As a youth minister, it was super easy to identify where the parents of the teenagers were going wrong. If they would do what my 22-year-old experience thought, then they would have it together and be able to engage with their kids. That was then. Now, 15 years later, and 2 kids in, I realize that my judgmental posture was more of me playing the 'armchair quarterback,' than profuse wisdom dripping from the lips of a brilliant youth minister.
Now that I have children of my own I now understand that parenting is hard work. At times, there aren't simple solutions to the dynamic and complex problems of raising up souls that share our DNA, but are also different than us. There are times where I find myself fluctuating between strong convictions and a 'fake it until you make it' mentality.
As a follower of Jesus (a Christian) who believes the Bible to be true, I believe the command of Deuteronomy 6:4-7:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise."
In verse 7, we see that it is the Christian parents' responsibility to disciple their own children. This charge isn't to be taken lightly.
I believe that there are four areas for parents to focus on. If they would, it could enhance their relationship with their children, and the trajectory of their kid's development.
Here are the 4 S's that can help your family grow and thrive:
1. Spend Focused Time
Life is busy, especially for a family with many children. It is easy to be in the frenzied hustle together with our kids, while missing out on connecting with our kids relationally. While there are many examples of kid-centric homes, that is, homes where the kids rule the roost, I'm not advocating for that here. In fact, I think that a kid-centric home is a house that is heading for destruction. But, that's content for another post altogether.
Parents need to focus on having time where they aren't just interacting with their children on a transactional level, but on a relational level. Connecting on a transactional level is driven by performance, accountability, and getting things done. Connecting relationally involves understanding motives, thoughts, feelings, dreams, and fears. Parents often don't realize that while we are trying to maintain authority, we are not leveraging opportunities to gain influence. Influence is the key to having a strong relationship with your children long-term.
2. Shepherd Your Children
You are THE most responsible person for your children on this planet (see Proverbs 22:6). God places a covenantal responsibility on parents to love, protect, provide, and lead their children towards Jesus. This can begin by taking them to a church that talks about Jesus, but that is not enough. Your faith must be authentic at home. Your faith must be growing, and you must invite them along with you.
There have been times where I have had to change the way I think about how I love and lead my family, and the good news is, in Christ, it's never too late for new beginnings! Which leads me to my third S.
3. Say You're Sorry
Parents, we are human beings, who are sinners, who need grace from Jesus. I once heard a pastor friend say, "Mom & Dad's, your kids need you to own your fallibility." Modeling repentance, saying you're sorry, and being the one who leads out for reconciliation will not only illustrate the Gospel of Jesus to your children, but it will also help you to build trust.
Recently, I told my 3-year-old daughter that I would have time to play with her in the morning, but life happens. I had to hurry up and get ready to go deal with an issue, and I stopped, got onto my knees and told her, "I'm so sorry for not being able to play with you. I told you that I would, but I am not able to now. Will you please forgive me?" She was sweet and said, "Of course!" and we hugged.
4. Seek Counsel
If we can get to the point where we no longer need to pretend like we have it together, then we can ask for help before things get to a "code red" crisis. No one I know has this thing all figured out. But, I do know that one of the benefits of connecting with a community of faith is that there are others who understand what you are going through. It's nice when you can be around those who are in the same stage of life or have been in your stage of life and you can ask them for wisdom. Even if they were bad parents, you can still learn what not to do. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it is a sign of strength and of faith. We can learn a lot from one another. Seeking counsel from those who are seeking to honor God in the way they love and lead their children will provide an opportunity for learning and encouragement.
Parenting is one of the most challenging tasks that I've had to undertake. There are few immediate gratifications, and often many of us wonder if we are doing more harm than good. Fortunately, Jesus is very gracious to make up for areas that we lack, and is able and willing to bring about great transformation, even in the most broken of families.