Friday, July 5, 2013

Relationships Before Rules (or, What Went Wrong? if your kids didn't turn out to be Just. Like. You.)

I recently witnessed a conversation where mothers were discussing their shock and dismay in observing the breakdown of relationships between adult children and their parents.  I have some thoughts on the subject.  :)

Perhaps like many of you, it is somewhat humbling to wade into this discussion because, you know---none of us knows what is to come with each of our children in the future.  Even for whatever experience we have with our grown children, it is by no means a perfect blueprint for what will come with others.

My oldest son is nearly 21 now.  My next oldest child is 17, so only one "launched" adult child so far here.  (We have six children in all)

we are on a continuum in our relationship with our children, moving from total "control" of their life when they are born, to eventually having *influence* 

This is scary for many parents, particularly for those who have very firm ideas about how their child should grow up and do things.  In a short time you will not be in a position of power or control with your grown children, and that is as it should be.  IF you have the sort of relationship with your child that causes that child to want to ask your advice or follow your life example or whatever, then that is a wonderful thing, because you will have many opportunities to help them along the big, serious things that come along in the adult life.  Everything from buying cars and houses, to getting married, choosing jobs, relocating, and parenting!  But if your relationship is one where your child has pulled away and cut you off, you are left on the outside while your child finds their own way in the world.

I believe that those strong, enduring love relationships with our children start from the very beginning and are nurtured all the way through.  

Your children are learning whether they can trust you, 
and whether your love for them is unconditional.  

They are seeing how you talk about people that you disagree with.  

They are observing our shortcomings, 
and the ways we solve relationship problems.  

They have a front-row seat for all of our flaws and hypocrisies and missteps.  

They see if we are operating from a place of love and grace, or a place of anger and offense and judgment.  

Their hearts are hopefully being knit closer to ours, 
but could be pulling away.

Their outward behavior when they are younger doesn't always tell the truest tale, either.  Some parents are very good at requiring a certain outward behavior, but that is not a guarantee that you have their heart or that their mind is open to you.

I see so often that Christian homeschooling families expect a certain outcome with their children.  They tend to be shocked when they invest so much and don't get "the product" they expected from it.  Here are some thoughts I have on this:

--If you homeschool, do it for the joy of it.  Do it because you enjoy spending time with your children.  Do it because you have a way of giving them a great education. Don't do it because you hate the local school system, or because you don't want your kids hanging out with non-Christian kids, or because you think that by keeping them at home for the first 18 years of their life you are purchasing a carbon-copy of yourself within your child.  Sure, there are a bunch of reasons why homeschooling happens, but don't let the angry, negative, judgy reasons rise to the top of the list.  All of that anger and gunk is unattractive.  Your kids will see it.

--Start letting go sooner than you have to.  There's nothing healthy about kids going from being under your thumb all the time to suddenly having freedom when they turn 18 or 20 or whatever.  You should start backing off years before.  Let them have some space to figure some things out.  Let them have space to figure out what they believe.  Let them have space to stand on their own two feet, or to make some mistakes, or to consider other possibilities in life.  Homeschool families love to say that they are Teaching Their Kids to THINK! and yet they are terrified when their kids do exactly that.  Part of the process of growing up and figuring out what you think is to pick apart what you've been taught, along with everything else that you're hearing, and weigh and measure and consider and grapple with the ideas.  This can take a long time.  It is part of the process.  

I know you may *think* that you want your kids to grow up and just believe what you taught them, but that would be a weak faith.  


And what they need from you is the space to do that, 
and for you to not 
freak out, 
and panic 
while they are in the process.  

You can allow your home
your relationship, 
and your family bonds
 to be the safe place 
for all of this wrestling through beliefs, 
you can allow your home 
to become rejecting of the process, 
and push your child away 
to places where others are open 
to hearing their developing thoughts 
and ideas 
and beliefs.  

Personally, I want my home to be the safe place.  

--GOOD NEWS!  18 or 21 or whatever is not the final answer on who we turn out to be.  That is not the end of the story.  So often *pride* gets in the way and parents get upset when their high school graduate isn't a shining example of whatever they thought they were producing. 

"What will people think?!"  

Or maybe they looked like they were a shining example at age 18, but by 20 or 21 they no longer are.  

Stop freaking out about this.  





God has got this.  

Back off.  

Go play with your other kids. 

 Take a deep breath.  (or 200)

Let this experience 
of loving your young adults 
through this stage 
show your other kids that 
your love is BIG ENOUGH 
to love them while they figure stuff out.  

Let your younger kids see that 

Now, all of that being said, I can read the minds of some of you.  You are thinking of many unacceptable extremes and wondering if I am saying you should just let your kids run wild, set a terrible example for the younger kids, endanger themselves, or whatever.  Obviously, no.  You certainly do have to be wise.  If you have a child that is determined to destroy themselves, you may not be able to intervene.  You may have to let go and fully entrust them to God's care.  You can still love in whatever ways are appropriate and safe, though.  Use your good sense, and let love lead you.  (Real love.  Not that junk where you act like a big jerk and call it love.)

What I too often have seen is parents that are fussing and fuming about peripheral issues that are near and dear to their heart, but should NOT be huge deal-breaking crisis issues.  

So what if your son wants to grow his hair out a little longer than you ever let him?  


He never got to do it before!!!**  

Now he's gonna try it and see how he likes it.  He might keep it.  He might not.  But you parents?  You should let go of expectations about his hair.  Frankly, I don't care if my kids have pink polka-dotted spiked mohawks---no hair style will ever be able to change my exuberant love for my children, nor will it ever change God's exuberant love for them!!

So your daughter was raised to wear dresses and skirts and now she's wearing jeans?  
Same thing: 
 This should not be a crisis.  

If you are going to put jeans vs. skirts ahead of a loving, friendly, growing, open relationship with your adult daughter, I believe you have made a poor exchange.  If you can't handle jeans, how can your daughter trust you to handle any other decisions she might make as an adult?!  You could very well be putting yourself outside of having a position of influence by making a big deal out of these issues.

What if your child has rejected the Christian faith? 

 Again, God is bigger and better at this than you or I.  

Get out of the way and let Him do His thing.  

No matter what age your child is at, 
they are not outside the reach of the Lord.  

Live your life, 
and let it be filled with 
pure love and grace.  
Love your kids 
while they 
and reject.  
If you can't love your own child through this, what kind of witness can you be to anyone else?!

At my house, the health and value of relationships comes before peripheral beliefs and rules. I'm trusting that this will continue to bear good fruit with my children.  I've never known an adult with a good relationship with parents who couldn't let go, couldn't give them space to be themselves, or respect their grown-up decisions.


Luke Holzmann said...

"They are seeing how you talk about people that you disagree with." I hadn't thought of it like this before, but I think you're on to something huge here. I talk to a ton of kids who can't/won't talk to their parents. Why? I think a big part of it is that they know--from watching--that their parents are not the kind of people you want to talk to. This is most assuredly not merely a homeschool parent problem.

Great post.


Homeschool on the Croft said...

Such a good post. We have four kids, and three of them are aged 16 - 20. I see so much of this in my own life, where I've had to just 'suggest' to one of them that 'maybe they could think about this .... '. Often times, I realize they've taken that advice - after a wee while - when they've thought the thing through themselves.

I've seen it happen with one daughter and make-up - wearing more than looked nice. It can be tempting to say, 'Go wash that off!', but instead, I would occasionally give a wee tip on how maybe to apply x around the eyes, or y on the lips. Gradually, I've seen the amount of make-up decrease to what is much more attractive. Better that she came to that herself, though, rather than my 'forcing' my level of make-up on her.

We have had some more major issues (not 'major*, I guess, by other people's standards, but things that were sin), and I am thankful that even in dealing with these, the children saw unconditional love. After all, what grace my Saviour has shown ME ... how can we not show it to our children?