Right now, when it comes to your children you may not see how “handle with love” can make for good results. Last week we explored why we need to focus on our kids’ progress rather than the destination or the desired outcome in their lives. As parents it is easy to slip into the mindset that we are the ones who need to change our kids. This mindset subtly focuses us on their behavior, poor decisions and shortcomings. This can lead to frustration on both sides and emotional distance growing between us and our children. As the distance grows I have founds kids’ behavior, their willingness to listen and help, diminishes which often becomes a vicious cycle.
The challenge with a destination mindset is that it overlooks two clear principles in the Bible.
- We will all fall short this side of heaven and throughout our entire lives.
- The Holy Spirit is the one who convicts and brings about change in our hearts and lives.
If these principles are biblical, then we must reevaluate our beliefs and approach and consider the possibility that there may be a better way. To do so means we must step back from unwittingly operating as the change agent in our kids’ lives.
Of course this is a scary prospect and raises many questions because we have years of habits and teaching that leave us with a singular view of how to handle our kids’ behavior issues. It’s natural to have reservations when one steps away from everything they have known and are comfortable with doing.
Yet if we battle our fears and decide to embrace a journey of growth, learning and gradual progress, we will be less stressed and more focused on how our kids are learning, progressing and personally processing failure. This will lead to deeper, lasting learning and better relationships with our kids. It becomes far easier to come alongside our kids and encourage them if we follow the passages that indicate our main role in each other’s lives is to “Encourage one another on to love and good deeds.” It is not to convict or change others. As I have talked with parents who face this decision, it’s clear that they want to make the change, but struggle with why and how a no consequences approach will work and what they need to do.
This post explores the “why’s” and “what’s” working to help parents understand the transformational power that unconditional love has in our and our kids’ lives. As you consider implementing Influential Parenting in your home, be aware that there are four key objectives imbedded within the steps of the implementation process.
These objectives are:
- Reconnect kids’ hearts to their parents
Kids often emotionally distance or divorce their parents without them fully grasping it. Getting their hearts, emotions and love to reconnect and flow towards their parents is essential to the relationship and rekindling their desire to please us.
- Restore parents’ voices in the lives of their kids
It is vital to regain our kids’ trust, belief in our unconditional love for them and willingness to listen. This allows our kids, especially adolescents, to involve us in their lives, emotions and decisions granting us more influence in their lives than the world.
- Redefine how the family functions and handles issues with our kids’ input and involvement.
This is essential in order to gain our kids’ buy in and develop their internal desire to become part of the change process. When they have a say and can express their desires for the family and see that their parents are willing to listen and move in those directions, it restores their hope and motivation. It also helps open them to seeing the changes they need to make to have a better family.
- Reunite as a loving, caring, compassionate family
Given that the first three are underway in a positive encouraging manner we see families draw together and start to become a team rather than four individuals under one roof. This provides kids the foundation, security and relationship they need. This security provides room for the love and the Holy Spirit to bring about changes in our kids’ hearts, thoughts, lives and decisions. When this happens, they have the strength to take on rather than fall prey to the world.
Through each of these objectives there is a central theme of love, specifically unconditional love. Unconditional love is really hard for us. We have all been let down, hurt and suffered losses. Unconditional love is essential with our kids.
When kids feel our love is tied to their behavior, they end up feeling like they are not good enough or worse that they are failures. I have talked to kids in the AP programs in high school who are getting amazing grades yet still felt they were failures and not lovable! As parents we will fall short of unconditional love at times. The questions we should ask ourselves or even better our kids are:
- How much of the time do we fall short?
- How often do they feel our love is conditional?
- Does our parenting approach lead to their feeling unloved or unprotected?
It’s damaging when our parenting philosophy directly undermines their sense of being loved. When we are focused on the destination or the changes needed in their lives we are far more likely to leave our kids’ feeling our love is conditional.
Given all my time with kids I have found that kids who experience unconditional love are more able to turn and face their flaws, shortcomings and failures in a healthy, teachable manner. I believe that unconditional love opens our hearts and helps us be willing to address our failings. It also explains the shift we see in God’s approach from the Old Testament to the New Testament. We see this shift clearly in Jesus as he and His disciples broke many of the Old Testament Laws and Jesus focused on the the heart of his disciples. I believe his objective was to develop their hearts in order to see them filled with compassion, care and love for the broken, sinful people around them. Jesus modeled this by dragging the disciples into one situation after another where their minds would say we cannot talk to them or you cannot heal on the Sabbath. Then Jesus’ results spoke volumes to their hearts as they witnessed people being healed and choosing to follow Jesus because of his unconditional love and lack of condemnation which Jesus even showed to people like the adulterous woman.
Jesus knew that it was only this type of love that would enable the disciples to have the compassion and love needed to lay down their lives for strangers. (Mark 5:5 Jesus looked upon the crowds with compassion because they were helpless and harassed like sheep without a shepherd.) This love would compel them to make the amazing sacrifices needed to heal, help and lay down their lives to save the broken, sinful people around them.
In the first blog in this series “Focus on the Progress” we explored the expectations Jesus had for his disciples. In Jesus’ last teaching time with His disciples He clearly laid out a singular command or expectation, love. In fact for emphasis he went from telling His disciples “If you obey my commands (plural) you will remain in my love” to (singular) “This is my command, love one another.” This was His only command for the disciples as He was about to leave and put them in charge of His church.
It was Jesus’ relentless focus on love and compassion with His disciples that changed their hearts and lives. Their focus shifted from their own lives, needs and desires to the needs of those around them. The same focus on love in our homes will enable our kids to make a similar shift.
What would have happened if Jesus focused on behavior rather than love?
I sometimes muse what the outcome of the New Testament would have been for the disciples if Jesus had focused on their flaws and weaknesses rather than on modeling, extending and teaching them to unconditionally love, serve, and sacrifice for others. Why didn’t Jesus focus on the behavior of His disciples and the crowds instead of acting with compassion?
Why did He extend love, compassion and mercy before seeking any change in their lives?
I believe it was because He knew sin was inevitable in everyone’s lives up until they reached heaven. He also knew he would completely defeat sin on the cross, so he did not need to sweat all the sin around him. This allowed Him to walk in peace, joy and love which was so infectious that 5,000 would chase Him around the lake when he was trying to get away. Jesus created a sense of love, safety and hope that drew people to him and helped them desire to turn and face their flaws.
When parents reach this place with their kids’ the things that change in their relationship and lives are simply amazing.
Paul in Romans even said, “Oh what a wretched man I am. I do what I do not want to do. Wherever I go there is sin right beside me.” As parents we can not prevent sin, but we can provide a loving home and example that draws our kids to open up about their weaknesses, issues and sin which is where the power for real lasting change begins.
In First John it says: “If we walk in the light as He is in the light. We have true fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus purifies us from all unrighteousness.” Jesus had 5,000 sinners chasing him around the lake looking for love, security and a place to deal with their issues in love rather than negativity and fear. Our kids need the same thing. Jesus with his self-sacrificing love wants to hold our kids in his arms, love on them and help them through life gradually become more and more free from the things that so easily entangle us. This is what this generation of youth need to hear and see from us and the church.
So how does this love help us handle issues in our homes?
- Love focuses us on the relationship rather than rules
- Love promotes listening, understanding, and care for others which leads to lasting change
Love Focuses on Relationship Rather Than Rules.
In my research with thousands of kids they would say things like: “I know my parents love me but…” over and over again. I found that most adolescents intellectually knew their parents loved them but few felt or believed they were loved unconditionally. I discovered this led to the growing distance between kids and parents especially in the adolescent years. In families that approached things differently I found examples of adolescents who did not distance dramatically from heir parents and siblings. They did not turn exclusively to friends like society tells us is inevitable with our adolescents.
How Rules and Consequences compromise the relationship!
Kids told me over and over and parents confirmed that many of their battles erupted over the issuing of consequences. I found that battles lead to frustration, hurt and often anger on both sides. Rarely was the hurt associated with these exchanges addressed, resolved or healed, especially from the kids’ side of the ledger.
Kids reported being hurt during their arguments about the consequence. They felt dismissed, not listened to or heard, about how the consequences impacted them. This was not truly the parents fault. They were driven by the societal image of their role, conditioned to believe that issuing consequences was both their responsibility and necessary to be “a good parent.” This caused them to overlook their kids’ frustration and hurt. As a result their kids stuffed the hurt and anger which often festered inside and led them to distance themselves, become more defensive, and reactive to what seemed like smaller and smaller things in their parents’ eyes.
Stop for a second and reflect on some of the less serious behavioral issues you address with your kids.
- When they occur, what thoughts go through your head? Are they negative or positive?
- What are some of the common statements or phrases you say to them when this happens?
- Say them out loud and listen to them as if they were being said to you by someone else.
- How do they make you feel?
- How would you respond to these statements being said to you?
Love was Jesus’ Only Rule and it changed the disciples’ lives!
Imagine how the statements you reflected on would change if you adopted Jesus’ only expectation for his disciples. “This is my command, love one another. This is true love, one who will lay down his life for a friend.”
If love was the only rule you had for your kids, what do you think would change?
When parents live into Jesus’ command of love, I have found that things change dramatically within themselves and within their kids in ways more positive than the parents dreamed possible.
Love moves us towards listening, compassion, concern and transparency rather than authority, control and behavior modification. These changes draw our kids closer to us and make them more willing to open up with us, which helps them admit their flaws and failures. This is the basic tenant of all counseling and recovery programs. We must first admit we have a flaw and personally desire to change before real/lasting change can occur. We cannot force another person to change! Why would it be any different for our kids?
Parents Ask Me…
How does Love address when my kid refuses or talks back?
When love is our focus we no longer focus on our ability to stop our kids’ bad behavior or sin. When this happens it opens our minds and hearts to the Spirit who can give us insights, guide us and give us the words we need to touch our kids’ hearts.
When we focus on behavior we tend to make statements because we can clearly see why their behavior is wrong. When we target their heart we focus on helping our kids look inside, ponder, and pray. To do this we have to ask our kids questions rather than make condemning statements. Questions you can ask are:
- What is going on with you on the inside?
- Did I do something that hurt or upset you? If they say no.
- Did someone else say or do something that hurt you today? Often they say yes but if they say no.
- Then can you help me understand why you are talking or acting this way? I love you. When you talk or do this it hurts me and it feels like you do not care or love me.
This is powerful with children and adolescents because they function more in the emotional realm than adults do. Once we reconnect with them through the implementation process from Influential Parenting Academy, they begin to trust we will listen and seek to understand, rather than judge and correct them. We do not need to be perfect just like they do not need to be perfect with us, but we develop an openness and transparency that allows issues to be discussed, explored, and reflected on over time. Self awareness, reflection and understanding grow and allow love to reign in our homes.
So what happens if they do not open up and the reactions continue? You may try digging in with them a number of times without frustration or disappointment. Just like us it may take some time to figure out what is going on inside and get them to open up, but if it persists, the relational approach offers a powerful counter balance.
Sara I love you but this is the fifth time you have kind of bit my head off today and it is really starting to hurt me. I do not know what is going on inside you but it is affecting our relationship. Relationships are a two way street. What would happen with one of your friends if you treated them like this over and over?
I do not know?
I think you do… smile! Wouldn’t they stop being your friend. I love you and I always will but when you react this way with me, It makes me feel unloved and decreases my desire to be around you and to help you. You want me to help you don’t you?
Unless you are a micromanager, they will say yes.
Yes, I want to as well, but right now I am so hurt, I honestly do not want to drive you to your friends and cook dinner for you.
How would you feel if I stopped doing those things for you?
Relationships are a two way street. When one person is not being loving, positive or investing in the relationship, the other loses the desire to help them. That is the point I am reaching.
Do you want me to say no when you ask me to do things? No.
Then please figure out what is going on inside and share it with me. If it is something I am doing that drives you crazy or has hurt you, please tell me. If it is something with school or you are simply being down on yourself we can talk about that too. I love you and want to be close to you.
In this approach we are teaching them relational truth that is vital for them to learn. It helps them focus on others’ feelings and moves them towards understanding love. Lessons like this help them see us differently and realize how they feel and act impacts those around them. It makes them better citizens, more caring and sensitive to the feelings of others and the need to understand them rather than judge them from a distance.
If things still do not change, you can stop doing the things they want you to do because that is a natural consequence of treating someone poorly and that is something our kids must learn to own. Of course this takes time and requires patience which is far easier when our focus is on developing love rather than perfect behavior.
Our kids want to be close to us, want to feel loved and need our help. A love-based relational approach to issues strikes right at the heart of their emotional nature and pulls on their God given needs to be loved, cared for and please us.