We were driving home from a Boy Scout camping trip this past weekend, our 12 year old chattering our ear off as expected.
"Jeff* said that he thinks his dad hates him. He never talks to him. He said that his dad only drops him off places or takes him anywhere so that his mom won't yell at him."
"Bobby* doesn't get along with his mom at all either. She yells at him at the time. And she doesn't believe anything he says."
I assumed that they were just exaggerating, as kids will do, and suggested as much to my son.
"No, mom. Especially not with Jeff and his dad. In fact, Jeff plays assassin games all the time so that he can take his anger out on the game and not on his dad."
These are good boys. From, as far as I can tell, good homes. I would be devastated if any of my kids were having these types of conversations about me. Or felt that way about their dad and me.
And for my son, I think it made him sad to know that his friends had these types of relationships with their parents.
We aren't perfect parents. No one is. But here are some things that we try to do regularly to make sure that we keep that solid relationship with our kids:
~ Tell them we love them. A lot. All the time. Over and over. And then one more time. You cannot possibly tell your children you love them too much. Embarrass them in front of their friends by telling them you love them.
~ Touch them. I know that as my kids are getting older, they are less cuddly. But that doesn't mean that they don't need to be touched. Physical touch is powerful. A quick hug. A pat on the back. High five. Fist bump. Shoulder squeeze. Dads, rough house a little with your boys. Moms, rough house a little if you're brave enough. As long as they haven't expressed discomfort (ie. my son does not like to be kissed on the face anywhere, cheek included), then do it. Just because they no longer climb into your lap, doesn't mean they no longer want to be held in some way.
~ Show up for them. If something is important to them, it's important to us. We watch every soccer practice and game. We're there every time the children's choir performs at church. If my son has a role of any kind in a ceremony with scouts, we're there. It doesn't matter how small or insignificant it seems to us. If it matters to them, it matters to us. For example, our son is the Chaplain for his Boy Scout troop. Recently he led his first worship service after a camping trip. My husband had been on the trip, but had to leave early for work, so I came armed with the video camera to tape our son presenting the worship service he had worked so hard to prepare for. Would he have understood if I hadn't come? Sure. Did it mean something to him that I was there? Yeah, it meant a lot.
~ Listen to them. Even when they are talking about the most recent video game they want to buy and you find your eyeballs rolling up inside your head. Force yourself to listen to them. Ask questions. Be engaged. You don't have to know all the lingo. You don't even have to remember everything they said. They just want to know you were listening.
~ Be transparent. Be real. We are straight up honest with our kids. If they ask a question, they get the answer. We don't sugar coat. Our kids have watched us live out our faith right in front of them. They know that life is ugly. We've discussed finances and depression, death and drugs. We admit when we screw up. We've had to apologize to them and to each other in front of them. On the flip side of that, though, they "get" real. They know that we don't expect perfection. That when we are trying to help them learn how to control their anger or overcome their anxieties and we say that we understand, we really do understand. They know that they can believe us.
~ Ask their opinions. Don't always tell them what to do. Ask them their opinions. In our house we have negotiable things and non-negotiable things. They may not complain or argue about going to Tae Kwon Do, going to church, or doing school. How and when we do those things may be discussed. And they often are. And sometimes they raise very valid points and I find myself changing plans. That shows them that what they think matters. But that's not all I ask them about. I ask their opinions about each other. When I'm having an issue with a particular sibling or have a specific concern, I may ask for their insight. I'm often amazed at what perspectives they may have that differ from my own.
~ With that, give them a safe way to express their opinions to us. We don't always get along. Sometimes we get quite frustrated with one another, and we find it's best to walk away. But they always know that it's safe to come back and continue our conversation. We try to avoid yelling so they understand that yelling is rarely an effective form of communication. Our children are unique creations of God, and He has given them an imagination and an intelligence. As they get older, we are trying to remember that God has created this time for them to learn to hone their debating skills. And home is always a safe place to be yourself. Even when you don't see eye to eye with mom and dad.
~ And did I mention tell them you love them. A lot. And then tell them again. Just in case they forgot already.
What would you add to the list?
Linking up with Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers and Many Little Blessings
*Names have been changed