In order to answer our parental vocation to evangelize our children, Pope Francis says we must be approachable to our kids. We must develop and cultivate an attitude of approachability. As a parent, you want your children coming to you to ask difficult questions, right?! After all, if they don’t come to you, to whom will they go? They may go to friends, or to the internet, or to television, or to “God only knows where else” to find answers. In fact, whether we like it or not – whether we’re approachable or not, they may go to those sources of information and advice anyway. So, particularly if they do go elsewhere, we really want them to come to us. We want them to “approach” us for answers to tough questions. So, what can I do as a parent to become more approachable?
1. First, recognize when you are being approached. Many times we miss the times when they are asking. We need to recognize those windows of opportunity that open up with a simple question that leaves them vulnerable. For example, “Daddy, am I pretty?” or “Momma, how did you know that daddy was the one?” are questions that frequently come from deeper, even more intimate questions that remain unasked. If you brush them off or simply answer them factually – i.e. “of course, your pretty, honey”, you are missing the opportunity. You didn’t recognize being approached. Become characterized like this in the eyes of your children, and soon they will stop approaching you.
2. Second, be known as a listener first. Resist the urge to respond to quickly. Listen to their questions, but also listen to the questions behind their questions. You need to forget the next chore, the next event, the next whatever, and focus with both eyes and both ears to the child who comes to you. Make sure that your body is in a posture that says, “I’m listening to you and you alone right now.” Many people who met Blessed Teresa of Calcutta have been heard to say, that when you spoke to her, you felt like you were the only person in the world. If you were talking, she looked at you in the eye and nodded, questioned, expressed concern. She treated you like no one else and nothing else existed. As parents, we should pray for the grace to attend to our children this way.
3. Third, ask questions. As parents, we need to clarify what they’re really asking. We have a friend who had his 8 year old ask him what sex was. After his initial panic, he calmed down and simply asked, “Why are you asking?” The child pulled out a form he was filling out. In the top left hand corner box, the child pointed to a section of the form that was entitled “SEX”. Then he said, “Dad, below it has an “M” and an “F”, which one should I check. Sometimes, kids are not asking what we think they’re asking. So, ask questions to clarify.
4. Fourth, provide information. Provide them with something to “chew” on, so to speak – preferably without providing an answer to their question. For example, when asked by one of our sons if he thought dating in the early years of high school was ok, instead of providing a “yes” or “no” answer, Trey spoke about his high school girl friend and how much he thought that he was “in love” with her. He then proceeded to explain that he and his girl friend had been good friends before they dated, and that, after the break-up, they were no longer friends. He spoke of the fact that he looks back and thinks about the friend that he lost because of dating to soon. As you might imagine, the conversation grew from there.
5. Fifth, help him think through the situation. What we’re wanting to accomplish is for the children to come to the right answer to the question themselves. We want them to own it. Not to feel like it is imposed from outside. To clarify, as parents, we have the right and authority (and sometimes the need) to put our foot down – to say “because I told you so.” If a child is playing in the street and a car is approaching (no pun intended), we don’t need to be worried about our attitude of approachability. We need to run out there and get the child out of the road. However, we need to evaluate each situation and always try to avoid, if possible, “because I said so.” We should be known for “proposing” instead of for “imposing”. If we we do that, then they will come to us with other problems in the future. If we do that, the answer will be their own and will “stick” more readily. If we do that, we will have shown them that we have an attitude of approachability.