Its All About Relationship
IT’S ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIP
By Rod Campbell | MAMFT, LPC-S
Years ago, my then 5-year-old little boy sat on the edge of the pool at swim lessons looking warily at his teacher as she held out her arms and asked him to push off and swim to her. He seemed unsure that he could cover what was in truth, about five feet. But to him, it must have looked like a vast expanse of dreadfully deep water. He took a deep breath, pushed off, and covered the distance easily using correct but awkward versions of the skills she had been teaching him.
She scooped him up in her arms and gave a big shout of “YAY! You did it!” He smiled and looked up into the stands to find his mom, to see if she saw, too. She did, and his smile got bigger. Mom said, “Way to go!” and he waved. Then his vision drifted to the right, and he hesitated just an instant as his eyes found me.
I hadn’t been there at the start of swim lessons. I hadn’t been to any of the previous five lessons because I was usually just getting home from work as swim lessons were ending. But that day, I got off a few minutes early, hurried to get there, and now I had seen it—the first time he really swam all by himself. And his smile, already pretty big, positively exploded across his face. “Dad is here!” it said, and his whole body seemed to quiver a little from the excitement that thought carried.
For the rest of that practice, he looked up constantly and waved at me, and as soon as it was over, he ran to me as I held his towel and said, “Dad! Did you see?” I said, “I did, buddy. You were great! You are swimming so well!” Then there were big hugs. Lots of them.
KEEPING PERSPECTIVE IN PARENTING
I do pretty important things for a living. I help people, or at least try to. I get up early and often leave home fairly early. I’m rarely home before dinner throughout the week. I’m a deacon in my church, and I play in the worship band. And I have four kids ranging from elementary school to college. Three are biologicals and the youngest is adopted from Ethiopia. And they all need me. I totally forget that sometimes.
Their mom is amazing. She reads to them, helps with homework, makes their lunches, and answers the 12 million questions they bring her each day, all without complaint. But they need both of us to do those things. Here are a few specific things I need to be reminded of on a regular basis. Maybe you’ll find them helpful, too.
Welcoming interruption says, “You are important to me.” We all check email, Facebook, Pinterest, and a million other social media outlets, as well as TV and other even more important “stuff.” But our kids need to feel important. When we sincerely and gladly put down our stuff while they ask us a question or tell us about school, we send the message that they are more important than the other things we do.
Each child needs special time. I teach families all the time that each child in your home needs 30 minutes to an hour minimum each week of one-on-one time with each of their parents. That time needs to be mutually enjoyable, intentional, predictable, and repeatable. Little Johnny needs to know that he will have his dad’s undivided attention from 7–8pm every Tuesday night. When a parent sets time aside and guards it from intrusion, the child understands that they are loved and are special to the parent spending time with them.
Listening is more important than hearing. Many of us, especially us dads, are just listening enough to figure out the problem so we can tell our kids what they should do to fix it. It is important that we take the time to really listen. Look at your child while they talk to you and watch the look on their face, the body language. Listen to the tone of their voice. Sometimes a simple question is really just their first attempt at bringing up something really important. If we blow it off or send the message that their question is simple or silly, we won’t get the next step in the process and what could have been very important will get put away, or shared with a peer, or handled on social media. Given those options, who would you rather your child bring their problems to?
Work hard at "Connecting while Correcting." I learned this from the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, and if there is one thing I wish I’d known about raising children WAY earlier, this would be it. If I can keep the relationship solid during the process of correcting a problem, or instructing my child in a new skill, I help them learn much more quickly and I’ve paid attention to the most important thing in the process. I really want my young son to learn to do his chores without having to be reminded. But I also want to enjoy working on the car with him when he’s a teenager. I want him to look forward to Christmas at dad and mom’s place when he’s 40 and has kids of his own. I must guard the relationship by avoiding bullying behaviors, power struggles, authoritarian parenting strategies, shaming and raised voices. Steve Brown, Christian author and seminary professor, says we don’t have to fear asking God for forgiveness, because we are not approaching our Judge—we are approaching our Father. It is important for us to represent our Heavenly Father well by emulating his approach to us. God is Love. We should do all that we do with our children in a loving way. Even when we are disciplining them.
Lastly, consider this: think about how old each of your children are, and then subtract those numbers from 18. That’s about how long you have left in your home to show each one of them how important they are, how much you love them, that you are there to help, and that your relationship with them is more important than any problems that arise.
The relationship you have with them as adults will be greatly impacted by how good a job you do in the remaining years in convincing them of those important truths. And once they’re gone, off saving the world and building a career and raising their children, you’ll have lots and lots of time to do all the things you used to think were important. And you’ll want nothing more than to have the phone ring and hear one of yours ask, “Dad, you got a minute? I need to ask you a question.”
*This article was originally written in 2014 and has been edited for today’s post.