An employee at Sam’s Club yesterday 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. She has two daughters both under the age of three. 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 that I could not give her a simple answer that would guarantee good parent-child relationships. I have plenty of friends that 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 twenty-one and newly married. She calls me regularly and I consider her my closest friend. My son is nineteen and a sophomore in college. We do not share woman-to-woman intimacy, but his heart is Christ’s and I treasure our relationship. My second daughter just turned eighteen and is preparing to go to college in the fall. 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 that I cannot. God is truly the one who has blessed us. Nevertheless, 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. So I have taken time to consider this request and I have a few suggestions, but keep in mind that I can only share my experience and direct you to pray and ask God for the desire of your heart.
When my children were young, under the age of ten, they adored me and I adored them. 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 before that time or afterwards, but there was a deep satisfaction in the work I was doing. I thought that the children would be my playmates and best friends forever.
When my eldest child 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. It was my husband who 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).
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 that I learned these things. That means there was a progression, these things did not come naturally. Just as the children had to make corrections in their schoolwork, attitudes, and behaviors, I found that I too had to evaluate myself and make adjustments. I had to continually make 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. Remember that a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (Proverbs 15:1).
One of the richest treasures we have in our children is their unconditional love. You might be thinking that 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 have acted hastily and spoken harshly to my children and have 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 in his behavior or attitude, but I had not controlled my anger and disappointment and felt very sorry for my tone and words. I went to his bedroom and sought his forgiveness. He was probably only ten years old at the time, but spoke with kind maturity and 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. His heart is as soft today as it was when he was ten. God shows us His own unconditional love in the hearts of our children. So my next piece of advice would be to 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. Show them that you will always love them and that your affections 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).
There is a span of time called ‘the teen years’ when parenting is more challenging. It is a time of dramatic change for our children and a significant time of change for us as well. Our methods of discipline transition from spanking or time-outs to taking away privileges and electronic devices. Our children challenge our authority and have an interesting sense of independence, in spite of the fact that they are totally dependent on us. It is difficult not to react to fluctuating attitudes and tempers. Nevertheless, these years can be rich if you are prayerful and careful. As our control over the character and safety of our children begins to lessen, we tend to lecture. And as we lecture, our children begin to tune us out. So my last piece of advice, besides pray regularly and faithfully for your children, would be to try to lecture less and identify more. What I mean to say is that when we lecture, we tend to sound as though we had been perfect teens ourselves and that the high expectations we have for our children are perfectly attainable. But in reality, I recall my own failures as a teenager, and the awful things I said to my mother all those years ago with shame. 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 own experience. Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing (Proverbs 12:25); Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice (Proverbs 13:10).
There is no step-by-step method to follow that will ensure a wonderful friendship with your children, but loving them, praying for them, and being honest with them will go very far in the process. God Bless.