Make Your Heart Known: How to Build Intimacy with Your Children
In the early years, parenting felt like one constant power struggle. I was the parent, to be respected and obeyed. They were expected to listen and learn. And although the days were filled with temper tantrums, time-outs, and tears, there was also a simplicity to our roles. Boundaries were clear and defined. The simple goals of obedience, kindness, and thoughtfulness were just that: blessedly simple. But life isn’t always black and white, and these past eight months have proven to be colored with every possible shade of gray.
I’ll admit that I’ve shared more of my thoughts and feelings with my children than I ever anticipated. This (recovering) bordering-on-authoritarian momma used to believe that any vulnerability on my part would be seen as a sign of weakness. But, the longer I’ve been a parent, the choices I now regret from my youth or memories that still make me cringe, creep more easily into our daily conversations together. Maybe it’s age or maybe it’s experience. Maybe it’s the look on their face when they’ve struggled, and I need them to understand they are not alone. What I know for certain, is that choosing to share my heart with my children, has become one more way God has chosen to soften the harder parts of me. Sharing my past or even current insecurities has opened wide the conversations we have over the course of the day.
My vulnerability has given them a safe place to practice empathy.
Where would we be now, as a family, if I had remained the strict disciplinarian, more concerned with obedience than a relationship? Would they have trusted me with their own feelings had they never seen my own fear or uncertainty? The initial months of solitude, while not without challenges, flung open every door of unease and frustration. Conversations were sometimes prickly from tension. Emotions were not always shared in words but felt in a look or slamming of a toy. But around the dinner table, with our hands joined and those feelings buzzing like bees above our heads, we gave them all names and then gave them to God.
Saying hard things with heads bowed creates bonds that last a lifetime.
Allowing our children to see who we are as individuals, as real human people, can seem like a daunting task. Where is the line? How much do we share and why? Those are all questions we must ask in our quiet time with the Lord. It is personal and unique to every family. Hear me, however, when I say that the goal is not friendship. That season will come in the years following adulthood and independence. I am speaking of the nurturing of trust and emotional security. It is modeling compassion between peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and distance learning.
I believe we can make ourselves known to our children in the same way Christ made himself known to the church: with great humility and honesty. Sometimes it means sharing a childhood disappointment or the loss of a first love. It can be the ridiculous adventure that ended with a storm, a flooded tent, and a soaking-wet midnight departure. It can be a gentle reminder that standing alone in the middle of a crowd of bad decisions happened to you, too. It is sympathizing with sibling rivalry or teaching them all the things you wish you’d said but were too afraid. It could be the heartbreak of losing the fourth-grade spelling bee or the unspoken fear of a career change. It is asking forgiveness when wrapping yourself in authority seems so much easier.
Make yourselves known, parents, and allow them to see the person behind the parenting veil. Your stories will become their stories and they will carry them with them for a lifetime.