Helping Our Children Build Strong RelationshipsOh my, it has been more than 2 years that I have updated my blog. I have decided to attempt to continue it again! Originally when I decided to make a blog, it was to encourage moms. I have so many interests, but I think the stuff that concerns moms interests me most- for now anyways! Four of my 5 children are adults now, one is married and so I am happy to have a daughter in law to add to my growing family. My youngest is 15 and fairly independent, but still needs mom, I think! Well, I think they all still need mom and will continue to for certain things- Even I believe that I still need my mom!
As they get older I see an important value all my children have and need is building strong relationships- with my husband and I, their siblings, and with others. Don't we all desire that the relationships we have are solid, strong and fulfilling? I look at the world and see so many hurts and troubles come when those relationships are strained or broken.
I have been blessed that my children are all very close to each other. They have amazing friends. My son has found a beautiful, kind, and caring wife who has also grown up in a home where relationships are strong. I don't take this for granted, but I also realize that it isn't luck or fate. Relationships take work and committment. It requires modeling and communicating from the time our children are very young.
Modeling? That may seem hard. After all, our children are the ones who see all of our flaws. They can be our biggest critics and we may feel that we are not always the best examples. In spite of this, there are many ways we can still overcome those weaknesses and instill what is good. I remember being very encouraged by my oldest son, when he was first entering his adult years, I wanted to know what I could have done better. While he did not want to dwell upon my faults, he shared with me two things he thought were right. He said he always felt loved unconditionally, and he always felt I had been consistent in what I valued, so if any kind of advice that I can offer to parents today, I would start with that- love unconditionally and stand strong in what you value.
The first relationships our children will have is with their parents, so it is important to think ahead what kind of relationship that will be. We are all different, with different parenting styles, but generally most kids turn out ok with a certain amount of love, guidance and security. As they grow older, their needs from their parents change somewhat, but still, they should always have love, guidance and security. Sometimes, however, the road may be bumpier for some than others. I have often thought about this and observed the differences in these families. Often it may be as simple as an attitude adjustment to your children- yes, our attitude, not theirs! Make choices that affect the way you want your child to see you.
Stop thinking "terrible twos," "boys are a handful," "girls are whiney," "teenagers have bad attitudes," "they're so hormonal," "I can't wait until they move out"! If you are thinking that way, you are already setting a tone for your future relationship with them. Children have a way of living up to our expectations whether positive or negative, so choose instead to look for ways to enjoy them and guide them. Instead of making excuses when they are being a terrible two, help them learn what kind of behaviors are acceptable and not acceptable, and so on all along the various stages of growing up. I will never forget my friend who had a wake up call when her pediatrician asked her the question "Who's the parent?" when dealing with a behavior issue with her toddler. That doesn't mean that you need to be mean or controlling, but just get yourself together and guide your child with the kind of love and security they deserve.
Some people begin parenting without a clear sense of purpose and conviction. They may not have had the kind of role models to help them know what good parenting skills are. Perhaps they had good parents, but rebellion and lack of personal communication skills with their parents make them think their own child will be difficult to relate to. Other parents set ideals so high, as if living their own life through their child, that they fear their child will be unable to meet those expectations without total control of their child. I have seen these things become big obstacles in the parent and child relationship. For the first parent who is unsure, remember, everyone can learn. Look for the good in others- your parents may have been a mess, but was there something they taught you, even if it was "I will never do that to my child" or "they had lots of problems but had a good sense of humor". Look for something to learn from, and if not your own parents, someone else's parents you may have admired. If you are that second parent with the fear of your child failing, or the need to over control, how about taking a minute and getting yourself a slice of that humble pie. It's great to want the best for your child, but your best is not always their best. Have you taken the time to listen to them? Do you find yourself disappointed in the ways they do things, or exaggerate how good they are at doing something? You are not going to live up to perfection and neither is your child so learn to love them and enjoy them anyways. How often I have seen an exasperated child who becomes an adult still trying to please a parent but always feeling like a disappointment or a child that has been told so much how great he is that he needs the same affirmation from his peers by bragging and becoming a self centered adult who the world owes him! Be real parents.
The next relationships I want to share is about sibling relationships. These can be the best or worst in our lives, and I have seen first hand both kinds. As I mentioned earlier, my son had mentioned that I was consistent in what I valued. Since my family was one of the greatest value to me, I was very intentional the way it was communicated how my children were to relate to each other. Of course there were many situations where my children disagreed, got impatient, or frustrated with one another, but there were certain values I determined to make clear. Unkindness was not tolerated. Siblings came before friends- if a friend was being unkind or leaving out a sibling, I expected my children to support their sibling, and to also help a child who needs space from their siblings to have alone time. Always be happy for another siblings success, never jealous of it. If there was a fight, even though initially nether side feels wrong and is angry, to work through the anger and allow each side to communicate and allow parents to mediate and give guidance. Three phrases they were taught- "I love you," "Please forgive me," and "I forgive you". (Mom and Dad need to communicate the same words- remember- humility). Whenever we could and as often as we could, we did things together as a family. If relatives were visiting or a special event was taking place, unless there was a commitment that could not be broken, we all stayed together. Nobody said "I want to go over my friend's instead", or "I'm not going because it is boring". They were taught to value being together and value others that were inviting them. To this day the reward is in seeing how much my children enjoy hanging out together and liking family time!
So finally we come to others. I will divide this into three parts of who the others are: basically there are peers, such as friends with similar ages, interests, etc., those in authority like elders, leaders, teachers, etc., and those who they need to show an example to or responsibility for, such as younger children, those who have special needs or need extra help, the people whom they lead. When it came to peers we always wanted our children to feel like their friends were always welcomed. They were invited into our home, brought along to our events, and enjoyed together with our children. It is important to ask them questions, "like how are you friends" "what do you enjoy doing most when you are with your friend" and so on. If our child was hurt by a friend encourage not only communication with you about the friend, but help them to be able to go back to their friend and communicate and hopefully reconcile. If a relationship with a friend was becoming difficult to help them assess why, and to determine the "right" thing to do even if it is painful. When they are out with their friends it is a good time for them to establish independence and to build responsibility and trust while creating healthy relationships. By the way, there were never "bad" friends. If my children had friends who were making poor choices they would talk about it with my husband and I or a sibling on the best way to be a supportive friend and still encourage their friend to make a better choice, or take a stand in not becoming a part of the problem.
The next group of those in authority is often highly tied into the kind of relationship they have with parents. Do they think those in authority are oppressive? If so then we should ask are we oppressive parents? Do they ignore, disregard or lack interest to those in authority? Are you also disrespected? Do they respect and show an appreciation for those in authority, and not just outwardly? From a young age it is good to help them learn how respect is shown to someone, in simple steps as they show readiness, like whispering softly or waiting for a person to finish speaking before interrupting, becoming aware of surroundings, listening, having good manners, using proper greetings and the proper eye contact. Even shy children can practice learning these skills with help and encouragement.
Finally while we prepare our children to one day become adults who have healthy relationships all around them, they to can learn how to lead and be respected. When we point out to them the importance of their influence to others, they learn to me more caring and giving. I saw this recently in my youngest daughter who thought some younger children were pestering her. When she was told the opportunity to encourage them by her kindness and being helpful to them, since so often younger children look up to those who are older, I was able to witness her moving from a self centered attitude to that of a leader forming solid relationships with others. Isn't it amazing how the same issue taken with a self centered attitude could turn into one that encourages relationships to be made and a possibility to impact a younger generation!
Parents, this is your opportunity to influence your children to healthier and better relationships. Figure out your purpose and see it through!