The end of our parenting should be to build relationships with our children. Without a relationship, teaching, questioning, admitting, and giving example – the topics addressed in the previous columns – become less effective. This is part of the point the Pope Francis has been trying to make with regard to dealing with people who live lives contrary to the faith. If we want to deliver the truth to people about abortion, contraception, marriage, etc., we will be most effective within the context of a strong, loving relationship. So, relationship is both the end towards which we should strive and the context within which the delivery of the truth most effectively occurs. Parents must always keep this end in mind as they parent. Below are five things to keep in mind when striving for this end with our children:
- Invite your children into a relationship with Christ first. Being a Christian hinges more on being in a relationship with a Person – Jesus Christ – than it does on following rules. Continually remind your children that Jesus loves them, that He has a plan for their lives, and that He speaks to them. Invite them to give themselves to Jesus. Help them with the words in the form of a prayer. Something like, “Jesus, I know you love me. You died on the cross for me so that I can be with you forever. Please accept the gift of myself in return. Jesus, I give you myself – all that I am and all that I have – all my gifts and talents, all my weaknesses. I give you me. Do with me what you will.” Make it your own. Make it their own. The point here is to remember that Jesus is the foundation of all meaningful, loving, and lasting relationships. Without Him, our relationship with our children will never be all that it could be.
- Spend time with your children. Get down on the floor and play house with your daughter. Play catch with your son. In other words, invite them into a relationship with you. Let them know that you want to spend time with them. Give them yourselves – body and soul. When they are younger, go to their room for 15 minutes to play. No agenda. Keep it simple. Just spend time together. When they are older, make date nights with your kids. Just go get an ice cream together. Take a walk together. Pray that the Holy Spirit will lead the conversation. Then, let Him lead. Nothing at all may come up. In other cases, particularly if done regularly, they may ask you a question. Spending time together on a regular basis is the point here. So, make this a priority.
- Listen to them and listen to the Holy Spirit. We, as parents, can spend too much time talking. A question they ask with the help of the Holy Spirit may be the opportunity given to us to teach, to question, to admit. Your daughter may ask you, “Am I pretty?” Your son may ask, “how did you know that mom was the one?” Those are openings. Listen to the underlying issue as directed by the Holy Spirit. Be slow to speak in response. Listen.
- Speak carefully with your children. If they make themselves vulnerable through a question, tread carefully. Make sure that the result of your speaking is that your child says to herself, “I can talk to mom about stuff and not get hurt or lectured”. As parents, we really want to make sure that our kids will come back to us time and again for advice. We joke that we know that when they get older they will seek advice from many sources. They will have a list – friends, books, etc.. We just want to make sure that we’re on their list of sources. How we speak – what we say and how we say it – will determine if we make the cut. So, speak carefully.
- Rules and relationship go together. Make sure your children know that rules exist within relationships for the benefit of all. However, rules become easier to follow within a personal relationship. Our children need to know that if we have a rule, it is for their benefit, for their good. The stronger the relationship, the easier it is for them to believe that. Within that relationship, we, as parents, need to be willing to explain the reason for the rules from the viewpoint of the child. One way to convey this is to ask them why they think a particular rule exists. Let them begin to see that there is a reason behind the rule and that the primary reason is for their well being.
If we keep these five things in mind as we raise our children, we will find over time that we can more easily address the tougher issues and the Catholic teaching on those issues – sexuality, abortion, contraception, etc. – because we took time to talk about “less important things” together. We built a relationship.