You’ve probably heard me say it – that we are to parent with relationship. My byline is Intentional – relational – heart focused parenting! But it is important to understand that I am not talking about friendship. Friendship is a aspect of our family life that comes with maturity in our children. It is something that we can look forward to – but we blur lines, which is not helpful to our children growing up, if we make them our spiritual, moral, emotional, social or intellectual equal. So let’s look at the difference between relationship and friendship with our kids and how that affects our parenting.
I have a wonderful relationship with my mother. She is my best friend. She is the one I phone to cry with or to celebrate with. And though the distance of the whole country separates us we talk regularly. We dont just talk about the kids and everyday life – though we do do that, we challenge each other spiritually, we challenge each other to walk with character, and to be real people.
As a young mum – this is the type of relationship I wanted with my kids and it is a delight to be in that place now with each of my kids. We relate as friends – we are involved with each other’s lives, but it is because we invite each other in, it is not assumed just because we are family. To be honest, I cannot imagine doing life as an empty nester without my kids’ love, support, and encouragement – they are there for me, as much as I am there for them.
What mum and I have, and what my kids and I have, is a friendship – and yet it didn’t start off that way when I was a kid.
As a kid, I had a relationship with my parents, and my kids had a relationship with me. But it wasn’t friendship until later teen years.
All friendships start somewhere and grow and need appropriate boundaries.
Relationships need Boundaries
It is important that we parent with relationship – because in doing that we respect the personhood of our child, we are able to get alongside our children and get to know them, get to know how they think, get to know their passions and understand who they are. And no doubt as we relate to our kids, they certainly get to know who we are.
But friendship has an aspect of equalness. You relate to a friend because on some level you are a peer – you have shared experiences, values, abilities etc. Our young children are just not at that place with us.
A relationship is based on a commitment to love, support, encourage and trust a person. We can have a relationship with a child, and yet not be peers – we are not equal.
The Bible is very clear that God gives parents the responsibility to teach and train their children. Other than this God given authority, parents by the very nature of being older and more experienced (or wiser) have a lot to offer children. We abdicate that privilege when we make children our peers.
One of the trends I see in the parenting world is that we over-inflate respect to mean equal. Our children are equal in terms of being a person and that is why we parent with respect.
They made in the image of God, loved by God, and forgiven by God, but they are not equal in terms of experience, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.
When children are related to as mature and wise people, beyond their real maturity, they become wise in their own eyes. My grandfather would have called these kids “too big for their own britches” and no doubt he would desire to put them in their place. if he could. I believe the cultural practice of making our children friends is a reaction to the generation where children were seen and not heard, where they definitely had their place.
Making our kids our friends is not the only answer to this undesirable mindset – we can build our parent-child relationship and let it grow into friendship, to have friendship as our goal, a long-term goal, and not use it as a tool, to get our kids to do what we want now.
So it is important that we make this distinction between relationship and friendship.
Protect our Relationship by not being Friends
Three ways we can elevate our children to our friends even though they are not mature enough to be so:
- Laugh off their immaturity – when we chuckle at their immaturity, when we laugh it off and let them carry on, we tell them it is okay and learning anything different isn’t that important. And for sure, if our friend did something similar we may not challenge them on it – but these are our kids – we are responsible for teaching them right and wrong and helping them navigate their world. When we laugh things off – guarantee there will be a time, when our child does something similar and we do not have the patience for it. We will snap and our child will be confused. We accepted that behaviour when we were in a good mood, and now we are not happy with them. Imagine how confusing!! They’ve gone from being friend to being child. When we elevate our kids to peer friendship we confuse the lines for giving instruction and direction.
- Give them information about our adult world that they don’t need to know. When we expose our children to our adult world and our adult concerns we burden them with things they cannot carry. They are not equipped to handle these problems, not yet anyway. We can be honest about our struggles, but it is really best told from a place of victory – looking back so that they can learn, rather than in the midst where we seem to need their support. I don’t think it is healthy to not show our kids that we struggle – but they need to see how we are leaning on God, being honest with our spouse, and working on it – rather than being depended upon to be emotional or physical support.
- Let them contribute to an adult conversation that really isn’t their business. This opens the door for them to feel like our peer, and to elevate themselves above other kids who don’t know – this very attitude reflects that they aren’t old enough to be in the know and be a part of the conversation. I must admit there were times that I said – I’m sorry, that is none of your business! I wasn’t being rude, I was just placing boundaries around my private and personal heart, as well as protecting my children from information that they didn’t need to know. This of course – changed, as they grew older and become my friend.
When we make our children our friends, without them having the spiritual, moral, emotional, social, intellectual or even physical maturity to be that friend – we actually limit their growing – stunt it so to speak. When we let our children be children, and learn to take responsibility for different aspects of their world, learn to make wise choices based on values we teach and be competent in the lifeskills we get them to practice, they will gradulally grow in maturity and understanding and ability and be able to step into a friendship with you and other adults, with a maturity and confidence that reflects their age and maturity.
So how do we build relationship with our kids?
So how do we build relationship with our kids?
I think a good place for us to start is Love. It seems obvious and of course, you love your child. But I don’t think we can be reminded too often to think about how that love translates into actions – and to do a little quick check.
1 Cor 13 gives us a good guideline for that check.
Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
As we put that into action – as we live it out – that is the basis for a relationship. You cannot have a relationship without showing this kind of unconditional love.
Another way to build relationship with our kids is to remember that Love is spelt T.I.M.E.
Time stands for
Together – when you are together be fully present.
Individual – celebrate the unique individual of each person in your family.
Messy – show love in the middle of messy family life, don’t wait for it to be perfect.
Enthusiasm – be excited to be together.
How can you show love to your kids this week?
Heart-focused Action Step
The heart-focused action step this week is to think about your relationship with your kids and how you can improve on it.
Here are some questions to help you reflect:
Where is your relationship at with each of your kids? On a scale of 0-10 is it healthy?
- With adult-child boundaries?
- Do they know you love them unconditionally?
- Do they trust you?
- Do they want to be with you and be honest with you?
Would you say you need to build, mend or nurture a relationship with your child? And how are you going to do that?
Decide on one thing to do with each of your children that will make your relationship stronger. I’m not talking about going out on a fun one-on-one date, though that may be what you need to do. But maybe you need to apologise, ask for forgiveness, or offer forgiveness, maybe you need to re-establish some boundaries in how you relate to each other, maybe you need to be more present, or kind.
The relationship you build with your child now, a relationship built on love, respect, honesty along with shared memories and times of connection will be the relationship that carries you through the teen years and be the basis for a solid friendship as your children mature.
What type of Mum do you Want to be? 5 things I want my life as a mum to be characterised by and not one of them is to be a great house cleaner!
10 Ways to be a Good Listener: Communication is based on both listening and speaking; here I outline 10 ways to be a good listener regardless of the relational situation you are in.
Take the Time to Enjoy your Children: Take the time to enjoy your children; live in the moment and notice the little things. It doesn’t take much but it does take an intentional choice.
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I’ve been walking with Belinda (or she with me via her posts) for many years. At times when I felt the most vulnerable Belinda comes with the answer. Belinda, you’ve been one of my go-to parents in many cases. And I just love your podcast & newsletter going together. I look forward to many newsletters & podcasts. Kind Regards, Maryke Symington
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Hi there! I'm Belinda and I'm glad you are here!
I am a family life coach and help parents to raise their kids with faith, values and life skills in a way that is intentional, relational and heart-focused. Read more on the About page
You can learn about heart-focused parenting through my podcast, blog and weekly email (Heart Boosters).
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