Bridges or Barriers … What Are You Building  

            Parenting that Sticks is an interesting concept because often it can feel like nothing sticks in your effort to parent your child. Being a parent, at times, may leave you more frustrated than pleased with how things are going. You desire to better connect with your child but may feel you have hit a wall instead. What I find to be interesting is, I believe, your child wants to connect with you too. Parents are not the only ones to struggle in this relationship, your child may be struggling as well. This relationship the Lord has allowed us to be a part of requires work and intentional effort to connect.

There is nothing new about parents finding themselves frustrated in their role. One thing that may cause this frustration is unrealized expectations. In our minds, we set expectations for what we want our children to be like. It is not wrong to have goals and desires, but if these desires are not realized we can become disappointed. This disappointment may manifest itself in ways that help build the very walls we run into when trying to connect with our child. These walls do not draw us closer to our child; instead, they create barriers. Both children and parents can build barriers to protect themselves from being hurt. However, these barriers may hinder or prevent relationships from mending, healing, orstrengthening. We should never allow frustrations or unrealized expectations to create discord between our children and ourselves. We must look to build bridges not walls. God’s desire is for us to train up our child, love our child, protect our child, care for our child, and model what it looks like to be a Christ follower. When walls are built, these opportunities begin to fade.

How may we as parents contribute to the construction of these walls or barriers? Honestly, I think in most situations that is not our goal. If anything, we want to create boundaries by establishing rules. Many parents believe that if firmer rules are applied the problems will cease or at least be minimized. The problem with this concept is something I heard Josh McDowell say, “Rules without relationship lead to rebellion.” I believe the point he was making is that rules in and of themselves can create bigger problems if they are not attached to a healthy relationship. Apart from a healthy relationship, children may consider the rules an attempt to control and may rebel against the rules their parents are trying to establish. I believe rules are necessary, and sometimes tightening down on rules is a good thing. However, I will add that the relationship will be key in the success of the effort. Parents have been given stewardship of their children by the Lord. There is tremendous responsibility that comes with this stewardship, and we must steward well. Therefore, if there are problems, how you respond is critical. Again, I believe the relationship between parent and child is extremely important. If the relationship is in a wrong or unhealthy place, rules will not make it right.

I believe that as a parent your desire is to not complicate your relationship with your child. Many parents I have spoken with have stated they are trying to understand their child but find it difficult. What can you do if you’re in this situation? One of the most important things you can do for your child is listen. The important thing about listening is hearing and understanding. If you just listen, you will miss what it is your child is trying to communicate. If you are quick to judge what they are telling you, they tend to shut down and will probably not tell you what is going on in their life because they fear your judgment. They may be considering talking with another person they believe will not be judgmental, but they may receive bad advice from that person, which can exacerbate things. The goal should be to keep lines of communication open and look for opportunities to connect. This will help you build a bridge instead of a wall or barrier.

When I was a student pastor, I learned that many students longed to connect with their parents. For several of them, they did not know exactly how to connect. Often these students would try to earn their parent’s approval through different activities they participated in or through their performance in school. These students were more interested in their parent’s approval than the activities or grades. I understand this is not true for every student, but what is true of every student I have spoken with is the desire to have a good relationship with their parent(s). The struggle is interesting for teenagers. Teenagers find themselves on an identity quest. They run in groups and often align themselves with a group of their peers. A couple reasons for this is the need for community and acceptance. When parents are better able to understand the needs of the student, it can become easier to build bridges instead of walls or barriers. When bridges have been constructed the ability to help shape your child in the ways of the Lord can be easier. Again, the relationship is incredibly important to the process.

Parents, my challenge is to spend time getting to know your child and I’m not talking about superficial conversations. It is imperative that you hear what they are saying, ask questions to help gain understanding, be careful when coming to conclusions, ask God to help you as you work on connecting with them, and pray, pray, pray! Lastly, read Deuteronomy 6:4-7 and apply these scriptures daily and allow the Lord to transform your child and your family.

Tom Freitas
Pastor of Care and Counseling
Thomas Road Baptist Church