Marriage/Parenting: If You Can’t Say Something Nice . . .

The joke concludes: “ . . . Then come sit right here by me!” But it’s a sobering truth that when we communicate with our own kids, most of us criticize far more than they need – and provably more than they deserve.

In my parenting workshop, I would ask moms and dads to mentally review a child’s behavior for the past week. What percentage of the time was that kid acting at least okay? If he didn’t cure cancer, compose symphonies, or leave his bedroom like a Nieman-Marcus showroom, it was at least livable. Most parents chuckle, then scribble down 75% or 80%.

“All right,” I’d instruct. “Now what percentage of your own communiqués toward that same child tended to be critical or negative?” Oops. After blushing, the majority of parents write down 75% again. It’s simply human nature to find fault. Think of some of the suppertime conversations you’ve had with your children. They are likely laden with cutting and fault-finding remarks.

A key to good communication is simple: cut way, way back on the negative feedback.

A million years ago, I came home one afternoon – and there on the kitchen table was Kami’s report card. This kid had straight A’s! I took out my contacts, rinsed them, and looked again. Still a 4.0. On the deportment side, a pristine row of 3’s . . . the highest marks possible. The only improvement would have been $100 bills stapled all over it, marked “Tuition Refund.”

“This is wonderful,” I glowed. “I must praise this child immediately.”

I went upstairs to her room, but Kami wasn’t there. Unfortunately, her room . . . was there. Barely.

I had never seen a mess like this. The bed was gone! It might have been underneath an Everest of dirty clothes; I don’t know. Every dresser drawer was pulled out to varying lengths, and disgusting pieces of underwear were flopping over the sides. Not only was her own trash strewn all over the floor – she had apparently arranged with a nearby supermarket to empty its dumpsters in her room as well. And my feet were stuck to something gooey on the floor.

I would use the word pigsty, but the pigs themselves had all moved out in disgust. You get the idea.

I stood in this hell-hole of a room with these wonderful grades in my hand. At this exact moment the front door slammed and here she came.

A fearsome battle raged within my soul. What should be the first words out of my mouth?

In all humility I will tell you that the Lord helped me. I built the proverbial “sandwich.” “Hey, kid!” I enthused. “These grades are amazing! You’re amazing! Life itself is amazing! Uh, this laundry pile is kind of amazing. Why don’t you straighten up a bit while I look for some loose change, so that we can go to Baskin-Robbins for a proper reward?”

Criticize less and praise more. Relying on divine power, it actually does work.