Every parent hopes to have a healthy relationship with their kids, yet I hear from a lot of parents who are struggling to connect with their children. Sometimes it hits at the teenage years, sometimes much younger. Parents reach out to me with concern over why their kid spends all of his or her time in their bedroom, or why they show so little respect or appreciation for their parents. Sometimes they can’t put their finger on it, but they feel like their relationship with their child is slipping through their fingers. There are a variety of factors that might make a parent-child relationship challenging, but I have found some common characteristics present when people share their stories with me.
One thing I have found is that there is a certain order to the steps or stages of a parent-child relationship. These are stages that build on one another. The healthiest parent-child relationship comes from intentional effort being put into each of these stages, in order. Hopefully looking at them will give us all a chance to reflect on our family and ask, “Where is our weakest link?” “Have we overlooked any of these steps or stages?” If there is a weakness in one area, it most often will affect your ability to positively move on to the next. (No judgement here, we’re all a work in progress. 😉 )
Four steps to building a healthy relationship with your kids:
1—Bonding through time invested
The first stage of building a close relationship with your children is all about giving your kids the most sacred thing you possess: Your time. It begins…at the beginning…the nurturing of a baby…the “Watch me Mommy!” and “Stay with me Daddy!” moments of the toddler years. Kids need and crave time with a parent in every stage of life. This need does not diminish as a child grows up, though it does change. Kids also ask for our time and attention in new and different ways –and sometimes they don’t “ask” at all. Yet they still need it, and if you pay careful attention you’ll see how each one does ask for it in their own way.
I understand the challenge of working parents, and busy children, and allofthethings we have to do in life, and I’m not suggesting you have to give your kids constant time or attention. But I am suggesting that intentional focused time with your kids is a worthwhile investment. Even if it means rearranging life for it. (I have a good friend who made the hard choice to step down from being the President of a large company to stay home with her kids…and five years later she said it was the best choice she ever made.) Further, I believe that without this investment of spending time with kids, most of the other efforts you put into raising them is going to be extremely challenging, at best.
Time with kids of any age will require intention and consistency: Even 10 minutes of eyeball to eyeball time (or at least shoulder to shoulder if it’s easier to talk that way) can make a huge difference. Phones and computers put aside, and full attention on your child. A shared meal, a car ride without devices. I suggest you shoot for daily, but do what you can. If you can’t remember the last time you sat and conversed with your kid (aside from scolding or instructing) then you probably know what you need to do next. Pour your efforts into this step first. The rest will come so much easier once you’ve built the foundation of time.
2 —Building a relationship of trust
If you’ve been intentional about giving your kids your time, then you’re likely well on your way to building a relationship of trust with them. Trust becomes even more important as your child enters the pre-teen and teenage years. Kids want to believe that Mom and Dad are on their side. For them. They need to know that if they come to their parents with a need or concern, (or even a confession) they will be heard, not just corrected.
Trust is also about being parents who do what we say we will do. Follow through. I know Dave and I have been busted more than once for telling our boys we’ll do something, to later change our mind (either due to circumstances or –let’s be honest – our own convenience.) Being people of our word is an important part of parenting, and the trust that is built through that is important for growing a healthy relationship with your kids.
The flip side to this trust issue is of course being able to trust your child. I have talked to my boys a lot about this concept…how it’s a “growing up thing.” I’d be a fool to trust my five-year old to keep his word, but my fourteen-year-old ought to be able to follow through with a promise, or keep his end of a deal. By now most of you know my mantra: “With freedom comes responsibility.” When kids understand that trust goes both ways, your relationship will be stronger
3 — Developing a Mentorship Relationship
Merriam Webster defines a “mentor” as: someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person.
Mentoring begins in the early years as we teach our children the basic skills of life: Saying please and thank you, time management, and spiritual disciplines. Listening to their heart and teaching them from our experience and wisdom. As kids get older, we build on these foundations and begin to add character qualities and skills that will be useful for the rest of their life: Relationship skills, money management, decision-making, and conflict resolution. We have a short window to pour into our kids the values that we hope they will embrace for a lifetime.
If you have not given your kids adequate time, or haven’t built a relationship of trust, then mentoring will likely not happen. Some parents try to force this deeper level of relationship but their kids will most likely be unreceptive to parents who they do not feel close to, or trust. Yet mentoring is such a key ingredient in a healthy parent-child relationship, and especially important because it is one that can last well into their adult years. I encourage you to embrace this as a key part of parenting.
4 — Release
I’ll never forget when my first son was born and I was all he needed in the whole world; My comfort, my milk, my love…It was an overwhelming and wonderful feeling being the center of his world! A friend then sweetly reminded me that my greatest job in parenting would be to raise this son to one day not need me anymore. I cringed when she said it, but now as I help prepare that first born for his future beyond our home, I know it is true. From the basic skills of potty-training and shoe-tying, to his education, relationships, financial responsibility and beyond, his emerging independence is the ultimate goal.
Release should be a beautiful thing. Years of intentional parenting will culminate in a human being that is ready for the world. And the idea of release does not happen all at once either, but rather comes in small bursts as kids move from one stage to the next. You take off the training wheels, and eventually let go of the little person on the bike. You release the tiny hand on the first day of school, letting the child explore some small unknowns without you. You send them to camp, or on an airplane for the first time. You watch the new driver, pull out of your driveway. Small releases are the training grounds for a bigger release, and yes, they will be ready. And so will you.
Yet premature release can be dangerous. If you took the training wheels off and just walked away, you would be considered an irresponsible parent. At seven kids are not ready for what they are at twelve or sixteen. This is where I believe we must be thoughtful in our choices about what a kid is ready for, and when. My thoughts on sleepovers and peer relationships and dating are all related to this concept of release. It often seems that our current culture pushes our kids to enter a very adult world when what they really need is a few more years of positive mentoring.
Release requires thoughtfulness and intention. No two children are the same and I cannot offer you a formula for when a kid is ready for a phone, a sleepover, or a date. Yet a parent who has invested time with their child, built trust, and mentored them through their seasons will have a sense for when and how release will look in each case.
As you can see, these four stages are built on one another. Perhaps by reading through each stage you might see an area that you have been less aware of, or for one reason or other overlooked. (Can I say it again? My goal is not to judge or condemn, but to motivate and inspire…) I am not claiming that this is an exclusive list of everything involved in a parent-child relationship, but just one way of categorizing four of the important stages that ought to be considered as we work towards the goal of a healthy relationship with our kids.
Please leave a comment below sharing any of these areas that might have stood out to you as most challenging. Perhaps I could come back and dive in deeper to each of the four stages one day? Thank you so much for visiting my blog! And as always, if this post has blessed or encouraged you, please use the social media share buttons below to pass it on through social media! 🙂