When my son was young, I would think about the future and often battled the fear of what might happen when he became a teenager. Change was inevitable, but I didn’t want to lose the sweet relationship we had. One of the things I have worked hard to do is to nurture my relationship with him by connecting with him in any way possible. The following are just a few of the things that I have done to pursue my son. Our relationship is not perfect, but pursuing him over the long haul has produced much fruit.
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…” (Colossians 3:12)
Beginning at a young age, my husband and I would regularly take the time to ask each child if there was anything that we were doing that bothered, hurt, or frustrated them. It often brought to light things that we didn’t realize we were doing. It gave us insight into where they were and how we could best encourage them.
I remember clearly the day I sat with my then elementary school age son and asked him if there was anything I was doing or saying that frustrated him, or anything I needed to work on as a mom. He quietly thought for a few minutes and then said, “Well, Mom, sometimes at night when I wake up and I’m scared, I call out to you. And sometimes you get irritated. That kind of hurts my feelings.” Grieved by my lack of sensitivity, I asked him to forgive me and told him it was something I would work on. I thanked him for being brave enough to be honest with me. And from that day on I purposed to try to respond better when he woke me up in the middle of the night because he was afraid.
Intentionally tuning in over the years has been very eye-opening and humbling, but it has shown our children that we’re people who are in a process of growing just like they are. It has helped to pull our children closer to our side (even in their teen years), helped my husband and I become better listeners, and has been used as a tool to help us become even better parents.
If we are unable to receive input or we make excuses for our behavior such as claiming that we’re “too old to change,” we are the ones who lose! We will lose relationships with our children, opportunities to grow and be humbled, the chance to set an example, and lastly, we will lose the respect of our children.
We must admit that we don’t know everything. We must not insist that our way is always the right way. It’s a good thing when our children see that we don’t know it all and that we’re seeking help from the only One who does. If we live humbly before our children, I believe it will be one of the most important things God uses to draw our children to Him.
2. Give Them The Gift of Silence
It’s easy to automatically reflect on our own childhood and want to give our children the “When I was your age . . .” lecture. I’ve found in most cases that this speech only causes frustration. Our children are not us. They’re individuals. They need us to be functioning in the here and now and focus on who they are. As easy as it can be for us to go down memory lane, our parenting should not be based on all that we experienced as children. It’s important that we purpose to seek wisdom from God and study who our children are as individuals.
As my kids approached the teen years, my husband and I found ourselves reflecting back on our own experiences, so we came up with a signal that we call the “You’re Going Down Memory Lane” signal! It’s a gentle reminder that helps us to listen more than we talk.
When I practice listening more than I talk as we are going about our daily lives, my son will often open up about what is on his mind. Many conversations have happened when I least expect it–over a meal, in the car, or on the way to a sporting event. It is easy to get stuck in “parenting mode”, “teaching mode”, or “lecture mode”, when a “be quiet and listen mode” is often a better choice. This validates what they are thinking and feeling and that you really want to hear what they have to say!
3. Turn Off, And Tune In!
In this age of technology much of what we do is done on the computer or cell phone. It’s easy to be distracted by what is now an ever-present pull, easily accessible, and seemingly urgent. Starting when they were very young, as much as possible, I have made it a policy to turn off all technology when my family enters the room, so that I can focus on them with as little distraction as possible. Of course, at times that may not be possible. I may need to finish up an email or quickly come to a breaking point on a project. There are times when we’re watching a movie as a family or when everyone is busy doing their own thing, so it’s okay to continue working, but as much as I possibly can, my computer closes when my family is home together. It shows them they are what is most important and that I want to focus on them with no distractions.
Modern technology is much more than a distraction, though, and it can be used for good! Because of the technology we do have, there are many creative ways to use it to tune in and communicate with our children. For example, the cell phone can be a wonderful way to keep in touch. As soon as your child gets a cell phone, start texting them regularly!
Messages like, “Just checking in.” “I love you.” “I’m proud of you.” “I’m thankful for you.” “When will you be home?” reaffirm your interest in and affection for your teenage son. Cell phones and text messages are just another way I can tune in and connect with them. It’s a great way to take advantage of this age of technology.
Even though my children are now grown, I continue to look for ways to tune in. I don’t think that will ever end no matter what season of life I’m in. Yes, it does take time and creativity and just when we think we have it down, our kids grow and change. Then we have to try new ways to tune in. Our children are worth the effort, don’t you think?