When connecting with our kids is a struggle, sometimes it can feel like we have to “just try harder.” But if we’re really stuck, “just trying harder” doesn’t cut it.
What “just trying harder” can miss is that at the root of a struggle to connect can be a host of other issues.
Pretending that all is well will only perpetuate these troubles. In order to make real progress, we need to stop “trying harder” and look under the surface to address the real roadblocks — whether discouragement, exhaustion, awkwardness, disappointment and resentment, or even my own feelings of disconnection.
We’ve written about some of these issues, but the important thing to remember is that whatever barriers to connection you’re wrestling with, the starting place is honesty with God and with a few trusted people who will encourage and pray for you.
Once I’ve been “brutally honest” about the situation, there are practical ways that I can build my Foundation for the joy of Connection with my children. Here are a few.
1. Contentment – Embrace reality in the light of God’s truth
Everyone has dreams for themselves and their children. Most, if not all, of the difficulties parents encounter along the way run counter to these dreams. If the difficulties deepen, parents often work to keep the dreams alive. They exert pressure on themselves and on their children to live up to these expectations. Particularly with firstborn children, there is a desire to be a perfect parent and have a child who is the reflection of that perfection.
At some point there grows a tension between the dream and what is real. It becomes clear that the dream is perhaps more fantasy than possibility. The key to true growth is to let go of the dreams and accept myself and my child, roses, thorns, and all! Only then can my love and dreams for my child be communicated freely, with the child’s best interest in mind.
This means that I:
- Accept the reality that neither my child nor I can or will ever get it entirely right.
- Admit that parenting is not what I expected. This may mean letting go of a false standard for myself, or grieving as I release hope for the “child of my dreams.”
- Learn to get my self-worth not from my children’s behavior but from God’s delight in me.
- Embrace core beliefs in line with Scripture: This child is a gift, created for eternally valuable purposes.
- Realize — perhaps more difficult to believe — that I am a gift to my child, uniquely matched to my child for God’s good purposes.
A good friend of ours has young children, wired similarly to our children: intense, hypersensitive to sensory experiences, and exceptionally active. He stated his “contented realization” succinctly and wisely: “Our children will struggle, but we are going to be okay. Jesus is enough.”
As this statement became a core belief, it transformed his relationship with his children. His frustration due to unmet, unrealistic high expectations was replaced with encouragement and joyful connection.
Freedom, joy, and connection come alive when I embrace myself as an imperfect parent, raising imperfect children, on a journey together to discover the love of God.
2. Commitment – Prioritize true connection
The priority of connection is expressed in the truth of Galatians 5:6: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
Families are stronger when parents “drive a stake in the ground” about the priority of Connection – true, real-life connection – to God and with each other, and then with their children. Connection is the bottom line in healthy relationships with children. It is the glue that strengthens families. That’s why it’s the first thing we build on our Foundation in our framework for the effort and energy parents give to their children. It requires a lot: commitment, time, insight, vulnerability, and perseverance. But from this place of strong connection, children are equipped to connect well to the world around them.
There are still many intense moments in the Jackson household. The “ballast in our boat” that keeps us balanced and rights us when we tip in a storm is the shared core belief/value that connection with God and with each other is primary. As we have prioritized, practiced, and discussed with our children the importance of connection, we have seen them begin to adopt the same conviction.
After a particularly intense conflict with Lynne, Daniel (at age 12) said to her, “Mom, we’ve been mad at each other a lot this morning, so I think we should go play tennis together.” She was shocked, and marveled that he valued connection so deeply. Clearly he had established a vital core belief, one that will serve him well when he eventually parents his own children, who may well inherit his spunk.
As we build our Foundation to support a commitment to Connection, we strengthen our ability to embody the unconditional love of God to our children. This place — the place of embracing reality and prioritizing true connection — is the place I must continually go if I am to grow as a parent.
Apply It Now:
- Look back over the issues and beliefs listed in this post. Where are some areas you feel particularly strong? Where are some areas you feel less strong? Take a few moments to reflect and pray about how you might strengthen your Foundation in these areas.
- If you feel particularly stuck, consider contacting us about our parent coaching to get some one-on-one help.
This post is an excerpt from our book, How to Grow a Connected Family.
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