Boy was I naive when my kids were young (and a bit prideful, if I must be honest). I thought a difficult conversation was explaining the benefit of veggies over ice cream for long-term health as I was heaping spinach onto my five-year old’s plate. I had read the parenting books, after all, and thought I had this parenting thing pretty well figured out!
Well, the laugh was on me as those same kids grew into teenagers and then young adults, and those difficult conversations became much more serious, involving consequences to some really bad choices, and God’s view on life and morality as was reflected in our parenting decisions (not always a popular topic, I can assure you).
Early on in my parenting, I read a book called Faith Training by Dr. Joe White. I will never forget one point made in the book as I attribute it for shaping my parenting philosophy. White said that the most important thing a parent can do to point their child to Jesus was to be authentic in their walk with Jesus themselves. A child can sniff out a hypocrite like none other. From that point on, I set out to “practice what I preached” and have Jesus change the way I lived to model for my children how he wants them to live. I focused on studying God’s Word to not only transform me but also to guide me in how to raise my children.
So, when difficult conversations were needed, the most important thing I tried to do was base my motives, demeanor, and content on God’s truth he gave us in the Bible. I have listed below some thoughts as I have navigated many difficult conversations amid varying situations with varying degrees of seriousness and emotion:
- Think Steward, not Owner: First and foremost, our children are not our possessions nor our identity. They are God’s gift to us to “train up in the way they should go” until we hand them back over to him.
- Know Your Child Well: It is our responsibility (and privilege) to know each of our children so well as to enter into conversation with them in a way that best suits their personality and sets them up for success in the conversation. With six children as different as can be, it became apparent that I could not “cookie cutter” conversation styles with all of them. I had to learn the timing, mood, and tone to take depending on the child I was conversing with.
- Act – Don’t React: It’s not a good idea to hold conversations in the “heat of the moment.” Rather, after much prayer, schedule a time to chat with your child calmly in a designated place. At our house, those serious talks took place in two red chairs in our bedroom, thus they became known as “red chair” talks. This takes quite a bit of restraint for the parent as we often want to “get things out in the open” immediately.
- Speak Truth in Love: Many times, parents avoid difficult conversations because of guilt, fear, or not wanting to “hurt feelings.” I often wanted to stick my head in the sand and avoid a conversation anticipating the reaction of the child involved. If motivated by wanting what is best for the child’s relationship with Jesus, however, these difficult conversations can happen in love regardless of the response. Parents are uniquely designed by God to speak truth into their child’s life and by not doing so, are not stewarding well the gift God has given.
- Come “Alongside of” not “Overtop of”: I had to check my ego at the door as I interacted with my child. Thinking of their best interest should always motivate difficult conversations, not having to win, look good, or be right.
- Give them a Why for the What: “Because I said so” is the easiest response to a child’s question of “Why?” and sometimes that response may be appropriate. However, I found that when my child would ask “Why?” I would often have opportunity to teach them God’s heart and design for the way we should live. “Just because your friends are doing it” does not necessarily mean that God wants you to do it. Remember, truth in love.
- Pray, Pray, and Pray: This is not just a cliché. It took me years to really believe down deep that it is God who changes my child’s heart (or anyone’s heart for that matter). We often enter into difficult conversations with the expectation that we can control the outcome (change our child) by our eloquent speech or profound wisdom. If we don’t get that result, we can become frustrated and demonstrate conditional love to our child.
James Dobson once said, “Parenting isn’t for cowards,” which couldn’t be more true. I will add to that, that difficult conversations aren’t for cowards either but with the help of the above tools, can and should take place with your children.
Jennifer Gregory is the Middle School Ministry Coordinator for our Student Ministry.
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