DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Being There: Lessons Learned In Parenthood

Written by: on October 30, 2014

In our information inundated, computerized world, there is the strong temptation to find quick-fixes, easy answers, new techniques, and advice from a plethora of experts ready to solve whatever issues or problems you might have. For this reason, my heart goes out the legions of small church pastors and the mothers of over-active children who have waded through hundreds of books and internet sites without ever seeing a change in their situation, except more anxiety and frustration. I have known hypochondriacs who rave about the newest miracle on-line health program (their tenth in two years), yet they are constantly sick and stressed about every cough. I have seen couples divide over financial issues, each having read-up on–and now are arguing over–the latest get-rich-programs by some financial guru. All of these are examples of our modern tendency to believe the “assumption that data and technique are the keys to lif”[i] that Edwin H. Friedman confronts in his book A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix.

It is very easy to get sucked into the idea that the answer for every problem is better information, as methods for fixing every problem imaginable can be found at one’s fingertips. Not only can you find the answer, but hundreds of different and often contradictory answers. This tendency to rely on data and technique is not new, as I well remember back when my wife and I were expecting our first child.   Frankly, expecting a child was extremely scary. I realized that I had no idea how to raise a child. I was untrained, clueless…and now extremely nervous. I also happen to be joining parenthood at a time when there was a great deal of “focus on the family” in the Christian community. I thought, by golly, I was going to read up on the best methods for raising a smart and well-rounded child. Everyone around me was reading the latest Dobson books…maybe I should too. But where to begin? Before diving in, I sought out to my best friend who happened to be a family therapist, to find out what to read to make sure I didn’t mess up my kid.

His response was rather surprising: “I had a professor,” he said, “that said something very profound that I think applies here. He said, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ My advise is don’t read anything. After you have children, if you face some issues, do some research.” He went on to tell me why: “I often deal with parents who created real conflicts in their marriages and issues for their children because they decided to read different experts on child-rearing that contradict each other. This only creates conflict and tension in the marriage, resulting in the parents needing therapy and their children being messed up by their senseless experiments. So, my advice: Don’t go there!”

This advice is reminiscent of Friedman, who states that “there is absolutely no evidence that most successful parents are those who are most ‘knowledgeable’ of either the ‘proper’ techniques or the latest data on children who are either most troubled or most happy.”[ii] I took my friends advice and avoided all the child-rearing books. I can remember only reading one book remotely dealing with being a parent called The Blessing[iii] by Gary Smalley and John Trent. It was neither a book on techniques for raising a child, nor was it a book that would never pass a peer-review or hold up to theological scholarship. What this book did was provide a broad overview of the role of a parent. Put in Old Testament terms, it suggested that the role of a parent was to pass on the blessing as was customary in Biblical times. But the blessings the authors suggested included the blessings of self-worth, a sense of unconditional love and a hopeful future. There were no “how-tos” in the book, only this grand vision–or as Friedman terms it, a “projected imagine”[iv] of what this parenting thing was all about. The focus was not the child, or how to fix a child. The focus was on being a parent that provided an emotional healthy environment to allow the child to grow up and develop properly. Friedman calls this “a well-differentiated leader” and argues that “without question, the single variable that most distinguished the families that survived and flourished from those that disintegrated was the presence of what I shall refer to…as a well-differentiated leader.”[v]

I was thankful at the beginning of parenthood that I did not get caught up in the vortex of technique and data, but instead decided to be more than anything else “there” for my children. “Putting (the) primary emphasis on (my) own continual growth and maturity”[vi] placed me in a position to provide for them the understanding that they were indeed valuable, loved and had the potential for a rich and independent future. As Friedman states: “The critical issues in raising children have far less to do with proper technique than with the nature of the parents’ presence and the type of emotional processes they engender.”[vii]

My Children

From left: Son Ethan, Daughter Lissy, Son-in-law Daniel and Grandson Noah John.

This lesson holds true for families, churches, businesses and institutions where there continues to be a strong push to lean on technique and data that only creates greater anxiety and stress for all involved. For Friedman, what is needed are individuals willing to differentiate, to do the hard task of standing-up and simply being present; while providing no guarantees, it presents a better way forward than reading another hundred books that will only create greater stress and allow the dysfunctional (family, church or business) systems to continue. I had no guarantees for how my children would turn out, but I was sure they knew that I was there for them…and that they were loved.   And today they are both (surprisingly) grateful.

[i] Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (New York: Seabury Books, 1999), 115.

[ii] Ibid., 112.

[iii] Gary Smalley and John Trent, The Blessing (New York: Pocket Books, 1986).

[iv] Friedman., 153.

[v] Ibid., 114.

[vi] Ibid., 138.

[vii] Ibid., 112.

About the Author


John Woodward

Associate Director of For God's Children International. Member of George Fox Evangelical Seminary's LGP4.

8 responses to “Being There: Lessons Learned In Parenthood”

  1. mm Deve Persad says:

    This is a very timely article for me, John. I would also agree with the dangers of information overload and information collision. We’re an data hungry culture and there is a never ending buffet that stretches out in front of us. Our children are 18 and 15 and we, and our peers with their children, share a certain level of uncertainty with regard to their future, if not their present. The capacity to be focused on nurturing my own sense presence is certainly a challenge, and yet I know its important. You said: “I was thankful at the beginning of parenthood that I did not get caught up in the vortex of technique and data, but instead decided to be more than anything else “there” for my children.” I needed to hear that today. Thanks for giving me a long-view on this parenthood thing.

  2. Hey John, Great application and reflection of family in the light of this weeks reading of Friedman. So true that we to often run after techniques and methods trying to fix our own dysfunctional families or organization when it would be better to simply attempt to fix ourselves. I need more of this with my four.

    I love what Friedman spoke of concerning the human body and how the head/brain has come to be known as the largest secreting gland. This organ secrets and is therefore present throughout the whole body at once. I could not help but make the connection with Christ being the head promising never to leave us nor forsake us. He is continually secreting/dispensing his love for us in an effort to lovingly change us so that we can be that solid, present, and well-differentiated leader that our family and our organizations need us to be. Great! Thanks John.

  3. mm rhbaker275 says:

    Your point on the over-abundance of information is well made. I love books – as do most all in our cohort – and I am tempted to obtain a book based on the reviews without considering my time to read and even if the book might be duplicate information I already have in other reading. I also love to use the library to find articles I come across in footnotes or bibliographies in my reading. Unfortunately, perhaps, I have hundred of articles that I have only scanned when I downloaded and I wonder if I will ever really review them again. Another information overload problem that I have tried to face is that owning a book is often a substitute for reading it. I recently came across a book review that made me really want a book; when I clicked on it in Amazon, the store graciously reminded me I had bought the book over a year ago. Sure enough, when I located the book (in Kindle), I had by the highlighting read about a third – the rest was good material but I had moved on to other information. I hope someday to go back and review/reread much of our reading for the DMin course of study. Seriously, I doubt it, there to much out there to read.

    How fortunate we are to have read Friedman … recognizing the significance and power of presence in relation to knowledge is strong incentive to mend our ways.

    • mm John Woodward says:

      Ron, I appreciate your passion for learning and for books. I think we are cut from the same cloth! I am like you — I see a book and am instantly feel this need to get it! I am truly trying to be more particular and wise about my book choices because (like you) I have so many that are yet unread. I’ve recently decided that I really need to focus – with our studies for doctorate, I want to develop a deeper understanding of my area of focus (which is missiology). I hope I can keep myself from being distracted because I tend to be interested in everything! And like you, I’ve picked up a book and can’t remember reading it, yet have highlights through out (hope this isn’t a sign of old age!). But, please know, you aren’t alone in this addiction for books, footnotes and learning – I am just hoping there are books in heaven, so we have time to finish all the books I’ve already purchased!

  4. Michael Badriaki says:

    Dear John, great post and reflection on the subject of parenthood. In a technique, information and data obsessed culture there is room for the exasabation of anxiety and chronic stress even about things the are not broken and do not need to be fixed. There are challenges, hardships we all face even to the extent of suffering, yet as you show in the wise words of your friend the therapist, there is need for us to pause and asses the truth about certain events of life.

    You also mentioned the practise of being “there” for your children and that brought a smile because being there affords we as parents the opportunity to learn, listen and love like Christ.

    Thank you

  5. mm Liz Linssen says:

    Dear John,
    What an excellent post and wonderful application to your own family situation. You were very wise to seek out a friend who was a therapist. It certainly sounds like it paid off. (Your family looks adorable by the way)
    As you say, there’s so much data and information out there, that it can’t all be right. Success in relationships is more than technique. It’s about the heart, positive emotions, and ‘being there’ as you rightly say. Thank you so much for sharing your personal example. Very inspiring.

  6. mm Ashley Goad says:

    John, what great points you make! I mean, hello, Siri is my best friend. With a push of a button, I ask a question, and within seconds, I have an answer…about ANYTHING! Quick fixes, instant gratification!

    I love the photo of your family! Raising kids is so difficult, and everyone wants to know how to do it… You clearly have the answer. Being there and letting them know they’re loved. That promotes stability…patience…love…perseverance…faithfulness…all things children need and crave. You’re a great dad, and your wife is a great mom. Your kids are so lucky…and I’m glad they know it!

    • mm John Woodward says:

      Oh, and I am to lucky to have such great children and am blessed they know they are loved! Through this (and a million relationships since have my first child) I’ve learned that we do make it a whole lot harder than it is…parents, I am afraid, are just too busy to just be there…when that is all their kids need. Working with orphan kids in Romania, I still don’t understand how parents can simply give up a child and walk away! How is it possible? It makes me want to love and be there even more for my own kids!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *