How do we relate to our kids?
That’s the heart of our first session of Bring Faith Home.
The foundation we lay for our family is going to communicate a lot to our kids. It will also set the stage for how we are going to relate to them.
BIBLICAL COVENANT MODEL
So then what is our foundation? What values can we build around? Turning to Biblical models, Drs. Jack and Judith Balswick point out a 4-step spiral of covenant relationship (The Family, 3rd edition, 2007).
The first step is the Initial Covenant, where God approaches Israel to enter into a relationship. When your child is born, your initial covenant begins with him or her. But you won’t always relate to them as a newborn. Eventually, your child will grow and stumble. That’s why there’s a second step of Grace.
Grace is to give what isn’t deserved. When our children make mistakes, we don’t stop loving them; we forgive and correct, but we shouldn’t take away their freedom to grow. Allowing them the freedom to learn from their mistakes is what infuses additional trust into your family. It’s by this freedom that you move into the third step of Empowerment.
Empowering your children means intentionally giving them authority that is otherwise yours. You could do everything for them, but instead you allow them to work in partnership with you. It’s a great act of love to work alongside your children, especially when they slow down your work. But this time spent is what draws us into the fourth step of Intimacy.
Knowing our children and being known by them is what Intimacy is all about in relating to our kids. They recognize us and all we do out of love for them. We recognize their unique gifts, insights, and places of growth. This intimacy is what allows us to walk into new situations that start a whole new Initial Covenant and cycle.
Along with walking through these cycle steps, we need the right attitude in approaching our kids. That’s where we have the intersection of the direction of our relationship (unilateral or bilateral) and the style of our love (conditional or unconditional). This again is borrowed from Drs. Balswick.
Modern Open Agreement Parenting
When we have a one-way relationship that has conditional love attached to it, we come to a Modern Open Agreement. This is like how you relate to Starbucks: there’s an unspoken expectation that as long as you give me the right coffee in a timely manner we will do business. Get my order wrong, I don’t come back. Make me wait 30 minutes, I leave. It’s how daily life operates. But that’s no way to build a family.
Kids need clear expectations laid out for them. A Modern Open Agreement can feel like the rug gets pulled out from under them, because they couldn’t read your mind and think like an adult.
Also, this is dangerous to do with our kids as they will learn relationships are meant to be selfish. After all, it’s a one-way deal (unilateral) that is dependent on you fulfilling a need of mine (conditional).
This looks like a child scoring an own-goal in soccer, not realizing his mistake, and getting chewed out after the game by his previously-supportive-but-now-embarrassed father.
So what about opening up the conversation and letting our kids have a say? Sounds better, right?
Well, it’s a step forward to be in a Contract relationship with your children in that you aren’t the only voice. But that comes at a cost too.
In a contract, pressure is put on your children to perform up to the agreed upon terms. This time they have buy-in, so if they fall short the guilt comes aplenty.
Picture that same soccer game. Now, instead of the unexpected blow-up from Dad, he dreads the whole game what the conversation will be like.
So then, how about loving my child unconditionally? That should do it!
If it’s still a one-way conversation… not so much.
Then you have a helicopter scenario.
The danger of a helicopter parent is not that you’ll annoy teachers and fellow parents.
The danger of a helicopter parent is that you children will grow into a life where they have no buy-in.
Because it’s a unilateral conversation, the parent does all the communicating. Pair that with an unconditional love where the child learns only forgiveness and never consequence and you have a dangerous pairing.
“Mom/Dad will take care of everything and I can do no wrong.”
That is the incredible danger of unchecked unconditional love happening in a one-way conversation.
Mature Covenant Parenting
Which then brings us to the final option: Mature Covenant Parenting.
By making the conversation a two-way street, parents and kids can work through the cycle outlined above. These steps combined with an unconditional love will bring about a mature relationship between parent and child.
This is the foundation we need in our family.
About Unconditional Love
A brief note about unconditional love: it’s not exclusively about forgiveness.
When our children make mistakes, we absolutely want forgiveness to be plain to them. But we also can’t shirk the importance of consequences.
There was a saying in the early church, “Love forgives the most and permits the least.”
Because of your unconditional love for your child, you will forgive them and be proud of them no matter what.
But also communicate that it is out of love you push them to do better. Because you love them, you want to see them give their best effort.
Forgive the most and permit the least.
So some takeaway activities for this week!
What can we do with this information to help BRING FAITH HOME?
In brief moments this week, pause and ask yourself, “Did we just communicate unilaterally or bilaterally?” “Am I helicoptering or empowering?” “What foundation is this setting up?”
Don’t do this to judge yourself, but just to take notice of where your defaults are. This will be important in making slow, lasting changes that can give your family a stronger foundation of faith.
2. High / Low / High
Have a meal together at home with everyone around the table. Then, before you all leave the table, go around and share your High / Low / High.
The first high is something good from the past week. The low is a struggle you faced in the past week. The second high is what you are most looking forward to in the week ahead.
This is a great way to open the doors of communication to your kids, but only if you are willing to be honest with them. Being age-appropriate is obviously key, but intimacy will only work from your kids if they see you modeling to them. Make yourself known.
3. Movie Night!
Watch a movie as a family, and afterward take a few minutes to point out some of the values you just watched (works well during the credits).
Disney movies are great for this as the moral of the story is usually pretty simple. Help your kids see the reasons people make the decisions they do and say the things they say.
Connect this to your own family’s values. Point out what you are building on as a family. Remind them that you love them, want to see them grow, and are there no matter what.