I’m about as ordinary and basic of a human being (or Wemmeck, as we say around here) as you can get. I don’t do anything real profound. I make a lot (tons) of mistakes. So when I tell you that I’m going to share a method I’ve used for about 13 years (since my oldest was about 7-years-old) to accomplish an important goal, don’t expect the sky to open up, a rainbow to appear, an orchestra to begin playing a final, dramatic number, or your life to instantaneously change.
I start with this caveat because I swear that’s what I expect when I read the titles of some articles. The titles get me all worked up inside, and I just HAVE to open the article to discover the real meaning of my existence. I usually skim the article, my eyes looking in vain for the promised talisman. I’m almost always drenched with disappointment.
And yet, I sit here at my computer trying to come up with titles that will make you want to open the article. Sigh.
OK. THAT is not what this post is about. I’m just warming up. What I really want to share with you is something that seems to work for me. I’ve seen others do it too – but not too many others. Maybe the “not-too-many” have other methods that work better. Who knows? All I know is what I do, and so I pass it along for your consideration:
I Date My Kids
Profundity reigning right here in four words. I. Date. My. Kids.
But I don’t just date them. I date them for a purpose. I have an agenda when I take a child out on a date.
(Going down a rabbit trail for a minute. Stay with me. This is a blog post, not a book, so I don’t have to be organized.)
I recently found a forum in which a bunch of folks (definitely not the “down-home” type) were discussing how much they hated this blog. They were hooting over a few of my blog post titles thinking that the titles were So Serious. (Are You a Good Little Christian?) Catch my drift?
Besides being very concerned (bless their hearts) about whether or not I was spending my life making meals (I aspire to be like Rachael Ray, but I guess I lose brownie points for that ) and changing diapers (Rachael does not change diapers, I give them that)—as well as whether or not there was incest and child abuse going on in our home (because they are experts at recognizing these things by merely skimming through a handful of blog post titles.)—they were also in a bad mood, not because they spilled their afternoon cup of coffee instead of ingesting it (a valid reason to be miserable, in my book), but because I BRAINWASH (gasp!) my children.
Oh, wait a minute.
That makes me just like their teachers. Just like their pastors—or guru, as the case may be. Just like their coach. Just like the authors they read. Just like the politicians. Just like the TV. Just like their favorite celebrity. Just like their mentor. Just like their parents. Just like – well – pretty much every human being who has ever lived – and loved someone.
Just like that.
So back to this blog post. The word AGENDA got me going, and I love that word, because I definitely do have an agenda for my kids. My agenda is to wash their brains every day with the knowledge of the One Who created them (and hopefully they will fall in love with Him and know His love for them). And secondly, I want to wash their brains with the truth that it is good to know and love other human beings.
I get this brainwashing agenda from Luke 10:27:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.
So how I want to flesh this out first is through my own relationship with them. I don’t want to just take care of them and enjoy their little antics. I want to know them. I want to know what they are thinking. I want to know WHY they think the things they think. I want to know what they are feeling – and also why.
I want them to feel very, very comfortable telling me anything at all. To know that no matter what they say – I will love them and accept them. I will be on their side. I will fight for them. I will see them. I will know them.
But we have a very big family. There are nine of them and only one of me. The business of everyday life makes it difficult to connect one-on-one with each child in depth. I try. But I fail. So dating my kids is one way I purpose to connect. And over time – over the course of many years – these special times together away from everyone else and away from distractions and work and school – add up. It is brick upon brick. Slowly. Over time. A trusting relationship.
I think it works. I have a 20-year-old son who came to me first to talk about his interest in a girl. Those talks happened in the early hours of the morning when I could have been getting ready for the day – but there was a golden opportunity to catch hold of – and I wanted to catch it with all my heart. They wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t have a foundational relationship of one-on-one time to begin with.
My 17-year-old son and almost 14-year-old daughter also share their hearts with me. We are friends. I hope and pray this same thing will unfold with all the rest of the kids as they grow up. Nobody does this parenting thing perfectly (well maybe those gals on that forum do), but as it turns out – you don’t have to. A merciful God and an authentic, safe relationship make up for a lot of mistakes.
What Does a Date Look Like?
Once a week I take one school aged child with me to run errands and have lunch. When I first started doing this 13 years ago, we had very little money. Lunch was out of the question, but we could still run errands and have some french fries at McDonalds and talk.
Currently I take turns doing this with a 12, 10, 8, and almost 6-year-old, so they each get to go out with me once per month. I run errands with my 13-year-old daughter every Tuesday night, and we sometimes get dessert or nachos at a local restaurant when we are done. She is a huge help to me, so I want to especially reward her for the ways she blesses my life.
Once a month I also take my 17 and 20-year-old boys out together and the three of us talk. When they each get married, I hope to get together with them as a couple to talk regularly. I have a hunch (but no experience with this yet) that the best way to influence my future grandchildren – just may be through building into the parents of those children.
Two Necessary Things
1. Ask Lots of Questions and Listen to the Answers.
Here are some examples of things I ask the children.
- What makes you feel happy these days?
- Is there anything that scares you?
- Who do you like to spend time with the most? Why?
- What do you like best about your school work?
- What do you like least?
- Do you ever feel sad? Why?
- Who is hard to play with? Why?
- Is anything bothering you lately?
- Do you feel loved?
- When you think about your life, is there anything you wish could change? Why?
- Is there anything that I have done in our relationship that bothers you or that you feel sad or angry about?
When they are talking, I try to rephrase what they are saying so they know I’ve “heard” and understood them from their perspective. When we are on our way home, I pray for them and any concerns that have come up during the course of our conversation.
2. Apologize and Ask Forgiveness.
This is just a bonus that doesn’t have much to do with DATES, per se. But it has everything to do with healthy relationships. If we want our children to be safe with us, we will need to apologize and ask forgiveness when we mess up. Which would be every single day. The issue that builds walls in relationships is a refusal to take responsibility for the ways we hurt one another.
We can go ahead and think that what we did was no biggie – and the kid shouldn’t be so sensitive. But that isn’t part of the recipe for a close relationship where both parties can be vulnerable with one another.
See? Nothing too earth shattering, but if you find that you don’t really “know” one of your children – or any of them – try this. It doesn’t work all by itself, but it certainly can play a part in growing you and the people most important to you—closer together.