Recently, Brooke and I were finally able to sit down and watch The Descendants (2011) starring George Clooney. Alexander Payne directed this authentic portrayal of a family dealing with loss and betrayal in the setting of beautiful Hawaii. I have always been a fan of Payne’s earlier films, About Schmidt and Sideways. His films are far from plastic Christian family films and are R-rated, full of characters who are busy, frustrated, but also have had a taste of what joy could look like in life by their ambitions. These three movies are representative of a fallen world yet a world full of real people with real flaws we all can relate to. Any movie willing to remove the mask I can appreciate. I’ve written about this before but in all of art, I try to look at where Christ can teach us about how to live, even through a movie like The Descendants.
Years ago I asked an older friend of mine how he was doing with his kids. He said something like “You know, I have been spending a lot of time with my kids but the hardest part isn’t that, it is how to best engage with them.” I wasn’t a father then but it stuck. I thought of my own parents and the times we bonded best and it was almost always when there was true engagement through conversation, experience, and genuine discussion.
The Descendants reminds me of how I am supposed to be engaging with my kids. As I write, my girls are only 2 and 4 but it seems evident that if I don’t start doing this now, it will be more and more difficult to do like what we see in George Clooney’s character.
As a parent, I am learning these 5 things about what I need to do to be a good parent:
- Be present. You can’t be a parent without first establishing that you are there for them. Your job may be important and incredibly busy but there is no more important job than being there for your little ones.
- Listen. The more I ask the girls questions, the more I discover about their hearts through what they like and don’t like, etc. Sometimes this requires me to be extra attentive when they start talking about the most trivial things but they want our full attention.
- Be patient. There are days that my kids won’t want much to do with me. Sometimes they just want their mom more (like what The Descendants implies). Never feel like what you are doing is a waste of time because by being there for them, there will be the right time when they come to you.
- Pursue. Don’t be too frustrated if they push you away. Continue trying to engage. Whether kids admit it or not, they want us as parents to show continual interest and keep that hand extended no matter how bad things get. You may have a broken relationship with your child and I can’t imagine how hard that would be. Give healing some time and never stop your pursuit.
- Join them. Go on adventures together. I read a great story in Meg Meeker’s book Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters about a father who despite not having a good relationship with his daughter, he did what he knew best and took her camping. Even the trip it didn’t solve everything, the shared experience broke barriers and opened up the relationship to grow again.