A Slice Of Life To Go is an online Christian blog written by Todd Thompson. It encourages people to see the beauty in ordinary moments and to know God’s unconditional, unfailing love in everyday life.

Poor Parenting In The Parking Lot

January 3rd, 2008

My friend Alan and I were leaving the Lubbock Breakfast House after a late morning business meeting. Our “thanks for your time, see you next week” was interrupted by yelling.

We looked up to see a man screaming at his kid.

The dad was a barrel chest with a flat top haircut. Movie casting would have made him a football coach or drill sergeant. The way he was barking at his son, he may have been either or both.

The son looked to be about 15 or 16 and slightly built, the water boy to his Dad’s football coach. Wearing a black fleece zipped up around his neck, as if to protect against the cold air and the heat of his father’s words, he was leaning against the back quarter panel of a new burgundy Nissan Altima. Inside, looking pained and shamed and staring straight ahead, his mother and a younger sister.  

Alan and I purposely looked the Dad in the eye. He saw us but didn’t temper his words or lower his volume.

I can’t speak for you but if someone looks at me when I’m acting stupid, my immediate reaction is one of embarrassment. Not this guy. He just kept yelling. I got the feeling he wouldn’t have cared if we set up bleachers and sold tickets. Step right up and see the big bad Dad humiliate his family.

While he blustered and blew, the son stood motionless, hands in the pockets of his fleece, staring straight ahead. Not looking at his Dad, not up at the sky and not exactly on the ground. Just gazing at someplace in between, no doubt wishing he could disappear.   

I sat in my car and watched, cell phone in hand, half wondering if there would be a need to call the police. I found it curious that not once did the son speak back a single word. No rebuttal, no self-defense, no retaliation. It was as if he knew to speak would only invite more wrath. He seemed to know, too, that to walk away from this blistering attack would mean there would be hell to pay. Whether by fear or default, the son was demonstrating infinitely more maturity than his father.

My gut had the sad feeling that this wasn’t the first time the son had done some leaning against the rear quarter panel.

When the ten minute tirade was over the young man opened the door, got in next to his sister and slid down in the back seat like a prisoner headed to jail.

Tragically, whatever point the angry Dad was trying to impress will be forever overshadowed by the young man’s memory of being humiliated by his father in the parking lot at Loop 289 and University.

Admittedly, Alan and I weren’t there to see what happened before the yelling started. But it doesn’t matter. This was horrible parenting. Even if the teen had done something wrong, matters of correction and discipline aren’t to be paraded in front of total strangers. As a parent, our responsibility is to protect our children. That includes protecting their dignity in teachable moments.

It is true that “hurt people”… hurt people. It’s not a stretch to assume the screaming Dad had, as a son, done some leaning up against the rear quarter panel himself. Who knows what kind of a childhood he had? If it was bad, his pain deserves equal compassion. It’s true that children learn what they live. If we’re yelled at, we learn to yell. If we’re shown kindness we learn to be kind. Certainly the atmosphere we are raised in shapes us. Yet to say our behavior as adults is determined solely by the environment we grew up in is to abdicate personal responsibility and our power to choose for the better.

There are far too many examples of individuals enduring a hellish childhood who made the choice to live rightly in spite of it. I have friends who grew up with fathers and mothers who were absent, abusive, alcoholic and/or who abandoned. These people made the choice to live better. More importantly, they made the choice to be the kind of parent to their children that they wish they had themselves. Regardless of our upbringing, we have the individual responsibility to live and act appropriately. It is irresponsible and wrong to blame our adult sins and dysfunction on our childhood. 

God is our heavenly Father. The Bible is clear that God disciplines those whom He loves. God corrects us when we sin and make mistakes. That is not a pleasant process. God is all about shaping our character. By definition that means we often have hard lessons to learn. But God never humiliates us. He always leads with love. Always. Romans 2:4 tells us, “Do you not know that it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance?”

God doesn’t yell and scream at us. He loves us into submission. When we stand corrected, we stand in His grace.

God is love. When He corrects us, it is never apart from His loyal love. Because God protects our dignity when He disciplines us, our hearts remain open. The next teachable moment, though it may be painful, is able to be received because we know His heart toward us is His unfailing love. God lovingly maintains His relationship to us without compromising the truth or the process of conforming us to the image of Jesus. It begins and ends with the fact that His kindness leads us to repentance.

As we parent, may we always follow God’s example and lead with love, protecting the dignity of our children and in doing so keeping their heart open to receive the next teachable moment.

“The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will He harbor His anger forever; He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our sins from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.” – Psalm 103:8-13