I have the opportunity to work with many families each week, including my own. And, when having the opportunity to glance into the family lives of so many, I often am struck with the similarities families face in their day to day dealings with each other. From the outside, they may not look at all alike, but often there are core threads that seem to tie every unit together… and challenges they all seem to face.
AND, one of the biggest challenges that I have noticed in practically every family (and let’s be honest, in every relationship) is the breakdown in the sending and receiving of communication to each other.
Here’s an example of myself as mom:
I want my kids to HEAR me AND understand IN the way that I am thinking in my head and IN the way that I’m thinking I’m verbalizing it to them. And then, EVEN MORE I want them to AGREE with me.
I see this in just about every family I work with…..
The words look something like this: “I keep telling them the same thing over and over, and WHAT THEY DON’T UNDERSTAND IS……”
I am trying to keep them safe
I am trying to teach them responsibility
I’m trying to protect their future
and the list goes on…..
The truth is, these are not bad ideals….but that’s putting a whole lot of pressure on our kids, invading their healthy boundary space, and not allowing them the opportunity to become independent thinkers.
And it’s really just expecting them to do the impossible because they CAN’T yet understand what we’re asking of them. They’ve never experienced it.
No matter what, though, a lot of parents just decide, well if they aren’t going to understand me, I’ll just make them do it anyway. That’s where lists of rules and then lots of punishments come in. While this can be effective in behavior management (for a time at least), it leaves the heart untouched, and kids with understanding that they have to do what Mom and Dad say. BUT, what happens when Mom and Dad aren’t around to set the rules????
So, we have to ask ourselves, do we want kids who follow the rules (or don’t follow the rules as the case may be), or do we want to teach, guide, and prepare our children to become independent adults who WANT (not just feel like they’re supposed to cuz Mom and Dad said so) make a positive impact on this world?
And, if your answer is the latter, then we need to stop asking our children to understand us (or to follow our rules depending on how we’ve decided to handle their lives), and we need to start putting safe boundaries in place for our children to experience the results of choices now for what we hope that they will one day understand for themselves as active participants in the world.
You see, when we ask our children to understand us, that’s a little like me begging a person who doesn’t speak English to please do what I want because it’s for their own good. And, while I may have the best speeches laid out, I might have the most compelling argument in the whole world, and I might have perfectly planned and timed jokes……it really doesn’t matter because….
THEY DON’T SPEAK ENGLISH!
Our children don’t understand why these things are for their own good. They don’t understand our giving them something better than our childhood because they didn’t live our childhood. They don’t understand why getting an A in 3rd grade English matters for their future career someday, because simply put: they can’t understand it until they’ve experienced it.
So, save your arguments to sway your children to your side. Stop telling them why they should do what they should do over and over, and stop trying to make them understand you…… Here’s a few examples:
Instead of telling them they should be better at saving their money, give them the opportunity to save for something they want. Help them each step of the way by encouraging their efforts and reminding them of their goal when they start to mess up. And, if they’re really intent on sabotaging and spending early, allow them to feel the failure of missing out on what they’d been saving for. Don’t rub their face in their failure, but let them know you’re sad they’re hurting and you’ll be there to help them try again.
Instead of chiding your child every time they don’t set their alarm to wake up for school. Set consequences at the start of the school year for what happens if they miss their alarm (just like a job in the future)…..AND THEN FOLLOW THROUGH WITH THOSE CONSEQUENCES……. (don’t chide, don’t shame, simply hand out a ticket like a policeman…..calmly and neutrally…Something to the effect of, “Since you didn’t set your alarm like we agreed upon, here are your consequences. I know you’ll try your best again tomorrow.”)
Instead of complaining to your children that they’re being lazy when they choose to come home from school and play video games or watch T.V. Sit down with them and ask what goals they would like to accomplish, then help them put together a plan and a schedule for mastering these goals (such as building a fort, learning piano, working with their animals, etc). Encourage their progress and gently remind when they are wavering in their goals.
While we are never going to be perfect like Him, God sets beautiful examples of walking alongside of us, setting clear boundaries in place, allowing natural consequences to teach us, comforting us when they do, restoring us to right-standing with Him, and encouraging us for each small step forward……
God is walking alongside us, not up in front yelling at us to catch up, and not saying, “Well, that’s what you get….I told you fifty-five times to tie your shoes….it serves you right to fall on your face….”.
“God says, I’m sorry you’ve fallen. I know it must have hurt, And, so I’m glad you’ve decided to tie your shoes next time. I can’t wait to see how this decision will make your life better.”
Next time we start to force our children to UNDERSTAND US, what if we took a second to understand them….After all, we’ve been where they are….but the reverse isn’t true. What if we used our mess-ups from those days to help us have empathy for where they’re at? What if we took that empathy and guided, set boundaries, planned goals, comforted, and encouraged? Simply put, what if we took the time to UNDERSTAND THEM?
I can imagine if we used that method, our children will EXPERIENCE UNDERSTANDING on their own, and it will save us all from those really long, and super boring lectures we feel we must give……. I can also imagine that our children will know their own minds, they will own their own failures, they will be take ownership of their life, and even more importantly will hopefully understand more fully our loving Father who treats us very similarly…..only way more perfect….
Ephesians 5:1-2 (The Message) says:
“Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.”
Parents, love extravagantly. Don’t just make your kids behave. Show them love. Model how to love, by loving them. Model how to live kindly, in boundaries, with ownership of consequences, and with a heart longing to model the life of the Lord by doing this all for them FIRST.
“But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” Romans 5:8
He loved us first, and if we model our lives after the Lord; Love your children first, then rest will follow.
I pray that we may all give our children the gift of being loved as the Father first loved us. I pray that we all find the wisdom to ask for God’s forgiveness and grace when we don’t model His love accurately. And, I pray that the Lord offers each parent insight into the worlds and hearts of our children that we may parent them in the way that meets their needs individually and lovingly.