5. Failing to save kids from themselves. Years ago when our girls were small, I had been burning the candle at both ends, working, going to graduate school, and raising the kids. My wife asked me one evening when I was planning on taking a day off. I brushed her off, but she kept asking, and wouldn’t let it go. Finally I got angry and said, “Why do you keep harping on this?” She gently smiled and took both of my hands in hers, looked me deeply in the eyes, and said, “Because you need me to.” She was right. I didn’t realize it at the time, but she was right. I needed her to save me from myself. Parents, our kids need us to do that for them. We can’t let them set the agenda for their lives. We have to set limits for them: bedtimes, screening certain movies before they watch them, deciding certain movies and TV shows are simply off limits, making them bear down and do their homework, curfews — these things are simply essential if we are going to keep our children from making choices that could mess up their lives. Parents, if you don’t save your kids from themselves, who’s going to?
6. Failing to teach children about God. For some reason we’ll tell kids not to play in the street, we’ll tell them to stay out of debt, we’ll tell them to wash their hands before eating, but some parents will not tell their kids how to know God. “I want this to be a personal choice for my child.” Why do some parents pass on all their other values to their children, and then intentionally take a back seat when it comes to the thing which probably determine who they become more than any other single thing? Sure, the day will come when your child will have to decide on his/her own not to play in the street, but they won’t even know staying out of the street is important (or live to come to know it) if you don’t simply tell them not to do it for a few years. Sure the day will come when your child has to decide what he/she believes about God, but if you’ve never taught them to value it, chances are they won’t value it. What you fail to teach speaks volumes. So take your kids to church. Teach them about God. And when the day comes when they start asking questions of their own, respond with authenticity from your point of view, and love and respect them enough to honor their journey.
7. Failing to listen. I’m ending with a biggie. More parent/child relationships are damaged by a parent’s failure to listen than probably anything else. And I don’t mean standing in the same room while your child talks. I mean getting on your child’s level, putting down the paper or the mail or the magazine, or turning the TV/computer off, turning to face your child in your home office chair, and looking at them while they talk to you. I mean asking them the kinds of questions that indicate that you are interested. Let’s face it – we’re not always interested. Sometimes we are distracted. Sometimes we forget that it’s not just that our children are talking again, it’s that we are in the presence of angels — that we bear witness to a miracle, standing right there in front of us. We are distracted into forgetting the beauty and sacredness of those moments. And so too often we don’t look at them. We keep typing. We nod and smile and say, “Uh-huh,” but don’t even know to what. Later, when our children are bigger, they come to tell us about heartaches, and disappointments, but instead of listening we lecture. We say, “I told you not to do that.” Our voices raise and we get intense. Of course it’s because we love them, and we are sometimes scared, and feel out of control, and don’t know what to do. But in those moments, we can’t go wrong by being quiet, and listening, and saying, “I’m so sorry this is happening. I’d take it all away if I could. I love you, and whenever you need to talk, I will always be here and won’t judge you, or punish you.” Say that, parents, and you won’t have to solve your child’s problem. One of their deepest needs is for your steady and loving guidance and support. They crave it more than they understand. They will do whatever they have to do to get your attention, including acting out, including getting sexually involved with someone, including cutting themselves, including breaking the law if it will get you to listen. Failure to get your attention and to receive your blessing over their lives (even if you can’t bless every choice they make, you can regularly bless who they are as people) will land them in all kinds of undesirable places. In bad relationships; in financial chaos from trying to fill with money and toys the hole that was left from your lack of approval of them; in therapy trying to somehow recoverwhat was lost and understand why they never received the support and love that was always yours to freely give them ; in medical crises as they develop bad relationships with food and/or substances to fill that space; the list of the devastating effects caused by our mere failure to listen is endless.
The Bible says, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). What I have listed in this post and the one previous are seven great ways to show your kids you love them.
1. Provide structure
2. Provide even-handed and consistent discipline
3. Be a parent, not a friend
4. Say “I’m sorry”
5. Save kids from themselves by setting limits
6. Teach children about God
Do these seven things, and learn to do them well, and you will convey to your children that you love them. In that atmosphere of love, you will still make mistakes, but love will cover over a multitude of sins. When your kids know you love them, your sins and shortcomings will be easily forgiven.