Best-selling author and pastor Kerry Shook said that while the nation still grapples with the emotional aftermath of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., now is the time for parents to grow deeper in their relationship with their children.
However, parents should also be wary of becoming over-protective during this time, said the pastor of Woodlands Church in Texas in an interview with The Christian Post.
In his recently released book One Month to Love: Thirty Days to Grow and Deepen your Closest Relationships, Shook and his wife, Chris, write about key relationships in people's lives, including with their children.
In his interview with CP he discusses several issues, including how parents should relate to their children, Christmas stress, and thoughts on the tragedy in Newtown.
CP: Your new book, One Month to Love, helps readers focus on their key relationships – spouses, children, close friends – with the aim of deepening each. Many parents this Christmas, especially in light of the recent tragedy in Newtown, Conn., are emotionally hanging on to their children as tight as they can. What do you recommend for these parents during this already emotional time of year?
Shook: It's real important for parents to use this terrible tragedy to really remember what is most important. Right now they are holding on and maybe their fears and anxieties are causing them to be over-protective, but I think what we can do is we can start out new habits and develop new patterns to be more engaged with our kids. I think it's most important to be all there for your kids and a lot of times in our society we are not. We are always multi-tasking when it comes to relationships. A lot of parents are there physically but they are not engaged emotionally. A lot of times we as parents are thinking about what we are going to do the next day, things we didn't get done the day before. We are really consumed with our stresses and our problems and one of the things we all hope would come out of such a terrible tragedy is that parents all over the country will see that we need to be totally engaged with our kids, totally there for them when they need us the most. Being over-protective is not the answer. The answer is being overly-engaged, completely into their lives.
CP: What are some of the biggest mistakes that people make with their children?
Shook: Not being very intentional with our kids. Most parents have really good intentions to be a good parent, but we usually don't get very intentional about it. We recommend in our book that you have a written out parenting plan. Each child is different and so what are your action points going to be for each child to really be all there for them, to really engage in their lives. I know for me when my oldest boys were teenagers, we had a superficial relationship that's pretty normal for dads and teenage boys. They would come from school and I would come home from work and I would say, "How was your day, guys?" and I they would say, "great," and then they would ask me, "How was your day, dad?" and I would say, "great," and that was about the extent of it. When I realized I really wanted a deeper relationship I said, "Guys, I really know that you have a lot of struggles and stresses at school. It must be really tough. You can share those with me." And they told me, "Well, you never tell us anything stressful dad. You act like everything is perfect in your life." And I said, "I didn't know you want my stresses on you. I thought you have enough of your own." And they said, "Well, we can handle it, dad." That was kind of a breakthrough. Then I came up with two or three action points and one of them was that I met them at Chili's every Thursday at three o'clock … we would just talk about our stresses, pray for each other.
When they were small children I needed a different plan, but you have to constantly adjust your plan. It's not complicated. It's just two or three action points. Our mission statement is that I become closer to our kids than I was the day before, that I engage them in a deeper way than I did the day before. That's our "Love at Last Sight" mission statement for our marriage, for our kids, and for our closest friendships.
CP: What has come to the forefront of your thoughts and prayers when thinking about the tragedy in Newtown?
Shook: Right now our nation is really grieving and we can't even fathom the evil tragedy that the Newtown community is going through right now. I just pray somehow, someway that some good could come out of something so horrifically evil. I think about Jesus and the crucifixion – how God took the evil of the crucifixion and turned it into salvation. So maybe this just gets all of us back to what really matters. We are more connected than ever before through technology but yet we are more disconnected with really close relationships with our kids, with our spouses, with our friends. You could have Facebook friends, but not one real friend you could sit down face-to-face with and share your heart. In our book we are really trying to get people back to maybe some of the more antiquated ways of building relationships, but you really can't multi-task or skim when it comes to relationships. We encourage people to take a Facebook fast. We are not bashing social media, in fact, our church uses all those things, but we say once a week during your One Month to Love challenge don't get on any social media, no Facebook, no Twitter. No Internet. No emails if you can, only what's related to work. And then do some things like go have a cup of coffee with one of your Facebook friends – get face-to-face. Or write a hand-written thank you letter to someone who has meant a lot to you.
You see in Newtown that the only thing that's really holding them up is their faith and their community holding each other up – beautiful community in the face of something so ugly.
CP: In your book you look at three stages of relationships: First Glance, Second Look, Lasting Love. Are there stages of relationships with children?
Shook: I think there are. We have four kids and they are all grown except for our 17-year-old who is a senior in high school. One of the things that happens is that when your kids are born there is that what we call the "first glance stage" where it's like "we have a perfect little one like God has given us this angel" but like any relationship, as they begin to grow, you take a second look stage and you realize this is not a little angel at all. It's a little one, but yet every personality has certain bents or characteristics towards flaws and certain weaknesses. It's at that point when you see your kids going through tough things or they start acting out in ways that make your life tougher that it's really important to make a conscience decision that you are going to make a move to "Lasting Love" stage and that's where you love them unconditionally. It may an easier choice with our kids than it is with our spouses, but it is a constant choice. Sure, we always love our kids no matter what but they don't always know that. There are times when we don't consciously act that way and I think that it's real important that all parents keep coming from a place that this is never going to be a perfect child and we need to do what we can to make them feel that unconditional love that I believe can only come from God's unconditional love through us because our human love just runs out. We need some supernatural love to go with that.
CP: Why are relationships of any kind strained around the holidays?
Shook: Number one is because we are with people – relatives – that we're not with all year long. We all have what we call sandpaper people in our lives and some of them are family members, people who rub us the wrong way and it's real important to remember that God has put them in your life for a reason. Sometimes the reason is to chip away the rough edges of our character, to help us look more like Christ, to teach us patience and what real love is. Also, God has us in their life for a reason, to minister to them. And I really encourage people this Christmas to who are with family that you are never with during the year to really ask the Lord to open your eyes to see their hurts and their needs. I think a lot of times we stay on the surface and don't really know what's going on beneath the surface and maybe this is a time this Christmas that we can go beneath the surface and really look to minister to others rather than to just gather with relatives.
CP: What are your top stress-busters for the holiday season?
Shook: It just goes really back to the Lord. Give up control. Don't try to control everything because you can't. Secondly, place your life under Christ's control. That's important in the New Year because we always try to get control of our lives. I'm always trying to get everything in order. Get my to-do-list done. Get control of my life and other people and problems. You can't really get control of your life. The more you try to hold on and control, the more life spins out of control. But we can get under control of our lives if we place them to Christ's care and control. That's a moment by moment thing that when I start to stress I have to remember that I'm probably trying to control something probably that God never wanted me control. I have to say, "OK God, I give it up to your care and control. Show me what I need to do and help me to understand what I can't do.
Don't try to make this Christmas perfect. Thank God for imperfect gifts because you are going to have an imperfect Christmas and thank Him for it anyway and just enjoy it. The most important thing is to pray. When the stresses come your way, pray and ask God to intervene.