.  I love my family.  Don’t ever ask me if I wish I had had a son.  You will receive sarcasm at best.  I live it every day and it seems normal to me because I live it.  However, I know it’s unusual and I do feel it sometimes.  So here you go, 10 signs that you are a dad of only girls.

I guess our family looking normal is a relative term

I guess our family looking normal is a relative term

1. You go to someone else’s house and you freak out a little bit inside that the toilet seat is up. There are no toilet seats up at our house–ever.  Maybe I have forgotten a couple of times in 21+years, but I made a decision to serve my wife and now my girls in this way.  So now when I go somewhere else and I see a raised seat, I think, “Is this OK? Someone is going to be in trouble.”  Then I have an incredible internal struggle when I finish going to the bathroom.  Do I put it down?  I mean it’s not my house, but still the seat is up.  This is how I found it.  So, I leave it up, but I don’t feel great about it.

2. You know the Disney Princesses. Do not misunderstand me.  I don’t just know their names and can identify them.  I know just about everything that there is to know.  I can identify them just by the dress, hair color, hair style, associated Prince, whatever. I know which ones aren’t technically Princesses (I’m looking at you Mulan and I won’t even get into the  Pocahontas controversy)  I also know that for the most part, your favorite princess is the one that looks most like you, i.e. hair color and eye color.  Does that make Jasmine my favorite then?  No, I pick my favorite based on movie quality, and honestly I’m more of a comic relief minor character guy myself.  Gus-Gus is the man.

3.  You have ever been at lunch, work (bonus if you were preaching in front of hundreds of people), etc. and someone says to you, “Do you have glitter on you?” Yes, that has happened to me.  Apparently, the stage lights at our church really brought out the sparkle in the glitter that found its way onto my shirt.  It has also happened many other times, in less embarrassing contexts.  How does it get on you? (you may ask)  If you have to ask, you don’t understand.  There are seasons where glitter is just everywhere all the time.  Just like there are seasons where cheerios are everywhere, or Barbie shoes, or orthodontic rubber bands. Glitter is like cat hair, but more fabulous and I’m less allergic.

4. No one borrows your stuff. All my shirts are right where I put them.  Same with my shampoo and soap.  No one wants my stuff.  My stuff looks and/or smells “like a dad.” I don’t take that as an insult, but I assure you that it is not a compliment either.  It’s ok for me to look and smell like a dad, but no one else wants to.  On the rare occasion that someone uses my shampoo (that smells like Old Spice), it doesn’t happen twice.  “AAARRRGHH! I smell like a dad!!!!”  Notable exception: my long sleeve t-shirts make great night shirts.  I don’t wear long sleeve t’s very often, so when they claim one, it becomes theirs.  So technically they are not borrowing them.  They are stealing them.

5. You leave about 30 minutes later than you want to when everyone is going together. I’ve been observing this phenomenon for years, and I can’t really explain it.  I can only describe it.  There is always one who forgot something, lost something, needs to do something, whatever.  Just when that person finds or does whatever and there is a glimmer of hope, that sparks the memory of another.  Now they are gone.  They can’t do these things concurrently and I’m not sure why.  It just the way it is.  So, you have to implement the “say we need to leave at 2:00 when we really need to leave at 2:30″ policy.  As everyone gets older and wiser, they ask, “Is it really 2:00 or are you just saying that?”  Poker-face.  Give them only the poker-face.

6. Similarly, it takes 5 extra minutes to leave when you are going somewhere by yourself. This is because you have to make sure that you equally distribute the hugs and kisses.  It’s not as easy as it seems, because if it takes you too long to do this, then the girl you first gave a good-bye hug to will forget that you already hugged her or will decide she needs another.  It is possible to get caught in an infinite loop here.  It’s OK though, I don’t mind at all.

Strong Selfie Game

Strong Selfie Game

7. Your selfie game is stronger than other guys. If you do not understand the phrase “selfie game,” then you probably don’t even have one daughter.  Anyway, I have been in countless selfies with my girls and have been known on occasion to send selfies back and forth to my girls.  I know what situations call for what kinds of selfies, soft smiles, awkward looks, cheesing, whatever.  My game is strong.

8. Game time at your house is relatively quiet. You may think that this is counter-intuitive.  The girls aren’t interested in the game, so they make noise and talk.  Nope that’s not how it works.  The girls are not interested in the game, are repulsed by it and don’t want to be in the room with it, less they get infected by it or die of boredom.  The battle is in gaining control of the TV.  However, once you have it, it’s pretty quiet, except for the occasional mocking comment as someone is walking by.  (Just tune it out. Tune it out.)

9.  You can almost immediately tell the difference between Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift, Adrianna Grande, etc. music. Furthermore, you know which ones put out good music and which one’s don’t.  Yeah, that’s right.  I said some of it is good.  Are you judging me? Don’t make me throw glitter on you.  In fact, I use the opportunity that I can tell the difference to explain to them what auto-tuning is.  I’ve been known to say, “The computer is singing pretty well in this song.  I wonder what ___________’s voice sounds like.”  I give a lot of freedom in what we listen to on the radio.  Did I say radio? What they play in the car through their phone.  One rule.  No Bieber. No exceptions.

Finally number 10, you knew it was coming.  The cheesy one…

That's a lot of love (Look another selfie)

That's a lot of love (Look another selfie)

10. You are overwhelmed with love. Being the most important man in the world to 4 girls is one of the greatest privileges in the world.  I would not trade it for anything.  People ask me what it’s like to be outnumbered.  I tell them that I wouldn’t know, because they are all on my side.  I feel very blessed to have the family that I do and be the sometimes sparkly, but always loved dad of girls.

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