Building a Relationship With Your Children

Note from Barbara: Being a mother has been my greatest privilege as a follower of Christ. It was also my greatest challenge! Teaching and helping and modeling and training children to grow into responsible adults with their own faith is not a small assignment in any generation.

Now that they are all on their own, I delight in watching my kids and their own children become who God made them to be. The relationship we began from their infancy continues today though in very different ways.

This post is the beginning of a four-part series which highlights four of the most important qualities a parent must impart to their children. The importance of your relationship with your children is the beginning and the bedrock of who they will become and whose they will become. I hope you enjoy and are encouraged by these words.

Did you know we were made by God for relationships?

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But it’s easy, especially in America, to think that life is all about us. When you read Scripture, it quickly becomes apparent that we were created for much more.

In the Garden of Eden, God made us like Himself, in His image, so we could have a relationship with Him, unlike the animals who could be enjoyed but not known. God made us to know and be known, discover and be discovered, and become all He intended. Humans are created with the ability to see, hear, smell, touch, and speak to one another. God also created us with cognitive and emotional capacities to be loved and to love in return, so that we can enjoy relationships with others. 1 John 3:11 tells us, “… this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.”

Even though we know this truth as parents, we often fail to address it as we raise our kids. We teach them how to behave well outwardly. We quickly and necessarily correct inappropriate behavior. But do we purposefully teach and train them how to love biblically and develop relational life skills? 

The family has always been God’s first and best classroom for learning how to relate to others. Home is where children can be loved and can learn to love, where they learn that selfishness and love can’t coexist, and what to do when they hurt others and fail to love well.

Love is the basis of relationships.

A relationship is like a highway with one or more lanes going in each direction. On one side of the median is the love you initiate to your children; the lane in the other direction is their response back to you. It’s never too late to start building a stronger relationship bridge with your children and keep its lanes, entrances, and exits maintained and strong.

This relationship road, complete with bridges that span our many differences, will give you the right of way to:

  • Give unconditional love daily, repeatedly.
  • Comfort in times of failure, loss, and sickness.
  • Speak words of truth when friends reject, tempt, or criticize.
  • Lead your children to Jesus over and over and over.
  • Answer the thousands of questions asked seemingly every week, or with some kids every day!

Now for some how-to’s!

Here are three practical ways to start building relational roads and bridges to your children with the result of deepening bonds with one another.

  1. Value your children as gifts from God.

One of the most important ways to love each child’s heart is by receiving them with thanksgiving to God over and over again, and by voicing that gratitude in each child’s presence using his or her name. “I’m so thankful God gave you to us, Max. What a delight you are!” Don’t just use their full name when they are in trouble.

The Psalms declare, “Behold, children are a heritage, an inheritance, from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward” (Psalm 127:3).

Loving is easy when they are smiling, happy babies, sweetly singing preschoolers, well-performing school-aged kids, and successful, well-liked teens. And love is always easy when your children are sleeping peacefully and safely at home. Ahhh. Even teens are easy to love when they are asleep!

But love isn’t so easy when children cry all night, refuse to get in the car seat, hit others at school, don’t try hard enough in middle school, rebel against all your standards, scream and yell that you don’t love them, and make life miserable for everyone in the family. We had kids who weren’t easy to love … we remember the phone call from a teacher saying that one of our teens had been caught cheating in class … or the time a child yelled, “You are the meanest parents ever!”

Consistent, unending love is dependent on choice … daily choosing to love regardless of how you feel, choosing to believe the good potential you know God put in your children, and calling out that goodness. Choosing to love means:

  • You choose self-control when you’d rather yell.
  • You choose to tell them you love them every day even when you don’t feel like it.
  • You choose to thank God for a child’s taste preferences, aversion to textures, interest in cooking rather than basketball, and a thousand other surprises you never expected to see.
  • You choose to express affection when your children act disinterested because you know it’s important. Even when they push back or refuse to hug you in return.
  • You choose to thank God over and over for the gift of each child to you and your family no matter what. Remember God does not make mistakes.

If you let your children’s negative actions or behavior stop you from moving forward in love, they are controlling you. The good qualities they need you to recognize, name, and call out get lost. It is imperative that you, the parent, remain more mature, more dependent on God, more prayerful, more committed to loving well than your children. You set the tone.

  1. Pursue your children.

Pursuit is action. It’s initiative and movement. The demonstration of love is a commitment to pursue, a refusal to quit. Pursuing love finds a way to build a bridge in the middle of a battle, crisis, or impasse.

One of the ways that Dennis pursued our children was by dating each one individually. Because he traveled a good bit, he intentionally took them on “dates” or fun outings. By the time they were teens they had a decade of special times with their dad. These were great times to have fun together and great opportunities to call them up to excellence and remind them of who they were and who they belonged to. These experiences built a relational road that was invaluable during the adolescent years.

Set an achievable goal of two dates a year per child as a starting place. It’s the simplicity of positive, focused time together with purposeful words of affirmation spoken eye-to-eye that makes it meaningful and unforgettable.

For me, as a full-time stay-at-home mom who had more time than I sometimes wanted with my kids, I chose natural one-on-one times with them to invest in our relationship—running carpool, eating meals, driving to lessons, taking them to the orthodontist and other appointments, etc. I tried to make the time intentional by asking questions and finding ways to get to know this one child apart from his siblings.

Here are some questions to try:

  • What was hard about your day?
  • What was the “high and low” of your day?
  • What is something new you learned today?
  • Who was kind to you today? Who were you kind to today?
  • Did God show you something new about yourself or someone else today?

Dennis and I also made it a point to name at least one affirming quality a day to each of our children, even if it was just a reminder of our unconditional love. Parents are generous with our corrections, most of which are needed, but our kids need to hear us name what is good, too. With our adopted child we often reminded her, “Ten times out of ten we would choose you all over again!” With our child who experienced a physical disability, we continued to express belief, “We believe God has a great plan for you.”

Why? Because, belief keeps hope alive, especially during the teenage years. Many teenagers struggle with self-doubt and wonder if God really does have a plan for their lives. Name all that you see that is good to help them remember and not lose heart.

  1. Forgive your children.

In this way parents are like God to their children. We imitate, demonstrate, and model what God did for us. Over and over and over. In the process we grow a relationship with each child, and our relationship with God grows exponentially deeper as we desperately depend on Him.

At the same time our children begin to take baby steps toward their own relationship with the Creator God who formed them, parent and child practice giving and receiving forgiveness.

Paul writes an invaluable challenge from God in Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Forgiveness is the bedrock of a relationship.

Do our kids deserve our forgiveness? Many times we feel the answer is no. But God is our model. He refused to let your rejection of Him, your offense of His holy standards, your running away from Him, your decisions to do life your way as if you were smarter than your Creator, stop His love from pursuing you.

When you truly forgive your children, you don’t let their rejection, their angry words, or their decision to deliberately disobey stop you from loving and forgiving them. You give up the right to be angry and withdraw from them or lash out at them. Forgiveness frees you from being imprisoned in resentment and gives you the confidence to come across the bridge toward him to re-establish and experience a relationship with them.

Forgiveness is a choice. When you choose to forgive, you keep the relationship alive.

Conflict is normal in all families. Homes that don’t have conflict don’t have real relationships with real people. We are all broken people—selfish moms, angry dads, and children who are just like them … and so we hurt one another. It’s why true forgiveness is the ultimate maintainer of bridges … God to man and parent to child.

Application

Plan a date with your spouse, even if it’s an after-the-kids are-in-bed living room date with two cups of decaf or tea. Find even 30 minutes to talk about these questions and how you can improve intentional relationship building with each of your kids. If you are a single parent I hope you can find another mom or dad in a similar situation who you can talk to and share ideas, solutions, and prayer for one another. Parenting is best done with a partner.

  1. Discuss where your relationship currently stands with each of your children. Are you satisfied with each one, or do you see room to grow?
  2. Which of the three relationship-building ideas noted above is the hardest for you with each child? Which is the easiest with each child?
  3. What is one practical way you can commit to build a relationship with each of your children this week? Will it be a little date? Asking a few key questions? Speaking a positive affirmation to each child each day?

Help each other follow through with your commitments with gentle reminders and big encouragements when you see each other pursuing your children in the next few days. All these little investments add up over the years.

Building a relationship with each of your children will pay off not only now but also in the years to come after they leave home and live on their own.

Parent-child relationships are the first and most lasting work you will do. They matter!

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