Welcome to week two of “Building a Bridge to Your Child’s Heart”. If you missed last week it, last week we said we need to Be Aware.
The second way we craft a bridge to our child’s heart is being approachable. Our children are living in times that are both very fast pace and very difficult. They carry the weight of trying to figure out this world and sometimes that’s hard for an adult to do, let alone an adolescent. Often what they need most from us is a safe place to talk. Listen to Amber, age 17 in “Real Teens, Real Issues” :
“If I could tell my mother and father something and they promised not to interrupt or pass judgment or yell, I would tell them all the times I’ve lied to them, the times I said I was going places that I never went, how I told them all about movies I’d never seen. I would tell them about my last relationship, the stuff that they don’t know. I would tell them about the time when we left the school dance and went to a secluded part in the woods and how he tried to make me do things I didn’t want to do. I’d them how hard it was when he was telling me what he wanted to do and how I said no and how he pressured me more than I could take. I’d tell them how I cried myself to sleep every night and how he told me I was nothing and didn’t deserve anything, how he told me that I was a hypocrite whenever I wouldn’t do sexual things, how I came so close to losing my virginity. I’d tell my mom that her stupid curfew kept me safe. I’d tell them how he left bruises on my arms and how when I asked him if he loved me, he would say, “I guess so, as much as anyone really can.” I would tell them I was sorry for breaking the rules, for bending them and wanting them to change. I would tell them that even though I thought the rules were stupid then, they kept me safe. I’d tell my parents that, because of them, I’m okay now.” (p. 96 – 97)
When I first read this passage, I thought, “This poor girl! She needed her parent to understand.” That afternoon after school I read the passage to my son. He said, “I know exactly how she felt! There have been plenty of times when I have wanted to tell you things, but I knew you would freak out!” I couldn’t believe this! I considered myself a pretty cool parent; did my son really feel that way? After much pleading, I convinced him that I wouldn’t in fact freak out and he finally shared with me some temptations and trials that he had experienced way back in middle school. At that point, I decided I would do what I could to be more approachable.
So often what our children need is for us to just listen and to be given permission to feel. I know that often when my child expresses a negative emotion or an opinion that is different than my own, I immediately work to change it. “Don’t say you feel ugly today! Your hair looks just fine!” “Your friend didn’t really mean to hurt your feelings; she just wasn’t thinking before she spoke.” Each time I do this, I am teaching my child that I am not a safe place; she can’t really express how she feels to me. It may start off with small things, but if she can’t trust me with the small issues in life, she will never trust me with the big.
Recently, Madi was telling me about a friendship issue she is having. I asked her, “Would you like me to just listen or do you want advice?” She said just listen; I kept quiet. Romans 12:15 tells us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn”. Sometimes what they need from us is to just be happy or sad with them.
So just how do you become an approachable parent?
The key is learning to respond instead of react. The definition of reacting is: to respond to a stimulus in a particular manner or to act in opposition, as against some force.
Unfortunately the one we are against when we react is the exact one that we are trying to have a relationship with!
The definition of responding is to reply or answer in words or to react favorably. I once heard Ron Blue say, “We should be thermostats instead of thermometers.” He was talking about finances, but it works for investing in teens. Thermometers tell us the temperature, a thermostat sets it. By responding instead of reacting we are setting the temperature.
We set the temperature when we exercise self-control. When we react or are unapproachable, communication shuts down; crashing to an end.
Even if they are out of control, we don’t have to be.
Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. “ We are the parents; they are the kids. They need a safe place and we need to be that safe place.
What steps can you take to “set” the temperature in your home?