One of the ongoing battles of parenthood is seeing beyond the immediate. It is so easy to live in the world of unfinished schoolwork, messy rooms and sibling squabbles. One can play and replay endless cycles of correction and behavior management. But as a parent, my most important task is the shepherd my children’s hearts toward God. That is much more than behavior modification and enforcing boundaries. It involves engaging them at the level of the heart. This challenges a parent to slow down and notice what is going on beyond the crisis of the moment. How can I engage my child’s heart? Let me offer 3 simple ways.
1. Enter their world. When is the last time you stopped what you were doing to watch your child work or play? By work, I don’t mean doing a chore that was assigned to them – but something that they love to do. Put down the remote, let the laundry go unfolded for awhile longer, put your priorities on hold for a bit and just watch them. Next, without intruding in the flow of what they are doing, talk to them while they are at work or play. Ask them questions about what they are doing or thinking. Let them share with you some of their inner delight. When you do this, you are communicating to them that you love what they love because you love them. If possible (and if invited), work or play with them. Every person longs to share what they love with someone else. Give your child the gift of allowing them to share it with you.
2. Share something that you love. Your children may not love (or even like) the same things that you love. But they do love you. Take time to share with them why you love the things that you do. The reason your children may not share some of your favorite things is that they don’t understand why it is special to you. Explain it to them, without getting upset if they don’t jump on board your bandwagon. Even if they don’t take up your love, they will at least understand you better. Children long to understand their parents. They want to know you so much more than you might think. They may simply think that you plunge into some hobby or activity (or book or movie or game) as a way to fence yourself off from them. Unfortunately, for too many parents that is true. Make sure that it isn’t true for you.
3. Tell them why you love them. Most parents tell their children that they love them. But have you told them why? What is it about their personalities that delights you? What is about them that makes you smile? When is the last time you told them that? (By the way, this works with spouses too – but that is a different post) Be specific. And make it something that goes to the heart of their character and identity. My oldest son, for example, has an incredible sense of justice and fairness. He intensely wants to see the good guys win. That is a big part of who he is. My middle son observes everything. He notices all sorts of things that other people miss. What a gift. My youngest has more determination than almost anyone I know. He does not give up easily and has a hard time taking no for an answer. That will serve him incredibly well in almost anything he will ever do.
Every investment that you or I make in the hearts of our children is invaluable. It is layer of protection against the attacks on their identity that are sure to come. And the joy of connecting deeply with them cannot be replaced. Engage them today. You will be glad that you did and so will they.