Resource by Paul and Ruth Fast
The Heart of Communication
The heart of communication with our children is, well, the heart. Jesus teaches that the mouth speaks what the heart is full of; so the questions is: what is my heart, as a parent, full of? Two culprits that tend to fill our hearts and block good communication with our kids are anxiety and clutter.
Parenting is often looked upon as an anxious time, be it the so-called terrible twos or the dreaded teens. When we dwell on those ideas, “this will be hard, unpleasant, stressful, frightening,” our hearts will start to constrict and anxiety will take root.
We will speak from that frame of mind. Our words will be more shrill, defensive, harsh because we are protecting our own hearts. Surely, this is where parents need to cling to 1 Peter 5:7 “casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you”. Friends, our Heavenly Father loves our children more than we do, and he entrusted them to us which means he is able and willing to care for us as we parent.
Our hearts can also be so cluttered with many things that there is no space for meaningful communication with our teens. Two things that are likely to fill up tons of space in our hearts are (1) work (either outside the home or the daily running of the household), and (2) our phones.
So we have to ask ourselves the probing question: “with what my heart and mind are full of, am I faithfully obeying God by meeting the genuine needs of my family or am I pursuing self-fulfillment, personal ambitions and seeking to prove my value as a person in a way that puts my family too low on the priority list?”
We can’t realistically expect to have meaningful conversations with our kids if we are not there. If we are not available physically, emotionally or mentally because we are too full of our own stuff, we will miss precious parenting moments. So put the phone away, and be home when they are.
So what does good communication with your child look like? I say “look” because so much of communication is not speaking. Don’t be surprised if the kid that was super chatty, on becoming a teenager, answers in monosyllables. So the skill for you to master now is to listen with all your senses, look them in the eye and show them you are fully there.
As with all communication as Christians, our speech and our gestures should be encouraging, not demeaning. Building up, not exasperated. Reflecting our heavenly Father, who listens to his complaining, angry, rebellious children with much compassion and grace. Become a student of your child so that you can have interesting conversations about the things that interest them. Pay attention to what they pay attention to and you will have pretty cool conversations. Encourage with words any good thing you see in your child, even if many other things are troublesome.
As our kids became teenagers, one of the most important things we learned about communicating with them is that good conversations will come at the most inconvenient times. So we discovered that leaving our bedroom door open and the light on was an invitation to talk that usually ended well. I say “usually” because sometimes those conversations started, “so about the car, no one got hurt but…”!
Our room was conveniently at the top of the stairs and everyone one had to pass by it on the way to their own rooms, so there was no hiding if our door was open and the light was on. Some of the deepest conversations happened when we were quite tired. When your heart and schedule isn’t full you won’t be reduced to zero capacity for those late night conversations.
One of the most effective means of communicating well with your child is to spend time with them, one on one, away from home for a night or two. Just have some fun! Plan a trip, get them involved in the organizing, choose a place or activity that interests them. Plan NOT to talk about hot-button issues that may be a point of contention between you at the moment. Just show by your undivided attention that they are important, loved unconditionally, and highly valued. It is an incalculable investment!
Another thing I learned that helped me (Ruth) so much was the realization that Paul communicated with the kids differently than I did, and to pray for grace not to be jealous of their seemingly more comfortable relationship. One of our daughters needed a new outfit for the youth orchestra she was playing in. So she and I went to the mall to find something. At the time our relationship was already a little testy, and it didn’t get better at the mall. We could not agree on anything; either it was too low cut for my liking or too prudish for hers! We gave up. I told Paul he would have to take her because this was not working for her and me.
Paul is not a shopper, but he is a great teen dad. And that was his top priority: the relationship with his daughter. So they came home with a lovely outfit, having paid more money than I thought necessary, but their relationship was deepened because the conversation they had was light hearted and communicated to her— without a lecture on modesty—that she was more valuable than money or a standard he hoped to maintain.
Pray for each other as parents! If one of you has an easier, more natural connection with your teen, then thank God for that. Trust Him that He will restore your relationship with that child at some point.
The views expressed in our articles are those of the author and not necessarily held by everyone at Christ City Church.