Essential T’s of Family Connection (pt 1)

In the Book of Deuteronomy in the Bible God tells Moses “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Deut. 6:5-7

Clearly God shares the importance of His instruction, but this exhortation also pictures a family where conversation and closeness occur. In verses 20 and 21 God says, “When your son asks you in time to come, What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you? Then you shall say …” Equally clear, then, is that curious questioning and trusted instruction are involved. Implied in these verses is that the family is to be a place where relationship is of utmost importance, both with God and with one another.

And yet:

At times it’s hard for parents to believe their kids desire to be close to them and each other, given the behaviors and attitudes they observe in their homes.

Recently I had the pleasure of having a family come for Family Camp with Revive Family. During a week filled with fun, tears and laughter, the three kids shared like never before with their parents each echoing the desires for their families so many kids have shared with me. These desires were music to their parents’ ears once they came to understand and believe their kids’ perspectives.

During a week of fun and spending time together, deep, transforming conversations ensued. It was during these conversations that the five “Ts” of Family Connection emerged, summarizing so well all I had been told by thousands of other kids. The Five “Ts” of Family Connection are:

  1. Together
  2. Time
  3. Talk
  4. Transparency
  5. Trust

Like many parents with whom I have interacted, these parents would not have believed their kids had such a deep desire for family connection coming into the week. They were accustomed to their kids not being open as they kept things from them, each other and hid in their rooms.  As the camp week progressed these parents came to realize and believe just how deeply their kids desired the “Ts”.

What the parents found most shocking was the level of hurt the kids had held within their hearts for years because of the lack of these crucial emotional connections. Their hurt, combined with other traumatic events their kids had experienced and not discussed with their family, deeply impacted how their kids viewed the family, their lives and futures. As these things were openly discussed for the first time, the family began to laugh, as well as cry together. The root causes of the breakdowns in their relationships were quickly identified as the kids shared with each other and their parents feeling truly heard by their parents for the first time. Everyone in the family had a new found sense of hope and it did not take long for the emotional connection that had been dormant between all the family members to begin to build.  There is nothing more beautiful than watching family members begin to connect at a heart level.

If our objective is to come and stay “Together” as families then together sits at the pinnacle of our Goal.  To achieve the pinnacle of togetherness the rock of a family’s foundation must be Trust. Apart from trust the remaining pillars cannot exist.  Genuine transparency, time and deep talks that lead to togetherness require trust.

So what are the crucial lessons of the five “Ts” of family that will keep your family and marriage connected as your kids move from ages five to eighteen?

First, we cannot take emotional connection for granted. A majority of adolescents I talk with lost any sense of emotional connection with their parents between the ages of 8 and 12 leaving them vulnerable to outside influences in the adolescent years.  This is one of the primary reasons the first “T“ is so important.

As this series progresses we will explore each of the “T’s” in depth beginning today with a short description of each along with discussing the goal of being Together as families.

  1. Trust
    The goal of togetherness and the other 4 “Ts” are virtually impossible without trust. It is so easy for trust to break down in relationships today, even within our homes. When trust disappears, emotional connection, transparency, and fun go along with it. We will discuss the challenging nature of trust and how it works in a family of imperfect people who let each other down. We want to be close to each other, but how?
  2. Transparency
    Transparency is something that we do not frequently see in our society, but it is vital in our homes. We are smarter than our kids think and they are more observant and intuitive than we think. The three kids who helped coin the “Ts” at Revive Family’s family camp had long wanted to share their true feelings and lives with their parents. However, they feared being transparent with their parents just as their parents had been trained by their upbringing and society to not be transparent with them. This is a fantastic recipe for disappointment, miscommunication and walls to be built within our homes.
  3. Talk
    We tend to do a lot of talking as parents, but are our kids listening? We will look at the type of talk the kids at family camp were looking for from their parents.  In short kids want us to talk with them more openly and on an emotional level rather than telling them and talking at them. Our approach can draw our kids into closer, deeper and more open communication and relationships that will lead to real changes in how they view our lives and decisions.
  4. Time
    Time is a challenging topic today given all the demands on parents’ time.  We never feel like we have enough of it and often feel like we are falling short as parents because of it.  We will look at “Time” through a different set of lenses. Our kids’ lenses and the changes in this generation’s priorities offer us freedom to re-prioritize.  We can cut out some activities, save some money and thus have more time to spend with them provided we do some relational restoration to make spending that time possible.
  5. The Pinnacle and the Goal of Togetherness
    As parents we want to be close to our kids, to see our kids get along and build relationships that will allow us to enjoy each other into adulthood.  We desire to be close and together as a family. Given all we hear and see we wonder if this is possible because it seems like as our kids get older they want less and less to do with us.  This can hurt our feelings and lead us to believe that this distance is inevitable.

For the three kids who helped coin the five “Ts” at our family camp, “Together” was at the pinnacle of what they desired for their family. Simply coexisting under the same roof did not even remotely fulfill their desire for togetherness.

For them together meant that they were relationally, physically and emotionally connected.  They wanted to know and understand each other and what was going on in their lives, including the lives of their parents. They desired to be close to their parents and each other, but they were not. It frustrated, as well as hurt them because it left them all feeling alone in a family of five.

Emotional walls had been erected in the family and between the kids because of unresolved issues and hurt that was revealed as we talked. These walls were a consequence of the many inherent weaknesses of traditional parenting approaches that have been discussed in other blogs.  In fact, these things in this family served as roadblocks to the depth of relationships and the influence that the parents’ desired and the kids needed in their lives. In many ways the lack of the foundation of trust and the remaining three T’s (Talk, Time and Transparency) prevented a sense of togetherness beyond the mere routine and physical proximity of their daily lives.

Recently we have seen a great deal of information related to raising emotionally aware kids, something I believe is essential. The challenge for us as parents is that this requires that we are emotionally aware ourselves. This requires allowing our own hearts to feel, care, and beat again.  Throughout our childhood and adult lives unresolved issues, traumatic change and hurt often go un-grieved. They pile up within us until we guard our hearts or our hearts simply shut down leaving us unable to discern feelings other than pain and anger.

This is where I found myself after moving cross-country three times in five years growing up as an introvert. Just when I would start to have a friend they would be gone.  These earlier moves and some significant hurts within the church and the loss of my company literally deadened my heart. I did not truly begin to heal until I engaged in my research with Revive Family. Healing your heart will be the topic of my next blog series.

When we as parents are not emotionally aware of the past hurts we carry inside, it makes it nearly impossible to truly be in tune with our kids as pools of past pain can be triggered by our kids, leading to communication breakdowns.  This results in relational roadblocks as our kids begin to guard themselves from us.

To raise emotionally aware kids we need to be able to see things through our kids’ eyes, ponder them and then help them discern their own feelings and how they impact their lives and decisions. This is difficult if we have guarded our hearts and are not in tune with a full range of emotions ourselves.  If we are to raise positive core value kids, they need a sense of belonging, approval, and connection that anchors them in an increasingly technologically connected but more relationally disconnected world.

God’s Family

Not surprisingly, these same 5 Ts apply to our participation in God’s family as well. While the principles shared today are to be applied to our family relationships, God has also invited us into His family through faith in His son Jesus. In the first chapter of John’s Gospel we read, “But to all who received him (Jesus), who believed in his name, He (God) gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12  So “togetherness”  (relationship)  is important to God. We’ll touch on that from time to time in these blog posts as well.

The next post in this series will examine the foundation of a connected family — Trust.

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