Hannah and Bethany spent a recent evening babysitting. The family has two very young daughters who are sweet to watch. On the way home the mom was peppering the girls with questions about their transition through tween/teen-dom and whether or not they were content with the path their father and I have chosen. I was amused by her inquiries and blessed by the girls' responses, because I remember being in her shoes, staring at my toddler and baby, and wondering how on earth I was going to raise them to love Jesus and respect themselves. I never dreamed I would enjoy the journey this much!
As my two daughters excitedly talked over one another, anxious to share with me their perspective on the conversation, I secretly took note of the moment. It was a sweet realization that... so far, so good.
Here is why:
1. They wanted to talk to me. This may seem altogether obvious, but as our children begin to grow into independent beings it isn't necessarily a given that they will include you in the ride. Actively listening to them as toddlers, pre-schoolers and grade-schoolers is one of the most important, long-term investments you will ever make. It is the foundation to having open, healthy dialogue during transitional phases in your child's life. If they felt belittled, condescended to, or minimized by your responses to their 6-year old concerns you will have a difficult time convincing them that you will respect their 14-year old concerns. Also, it is vital that you maintain a proper perspective on this battle for communication. You know the saying: Don't sweat the small stuff. It's all small stuff.? Yeah, that doesn't apply to immature humans. They have no ability to discern what is important and what isn't. This means you have to listen to it ALL, because in between the fear over the haircut hurting and their frustration that little Tommy always gets to pick the game first is a soft whisper that tells you how insecure they are around the neighborhood kids; and the pressure to feel accepted by them is pushing them to think about crossing boundaries you never dreamed would be ideas at their age. It all gets lumped into one long, run-on sentence babbled at the most inconvenient of times. So remember, the payoff is worth the ten minute saga on why Jenny was their friend yesterday but not today (even though you and I both know she will be her friend tomorrow).
2. They trust me and their father. One of the questions the mom asked was when the girls began trusting us to guide them in their decisions. The girls giggled with me about their answer. Bethany stated, "I wanted to say, 'Um, since birth!' But I knew that would be disrespectful so I just let Hannah answer." Hannah's response was along the same lines just without the snarky. "I just told them we have always trusted you." Both girls found it incomprehensible to consider a point when they began trusting us because of the admission that in order to start trusting you had to, by default, not trust. Bingo. Children are designed by their creator to implicitly trust their parents. It begins as babies when their very lives hinge on our provision. It continues through early childhood when we remain available to kiss boo-boos and lavish affection upon them. Through the middle years it is built up by our consistent, reasonable expectations, which develops responsibility and maturity they never knew existed in themselves. Finally, it is capped by the many small and large ways we remain true to the same character qualities we demand of them. Children are insanely protective of their perceptions regarding fairness. If we reprimand them for blatant wrongdoing we had better play by the same rules. Making mistakes is part of growing up. It is also part of parenting. Be prepared to apologize.
3. They desire my counsel and insight. While Bethany did not give her snarky reply to the question of when she began trusting me she did respond to the inquiry about her contentment in allowing me to direct her choices, especially concerning dating and relationships. "My mom has a much better plan than I would come up with on my own!" While I am deeply humbled by her honoring words I also know that she could only come to that conclusion by knowing what my plan is. You must share your vision with your children so they understand where you are directing them. And why. And you must start early. By now my older girls recognize that I have their best at the heart of my choices because I have informed them of my motivation in much smaller decisions throughout their lives. Speaking plainly about respecting themselves in the face of difficult friendships even at 6 and 7 years old helped them to see this truth. I don't want them to be victims, driven by the whims of people who picked them rather than confidently choosing their own friends based on mutual respect and enjoyment. By God's grace my counsel has proven true over and over, which lays a foundation for them to trust me when their own insight into a situation might lead them to form a different conclusion.
4. We are training them to live according to the bible and not relative morality. Every culture, generation, and even home has a different set of dos and don'ts. Heterosexual men walk hand in hand and even kiss in the middle east. Skirts that showed ankles were once considered immodest. Standing on the coffee table in my house is perfectly acceptable. While it is important that we intelligently assess cultural norms and make conscientious decisions to avoid miscommunication it is of much greater importance that we compare our actions with absolute truth, as found in the bible, and not relative mores based on the sway of society. I can listen until my children are blue in the face, but listening alone will not guide them towards a successful life. I think we have all seen the parent who spends more time making sure their child "feels heard" than actually directing the child towards appropriate behavior. I can ensure my children trust that I am fair-minded and just by maintaining the exact same standards for them as for myself, but pure egalitarianism does nothing to grow a healthy respect for authority. This parent abdicates their responsibility of establishing humility for wisdom and experience, and leaves their child drifting selfishly through life convinced that only the school of hard-knocks can teach them anything. Lastly, I can counsel, advise, and direct my children on every matter, subject, or personal affair but if my words are not biblically informed then I am doing nothing more than pontificating. And who enjoys self-important lecturers? You can recognize the glazed looks on children whose parents insist on turning every teaching moment into a 5 bullet power-point slide. They zone out long enough to survive the spiel before turning around and doing whatever they want to do anyway.
So, how does all this work? Proverbs 22:6 says, "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it." I must humble myself before God and take His word to my own heart if I am going to reach and retain the hearts of my children. That means the above verse applies to MOI as God first trains me - His child. I can not expect my children to submit to something I am unwilling to submit to myself.
Do I want to talk to Jesus?
Am I trusting Him?
Do I want the Lord's counsel and insight?
Yep... so far, so good!