Recently an employee at Sam’s Club greeted my daughter and I with a surprising comment. I did not recognize her, but she said, “I just love seeing you two together. You look like such good friends.” We thanked her and walked in a bit bewildered.
This morning a mother of six children asked me what I had done to have such good friendships with my daughters. As she waited for an answer I considered what I could say to encourage her.
I am so very grateful for the relationship I have with all three of my adult children, but I knew I could not give her a simple answer which would guarantee good parent-child relationships. I have plenty of friends who have done what seemed to me every good thing raising their children and they do not share the kind of relationship I have with my children. So when asked candidly, my first response was to thank Jesus for his grace and mercy in my relationships.
My eldest daughter is married. She calls me regularly and I consider her my closest friend. My son is twenty-five and though we don’t share woman-to-woman intimacy, I treasure our relationship. My youngest daughter recently graduated from college and is preparing to go overseas. Over the last two years our relationship has also undergone the transition from mother-child to true sisters in Christ. Although I would love to take the credit for these special relationships, I know I cannot. God has truly blessed us.
My friend was waiting for an answer to her question. Perhaps you too are wondering if there is something you can do to ensure close relationships with your children. I considered the request and I have a few suggestions, but keep in mind I can only share my experience and direct you to pray and ask God for the desires of your heart.
When my children were young (under the age of ten) we adored each other. We home schooled, so we spent most of every day together. We read stories, played outdoors, did chores, and went on excursions together. Those were wonderful miraculous days. The children learned easily, followed fairly compliantly, and loved me unconditionally. I was busier than I had ever been in my life, but there was a deep satisfaction in the work I was doing. I thought the children would be my playmates and best friends forever.
When my eldest hit eleven and began to point out my flaws, I was confronted with a crossroads in our relationship. She challenged me and questioned my decisions. I would get angry and raised voices and tears inevitably followed. My husband made me aware of the ways in which I was being drawn into emotional battles with my daughter and the patterns we were developing. His simple question awakened me, “What kind of relationship do you want to have with your daughter?” The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish tears it down with her own hands (Proverbs 14:1 NIV).
Although I felt defensive and didn’t want to take responsibility for the future of the relationship, my husband wisely and gently redirected me. He helped me to see my own self-defensive tendencies and inappropriate responses. I asked him to help me respond more appropriately, which he faithfully did. I am grateful to him for fulfilling his role in our family as exhorter. As I humbled myself before God, my husband, and my daughter, blessings inevitably followed.
I was also learning a great deal in those days. I was learning how to teach them effectively, how to humble myself before them and ask for forgiveness when I reacted poorly, how to discipline them with love and not out of anger, and how to share the testimony of my own spiritual victories and struggles with them.
Read this carefully, I said I learned these things. This means there was a progression. Just as the children had to make corrections in their schoolwork, attitudes, and behaviors, I found I too had to evaluate myself and make adjustments. I continually made creative changes in my teaching methods, attitudes, tone of voice, reactions, etc. This was the turning point in my relationship with my children and the first of the suggestions I shared with my friend –
- Take responsibility for the relationship and try not to get drawn into emotional battles with your children. A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (Proverbs 15:1 NIV).
One of the richest treasures we have in our children is their unconditional love. You might be thinking they often use their affections to get their way with us, and I must admit I have been swayed by sweet notes and loving embraces. But when I acted hastily and spoken harshly to my them and asked for their forgiveness, they have always been gracious and eager to forgive me. I will never forget one of the days I felt like all I did was yell at my son. I might have been justified in my disappointment, but I hadn’t controlled my anger and felt very sorry for my responses. I went to his bedroom and sought his forgiveness. He was only ten years old at the time, but spoke with a maturity beyond his years. He said, “Mommy, it was not your fault, I deserved it. I forgive you.” I remember leaving his room feeling privileged and grateful for such a son.
God’s unconditional love is revealed in the hearts of our children. So my next piece of advice was –
- Correct your children appropriately, but when you act out of anger, repent quickly and seek their forgiveness. In other words, don’t hang on to disappointments and anger, forgive your children and begin anew. Remind them that your love and affection will remain constant no matter how well they spell or how clean their rooms are. Correct your son and he will give you comfort, He will also delight your soul (Proverbs 29:17 NIV).
During the teen years, parenting was more challenging. It was a time of dramatic change for our children and a significant time of change for us as well. Our methods of discipline transitioned from time-outs to taking away privileges. Our children challenged our authority and demanded independence, despite the fact they were totally dependent on us. It was difficult not to react to fluctuating attitudes and tempers.
As control over the character and safety of our children began to lessen, we tended to lecture. And as we lectured, our children tuned us out. So my last piece of advice, besides pray regularly and faithfully for your children –
- Lecture less and identify more. When we lecture, we sound as though we had been perfect teens ourselves and the high expectations we have are perfectly attainable. But in reality, I recall my own failures as a teenager and am ashamed. Be honest with your teenagers. By all means, let them know your expectations clearly and the consequences of their failure to meet them. In love, let them also know your sincere concern and prayers for them. By doing so, you give them an opportunity to make mature choices with valuable lessons from your experience. Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing (Proverbs 12:25 NIV); Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice (Proverbs 13:10 NIV).
There is no step-by-step method to follow which will ensure a wonderful relationship with your children, but loving them, praying for them, and being honest with them will go very far in the process.