Back by popular demand, my mom. I hope you enjoy this piece as much as I have.
I knew the answer when our children were little, as they grew, when they went through adolescence, and even now the same answer holds true. It is quite simple, but not necessarily easy to execute.
It is time. Time is the one thing only you can give that though quantifiable cannot be qualified. Children need to know that you love them, that you will be there for them, and that they are so important that you will put everything else beneath them on the list of “things that have to be done”. N.B. I am not saying that they should be idolized, nor am I saying that they should take precedence over your relationship with your spouse, and certainly not above your relationship with God. But I AM saying that “ministry”, “church”, “commitments”, “work”, “expectations of others” often cloud our understanding of what it means to be entrusted with the care and nurture of children. I am also not advocating being a helicopter parent.
I think if you questioned any of our four children, they would unequivocally say that we were “there” for them, but also aware of their need to become who God intended them to be, often through learning the hard lessons. We cried with them the first time another child said, “I hate you”, when they didn’t get the part in the school play, when they studied so hard for a test and got a C, when they didn’t get onto the soccer team or into their first college choice. We listened, sometimes for hours in the middle of the night, to their heartbreak over a young man or their confusion about their faith. I learned early on from my husband to let them talk, not to try to solve their problems, to give advice when asked, and to hold my tongue when not asked. Mainly, his advice to me was to be available to them whenever they needed to talk, even if in the middle of something seemingly more “important”.
I wish I could say that I grasped this wisdom by revelation, or in the Word, or by some great teaching or preaching, but it came through the method which is most tried and true: trial and error. So the other half of my advice is, “Be ready and willing to apologize when you have been wrong, without qualifying your reasons for what you did.” My first clear memory of doing that was when our middle daughter, Anne, was in first grade. Her teacher had told me that Anne couldn’t read at all and that she thought Anne might have a learning issue. I was incredulous…not my child…of course she can read. So I drilled her and practiced with her, and harped on her until a learning specialist had me watch a movie called, “Fat City”. I was stricken as I saw on the screen a child who could have been mine, and then saw through her eyes what a page of writing might look like, how a picture could appear two completely different ways, how thought processes vary dramatically from one child to another. When I got home, I took Anne’s sweet face in my hands and weepingly apologized for not “getting it”, and asked her if she could please forgive me. Did I feel like a bad mother? You bet I did, but the truth was I was uninformed, I was ignorant. Not that those are excuses, but they are reasons.
Unfortunately, I was anything but a quick study in the parenting department, but I can gratefully acknowledge that by the grace of God and His kindness, I was continually drawn to repent and change my ways. I learned to stop trying to make my children into the image I thought they should have, and to allow God to show me who He intended them to be. Then He graciously invited me to co-labor with Him in helping my child walk in the good works He had prepared beforehand for that child to walk in. These lessons continue as I watch two of my daughters and their husbands, my son and his work, and our youngest as she gets ready to graduate from college. The upside is that now they come to us for advice and when we give it we recognize it as just that, advice.
The bottom line to all this is an overwhelming sense of gratitude. God graciously allowed me to learn what I needed to so that my children could learn what they needed to. Time and humility… so simple, so hard.