By Kendra Fletcher, Crosswalk.com
Children can be the most transparent mirrors we’ll ever have a chance to gaze through, and we don’t always encounter what we were hoping to see. When that reflection comes to us by way of our adult kids wanting to discuss their hurts, we can feel threatened or indignant. We are tempted to dismiss their pain and respond, “Why bring all of this up now? You can’t change the past. Let it go.”
Our children, no matter what age, need to feel that they can come to us and tell us the truth about their own choices and life journey, and they need to know that we aren’t going to freak out if they say we’re responsible for some of the hurt they’ve experienced.
Working through the things they experienced in their childhood, whether positive or negative, is a natural part of human development. Be their safe sounding board, and if you can’t be that, give them your blessing to see a counselor. In no way have you failed as a parent if they need to sort through the things that make them who they are today.
Conversations about how our older children were hurt by our choices can be extremely threatening, but they don’t have to be. We can remember that God is for us (who can be against us if he is for us? Romans 8:31) as we acknowledge their hurt. Whether or not we agree with their take on a situation, I believe we can feel comfortable with our kids expressing hurt if we remember these 3 important truths.
1. We Could Not and Cannot Control Everything
Despite well-meaning books and articles written about training children up in the way they should go, who they ultimately serve and what they choose to do with their lives is not all up to you. We cannot claim their salvation as a by-product of our parenting (Ephesians 2:8-9); conversely, we cannot claim their struggles as necessarily tied to all of our choices, either.
While there are truisms and correlations to how we nurture our children, there are exceptions to every bad parenting moment: children raised in poverty grow up to be Rhodes Scholars and world-changers, children of drug addicts swear off all forms of substance abuse, children of absentee parents vow to be there for everything their own children do. Kids raised in tricky situations can make excellent choices. The reverse is true as well.
Our job is to point our children to Jesus, not be Jesus to them. We have to accept that we will make choices born out of the information we have at the time or out of our truest intentions for our family, and still--our kids can turn around and tell us we made the wrong choice on their behalf.
Ask my parents how many times I’ve brought up the fact that they didn’t let me go to the high school I wanted to go to. At the time, they made the best choice they knew to make, and they made it prayerfully. I respect that, but still, I disagree with the decision that was made.
2. Our Identity Is Not Based on Our Parenting
We don’t need to feel threatened by our children’s expressions of hurt or disappointment because our parenting is not our identity, worth, value, security, or hope.
When we remember that God is for us, that he has our back, that being his child is our truest and only meaningful identity, we can rest in the knowledge that we are loved, no matter what our choices and actions may have been.
That, of course, doesn’t mean there won’t be fallout. All human relationships are flawed because all humans are flawed, so whether you were the parent who sacrificed everything to raise your child or the one who looks back with regret, you can take solace in the fact that no parent is perfect.
There will be expressions of disappointment. There will be things we need to apologize for and acknowledge, even if our intentions at the time were good. But we can find freedom in knowing that our identity was never in being a parent, but rather in being a child of God.
3. Asking for Forgiveness Heals a Multitude of Shortcomings
For some of us, one of the hardest things we’ll ever do is apologize to our children. Because many of us were raised by parents who exerted great authority and demanded respect at the cost of a broken relationship with us, we often then turn and expect the same from our kids. Why would I apologize? I’m the parent!
Yes, we’re the parents, but we are called to living a confessional life and to be in unity with others, and the Bible is full of examples and teaching about learning to develop a gentle approach with each other. When we are told, for example, in Philippians 4 to let our gentleness be evident to all, the directive does not exclude our children.
One way we can be gentle is to recognize our humanity and in humility and admit to our kids (and ourselves) that we blew it. It’s one of the most profound ways in which we can show our kids how desperately we all need Jesus.
A friend was recently lamenting to me about the broken relationship she has with her mom and dad. She is one of six kids, and not one of them is close to her parents anymore.
“I just wish my mom and dad would apologize. If they could tell us that they know they were harsh with us and legalistic, it would change everything, but they so stubbornly hold on to the idea that they were always right. It’s killed their relationships with every one of their adult children.”
For my friend and many adult children like her, a simple apology would smooth the way for building a relationship with her parents for the rest of their lives. It would be a gift, all the way around.
I think it’s helpful to stop and think about what kind of relationship we want with our kids when they become adults. If you’re reading this, you’re probably already there and hoping to deal with some of the criticisms that have come up. But if your kids are still in the home, think about what you want your family to look like in the future.
We don’t tend to maintain a strong bond to anyone, whether friend or spouse or co-worker, who communicates that they are never wrong. It is an attitude of humility and grace that attracts us to others. The same is true of our own children, and it’s worth looking ahead (or back, as the case may be) and realizing that forgiveness both ways will forever be a part of maintaining a close relationship of any kind.
You can do it! You should do it. Humble yourself. Admit your weaknesses. Admit your own need for Jesus. Show them your own brokenness. Give them space to be less-than-perfect themselves.
In this way, you will become fellow sojourners with your adult kids, walking the long and often difficult journey that is life. You’ll be free from the kind of pride that separates us from those we love and want to be in fellowship with.
It’s easy to hold on to our opinions of how we thought we did everything right with our kids, but at the end of the day, we want them to know that they are so loved by God and by us that when they turn to him (and us), they will encounter compassion, grace, and a humble heart that understands that we are all loved deeply by God. If you struggle to believe how loved you are by God, pray and ask him to help you believe him better.
Out of the overflow of the knowledge of God’s love for you, may you be able to be the safe space your children need you to be as they move forward in their own lives.
Kendra Fletcher is a mother of eight, speaker, author, and podcaster. Kendra and husband Fletch produce the popular Homeschooling IRL podcast (HomeschoolingIRL.com). She also blogs at PreschoolersandPeace.com and KendraFletcher.com. The Fletchers reside in Central California, where they've homeschooled for 19 years, make pizzas in a brick oven, and play in the Pacific Ocean as often as possible.
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