When my first daughter was still a baby, my wife Angie and I discussed how we were going to parent her. We decided on some of the family rules that we were going to lay down to establish boundaries and basic rules of engagement. The conversation was somewhat tense because we were two different people from two different backgrounds, trying to establish a path for our new family. Both of us were new parents, so every experience was new to us, including the expectations we were going to establish in our home.
We agreed on basic framework for how we would interact as parents, and do’s and don’ts we would honor. Then we moved on to more important matters – religion, politics, and the beliefs we would instill in our child. We were clear from her first months that we would mold her in the image of our belief systems – we didn’t use this word, but we set out to program her the way we saw the world, and we thought this was our duty. We were going to pass on our worldview because we thought we had it all figured out as if there was only one right way. It took us years to unravel the damage we would create.
My wife and I were toxic from the start. We met in abnormal psychology class, and when the class ended, she invited me out for drinks with her and her fiancé. The two of them got into a fight at the end of the night and Angie needed a ride. I offered and asked her if she wanted to hang out at my apartment. She came home with me and never left. We’ve been together ever since (except for about 5 weeks in 2014, but that’s another story.)
We both worked, and when we weren’t working, we drank. That was our entertainment. No matter what we did, we had beers in our hands. It wasn’t uncommon for us to have beers at 10 a.m. on a Saturday, and often I was lit by 6 p.m. I would turn into a monster, and when that switch flipped, it flipped hard. I would apologize to everyone the next day and we’d begin again. It was a cycle that wouldn’t stop repeating until much later.
As my kids grew up, they saw their parents get black-out drunk, fight, and even resort to abuse. We were lost, but somehow we clung to the belief that we were living our best life, and that our children should believe what we believed. We watched the news and I would tell them how to interpret the stories. We would hear political news and I would tell them who was wrong and who was right. I would reward them for supporting my candidates in an election, and I even projected my spiritual beliefs – which changed a couple of times over the years – onto my kids and family. When I changed my mind about something, I fully expected everyone else in my family to do the same. If they didn’t, I worked tirelessly to convince them of my position to solidify our unity.
Rebuilding From the Ashes
I believed that my family – especially my children – should be mirror images of me and my beliefs, and if they weren’t, then I failed. I somehow thought that I still had things figured out, and I thought everyone who didn’t believe what I believed was an uneducated idiot – like I was some high, holy anointed being. It’s painful to think about. It wasn’t until years later that I realized I had raised my family just like I had been raised – that there’s only one way, and failure to comply meant you needed to be “saved” or “fixed.”
Finally in March of 2016, the house of cards I had built collapsed. I lost my second executive position in 20 months, my alcoholism was off the charts, I was close to 300 pounds, and my wife’s addiction had reached a critical stage. I had to choose between pulling the trigger to end my life or surrendering to the fact that I didn’t have anything figured out, and rebuilding my entire life. Thank God I chose to rebuild. But first I had to be willing to lose who I was. This wasn’t easy because I had invested so much into building my identity through my beliefs, perspectives, and opinions. I had to be willing to dump it all. Even more sensitive, I had to be willing to face the fact that I had programmed my kids to live in my image, and if my life fell apart, I had some serious work to do. I resolved to show them a new way, not tell them a new way, and I refused to ever program them again to think and believe like me.
I Chose to L.O.V.E.
I want to introduce you to a cool acronym. I anchor to this acronym every time I disagree with someone else’s perspective or beliefs, and it has reframed how I view my role in interactions with everyone. It’s L.O.V.E. – Letting Others Voluntarily Evolve. Isn’t that beautiful? So, what’s the significance?
One thing I’ve learned is that no one is in any position to tell another human being what to believe. There are 7.7 billion people on the planet, and if you believe that you have it all figured out politically, economically, spiritually, religiously, physically, relationally, or any other facet of life – then I encourage you to closely reevaluate how you are living life.
We all have different talents, gifts, perspectives, experiences, education, wisdom, and knowledge. To think that anyone else must believe exactly the way we believe is not a healthy way to approach life. I’ll take this another step further – as parents, we have not earned the right to stamp another sovereign human being with our beliefs and force them to embrace those beliefs. Forcing beliefs on another person is not love. It’s abusive, manipulative, and controlling. It’s certainly not letting others voluntarily evolve.
We are not here to coerce our family. We are here to lead and protect, but neither of these includes programming another human being. In the past, this was called parenting. I’m calling it out for what it is – abuse. Our children are not ours to program. We are their guardians and protectors. They are independent, sovereign human beings who will eventually make their own decisions. It’s our role to empower, encourage, and hold space for them until they can figure out who they are and what they believe. Loving and supporting them without guilt, shame, threats, blame, manipulation, and control allows us to lead and guide them when they ask. We are not here to tell them how they can be worthy. We are here to show them they are worthy – by exercising L.O.V.E.
It’s our place to lead by letting others voluntarily evolve. Think about that the next time you try to press your beliefs onto others. That is the opposite of love. Don’t we all want to be loving parents? It’s never too late to shift. Now is the time. Show them. Don’t tell them. They’ll learn from your example, not your words. In the end, words are meaningless. Real parental leadership is priceless.