I’m an introvert who prefers to be alone, but I also love being a husband and father. A busy family leaves little time for solitude, and with a wife and four children at home, and a team of employees in my charge at work – all right in the heart of New York city, to say I’m in over my head with relationships would be a serious understatement. I would be drowning in guilt and out of energy if I hadn’t learned one important secret.
The secret is found in the Gospel story… actually, it IS the Gospel story. The way God relates to us is the only example we need to completely transform every relationship in our life.
So, what’s the secret?
People, even little people, naturally follow others who know them and are invested in helping them work out life’s circumstances.
After thousands of years laying out the rules and consequences, God proved the type of creatures we are: We are hopelessly incapable of trusting external wisdom, even if it’s from the God of the universe! Then, in a master play to capture our hearts and win our devotion, He sends His Son to live life in our shoes (to fully understand us) and then takes upon himself our sin, laying His life down for ours (unequivocally proving his investment in our well being).
This isn’t new to us. As Christians we relish God’s Mercy and Grace, in Christ coming to dwell with us. And I’m sure that none of us long for the good old days of the Old Testament system.
So why do we parent like Old Testament parents? Why are we so quick to accept the way God leads us in relationship and by faith, but so often turn around and give our children something so prescriptive? How can we train their hearts and reach them? More importantly, how can we turn our hearts to our children and adopt a Gospel centered parenting style – even in the midst of our busy lives?
Here are three habits that have been helpful for our family that might be helpful for you. They are small acts that can reset the patterns for how you relate and offer tangible grace. The focus is simply on making time to listen you your kids and showing you care about what is important to them.
1. Kid Conferences
Schedule a 1-1 date time with each kid at least once a month. This is a time for you to listen. Draw out their feelings with questions like, “what’s the first thing you thought about when you woke up this morning?”, or “what’s one thing I could be doing better as your mom/dad?”.
2. Kids Day Off
For a whole day, try not to ask anything of your kids. Don’t ask your kids to clean anything or pick anything up. Instead, calmly do it for them. Don’t ask them to bring you things from the other room. When you let your kids breathe and take some weight off them, even for a day, you might be surprised how much more relaxed and willing to share with you they are.
3. Look Before You Ask
Every time you want to ask one of your children to do something, try to first look at what they are doing and say something that shows you see them and care about what they are working on.
For example: Let’s say you want your daughter to clear the table for dinner, but you look over and notice she has made a huge mess – she is sitting there with dozens of pieces of paper and hundreds of crayons strewn every which way! Before you say a word, stopy yourself, and take a look at what she is doing. Instead of showing your frustration or focusing on just the task, ask something like, “Oh wow, that’s a beautiful picture, what is it?” After they answer, then move to asking what you wanted to. “Can you please move your beautiful picture so you can help me set the table?”
Simply observing first and listening well is such a good habit to be in with everyone in your life. It’s probably the simplest and most effective way to continually communicate your interest and win people’s hearts. Try it at work (or with your spouse) and you’ll be amazed what a difference it can make!
In the midst of the coming Christmas busyness, let’s all take a little time to stop and really see our children with New Testament eyes. Let them know that we know them and love them, and want to come alongside them to help navigate this messy world, in the same way our Savior came to do for us.