A couple of weeks ago we had a frosty fog. It made for an absolutely breath-taking morning, but you had to get out with your camera while the gettin’ was good. All the lovely hoar frost melted away quickly after the sun finally broke through the mist.
When not observing lovely weather formations outside, I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about how to reach the hearts of my kids-still-at-home. Parenting ain’t over until its over. Just because they are all (fiercely) independent, doesn’t mean I can check out, even though sometimes they may wish it so.
I generally recoil at guides that make parenting look like it is easy if you just follow These Five Simple Steps. I relied too heavily on parenting manuals when my children were young, and probably didn’t focus on the right things. (The good news? God even offers grace to parenting know-it-alls!) When my oldest was in junior high, I knew I was in trouble. The only recommended book I could find about this stage was Shepherding a Child’s Heart. You know what it said? It said the relationship you have with your child at this age, and that you continue to develop, was what would help them make wise decisions. What? Relationship? I just wanted obedience. I thought.
But now that my kids are older, I can definitely see what the book meant. If I don’t have relationships with my children, why should they listen to me? When I give them Godly counsel, I want them to trust the deliverer of the good news.
So, relationship. How? What if you don’t really like your kids? Too bad. You need to try to build a relationship anyway, or at least not lose any ground. I have a few things I keep in my mind as I do this, and I will set them down for you. I hope this is helpful, even though I definitely do not guarantee your kids will love you and turn out perfectly if you follow these suggestions. (This manual doesn’t exist. Sorry.)
1. Pray. Who can change your kids’ hearts? God. Not you. You think you can. Anxious about them? Pinpoint why you are anxious, and pray more.
2. Be there. I try to get home before my kids get home from school. This is when some of my kids like to download about their day, and I want to be there to hear it. Plus, they like it when I am home. When I am not, they sometimes call and ask, “WHERE ARE YOU?”, kind of accusatory-like. I understand we can’t all be home when our kids get home. But make a point of “being there” when you are with them, instead of nodding your head and staring at your computer screen while they are telling you about their exciting (to them only, sometimes) day. Our actions speak louder than words.
Off the topic – I once read that kids learn a lot more from what they hear us saying on the phone than when we speak directly to them. Ouch.
3. Ask. Sometimes we don’t have chatty kids, or they are going through a non-chatty phase. Ask them questions that require more than a one-word response. Sometimes you’ll get something, sometimes not. But you are taking the time to ask. I think that is important. I decided to buy a bike several years ago, and I encouraged my non-chatty kid to buy one, too. She did, and our discussions and relationship started on the bike trail. Setting aside time alone with her gave us the right environment for words to flow. Another daughter wrote me a thank you card for a present, and included that she really liked our time alone in the car on the way to school. I didn’t think that was important time, but it is to her.
4. Love your spouse. Do I want my kids to feel secure? I don’t do that by putting my kids first. My kids feel secure when they know I love Dad, and vice versa. How do I show them this? I kiss my husband in front of my kids. I give him a squeeze. I tell him I love him, even when the kids say “Ewwww.” We don’t argue about serious issues in front of the kids. (Yes. There have been been public disagreements.) It is better to wait, and discuss the issue later when we have cooled off, anyway. We go out on dates. We show our kids our marriage is a priority. When the kids used to ask us why we had to go out, we told them, “Because we love you.” So there.
5. Listen. A lot. I want my kids to come to me with problems. I don’t want to freak out. Absorb, pray and respond. Oftentimes I hear a child out. I think and pray about any issues they bring up that need addressed, then I calmly go back and discuss. I admit, I will give unwanted advice, and I even get in their face sometimes. But I do really try to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger. Whew.
6. You are not your kids’ friend. You are their parent. You don’t need to make decisions only to please them, or be afraid they won’t like you. You should respect them and try not to exasperate them, but you aren’t running for a popularity contest.
7. Responsibilities and freedoms. If your kid is doing well with their current responsibilities and freedoms, give them more. If you have no reason to say “no”, say “yes”. Sometimes I don’t want to say “yes” because it creates discomfort or a hassle for me. But if my kid has made wise choices, then I give her a little more rope. She may fail. But I look at my own life: what have I learned from failure compared to what I have learned from wise advice? Gulp.
8. Repent. If I mess up, I ask forgiveness. If I see my husband sin against our kids, I gently and privately encourage him to repent. It hurts, but in a good way.
9. Pray with your kids. This can be difficult. It is easier to pray with younger children, but as they get older, it can seem kind of awkward. I am trying to get better at this. If my children have a need, I try to remember to pray with them about it, as well as counsel them. Why not show them I am really making an effort in my own life to go to God first, instead of only going to him when I have exhausted my own resources? Should be so easy.
This is not an exhaustive list, but the items are ones I have been thinking about the most about during these stages of my daughter’s lives (22, 19, 16, 13).
Something else I have been thinking about this week is the counsel I give others, including my kids. In Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, Paul Tripp had made two important points so far. The first one is that our biggest problem is sin. Regardless of how people have sinned against us, because we are sinners, we will respond to our hurts sinfully. We need to repent. We always need pointed to our Savior. Secondly, the Bible isn’t an encyclopedia, with topical answers to our problems. The Bible is a story of redemption. We can’t take a verse, apply it to our lives as we see fit, and go on our merry, self-absorbed way. We need to look at the big picture all the time, and see how verses fit into that picture. We also need to use this picture of redemption in our counsel, and pray some more.