In this excerpt from his newest book, Parenting With Pieces©: Parenting As A Catalyst For Personal Growth, Calvin Witcher shares how the power of effective parenting often comes from a shift in perspective.
Our family decided to take a trip to California’s Redwood forest and stay at a cottage nestled on the aptly named “Avenue of the Giants.” This was to be our first visit and our hopes were high. We drove our cozy car on the winding roads through the picturesque landscape. A warning had been issued to us (at our last stop) that this section of the trip did not sit well with children’s stomachs. Sure that this concern did not apply to us, we sailed along the slippery roads taking in the majestic scenery. The rain tapped at the car windows and our children snuggled calmly in their car seats. Several of them dozed off, while our oldest wrote in his journal. I kept my eyes steadily on the road to avoid any slick spots and crossing deers. Suddenly, a crude and familiar sound emanated from the back seat. My husband turned around with a panicked look on his face, and our collective sighs said it all. Ughhhh.
We pulled the car over and ventured out in what was now sleet. Acting as a rescue team skilled in these kind of situations, we stripped our motion sick victim of his saturated clothes and quickly cleaned, dressed, and wrapped him in a warm blanket. My friend John, who used to work for the American Red Cross©, would have been proud of our emergency response and rescue skills. The car seat itself was beyond hope and the thought of leaving it to the ravages of the elements did cross our minds more than once. Not being ones to burden nature with our trash, we did our best with baby wipes and extra towels. Finally, dripping wet and more than a little cold, we strapped everyone into the car and hobbled up the road. Our once oasis-like carriage now resembled a sanitation facility and with a smell to match.
After several hours of driving, we arrived in the California Redwoods. The sight of our destination was more than a comfort and the cabin staff were extra helpful. We started several loads of laundry and did our best to air out the car. We fed the boys, and they soon were crawling into bed where they instantly fell asleep. My husband and I sat by the fire, grateful for warmth and shelter. The front desk had taken pity. They showered us with board games and several 1,000-count puzzles. Wanting to spend some quality time with my husband and redeem some part of the night, I suggested we start on one of the puzzles. My husband hesitated but then quickly agreed. “Sure, why not?” We both laid out the pieces, and the idea for my book was born.
Steve Furtick, pastor of Elevation Church, says, “As fathers, we give gifts to our children. And, one of the greatest gifts, blessings, curses, or burdens that we give our children is our perspective. We pass on a perspective to our children. Far more than anything we’ll teach them to do, they will learn from us—not what we say, but what we model—how to think—and specifically how to think about people.” Steve is exactly right. I would expand this statement to also include all parents (not just fathers). I love how perspective (one thought or one idea) can shift how we think and act.
While I sorted blue and brown puzzle pieces that cold and wintery night, I thought about the pieces that make up our lives. I had a different perspective at that moment than I did several years prior. I had different priorities and different goals. I reflected how I had gotten there. I was happy to be in that moment. I was thankful, despite our recent mishap. I thought about my journey from South Carolina to California. I thought about becoming a husband and a father. I thought about what might be in the future. What pieces were going to show up and what was the picture they would create?
Looking down at the jumbled puzzle parts scattered over the floor, it was hard to imagine that these pieces were going to create much of anything, let alone what was pictured on the box. I began the work. I had gotten a good section of our puzzle done. I was proud of myself. There was a slight competition between my husband and me. We are both competitive people and I, of course, saw myself as winning. But, there was this one piece I could not find. Much as I tried, I could not see a piece that fit the empty space. My head told me it was right in front of me, but my eyes told me otherwise. I must have mumbled something out loud because my husband gladly came to my rescue. He took one look at the pieces I had laid out in front of me and with an actual squeal of delight turned one of the puzzle pieces around and slipped it into place. He gloated as he returned to his side of the puzzle. “Thank You,” I reluctantly said. I was more determined than ever.
What had just happened? Perspective.
I had been staring at the correct piece all along. I had probably even tried to force the piece into place upside down. I just could not see what was right in front of me. I was looking at the pieces differently than my husband. Same piece, but with a different perspective. I am convinced that, with time, I could have found the fit. However, I desperately needed a shift in my perspective.
I would love to say that my puzzle assembling skills are much better after that experience. But at the time of writing this, I have yet to test them again. However, the lesson is a good one. How can we shift our perspective to make the pieces of our life fit?
My point is this: You are the puzzle master and, as such, you are the one sorting and putting together the picture of your life. You might at this moment be sitting (like I was) staring at an unfinished portion of your puzzle wondering how to make things work. If this is you, I invite you on a journey to shift your perspective. With your willingness to look at your puzzle with new and fresh eyes, and my insights I have collected over the years, we can fit the pieces together. Everything comes down to how you think. Parenting is no different.
Parenting is simply the outward product of your inward perspective.