Fostering Connection and Honesty in Parenting:
Gone are the days when kids could go out for hours with no parental supervision. Kids and carefree lives are no longer synonymous. Children today are dealing with more, compared with previous generations. From divorce, to illness, to STAAR testing, kids encounter a great deal of stress.
Because of this fact, parents (like myself) find themselves sweating tough conversations, those awkward moments when you want to say something profound and meaningful. Too many times I find myself caught like a deer in headlights, either panicking or avoiding the moment.
Justin’s illness forced us to not only answer some tough questions, but also ask the tough questions. Crisis can be a fertile ground for creating an atmosphere of bonding when connection and honesty are present.
In a recent meeting I had with the school, Ethan’s teachers told me of the progress he made during year. He more than doubled in some of his scoring from the start of the year. I sat back, amazed at this because for the entire fall semester, Justin was in and out of the hospital 5 different times. Many of these in emergency situations.
I believe God’s grace allowed Ethan to go through that experience relatively unscathed. I also believe because we didn’t shy away from the hard moments, it gave Ethan the freedom to process difficult emotions.
Below are some of the things we did. I know we didn’t do things perfectly, but we did intentionally take these steps. Maybe you are finding yourself in a difficult situation with your child or someone you know. I hope these suggestions will facilitate honesty and connection in your relationship.
- Be honest but in child-appropriate ways. Keep details simple but straight forward. We would simply tell the kids Justin was sick but didn’t go into the details unless they asked. It can be difficult to share details in a way that doesn’t produce fear. Being honest creates a norm in your family that you will likely want to instill. Remember if you want your children to be honest with you, you will first need to model it with them.
- Ask how they are feeling. Justin was hospitalized 5 different times. This brought about a great deal of change for our family. Children have much to say, but don’t always have the vocabulary to express it. I would ask Ethan how he was feeling, he wouldn’t always answer. Of course he was feeling sad and freaked out, so I would say something like, “I bet you are feeling pretty sad right now, I understand. Do you want to talk about it?”
- Pray together – Depending on the age of your child, they may not absorb the magnitude of the situation. Prayer is truly one if not the most powerful action we can take. When you pray with your child, you are not only praying for that event but you are also sowing seeds for how they connect with God. Letting them pray gives them a voice. Discuss the blessings that are occurring because of the situation. One of the sweetest blessings during this season came from the families who brought meals to our home. We would tell the kids how other families loved us and were praying for us. Meal after meal, day after day, we would share with the kids about how blessed we were.
- Find support for yourself so that you can be a support for your child. While it’s important you are honest with your kids about how you are feeling, it’s also important they don’t feel like they have to support you. Kids naturally take on burdens of others. Being aware of this and discussing this with your child can help prevent them from being burdened.
- Expect some acting out, but give them healthy ways to process their emotions. I remember a day when Ethan was really struggling. Uncharacteristically being rude and saying hurtful things. I let him know his anger was okay, but it wasn’t okay for him to be rude to me or others. I suggested we go for a walk to help release some of his emotion. I could have punished him, but I knew what was in his heart – fear and sadness (this is what masks anger).
- Finally, have fun where and when you can. When going through difficult times, the phrase “life is short” keeps coming to mind. Recently, Ethan let us know what his favorite memory was. I expected it to be about a vacation or a special Christmas memory. He said it was when we did a scavenger hunt, at the end of the game Justin was the prize (home from the hospital) along with Ethan’s favorite game.
Children certainly deal with challenging situations. Amongst the challenges, which bring sadness, fear and anger, joy can always be found. You have to be intentional to sift through the difficult emotions.
“Weeping may remain for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5b
If you are going through a tough situation, feel free to message me for prayer or assistance with resources. I would be honored to help.
Blessings to you,