The Bible says that we parents shouldn’t exasperate our kids. But sadly, there are a lot of exasperated and wounded kids walking around. They’d love to talk to their parents about it, but their parents can’t hear.
My own five kids, now ages to 18-24, are a great source of
information about their generation. They
tell me about how their friends wish they could talk openly with their parents. For whatever reason, they don’t feel safe.
The parents are too defensive and may not realize it – they are more interested in defending themselves than in listening to their kids and helping them to move out into the world living full and happy lives.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Yes, it’s hard as a parent raising children in a society that tugs your kids in so many different directions. Karen and I have struggled just like many of you. Yes, you probably did the best you could. But let me very direct with parents: YOU MUST DROP THE DEFENSIVENESS IN ORDER TO HEAR YOUR CHILD’S HEART! If you don’t get over your own needs to protect yourself and the job that you did, you will miss your last best chance to save your child from all the pain of self-doubt that you may have had to endure as a young person. Please, this is not about you anymore. It is about helping them to live free.
If I’m being emphatic, it’s because I’ve been through this myself and have seen that it’s an issue with the vast majority of parents. It doesn’t have to be. Your child wants to talk to you if you’ll just be a little more humble and
even offer the possibility of apologizing for the mistakes you made
(which, incidentally, all of us parents make).
What do they have to talk about?
All of them hate carrying around a secret, but they wouldn’t
dare talk to their parents. Their
parents don’t spend the time really understanding their struggles and can’t
begin to relate to the pressures they feel.
Mom and Dad have never really let their own guard down and shared their
own struggles or failures. They may not even have the language to say, “I’m sorry, I tried, but maybe I failed you.” And any attempt
to give them feedback is met with defensiveness.
Truth be told, it’s a cycle that got started a ways
back. Mom and Dad couldn’t talk to their
parents either. Only a few parents have the courage to break the cycle by
honestly sharing the ways they’ve struggled and failed.
Young people, maybe you want
to be the generation that breaks free – how do you help your parents? Your options are limited; the ball is in their court. For one thing, you need to forgive them independent of whatever grace they may or may not offer you. Perhaps if you send them this link they’ll see that you’d like to start a dialogue. Maybe they’ll surprise you with their grace. They’re flawed human beings just like you. They wish they’d done better and they may even wrestle with a sense of failure or shame.
A little vulnerability and repentance might
go a long way, but it has to start with Mom and Dad. Parents, you have to summon up the courage if your
child is to break the cycle. And if the subject
overwhelms you, I recommend you read my blog: How to repent to your children. You can do this thing – many of us sucked it up and have given our kids the best graduation gift they ever received.
As a final note, if you doubt your ability to deal with this issue in a timely way, let me suggest the excellent book Forgiving Our Parents, Forgiving Ourselves. It may give you the courage you need.
Seth, well said. As a youth pastor of 22 years I have seen more than enough examples of this barrier in the parent/teen relationship. My wife and I pray that we are learning from what we observe and read so that we don’t do the same things when our children hit adolescence.
My boys are 20, 17, and 14. The best piece of parenting advice I ever received was from a youth pastor at our church who talked about repenting to your children. This advice is spot on. Thanks for posting this, Seth.
The best parenting book I’ve ever read is Tim Kimmel’s “Grace Based Parenting.” I heartily recommend it:
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I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.