If I could offer you only one piece of parenting advice, it would be this: do whatever it takes to grow your relationship with your child.
Now let’s get this straight: I am not a parenting expert. I’m not one of those ultra-confident parents who always seems convinced of their parenting choices. I mess up, regularly. My wife and I are right in the middle of figuring out how to raise two teenage boys, something we’ve never done before. Lord, have mercy.
But based on my experience as a father and as a pastor, I can tell you this: your relationship with your child matters most. Without that, everything falls apart.
Raising kids isn’t easy. And raising certain kids? Harder still. (Yes, I’m referring to that kid.) Parenting is one of my greatest joys, but it’s also one of my most daunting challenges. In the middle of the mess, things get murky. I easily forget what really matters. I get too focused on the latest incident or the pressure of a situation and forget the bigger picture. And so I need to be reminded that no matter what’s happening, I need to focus on my relationship with my boys. It’s my relationship with them that’s got to last.
So, whether you’re in a parenting sweet spot or hitting rocky times, lean into relationship. When trouble hits, we often want to lean harder into the rules (or is that just me?). And while there needs to be boundaries and expectations, if we lean into the rules without fierce nurturing, we can end up destroying the only thing that will carry us through.
When conflict hits, it’s very easy to get fixated on the problem and forget what matters most. There will be times when you need to stop yourself and ask: Will this action help our relationship or drive a wedge between us? And then make the relationship nurturing choice. Ironically, out of love for our children we can make decisions that push them further away from us.
The one thing we have to do, above all else, is preserve the relationship. Dr Gordon Neufeld, who has taught extensively on parenting and attachment, argues that authority is placed wherever the relational attachment lies. Simply put, if your kids are more attached to their friends than they are to you, then what their friends say will matter more than what you say. The only way to dislodge that misplaced authority is not to demand obedience because “you are the authority” but to foster, intentionally, your relationship with your child so that by winning back the attachment, you become their primary authority again. (Why not read that sentence again? It’s key.)
Too many parents, in an attempt to get their kids to do what they want (even if that means making good choices), end up damaging an already fragile relationship and losing even more influence.
Instead of front-loading the rules, how about loading up the car for an extended road trip? Instead of dismissing her music interests, what about researching the bands and growing in your own understanding and appreciation? Make time for a walk, a movie or a special meal.
And so, from one parent to another, let’s do whatever we can to preserve and to grow our relationship with our kids. Because in the end, that’s all that’s going to matter.